Climate 411

The science is clear: We need a stronger smog standard

By Ananya Roy

A mom rubs her sons back as she murmurs softly “It’s going to be OK. You are going to feel better soon.”“Mom, am I going to miss baseball practice again?” Frustration lacing every word, as the young boy looked longingly at the sunshine streaming through the emergency department waiting area window. The sound of his wheezing carried across the room.

In the U.S. more than 26 million people are known to have asthma, of which 6 million are children. These are the Americans who may face situations like this one. The CDC estimates that asthma costs the U.S. economy more than $80 billion annually in medical expenses, missed work and school days and deaths.

We can and must do better.

Ground level ozone (also known as smog) is an air pollutant with well-established adverse effects on health including worsening of asthma. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is required by law to set national air quality standards that protect public health with an adequate margin of safety. Read More »

Posted in Clean Air Act, Health, Policy, Setting the Facts Straight / Comments are closed

Why accurate reporting of air pollution after Hurricane Harvey matters

By Matt Tresaugue. This post originally appeared in Texas Clean Air Matters.

Hartmann Park, Valero Refinery, Manchester County, Houston Texas.

In addition to dumping historic amounts of rain across southeast Texas, Hurricane Harvey triggered a wave of air pollution, with petrochemical plants and oil refineries releasing 8.3 million pounds of harmful chemicals that exceeded state limits. At least, that is what they told state officials.

Companies, however, reduced those estimates by 1.7 million pounds in later filings with the state, a new Environmental Defense Fund analysis found.

The steep drop suggests that some companies may not have accounted accurately for all Harvey-related pollution increases in their reporting to the state. As a result, people’s exposure to hazardous air pollutants, such as cancer-causing benzene and 1,3-butadiene, may be substantially underestimated.

Industry frequently justified the changes in emissions estimates by arguing that flexible state-issued permits, as well as Gov. Greg Abbott’s suspension of several environmental rules in advance of Harvey, made the pollution legal. Read More »

Posted in Extreme Weather, Health, News, Science / Read 1 Response

Administration Cooks the Books to Justify Rollback of the Clean Car Standards

This post was written by EDF consultant Chester France, who served as a Senior Executive at EPA and led the development of vehicle standards at the agency

 

The Trump administration is now trying to roll back the Clean Car Standards – a proven American success story created with a mountain of evidence to support it.

From 2009 through 2016, the U.S. government published 10,000 pages of information proving that the Clean Car standards are feasible and cost effective. That’s the most comprehensive and rigorous U.S. automotive technology analysis ever conducted.

Rather than building on that massive technical record, the proposal released on Thursday indicates that the Trump administration has embraced shoddy and biased analysis to support its desired eight-year freeze of the Clean Car Standards at essentially 2018 levels through 2026.

The analysis attempting to justify the proposed rollback is a stunning 180-degree reversal of what the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Department of Transportation (DOT) had found over the last decade. For instance:

  • As recently as 2016, EPA and DOT found that the standards through 2025 would have net societal benefits of almost $100 billion.
  • Now, the administration wants us to believe the same standards will have net societal costs of $200 billion.

That’s a change of almost $300 billion.

The only way to achieve such a massive analytical flip-flop is to “cook the books” – by manipulating design elements and input assumptions in the modeling tool – until the Trump administration arrived at the answers that it wants.

And it’s clear the Trump administration had answers it wanted from the beginning. EDF uncovered an email proving that a long-standing climate denier within the Trump administration had – at the urging of the White House – directed EPA staff to immediately roll back the Clean Car Standards on February 7, 2017. That email reflects a purely political decision within weeks of the President’s inauguration in 2017 – before anyone could have conducted any analysis of the benefits of the program. The facts had no bearing then, and clearly still do not now.

Our experts have identified scores of changes improperly biased in the direction of weakening the standards and making them appear less cost effective. Here are just a few of the most egregious examples:

Read More »

Posted in News / Read 2 Responses

Clean Cars Are Safer and Cheaper to Drive

This post was written by EDF consultant Chester France, who served as a Senior Executive at EPA and led the development of vehicle standards at the agency

 

Very soon, the Trump administration is expected to propose dramatically weakening America’s Clean Car Standards under the Orwellian title “The Safer and More Affordable Fuel Efficient (SAFE) Vehicles Rule.”

Actually, a decade-long record shows lower-polluting cars are safe and can contribute to a continuing reduction in traffic deaths. Strong Clean Car Standards also save Americans money at the gas pump.

The misleading title of the expected proposal — and the findings it insinuates — is just the latest example of the Trump administration manipulating analyses to achieve its desired result. A February 2017 email from Trump transition team member and professional climate denier David Schnare describes a White House order to set these rollbacks into motion, underscoring that this decision was preordained and not based on any analysis of facts or law.

Here are some facts you should know about clean cars, savings, and safety.

Read More »

Posted in Cars and Pollution, Clean Air Act, Economics, News, Policy / Comments are closed

86 Questions and Counting for Scott Pruitt

By Elgie Holstein

Spring has been EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt’s season of scandal, with each day bringing fresh allegations of the EPA Administrator’s reckless disregard for his boss’s promises to “drain the swamp.”

Worse for the country, he has adopted a sense of entitlement, which appears to have long pre-dated his arrival in Washington.  In so doing, he has broken laws, flouted ethics rules, ignored congressional intent and requests, and sought the trappings of power and prestige.

A maelstrom of scandals throughout the first year of Pruitt’s tenure surfaced questions regarding his first-class flights, a sweetheart condo deal from the wife of an energy lobbyist, unauthorized pay raises for close associates, his penchant for secrecy and love of perks, and the demotion of EPA employees who questioned his spending.

Since then, another flood of stories has generated even more questions:  An EPA inspector general report showing that Pruitt didn’t tell the truth when he said he knew nothing in advance about  the raises. A string of allegations by former deputy chief of staff Kevin Chmielewski.  An OMB investigation of his $43,000 phone booth (which the GAO says was illegally paid for, and which, in any case, was unneeded). A meeting with a lobbyist who co-owned the condo he rented.  Questionable insider dealings during Pruitt’s days in Oklahoma.

It is regrettable that each new story brings little surprise at how naturally Pruitt navigates and takes advantage of the swamp. But he has proven himself to be a man who shamelessly advances his own political ambitions and the desires of polluters at the expense of Americans who must watch a public official thumb his nose at ethical behavior while pursuing an agenda that makes our air, water, and land dirtier, and climate change worse.

In all, we now count at least 86 questions that need answering, with more seeming to emerge every day.  As Pruitt prepares to face two Congressional committees Thursday, lawmakers are noticing the scandals unfolding before them.

“If the allegations are true,” notes Rep. Bill Flores (R-TX), “they are troubling, and we should expect higher of any person in public office."

Representative Flores is right—we should expect better. We should also expect that an individual tasked to lead EPA will prioritize the well-being of families and the environment over the wishes of close friends and industry. Pruitt fails on both accounts.

Two hearings may not be enough to cover all the questions.  But here are ten of the biggest questions to which Americans deserve answers:

  1. Why did Mr. Pruitt tell Fox News he had no prior knowledge of raises given to two staffers he brought from Oklahoma when an EPA Inspector General report now shows that Pruitt signed off on them?
  2. Did Pruitt sometimes pick travel destinations based on his personal desires, and ask his staff to “find me something to do” to justify the use of taxpayer funds, as a former EPA staffer alleges?  How many taxpayer-funded trips home to Oklahoma or elsewhere were justified on the basis of a single hurriedly scheduled meeting?
  3. If Pruitt needs to fly first class for security reasons, why did he fly coachon personal trips home to see Oklahoma football games—when he could not concoct a reason for the taxpayers to pay his way?
  4. Did Pruitt really text his chief of staff to tell him not to come to travel planning meetings after he raised concerns about the Administrator’s travel?
  5. Why were at least five EPA officials (four of them senior)reassigned or demoted, or asking for new jobs after questioning Pruitt’s spending priorities?
  6. Will EPA’s new #2 official, former coal and energy lobbyist Andrew Wheeler, be granted any waivers from his ethics pledge or other restrictions on helping former clients?
  7. Did one of Pruitt’s staffers spend weekshelping Pruitt search for an apartment, contacting agents and touring properties?  For what other personal chores did Mr. Pruitt enlist government workers?
  8. During Pruitt’s December 2017 trip to Morocco to promote natural gas — which is not part of the EPA’s mission — did he discuss Cheniere Energy Inc., which is partly owned by Donald Trump’s friend Carl Icahn?  (Icahn helped promote Pruitt for the EPA job.)
  9. Does Pruitt agree with EPA air chief William Wehrum that the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards, which protect children from serious harm, “may not be necessary?”
  10. What is the full story behind the lavish home of a lobbyist eventually making its way to a shell company of which Pruitt was a stakeholder? That same lobbyist’s client would receive favorable treatment from Pruitt in the future—were any backroom deals made during the transfer of the property?

As a cabinet-level official, Scott Pruitt is supposed to set an example for public servants.  Instead, he has created a growing cloud of questions about his ethics, his honesty and his fitness for public life.  On behalf of America’s taxpayers, Congress needs to start asking Scott Pruitt questions — a lot of them.

Posted in News / Comments are closed

Annual festival reinforces strong Latino connection to the environment

By Gabriela Zayas del Rio

To kick off National Hispanic Heritage Month, which spans from September 15th to October 15th, Americas Latino Eco Festival convened for its fifth year in Denver, Colorado. The festival, organized by the Americas for Conservation and the Arts in partnership with the U.S. Forest Service, is a weekend-long gathering focused on the many ways in which Latinos and Latin Americans practice and promote environmental awareness.

This year’s festival focused on a call for unity and perseverance among environmental advocates to work together during challenging times. This idea is especially important as a swath of public health safeguards are under attack and as the Environmental Protection Agency faces steep budget cuts.

These actions would put Americans’ health and safety at risk and be felt by all, but Latinos in the U.S. and other minorities will be disproportionately impacted from weak environmental standards and enforcement. Already, nearly one in every two Latinos in the U.S. live in counties that frequently violate the standards for ground-level ozone, also known as smog, and Latino children are 40 percent more likely to die from asthma than non-Latino whites.

The festival’s activities covered a range of topics but a few key themes stood out to me as they reinforced Latinos and Latin Americans’ inherent connection to nature as a source of life, healing, and community:

  1. Sustainability is in our heritage and conservation is our legacy

For centuries, Latino communities have lived in sync with the land to prosper and to preserve resources for future generations. The festival devoted a session to the “acequia,” a system of communal irrigation canals to sustainably manage water distribution across vast, desert-like areas. We can learn immensely from this model of cooperation to more efficiently meet our needs while allowing nature to thrive.

Latinos are also the people who envisioned a zero-waste society long before it became a “modern” solution. Seven centuries ago, the Aztecs saw food waste as a resource that could be used productively in manufacturing and agriculture. They eliminated waste and found creative ways to incentivize recycling and reusing.

This unique take on sustainability is an ethic that continues in our culture today; for instance growing up in my household we reused everything, including repurposing butter containers as tupperware.

Moms Clean Air Force enjoying Americas Latina Eco-Festival

  1. Together we are stronger

The Latino community works tirelessly to bring communities together, to educate ourselves, and to demand equal access to a healthy environment. In the process, we try to be inclusive of age, race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, and nationality, demonstrating that we all have an indispensable role to play in environmental conservation.

The festival elevated this principle through an event organized with the Denver Museum of Nature and Science that brought 400 kids from Title 1 schools together to learn actionable ways in which they can be citizen scientists and environmental stewards.

  1. Just transitions must be center stage

The need to acknowledge that environmental progress will not be achieved without equity and without empowering front-line communities was embedded throughout the festival.

Whether transitioning to clean energy, providing disaster relief, or advocating for any environmental policy, all must seek to be done justly, keeping the vulnerable communities in mind.

As a Puerto Rican entering her seventh year in the Diaspora, I was reaffirmed about my role in the environmental movement, especially now as my home and the Caribbean grapple with recovery from Hurricanes Irma and Maria. Hearing from water protectors and commemorating the legacy of activist Berta Cáceres and the likes, all heroes who risked or lost their lives protecting nature, I felt triumphant and convinced that we have the right voices and tools to shatter all misconceptions about Latinos and the environment.

The festival was a testament to the strong commitment of Latinos and Latin Americans to conservation issues. Along with prioritizing a strong economy, we place water conservation and reducing air pollution as the most important issues that should be addressed by our government. We also disproportionately support action to address climate change, see the value in protecting national parks to strengthen the economy, and believe that outdoor activities, such as hiking and fishing, are an integral part of our culture and community.

Our culture and heritage have persevered for centuries, and have left an indelible mark in the environmental movement and this country. Likewise, I fully expect Latinos and Latin Americans will continue to demonstrate their resilience in the face of climate change.

Posted in Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Health, Latino partnerships, Partners for Change / Comments are closed