Author Archives: Jeremy Symons

Congressman Gives Trump a Plan to Erase Health, Safety, And Environment Safeguards

At Risk: The Air We Breathe, Water We Drink, and Food We Eat

The conservative House Freedom Caucus has provided President-Elect Trump a “recommended list of regulations to remove.” Congressman Mark Meadows (R-NC), chair of the all-Republican Freedom Caucus, identified 228 federal rules they hope Trump will help eliminate.

Thirty-two of the proposals would roll back safety, health and environmental standards that protect the air we breathe, the water we drink, the food we eat, and our nation’s infrastructure (from pipelines to airports). By rolling back these regulations, the plan would essentially prevent the agencies responsible for protecting us from doing their job.

Another 43 proposals are aimed at undermining America’s progress on clean energy and climate change, pushing us away from energy efficiency and renewable energy sources toward more reliance on fossil fuels. This includes eliminating two dozen Department of Energy energy efficiency standards that save families money on energy bills, reduce energy waste, and prevent pollution.

Environmental Defense Fund has posted a copy of the Freedom Caucus document online (first obtained by the Washington Post) and added highlights to show the 75 health, safety, environment, and energy rollbacks.

The leading targets for these attacks are the Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Energy, but other agencies targeted include the Federal Aviation Administration, the State Department, the Department of Interior and others.

Trump’s Pick to Lead EPA Is An Added Threat

The danger of this regulatory ‘kill list’ is compounded by Donald Trump’s picks for key cabinet positions that would traditionally be the first to defend their agencies from political interference. Many of the recommendations are favorites of the fossil fuel lobby, which will have unprecedented power in Trump’s cabinet.

Trump’s decision to entrust Scott Pruitt with running the Environmental Protection Agency is especially dangerous. EPA is responsible for protecting our families from air and water pollution as well as toxic chemicals. Pruitt, however, has repeatedly and systematically teamed up with fossil fuel companies to sue the Environmental Protection Agency to prevent EPA action on regulating toxic mercury, air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. In a 2014 investigative report, the New York Times exposed Pruitt’s “secretive alliance” with oil and gas companies while Attorney General of Oklahoma.

Breaking Down the Regulations at Risk

Here is a summary of some of the most alarming Freedom Caucus proposals that Pruitt and others in Trump’s cabinet will be looking over. The Freedom Caucus list has inaccuracies, and it seems to be based on the premise that Trump can erase rules with a stroke of the pen in the first 100 days. For most of these, he cannot, because the agencies have responsibilities to implement laws and are subject to oversight by the courts. But that does not mean that these regulations are safe from diversion of funds, lack of enforcement, legislative attacks, and other efforts to weaken them.

In the following list, the numbers in parentheses match the numbers in the House Freedom Caucus plan.

  • Eliminate air pollution standards for smog-forming ozone (174), lung-damaging soot (fine particles, 178), and rules to reduce air pollution from tailpipes (175, 181) and smokestacks (182, 183)
  • Reverse course on climate change, including: erasing carbon pollution regulations for power plants (173, 182, 183), tailpipes (175, 181), and airplanes (194); cancelling the Paris agreement (161); and eliminating the Green Climate Fund (172).
  • Roll back Clean Water standards that protect the Great Lakes (186), Chesapeake Bay (185), and to prevent pollution of wetlands (13) and rivers (199) across the nation.
  • Block regulations to prevent dangerous chemical accidents that release toxic chemicals into surrounding communities (189).
  • Jeopardize Worker safety, including repealing standards to prevent lung cancer among workers exposed to silica dust (135).
  • Repeal two dozen energy efficiency standards for appliances and industrial equipment (28-53).
  • Repeal natural gas pipeline safety standards passed in response to gas pipeline disasters, including the 2010 San Bruno disaster in California (153).
  • Repeal fuel economy and tailpipe standards for cars that are saving consumers money at the pump, reducing our dependency on oil, and reducing air pollution (175, 181).
  • Eliminate food safety regulations, including fish inspections (3).
  • Strip FDA’s authority to regulate the tobacco industry (55).
  • Repeal an FDA rule to safeguard our food supply against tampering by terrorists (83).
  • Eliminate the State Department agencies responsible for environmental science, protecting our oceans, and addressing climate change (162, 170, 171).
  • Block FAA regulations aimed at improving the safety of air traffic management at airports (156).
Posted in Cars and Pollution, Clean Air Act, Clean Power Plan, Greenhouse Gas Emissions, News, Policy, Science| Comments are closed

Congress Backs Down from Harmful Environmental Rollbacks

rp_US_Capitol_Building_at_night_Jan_2006-300x226.jpgCongress is on the verge of passing an omnibus spending bill for 2016, and the headlines will be that lawmakers — in a modest victory for common sense – are doing their job and avoiding another disastrous government shutdown.

What’s in the omnibus bill is important, of course. But just as important is what’s not in it.

Left on the cutting room floor were a host of objectionable rollbacks that were jammed into various pieces of appropriations bills. That’s a testament to both the courage of pro-environment negotiators in Congress and the White House, and to the growing political power of environmental issues.

The loudest threat against the environment was Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s campaign pledge to block the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Clean Power Plan. Never mind that this would mean unlimited carbon pollution from the nation’s power plants, more asthma attacks, more smog, and more climate change.

But McConnell’s threat was far from the only danger. Among the potential “riders” – rules in the bill meant to change or block policies – were ones designed to:

  • Block efforts to ensure that waters protected under the Clean Water Act are clearly and consistently defined
  • Stop EPA efforts to strengthen public health protections against ground-level ozone pollution (better known as “smog”)
  • Block efforts to ensure that the impacts of greenhouse gas emissions are calculated consistently, and are appropriately considered in federal environmental planning decisions
  • Require EPA to deem any biomass energy project as carbon neutral – even if the science didn’t support that decision
  • Block the Bureau of Land Management from improving environmental and safety standards for the use of hydraulic fracturing on federal lands
  • Bar the Administration from helping poor countries deal with drought, rising sea levels and other threats exacerbated by climate change
  • Stop EPA’s ability to require industry to phase out hydrofluorocarbons and other refrigerants that damage the ozone layer

This is a sampling of the proposals that would have represented serious setbacks for the work being done to responsibly clean our air and water and protect our environment for future generations.

The fact that these proposals didn’t make it into the final omnibus bill is a testament to everyone across America who has spoken up against these attacks. It’s also the latest piece of a remarkable recent winning streak for the environment, from the Clean Power Plan to the blocking of the Keystone XL pipeline to the breakthrough climate pact in Paris.

There is additional good news in that important tax incentives for wind and solar energy are extended in the omnibus bill into 2016 and beyond, as are vital funds for land and water conservation.

There’s no question that Congress is failing its larger responsibility to protect public health and the environment. But for now, we need to celebrate these victories that stop efforts to take us in the wrong direction. They are important wins for a cleaner future for our kids and grandkids.

 

Posted in Clean Power Plan, Economics, Greenhouse Gas Emissions, News, Policy| Comments are closed

Votes Reveal Increasing Senate Support for Clean Power Plan — Resolutions to Block It Are Going Nowhere

US_Capitol_Building_at_night_Jan_2006

Courtesy: Wikipedia

It can be hard to interpret political maneuvering inside the Washington Beltway, and today’s Senate votes on the U.S. Clean Power Plan are no exception. So take it from someone who keeps a close eye on these votes in Congress — this was a good day for the Clean Power Plan, for U.S. climate leadership, and for a clean energy future.

Why?

Because today’s votes showed that the Clean Power Plan has gained support in the Senate since a test vote earlier this year.

More importantly, today’s votes demonstrated that the Senate is well short of what is needed if Senators truly want to stop the Clean Power Plan from taking effect.The measures that were passed narrowly today (52-to-46) are going nowhere. President Obama will veto these efforts to undo the Clean Power Plan, and there are more than enough supporters of the plan in Congress to sustain the veto.

The Clean Power Plan is a Clean Air Act initiative to cut dangerous carbon pollution from power plants and spur growth in clean energy. It is an important part of America’s leadership strategy on climate change, which is helping not only to accelerate the transition to clean energy here at home but also to inspire actions by other nations, including China. With world leaders set to convene global talks on climate change in the coming weeks, it’s important to put today’s votes in context.

For two years — even as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency was developing the Clean Power Plan — Senate Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky has been promising to block the rules any way he could. In March, he launched a symbolic attack on the Clean Power Plan that passed the Senate 57-43.

In today’s vote, which was based on an infrequently used procedure called the Congressional Review Act, McConnell’s margin of victory grew smaller. Three Republicans (Senators Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, Susan Collins of Maine and Mark Kirk of Illinois) broke from McConnell and supported the Clean Power Plan.

Since the rule’s release this summer, public support for limits on carbon pollution have only increased. According to a Public Policy poll done this month, 60 percent of voters in Iowa support the Clean Power Plan, while 70 percent of voters in Illinois and 64 percent in Virginia support it.

The Clean Power Plan comes at a time when shifts in technology are opening new pathways to clean energy. Even utility companies recognize that a fundamental shift has taken place. The CEO of one of America’s largest coal burning power companies, AEP, recently said he views the Clean Power Plan as a:

catalyst for the transformation that’s already occurring in our industry

The Clean Power Plan is also just one element of a bigger turning point in American policy on clean energy and climate in recent years. The adoption, a few years ago, of dramatically increased gas mileage standards and greenhouse gas limits for cars is no longer a matter of controversy. States like California and a consortium of nine northeastern states are demonstrating that market-based climate pollution limits are good for economic growth.

The bottom line is that today’s votes to “overturn” the Clean Power Plan were all about political theater. Everyone involved knows the congressional resolutions will ultimately fail, so it’s a free vote for politicians who want to appeal to a relatively narrow slice of the electorate.

The larger narrative, which is the transformation of the United States into a global leader to protect the next generation from climate pollution, is the real story.

Posted in Clean Air Act, Clean Power Plan, Climate Change Legislation, International, Policy| Comments are closed

Vote-a-Rama Reveals Senators’ Environmental Agenda

It’s been a big news day in the U.S. Senate, with Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid announcing he won’t run for another term.

But that's not the only news.

Courtesy: Wikipedia

Courtesy: Wikipedia

We have had our eyes on the Senate’s marathon “Vote-a-Rama” budget process that wrapped up around three-thirty this morning.

A number of environmental and energy votes came and went in a flurry of two-minute debates. While the votes mean little in terms of law (the budget bill doesn’t even go to the president for signature), Senators on both sides of the aisle brought up measures as trial balloons to find out where Senators stand on issues that could resurface when Congress takes up other legislation in the future.

Disturbingly, but not surprisingly, polluter lobbyists were hard at work and Senators filed dozens of amendments attacking the Clean Air Act, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), President Obama’s Climate Action Plan, and other environmental measures.

Others fought back with their own amendments calling for more — not less — action to protect our environment and health.

Incredibly, many of these quick attacks on the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, and other bedrock measures were supported by a majority of Senators. This despite overwhelming public support — across party lines — for environmental laws, standards, and enforcement to protect the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the planet we leave our kids.

Only a handful of the environmental amendments that were filed were actually voted on. But expect more attacks this year and next.

The most dangerous attack was launched by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who has made it a top priority to undermine EPA’s Clean Power Plan and give electric utilities a free pass on smokestack carbon pollution. His attack on the Clean Power Plan passed on a vote of 57-43.

(You can see the votes on the McConnell amendment #836 here. “Nay” is the pro-environment vote.)

Nevertheless, there are some positive takeaways.

Our pick for the most promising development was a climate amendment from Sen. Michael Bennet. The amendment promotes “national security, economic growth, and public health by addressing human-induced climate change through increased use of clean energy, energy efficiency, and reductions in carbon pollution.”

The Bennet amendment #1014 passed by a vote of 53-47, with all Democrats and seven Republicans supporting it — Sens. Ayotte, Collins, Graham, Heller, Murkowski, Kirk and Portman. (You can see how any Senator voted by clicking here. “Yea” is a pro-environment vote.)

Another positive takeaway — not all is lost with the Clean Power Plan or other actions EPA and President Obama are taking on climate. To the contrary, most environmental attacks require 60 votes to pass, not 40, in the Senate. So the 43 Senators who stood up to McConnell’s effort can be sufficient to beat back similar legislation or amendments down the road.

But clearly the margin is too thin, and it’s up to all of us to let our Senators know that we are paying attention and that we oppose these sneak attacks on America’s environmental and climate laws and rules.

Posted in Clean Air Act, Climate Change Legislation, News, Policy| Comments are closed
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