Yes, Administrator Pruitt, EPA does have the obligation to protect America from climate pollution

(This post was co-authored by EDF’s Ben Levitan)

The head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is once again misleading the American people in an effort to avoid doing his job.

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt was interviewed on Fox News this week, and questioned his legal authority and responsibility to protect the public from the pollution that causes climate change.

During that interview, Pruitt asked:

[W]hat authority has Congress given the EPA to engage in rulemaking to reduce [carbon dioxide]?

Pruitt made similar remarks at the Heritage Foundation earlier this week – peddling the discredited notion that the “Clean Air Act was set up to address local and regional air pollutants, not the global phenomena of [climate pollution].”

We’ve written about this extensively at EDF. We’re happy to go over it one more time to help Administrator Pruitt, since he seems to be having trouble understanding it.

  • That authority is in the Clean Air Act, which is a law that was passed by Congress.
  • We know that authority is in the Clean Air Act because the Supreme Court told us so.
  • The Supreme Court then said so again – and again after that.

So to sum up, we’ve been told by the High Court three times that the authority is indeed in the law that was passed by Congress.

Pruitt’s remarks come just over a week after he signed a proposed rule to abolish the Clean Power Plan — America’s only nationwide limit on climate pollution from fossil fuel power plants.

EPA is legally obligated to protect Americans from harmful climate pollution, but Pruitt’s destructive proposal would leave American communities exposed to greater climate risks, and cost thousands of American lives by increasing dangerous air pollution.

Pruitt’s words on Fox News, and even more so his actions, are appalling. The official who is charged with administering our nation’s clean air laws for the benefit of the American people – laws that the Supreme Court has now held on three separate occasions clearly apply to pollutants that are driving destructive climate change – should not be questioning his basic job description.

Communities and families across the country are already feeling the impacts of climate change through stronger hurricanes, increased flooding, more damaging wildfires, rising sea levels, worsened air quality, and more intense heat waves. Americans overwhelmingly want swift action to address this clear and urgent threat – not Pruitt’s distortions and delay.

Here’s more detail about Pruitt’s legal responsibilities:

Contrary to Pruitt’s claims, the Supreme Court has repeatedly and unequivocally affirmed that Congress gave EPA authority to regulate climate pollution:

  • In Massachusetts v. EPA (549 U.S. 497, 2007), the Supreme Court found “without a doubt” that climate pollution falls within the broad definition of “air pollutants” covered by the Clean Air Act. The Court ordered EPA to make a science-based determination as to whether those pollutants endanger public health and welfare. EPA finalized its determination 2009. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit categorically rejected a barrage of legal challenges to the determination, including one brought by Scott Pruitt when he was attorney general of Oklahoma.
  • In American Electric Power v. Connecticut (564 U.S. 410, 2011), the Supreme Court unanimously held that the Clean Air Act “speaks directly” to the problem of climate pollution from power plants – a point that even opponents of the Clean Power Plan conceded at oral argument in the case.
  • In Utility Air Regulatory Group v. EPA (134 S. Ct. 2427, 2014), the Supreme Court held that the Clean Air Act obligated EPA to ensure that new and modified industrial facilities apply the best available control technology to reduce their emissions of carbon dioxide.

Scott Pruitt’s latest statement questioning EPA’s authority not only contradicts the rulings of the Supreme Court, it departs from the views of former EPA Administrators who have served in administrations of both political parties.

As Christine Todd Whitman, EPA Administrator under George W. Bush, put it:

I think, as a matter of law, that carbon is a pollutant has been settled.

Pruitt’s comments to Fox News also contradict his own previous statements to Congress. During his confirmation hearing to become EPA Administrator, Pruitt told United States Senators that the Supreme Court rulings were the “law of the land” and needed to be “enforced and respected.”

In the Fox News interview, Pruitt also took aim at the Clean Power Plan, repeating his false claim that the Supreme Court held the plan to be unlawful.

In fact, the Supreme Court never issued an opinion on the merits of the Clean Power Plan. It never even heard the case.

The Supreme Court simply put the Clean Power Plan on hold until legal challenges played out in the courts. And since then, Pruitt’s EPA has gone to extraordinary lengths to prevent any court from ruling on the legal merits of the Clean Power Plan.

Just as Pruitt glosses over Supreme Court precedent he doesn’t like, he also seems to have invented a Supreme Court ruling that he desires.

Pruitt’s continued claims that the Clean Power Plan is unlawful are also at odds with the views of leading legal experts – including the Attorneys General of eighteen states, former Republican Administrators of EPA under Presidents Nixon, Reagan, and Bush, and leading drafters of the Clean Air Act. They have all stood up in federal court to defend the fundamental legality of this vital climate and health safeguard.

Pruitt also took a moment in his interview with Fox News to question the health benefits associated with the Clean Power Plan – which include as many as 3,600 avoided deaths each year and thousands of avoided heart attacks and asthma attacks.

As many experts have documented, Pruitt’s EPA has deployed deceptive gimmicks to hide the consequences to human health of repealing the Clean Power Plan. Those gimmicks include assuming, contrary to the conclusions of the American Heart Association, the World Health Organization, the National Research Council, and EPA’s own scientific advisors, that there are zero benefits to reducing air pollution beyond certain levels.

Pruitt made those claims even though EPA acknowledged in its proposed repeal that the Clean Power Plan would achieve pollution reductions that would protect the health of our children.

This isn’t the first time Scott Pruitt has distorted the law and science in order to dismantle key climate and public health protections. Along with the Clean Power Plan, Pruitt has attacked pollution standards for oil and natural gas facilities, climate pollution standards for cars, and standards for heavy-duty trucks.

Americans should be outraged at Scott Pruitt’s repeated misleading statements on settled questions of law and science.

This entry was posted in Clean Air Act, Clean Power Plan, EPA litgation, Health, News, Policy, Setting the Facts Straight. Bookmark the permalink. Both comments and trackbacks are currently closed.
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