Climate 411

Public records confirm EPA’s “censored science” proposal was an end-run around Congress

Earth as seen from a NOAA weather satellite. Photo: NASA

The Trump administration is reportedly expanding its dangerous plan — originally proposed by former Administrator Scott Pruitt — to limit the scientific evidence that the agency can consider when establishing public health protections.

According to a story in the New York Times today, the new proposal will be even more damaging than Pruitt’s version – which was flatly illegal and would have left Americans more exposed to dangerous contaminants in the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the products we use.

The original proposal was based on failed congressional legislation whose sponsor “pitch[ed]” the idea to former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt. But newly released public documents show that the origins of the “censored science” proposal are more cynical than we knew.

EDF sued to obtain the public records after EPA violated the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) by not releasing them, with Earthjustice representing us in the litigation.

The new public records reveal just how explicitly Trump’s EPA is attempting to defy Congress by implementing its “censored science” policy through administrative rulemaking. It turns out that – from the beginning – EPA’s overt goal was to implement the same damaging ideas that the Senate refused to pass. Read More »

Posted in Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Health, News, Policy, Pruitt, Science, Setting the Facts Straight / Comments are closed

New Attorneys General are good news for public health and the environment in 2019

EDF Legal Fellow Lance Bowman co-authored this post

Looking for some good news to start the year?

Right now, there are new state Attorneys General taking office across the country who have committed to protecting public health, the environment, and the rule of law.

Many of them are replacing Attorneys General who lost their elections last year – and who also opposed public health and environmental protections.

Here are a few examples: Read More »

Posted in News, Policy / Comments are closed

EPA Administrator Wheeler prepares to gut Clean Power Plan, increasing pollution and harming health

Acting EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler is reportedly planning to all but abolish one of America’s most important climate protections: the Clean Power Plan, our only nation-wide limits on carbon pollution from existing power plants.

Though Wheeler might claim that he is offering a Clean Power Plan “replacement,” his reported plan would forfeit the tremendous benefits of the Clean Power Plan—and instead provide little to no reduction in climate pollution.

Even as impacts of climate change are ravaging our nation and world, the reported proposal would exacerbate the harms our families are facing—harms like severe heat waves, deadly wildfires, coastal flooding, and violent storms.

Astoundingly, Wheeler might issue this new proposal just weeks after his proposal to roll back America’s Clean Car Standards—a disastrous action that would increase climate pollution by over two billion tons through 2040, and cause owners of cars and trucks to pay as much as $8,000 more for gas over the lifetime of their vehicles.

If Wheeler finalizes these proposals, he would leave our families and communities more vulnerable than ever to the harmful impacts of climate change. And he would flout EPA’s clear legal obligation—upheld three times by the Supreme Court—to protect Americans from dangerous climate pollution.  Read More »

Posted in Cars and Pollution, Clean Air Act, Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Policy / Read 1 Response

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

The fight for transparency and accountability at EPA

This blog was co-authored by Surbhi Sarang, EDF Legal Fellow.

Since taking the helm at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Scott Pruitt has attempted to hide his activities from scrutiny by limiting the public’s access to information.

He has ended the decades-long, bipartisan practice of releasing the daily schedules of top agency leadership, removed EPA webpages, and announced harmful policies close in time with private meetings with lobbyists from affected industries.

EDF has been at the forefront of efforts to promote transparency and accountability at EPA. That’s why we just filed a lawsuit to compel EPA to comply with its legal duty to release public records under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

Scott Pruitt’s record of secrecy and ethical conflicts

Scott Pruitt’s opaqueness and secrecy have sharply contrasted with basic principles of good government.

Under the Ethics in Government Act of 1978, the Office of Government Ethics issued regulations for executive branch employees:

To ensure that every citizen can have complete confidence in the integrity of the Federal Government.

Among other requirements:

Employees shall act impartially and not give preferential treatment to any private organization or individual” and “shall endeavor to avoid any actions creating the appearance that they are violating the law or . . . ethical standards.

The Office of Government Ethics titled this regulation the “basic obligation of public service.”

Pruitt and his senior leadership have raised serious questions as to whether they are abiding by these principles.

In just one example, earlier this summer thirteen state Attorneys General formally objected to a guidance letter in which Pruitt expressed his flawed, misleading opinion about a crucial issue in litigation over the Clean Power Plan — America’s only nationwide limits on carbon pollution from existing power plants.

The Attorneys General wrote that Pruitt’s conduct was “inconsistent with his agreement not to participate in the litigation,” given that he repeatedly sued EPA over the Clean Power Plan when he served as Attorney General of Oklahoma.

Pruitt also discontinued the practice of releasing his schedule, along with the schedules of senior leadership.

The bipartisan practice of releasing schedules stretches back decades and was initiated expressly:

In order to make the public fully aware of [the Administrator’s] contacts with interested persons.

Following months of public pressure and more than 60 FOIA requests, Pruitt finally released a partial public account of his schedule. But that account provides only a minimal level of detail of how and with whom Pruitt spends his time.

Pruitt later released a more detailed appointments calendar, but it covered a limited date range and included many redactions worthy of additional scrutiny. And neither of those releases provides any transparency for other EPA senior officials.

To obtain any more information about how EPA leadership spends its time, EDF’s only recourse has been to demand the release of these public records under FOIA.

EDF’s efforts to promote transparency and accountability

EDF is taking action to protect important standards of transparency and accountability at EPA — and to keep the public informed about policymaking that directly impacts the health and environment of all Americans.

Our lawsuit concerns three FOIA requests that directly address the integrity of EPA’s operations. For each request, EPA’s legally mandated deadline for providing a response is several months overdue, despite EDF’s extensive outreach to EPA over many months in an effort to elicit the requested records.

The first request seeks records related to the ethics agreement that Pruitt signed shortly after his nomination to lead EPA, in which he outlined:

[S]teps that [he] will take to avoid any actual or apparent conflict of interest.

We submitted this FOIA request in January 2017 – more than nine months ago.

Pruitt’s ethics agreement diverged from the standard language used by the Office of Government Ethics – even though Pruitt’s longstanding and very public opposition to a litany of EPA’s public health and environmental safeguards calls into question his ability to be impartial, particularly on matters in which he represented Oklahoma and long ago took fixed positions. Since taking the oath of office as Administrator, Pruitt has actively tried to undermine public health and environmental protections — like the Clean Power Plan — and has proposed to repeal protections that he had long attacked while Attorney General of Oklahoma.

Our FOIA request seeks records pertaining to the evaluation of Pruitt’s actual or potential conflicts of interest, including any analysis that informed his ethics agreement.

The second request is for records related to Pruitt’s and his senior managers’ schedules.

The most complete information we’ve received so far on Pruitt’s activities is only a select snapshot released through a FOIA request. That snapshot contains more than 100 redacted calendar appointments, and only runs through mid-May.

Even this limited information reveals the special access granted to polluter lobbyists — many of whom come from industries that have supported Pruitt’s political career for years. A more comprehensive release, including the calendars of senior EPA managers, would provide a fuller picture of the constituency that Pruitt and his political staff are serving.

The third request is for public documents related to threats to scientific integrity at EPA.

EDF requested these records in light of the Trump Transition Team’s efforts to single out civil servants at the Department of Energy who worked on climate science and policy. Since we submitted this FOIA request more than seven months ago, subsequent events — including the removal of EPA’s Climate Science website, scientific distortions that accompanied the proposal to repeal the Clean Power Plan, threatened efforts that would compromise the integrity of EPA advisory boards, and the muzzling of EPA scientists who were scheduled to deliver public presentations on climate change — have only increased the urgency of providing public access to records about the treatment of scientific integrity at EPA.

EDF will continue working to protect transparency and accountability at EPA by supporting Americans’ ability to access information about health and environmental policies, and by shining a light on the Trump Administration’s attacks on vital safeguards for families and communities across America.

Posted in Clean Air Act, Clean Power Plan, EPA litgation, Policy, Setting the Facts Straight / Comments are closed

New records just released under FOIA raise an important question: Did the Trump transition team consider dismissing EPA’s Inspector General?

Recently released documents from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) suggest that President Trump’s transition team considered — then decided against — dismissing EPA’s Inspector General.

Myron Ebell, who headed the transition at EPA for then-President-Elect Trump, emailed an EPA career staffer on January 13, 2017 that the transition team, “want[ed] to retain the EPA’s IG for the present.”

Ebell wanted to relay the information to the Inspector General “without any formal communication.” He went on to express a strong preference for delivering the message himself, rather than delegating to EPA career staff.

These documents were released under a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request.

Myron Ebell’s stint leading the EPA transition was a brief departure from his usual job at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, where his polluter-funded work aims to slash health and environmental protections and spread climate denialism. It is currently unclear why he — or any member of the Trump transition team — needed to reach out to EPA’s Inspector General for a conversation about job security.

Notably, Ebell’s January 13, 2017 email message was expressly hedged, indicating only that the Inspector General would be retained “for the present.”

For 30 years, dismissing Inspectors General has not been a normal part of presidential transitions. Only President Reagan — the first President to assume office after Congress created Inspectors General — did so, and he partly backtracked under intense political pressure.

Now, the Trump Administration has taken worrying steps toward undermining the integrity of Inspectors General across the federal government.

Congress created the position of Inspector General at federal agencies in order to conduct audits and to prevent waste, fraud, and abuse.

The statute creating the position provides that Inspectors General:

[S]hall be appointed by the President, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, without regard to political affiliation and solely on the basis of integrity and demonstrated ability in accounting, auditing, financial analysis, law, management analysis, public administration, or investigations. (emphasis added)

Congress has repeatedly emphasized the need for independent Inspectors General:

  • A 2010 amendment to the Inspector General Act required the President to provide Congress with advance notice and explanation before removing an Inspector General from office.
  • Congress further enhanced the role of Inspector General with the bipartisan Inspector General Empowerment Act of 2016.

Since assuming office in 2010, EPA’s Inspector General has pursued investigations under both President Obama and President Trump.

Subjecting Inspectors General to political pressure utterly defies the Congressional objective of independent oversight at federal agencies. It sets the stage for corruption and puts taxpayer dollars at risk.

Myron Ebell’s involvement in discussions about the EPA Inspector General’s employment status raises two pressing questions:

  • Why was the EPA Inspector General’s job status ever in doubt among the Trump transition team?
  • Why did Myron Ebell want to conceal his communication with the Inspector General?

The Trump Administration and Myron Ebell owe the public answers to these questions.

Posted in Jobs, News, Policy, Setting the Facts Straight / Comments are closed