Climate 411

Emails indicate Scott Pruitt directed removal of climate info from EPA website

At EDF, we recently gained access to some newly-released emails that provide a troubling glimpse of the efforts to remove information about climate change from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) website.

The emails were released under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), and center on EPA’s website purge of April 2017. They indicate that Administrator Scott Pruitt personally directed efforts to prevent the public from accessing many climate-related EPA web pages.

Along with webpages about climate change and climate science, the purge removed the webpage about the Clean Power Plan — the most significant action that the U.S. has ever taken to address climate change. Gone was information about the Clean Power Plan’s benefits – the lives it would save, the childhood asthma attacks it would prevent, and the way it would bolster America’s overall strategy for combating climate change. Also gone were supporting materials, including EPA’s legal memorandum accompanying the Clean Power Plan and an array of documents presenting the rule’s technical underpinnings.

Instead, the URL for the Clean Power Plan redirected visitors to a page featuring President Trump’s “Energy Independence” executive order.

Emails refer to Pruitt’s personal involvement

In early April 2017, Lincoln Ferguson, a senior adviser to Pruitt, indicated that Pruitt directly ordered the website change.

Ferguson asked in an email:

“How close are we to launching this on the website? The Administrator would like it to go up ASAP. He also has several other changes that need to take place.” (File 2, p. 23)

J.P. Freire, then serving as Pruitt’s Associate Administrator for Public Affairs, responded:

“You can tell him we . . . are just finishing up.” (File 2, p. 23)

Ferguson wrote back:

“Can it happen today?” (File 2, p. 26)

Ferguson quickly followed up to emphasize Pruitt’s personal interest:

“Just asking because he is asking…” (File 2, p. 23)

Scrubbing all traces of the Clean Power Plan

J.P. Freire was emphatic that all Clean Power Plan references should link to the new page about Trump’s executive order.

In a discussion about the new page, he wrote:

“This looks great, and should be on the page for the Clean Power Plan. Any reference to the Clean Power Plan, any link to it, should redirect here.” (File 2, p. 23)

The emails also suggest EPA staff were directed to manipulate search results. Website visitors searching for information about the Clean Power Plan would be diverted to the page promoting Trump’s executive order — instead of what they were actually looking for.

In one conversation, an EPA staff member stated:

“I’ve been asked about search results for the term ‘Clean Power Plan.’”

A colleague responded:

“We can make the Energy Independence homepage a ‘Best Bet’ and thus the first result for Clean Power Plan for our EPA Search engine if you request it.” (File 1, p. 84)

A separate conversation among EPA staff demonstrated just how determined J.P. Freire was to undermine access to the Clean Power Plan page. In that discussion, an EPA staff member recounted a discussion with a colleague about Clean Power Plan search results:

“[S]he said JP wanted to know if ALL of those pages could be redirected.” (File 1, p. 298)

Keeping Americans in the dark, thwarting democratic processes

The website purge at EPA made it harder for the public to access vital information about climate change and public health. It also stymied the public’s ability to engage in democratic processes.

We are currently in the midst of the public comment period on Pruitt’s proposed repeal of the Clean Power Plan, but the website purge has obscured access to information about the rule’s purpose and its tremendous benefits for public health and climate security – possibly impeding commenters.

The Environmental Data and Governance Initiative, which tracks changes to federal websites, has written:

“Anyone valuing the idea of democratic policymaking should demand that public Web resources relevant for regulations should remain readily accessible to the public.”

The website purge reinforces serious concerns that Pruitt has predetermined that he will repeal the Clean Power Plan, and the current rulemaking process is a sham. Instead of listening to the public with an open mind, these emails suggest that Pruitt is personally and directly thwarting meaningful public participation.

The removed webpages are still accessible through various EPA archives, but the archives are a poor substitute. They don’t show up in a search of the EPA website. They’re harder to find with certain search engines, including Google. And they are no longer being updated, which is especially problematic for cutting-edge pages like EPA’s overview of climate science.

The website purge fits Pruitt’s troubling pattern of ruling EPA under a cloak of secrecy. That’s no way to run an agency entrusted with protecting the public health and environment. As part of EDF’s commitment to shining a light on EPA actions, we’ve made these records publicly available in their entirety. We encourage you to contact us if you would like to share observations about the records.

Posted in Clean Power Plan, EPA litgation, News, Policy / Comments are closed

Freight truck fleets, manufacturers, and dealers to Pruitt: stop supporting super-polluting glider trucks

Diesel pollution from a freight truck in 2008. Pruitt is proposing a loophole that would allow new trucks to evade modern clean air protections by using high-polluting old engines like this one. Photo: EPA

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), led by Administrator Scott Pruitt, is proposing to roll back important safeguards and allow certain heavy-duty freight trucks – commonly known as “glider trucks” – to evade modern pollution standards.

Rolling back these protections would have terrible impacts for human health, including as many as 4,100 premature deaths in 2025 alone. Glider trucks can emit harmful pollution at a rate up to 450 times that of other new freight trucks. So the broad chorus of opposition from the public – including from EDF – is no surprise.

But you might be surprised by who else is strongly opposing EPA’s proposal.

Every segment of the freight industry — truck manufacturers, fleet owners, freight shippers and other stakeholders — has spoken out to oppose this rollback.

These industry stakeholders recognize that Pruitt’s proposal would undo decades of progress in cleaning up pollution from heavy-duty freight trucks. Moreover, it would undermine their significant investments in pollution control innovation.

The proposed rule would create a loophole for the small segment of the freight truck industry that manufactures super-polluting glider trucks, which use old diesel engines that are not equipped with modern pollution controls — and the loophole would be at the expense of other truck manufacturers and dealers who play by the rules.

These freight truck industry words speak for themselves – EPA needs to reverse course on this deeply damaging proposal:

TRUCK DEALERS

The National Automobile Dealers Association, as well as numerous individual truck dealers, have expressed opposition to the proposal.

TriState Truck Center, based in Memphis, Tennessee and employing about 400 people:

"We have been a heavy duty dealer for 72 years. I have personally worked here since 1972. I remember the days years ago when our truck shop was so thick with the exhaust from the trucks that you could not see the other side of our shop. Today, our shops are clean and exhaust free due to the new EPA compliant engines. Do we really want to go back to those days? That's what more glider kits will do with engines that are both obsolete and environmentally unfriendly." — Public Comment of TriState Truck Center

MANUFACTURERS

Daimler Trucks North America, a leading manufacturer of heavy-duty vehicles in the United States, opposes the proposed rule despite being a major supplier of glider kits:

"[T]he EPA’s proposed revisions to the glider rules would undermine the investments that DTNA and Detroit Diesel Corporation — and all other U.S. manufacturers — made in advanced technologies and exhaust after treatment, while opening the vehicle and engine markets to manufacturers who find simple options to skirt EPA regulations altogether and market high emitting engines or vehicles." – Public Comment of Daimler Trucks North America

The Volvo Group, one of the world’s leading manufacturers of heavy-duty trucks, and direct employer of more than 13,000 Americans:

"A repeal of the Phase 2 glider provisions will make a mockery of the massive investments we’ve made to develop clean diesel technology. Any relaxation of the production caps is unnecessary and would exacerbate the negative competitive and environmental impacts from the glider industry. It’s imperative that the Agency ensure that all actors are playing by the same set of rules." — Public Comment of the Volvo Group

The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, whose members include major car companies including Ford, General Motors, and Toyota, opposes the proposal and says this rule could have implications far beyond glider vehicles, resulting in drastic increases in air pollution from other motor vehicles:

"One glaring (and perhaps unintended) result of the Proposed Repeal is that any auto or engine manufacturer (or its customer) could circumvent EPA's GHG regulation of new motor vehicles and new motor vehicle engines merely by incorporating a few used components into their finished products …Vehicle manufacturers or builders of ‘kit vehicles’ could attempt to avoid compliance with emission standards in their entirety by incorporating used powertrain components into their vehicles. A circumvention of criteria pollutant standards in this way would adversely affect public health and run contrary to other EPA efforts to promote low on-road emissions." — Public Comment of Auto Alliance

The Truck and Engine Manufacturers Association (EMA), representing leading global manufacturers of heavy-duty and medium-duty vehicles and engines including Honda, Caterpillar, Cummins, Ford, General Motors, Navistar, Volvo, and Yamaha:

"[S]uch a loophole would be especially damaging to EMA’s members who have invested hundreds of millions of dollars in advanced technologies – technologies that make them the world’s leaders in the manufacture of new heavy-duty and medium-duty on-highway engines and vehicles. EPA’s loophole would open the door for other manufacturers (that have not made the same investment) to enter the U.S. marketplace, even with used engines that have no advanced emission-control systems whatsoever." — Public Comment of EMA

PACCAR is a manufacturer of medium- and heavy-duty trucks and engines, including a major manufacturer of glider kits. Even PACCAR, which would be able to sell glider kits through the proposed loophole, acknowledges the harmful implications of EPA’s proposed rule:

"PACCAR supports the comments submitted by the Truck and Engine Manufacturers Association (EMA) regarding EPA’s interpretation of the CAA used in this NPRM.  In particular, PACCAR agrees with EMA that EPA’s interpretation of CAA Section 202(a)(1) will create a loophole that could  … lead to traditionally ‘new’ engines being built with one or more refurbished parts in order to avoid being regulated to the current CAA emissions requirements." — Public Comment of PACCAR

The National Association of Manufacturers (NAM), the nation’s largest manufacturing association representing nearly 14,000 small, medium, and large manufacturers in every industrial sector and in all 50 states:

"The framework created by the existing [2016 HDP2] regulations strikes an appropriate balance without creating a competitive disadvantage for manufacturers that comply with GHG standards. . . . [T]he proposed repeal of the glider vehicle requirements from the Phase 2 rule could have unintended consequences that affect the market for new heavy-duty vehicles." — Public Comment of NAM

FLEETS AND SHIPPERS

UPS, which owns the largest truck fleet in the U.S.:

"Allowing gliders to remain unchecked as to fuel economy and emissions means that the cleanest heavy truck fleets in the nation will keep paying the price for clean air, while gliders don't. In short, before asking [for] more improvements in the best-of-the-best trucks, EPA should pursue cleaner emissions in trucks that are already the worst-of-the-worst in emissions." — Public Comment of UPS

The American Trucking Associations, which represents more than 34,000 companies, convened a Fuel Efficiency Advisory Committee comprised of leading truck fleets from across the country, including UPS, Wal-Mart, PepsiCo, and Penske Truck Leasing. The committee voted unanimously “to oppose any attempts to repeal the glider provisions in the [2016] final Phase 2 rule.”

"Our members have worked together tirelessly in support of technologies and programs that have resulted in the production and adoption of the cleanest and most fuel-efficient diesel trucks ever. EPA’s decision to allow the unchecked growth of the glider market and encourage the continued sale of antiquated engine technologies grossly undermines the investment decisions of thousands of companies, organizations, and businesses." — Public Comment of American Trucking Associations

The Ceres BICEP Network (Business for Innovative Climate & Energy Policy) is comprised of leading companies such as Adobe, eBay, IKEA, L’Oreal, Nike, The North Face, Patagonia, Sierra Nevada Brewing, and Unilever:

"It is important to us that the transportation of our goods does not result in negative public health impacts, and we believe that those trucking companies that have invested in clean technologies, and those companies that use them, should not be penalized. Given that this proposal will result in significant harm to public health, and undermine a level playing field for those who support clean technologies, we strongly oppose this proposal." — Public Comment of BICEP

Posted in News / Read 1 Response

Leadership: The auto industry’s missing ingredient

The automotive industry’s capacity for innovation and marketing are on full display this month. Between the Consumer Electronic Show and the North American International Auto Show, every day brings a new story about the rapid development of vehicle technology. The industry possesses the know-how and ability to deliver on the zero-emissions future if it wants to.

A Ford at an electric car charging station in Buffalo, NY. Photo by Fortunate4now

Behind the headlines of engineering feats and product plans, though, is a disturbing fact. The industry is undermining its own innovation. It’s doing this through a campaign to dramatically weaken the central tool we have to move cleaner technology into the fleet – protective greenhouse gas reduction and fuel efficiency standards for new cars and passenger trucks.

Well-designed federal standards foster the deployment of fuel saving solutions. With the certainty of long-term standards in place, manufacturers are able to make the necessary investments to scale these solutions into the fleet. Scaled production further drives down costs, enhancing automaker profitability and consumer payback.

This cycle has been in full view over the past several years as automakers have brought to market ever more efficient vehicles with record sales and strong profitability. An exhaustive technical analysis completed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and California Air Resources Board found that automakers were well positioned to deliver even more fuel efficiency and emissions progress in the years ahead.

With this robust technical underpinning, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a determination to maintain the existing 2022 to 2025 standards. Back in 2012, EPA finalized these standards with the broad support of the automotive industry. But fast forward to today, and the automotive industry is pushing for the Trump Administration to reconsider this determination.

This has set up a year of incongruity where the industry’s position that the standards need to be re-examined are consistently contradicted by its product announcements. In just this past year, automakers have made the following announcements:

  • Daimler AG announced a billion dollar investment to build electric vehicles in the U.S. with production starting in the early 2020’s.
  • BMW reached 100,000 in global electric vehicle sales while promising a dozen models of electric vehicles by 2025.
  • Toyota committed to having at least 10 models of all-electric vehicles by the early 2020’s.
  • Mazda promoted an engine breakthrough that could improve efficiency by up to 30 percent, and is planning to deploy the new engine in 2019.
  • GM laid out a bold vision for a “zero crashes, zero emissions, and zero congestion” future, announced plans for 20 new electric vehicles by 2023 – including two by 2019, and rolled out the acclaimed Chevy Bolt across the U.S.
  • Ford publicized its intention to have an electric vehicle with a range of 300 miles on the market by 2020.

These are not public announcements most automakers make lightly. They make them with high confidence in their ability to meet them.

As amazing as these announcements are, none of them are even necessary to meet the vehicle greenhouse gas standards that EPA finalized in 2012 and affirmed last year. The industry is already poised to meet these standards with broader adoption of more conventional technologies.

The impressive innovation in advanced engine design and electrification – which the industry clearly believes will start to scale over the next few years – will make the standards even more attainable.

Yet, despite the remarkable recent record of innovation and the significant investments made in developing a new generation of clean vehicle solutions, the automotive industry – through its trade associations – has chosen a path to weaken our existing emissions standards and has stayed silent as EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt has threatened California’s own protective vehicle emission standards.

The industry’s actions are contradictory and concerning. Yet, there is still time for automakers to choose a different path – one that looks to the future and seeks to build a new round of protective standards that rewards the industry’s innovation, lowers costs for families and protects human health and the environment.

As the announcements are made over the coming days, we should also be listening to hear if any automakers are willing to match their record on innovation with what the industry most needs now – leadership.

Posted in Cars and Pollution, Economics, Greenhouse Gas Emissions, News, Policy / Read 1 Response

Natural disasters are no longer purely natural

You may have heard the alarming news that weather and climate disasters in the U.S. killed 362 people in 2017 and caused a record $306 billion in damages.

But also alarming is the fact that many news outlets are still referring to these events as “natural disasters.”

Southeast Texas after Hurricane Harvey – a not-purely-natural disaster. Photo: U.S. Department of Defense

With recent advances in science, researchers have found that human-caused climate change plays a major role in making certain events occur and/or making them worse. That means that many “natural disasters” are no longer purely “natural.”

Here is a look at some not-so-natural disasters:

  • Hurricane Harvey 2017: human-caused climate change made record rainfall over Houston around three times more likely and 15 percent more intense
  • European Extreme Heat 2017: human-caused climate change made intensity and frequency of such extreme heat at least 10 times as likely in Portugal and Spain
  • Australian Extreme Heat 2017: maximum summer temperatures like those seen during 2016-2017 are now at least 10 times more likely with human-caused climate change
  • Louisiana Downpours 2016: human-caused climate change made events like this 40 percent more likely and increased rainfall intensity by around 10 percent
  • European Rainstorms 2016: human-caused climate change made probability of three-day extreme rainfall this season at least 40 percent more likely in France
  • UK Storm Desmond 2015: human-caused climate change made extreme regional rainfall roughly 60 percent more likely
  • Argentinian Heat Wave 2013/2014: human-caused climate change made the event around five times more likely

By employing the term “natural disasters,” news outlets and others are inadvertently implying that all of these events are just misfortunate incidences – rather than consequences of our actions.

This seemingly innocuous phrase supports the idea that dangerous weather is out of our control.

But, we do have some control over their frequency and intensity, and that control is through our emissions of heat-trapping gases.

We need to act on climate, and we need to do it now. Pointing out that we worsen and may even cause these weather disasters may help convince people to do what needs to be done.

Posted in Basic Science of Global Warming, Extreme Weather, News, Science, Setting the Facts Straight / Read 1 Response

A look back at 2017: The year in weather disasters – and the connection to climate change

Port Arthur, Texas after Hurricane Harvey. Photo: SC-HART

From hurricanes to heat waves, 2017 produced countless headlines concerning extreme weather and the devastation left in its wake.

We tend to think of extreme weather as an unpredictable, external source of destruction. When faced with catastrophes, we don’t always recognize the role we play in intensifying their impacts.

But as human-induced climate change continues to progress, extreme weather is becoming more frequent and dangerous. Without immediate greenhouse gas mitigation efforts, last year’s unprecedented disasters may soon become the norm.

Here’s a look back at the worst weather of 2017 and how these events may have been affected by climate change (and scroll down to see a timeline of the year’s worst weather).

JANUARY

  1. Massive flooding drowns California – Intense rains in January provided a much needed respite from California’s longstanding drought, but quickly tipped from satiating to inundating. Within the first 11 days of the year, California received 25 percent of the state’s average annual rainfall. Flooding and mudslides forced more than 200,000 people to evacuate their homes and caused an estimated $1.5 billion in property and infrastructure damages.

    The rapid shift from drought to flooding may be a marker of climate change. As temperatures warm, precipitation falling as rain rather than snow and expedited snow melt lead to the earlier filling of reservoirs. Such a shift increases the likelihood of both summer droughts and winter flooding, with the latter intensified by a warming atmosphere that holds more moisture and deposits greater precipitation in heavy rainfall events.

  2. Heat wave sizzles in Australia – High heat persisting overnight in the New South Wales and Southern Queensland regions of Australia induced a series of devastating heat waves throughout January and February. Following a record-setting month in which the city reached its highest ever overnight minimum temperature for December, Sydney experienced the hottest night in January since weather records began in the mid-1800s.

    Analysis has shown that these extreme summer temperatures are 10 times as likely due to the influence of climate change. With rising global temperatures, heat waves are expected to become more intense, frequent, and longer lasting. Australia was just one of many regions to experience these developing changes in 2017.

  3. Extreme heat melts the North Pole – Recent history of escalating temperatures in the Arctic could not dull the shock when temperatures near the North Pole reached more than 50 degrees Fahrenheit above regional averages this winter. The heat wave associated with this spike is not only dramatic in intensity, but frequency – heat this extreme usually occurs about once each decade, yet this event was the third recorded in just over a month.

    There exists an essential feedback between sea ice melt and Arctic warming – the more we warm, the more ice melts, lowering the region’s reflectivity of sunlight and increasing warming intensity. While these processes are usually gradual, weather variability can kick dramatic warming events into high gear. The winter heat waves experienced in the Arctic provide examples of such a combination, which may occur every few years should we reach a 2 degree Celsius global temperature rise.

FEBRUARY

  1. Drought brings risk of famine to Somalia – At a time when a staggering 6.2 million people – half of Somalia’s population – required urgent humanitarian aid, the World Health Organization released an official warning that Somalia was on the verge of famine. Such categorization would clock in as Somalia’s third famine in 25 years, the most recent of which led to the death of 260,000 people.

    After years of scarce rainfall, the nation continues to face widespread food insecurity, reduced access to clean water, and increased risk for drought-related illness. Analysis of both observational and modeling data suggests that only a small increase in the nation’s dry extremes can be attributed to climate change. However, as dry regions become progressively drier in a warming climate, similar national disasters may become increasingly common.

JUNE

  1. Extreme heat blisters the Southwestern United States – In June, an intense heat wave blazed across the Southwestern U.S. and left record high temperatures in its trail. Daily records included 127 degrees Fahrenheit in Death Valley. All-time records were reached in Las Vegas, Nevada and Needles, California at 117 degrees Fahrenheit and 125 degrees Fahrenheit, respectively. High heat triggered public health concerns and led to power outages in the California Central Valley, the buckling of highways in West Sacramento, and the cancelation of 50 flights out of Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport for American Airlines alone.

    While high temperatures are typical of the low-humidity pre-monsoon season in the Southwest, the unprecedented magnitude of these numbers and the shift towards an earlier extreme heat season may be a signal of the changing climate.

Greenland's wildfires, as seen from space. Photo: NASA

JULY

  1. Once-icy Greenland engulfed in flames – In historically icy Greenland, wildfires have typically been of minimal concern. As a result, when the largest wildfire in the country’s history broke out at the end of July, there existed virtually no framework to assess the event’s health and infrastructure risk.

    As global temperatures rise and Greenland’s ice melts, the once barren landscape can fill with vegetation and expand the likelihood of forest fire outbreak. Climate change simultaneously lengthens and intensifies drought in the region, while increasing the likelihood of thunderstorms (a major catalyst of wildfires). Wildfires in turn intensify regional warming, as the fires’ soot deposits black carbon on the pristine snow cover, reducing the region’s reflectivity and accelerating ice sheet melt.

  2. “Lucifer” plagues Europe – Europe’s most sustained extreme heat event since the deadly 2003 heatwave (in which climate change was responsible for half of the 1050 recorded deaths) brought temperatures so reminiscent of the Inferno that locals named the event “Lucifer.” As temperatures throughout the region surpassed 104 degrees Fahrenheit, two deaths were recorded and a 15 percent increase in hospital emergency emissions was observed in Italy. The heatwave also caused pollution levels to soar and spurred wildfires throughout Portugal, just a few months after fires in Pedrógão Grande killed 60 and injured more than 250.

    Research concerning previous extreme heat in Europe has shown that climate change renders the maximum summer temperatures observed in regions such as Spain 500 times more likely than in the pre-industrial era. As global temperatures continue to rise, extreme heat will only become more familiar.

  3. Southeast Asia inundated by widespread floods – More than 41 million people were affected by massive floods and landslides that rippled through nations including Bangladesh, India, and Nepal. Losses experienced by the region included more than 1,300 lives and the displacement of 600,000. Two simultaneous pressures – the push for urbanization and neglect towards developing sustainable draining systems – renders the region highly vulnerable to these natural disasters.

    The link between the Southeast Asian monsoon season and climate change is complex, dependent upon a variety of entwined weather systems and intricate regional topography. More study is necessary to predict the influence of a changing climate on this monsoon system in order to prepare the region for impact and increase communities’ resilience.

Puerto Rico after Hurricane Irma. Photo: U.S. Customs and Border Protection

AUGUST

  1. Atlantic hurricane season leaves devastation in its wake – Deadly storms Harvey, Irma, Maria, and Ophelia dominated the news in August, killing more than 150 people and causing more than $300 billion in damages in just the United States.

    As the atmosphere holds seven percent more moisture with each one degree Celsius temperature rise, individual tropical storms can now deposit more rainfall. Recent studies have estimated that climate change rendered Harvey’s extreme rainfall three times more likely and 15 percent more intense. 27 trillion gallons of rain fell over Texas and Louisiana from Hurricane Harvey alone, setting the record for the highest tropical cyclone rainfall in the continental US. Sea level rise of 10 to 12 inches in cities such as Miami dramatically increased the destruction caused by the storm surges associated with Hurricane Irma, which were as high as 10 feet. Warming waters driving hurricane development and strength ushered in Hurricane Maria – Puerto Rico’s strongest storm in 85 years – and Hurricane Ophelia, which set records for the farthest east a major hurricane has traveled in the Atlantic and the worst storm in history to make landfall in Ireland.

OCTOBER

  1. Western United States’ forests set ablaze – Wildfires devastated Northern California this October, with more than 245,000 acres burned and 14,000 homes destroyed. Insured losses in the region amounted to more than $3 billion, but danger does not end when the fires are extinguished. The remaining ash and debris (including hazardous waste, electronic waste, and heavy metal contamination) can be spread by wind and rain, posing even further health concerns to those nearby. The increased temperatures and decreased water availability associated with climate change increases the risk of wildfires. Due to recent temperature and dryness extremes in California, even engine heat from parked cars has been cited as the source of major fires.

    The duration of the fire season has also begun to lengthen, as spring and summer temperatures rise and snowmelt begins earlier. California wildfires ignited once again in December outside of Los Angeles, creating even more destruction than those in the north. Covering an area of more than 425 square miles and displacing more than 100,000 people, the Thomas fire ranks as the second largest fire in the state’s history. While dryness and high temperatures triggering the fire’s outbreak are associated with La Niña's current presence in the region, climate change serves to exacerbate both conditions and facilitate the dramatic losses experienced by California residents.

The direct influence of climate change on many of these events suggests that more devastating catastrophes lie ahead. But the future is not written in stone.

Should we recognize the intensification of these extreme weather events, the power to decrease greenhouse gas emissions worldwide and prevent increasingly hostile weather remains in our hands.

Posted in Arctic & Antarctic, Basic Science of Global Warming, Extreme Weather, Science / Read 2 Responses

Presenting the Pruitt list

Special people, places, polluters, cronies, calendars, chemicals, quotes, numbers, and other mischief that was part of 2017’s assault on environmental safeguards. Or, Who is Arthur A. Elkins, Jr.?

  1. Six: Number of former EPA Administrators (Republicans and Democrats) who have publicly condemned Administrator Scott Pruitt’s efforts to hollow out the EPA.
  2. "Little Tidbits": What Donald Trump promised would be left of the EPA when he’s done with it.  (He actually made this promise in 2016.)
  3. Arthur A. Elkins, Jr.: EPA’s Inspector General.  He’s reviewing Pruitt’s spending on charter planes and travel to Oklahoma, where Pruitt spent 43 of 92 days this spring.
  4. $40,000: Amount spent for Pruitt to travel to Morocco to promote natural gas exports.
  5. Calendar: What Scott Pruitt has filled up with meetings with polluter executives and lobbyists, who often get favorable decisions after seeing him.
  6. “It’s just a mystery as to how you can persuade him to not follow exactly what industry asks him to do.” An EPA employee describing Pruitt at meetings with industry.
  7. 31%: The amount that Scott Pruitt and Donald Trump are trying to cut from the EPA budget—the most of any agency in government.
  8. “Meat Ax”: What former EPA Administrator William Ruckelshaus said that Scott Pruitt is swinging at public health and environmental protections.
  9. Superfund Cleanups: Pruitt seeks 30% cuts in EPA Superfund efforts while simultaneously promising to prioritize them.
  10. Indoor Radon Grant Program: Reduces radon in homes, schools and buildings.  Pruitt and Trump are seeking to eliminate it.
  11. EPA’s Office of Environmental Justice: Created to give everyone protections from environmental and health hazards.  Pruitt is seeking to eliminate it.
  12. More than 60: Percent of Americans who would like to see the EPA’s powers preserved or strengthened.
  13. Paranoia: What might cause an EPA Administrator to keep a secret calendar, spend taxpayer money to sweep his offices for surveillance bugs, require employees to have an escort on his floor and not bring cell phones or take notes in his office, and install a $25,000 soundproof communications booth when EPA has one already.
  14. Arthur A. Elkins, Jr.: EPA’s Inspector General.  He’s reviewing Pruitt’s decision to spend more than $25,000 on a soundproof communications booth.
  15. About one-third: Drop in number of EPA enforcement cases against suspected polluters under Pruitt.
  16. 39%: Reduction in civil penalties sought from polluters under Pruitt.
  17. Michael Dourson: Industry “toxicologist-for-hire” forced to withdraw his nomination to run EPA’s Chemical Safety office amid public pressure and bipartisan Congressional opposition.
  18. Albert “Kell” Kelly: Senior Advisor to Pruitt.  Banker and baseball pal of Pruitt with no environmental experience—but barred from the financial industry by the FDIC.
  19. William Wehrum: Assistant Administrator, Office of Air and Radiation.  Sued EPA to tear down clear air and climate protections at least 31 times in the last decade.
  20. Industry insiders who have spent decades fighting to block environmental safeguards and undermine scientific findings: See Leadership, EPA.
  21. EPA’s Board of Scientific Counselors: Created to provide independent advice, it’s now being purged to make room for climate deniers and industry-backed figures.
  22. “The evidence is abundant of the dangerous political turn of an agency that is supposed to be guided by science.” Former EPA chief Christie Todd Whitman.
  23. Opposition Research: What Definers Public Affairs, a partisan firm hired by EPA to monitor media, conducted on EPA employees who might be “resistance” figures.
  24. Arthur A. Elkins, Jr.: EPA’s Inspector General.  He’s been asked to investigate the EPA’s no-bid hiring of Definers Public Affairs.
  25. Five: Number of major air safeguards being weakened or eliminated by the EPA: Clean Cars, Oil and gas methane pollution, Mercury and Air Toxics, Smog and Clean Power Plan.
  26. Climate Change: Global rise in temperatures, fueled by uptick in carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, that is triggering more extreme climate events.
  27. “Climate Change”: Phrase being purged from EPA’s website.
  28. “Red-Blue Exercise”: Method Pruitt wants to use to attack well-established scientific consensus on climate change.
  29. Benzene: Dangerous carcinogen that leaked through Houston neighborhoods during Hurricane Harvey without EPA acknowledgement at the time or afterwards.
  30. Arthur A. Elkins, Jr.: EPA’s Inspector General.  He’s reviewing EPA’s performance during Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria.
  31. EPA Office of Public Affairs: Taxpayer-funded unit responsible for forcing reporters to file Freedom of Information Act requests for routine information, accusing them of stealing work from other outlets, and attacking them personally after they reported on Hurricane Harvey environmental threats that the EPA hadn’t yet found.
  32. Tar Creek, Oklahoma: Site of a health disaster where Scott Pruitt, as state attorney general, refused to prosecute or even release the state auditor’s report.
  33. Arthur A. Elkins, Jr.: EPA’s Inspector General.  He’s reviewing Pruitt’s call for a mining group to lobby Trump on the Paris climate treaty, which could violate ethics rules.
  34. “EPA has all the signs of an agency captured by industry.”  Congressman Paul Tonko at Pruitt’s first oversight hearing (a full 293 days after Pruitt took office).
  35. Exodus: (1) Second Book of the Torah and the Bible. (2) Departure of more than 700 EPA employees since the 2016 election and the Pruitt assault on the EPA.
  36. Smog, coal ash, lead, mercury, benzene, and carbon: Dangerous pollutants coming your way as Pruitt rolls back key environmental safeguards.
  37. What we’ll all be at more risk for: Brain damage, leukemia, asthma, lung cancer, heart disease, heart attacks, diabetes, bladder cancer and birth defects.
  38. Washington’s busiest person in 2018: Arthur A. Elkins, Jr., EPA’s Inspector General.

You can find even more in our “EPA’s Terrible 2017” wrap-up report.

Happy Holidays and a Safe and Healthy New Year from Your Friends at EDF!

 

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