Author Archives: Tomas Carbonell

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.

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

EDF, coalition partners urge the D.C. Circuit to decide the Clean Power Plan case

Environmental Defense Fund and fourteen other public health and environmental organizations filed a brief yesterday urging the United States Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit to issue a decision on the merits in the litigation over the Clean Power Plan – America’s only nationwide standards limiting harmful carbon pollution from existing fossil fuel power plants.

Other parties supporting the Clean Power Plan also filed briefs, including 18 states and 7 municipalities, power companies representing nearly 10 percent of the nation’s generation, and associations representing America’s vibrant $200 billion clean energy industry.

The latest filings all respond to a recent D.C. Circuit order which temporarily suspended the litigation and directed the parties to submit briefs on whether to continue the suspension (known as an “abeyance”) or terminate the case and hand the matter back to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for further review (known as “remand”).

This order addressed a motion filed by the Trump Administration on March 28, which asked the court to suspend the Clean Power Plan litigation indefinitely and refrain from deciding the legal merits of the Clean Power Plan.

Here’s what’s at stake at this critical juncture in the Clean Power Plan litigation – and a few things we can count on regardless of how the court rules on yesterday’s filings.

 Real World Consequences for Healthier Air and a Safer Climate

The briefs have vital real-world consequences for everyone who cares about healthier air and a safer climate.

As legal experts have noted, the Administration’s move is a brazen, eleventh-hour attempt to prevent the D.C. Circuit from issuing a timely opinion on legal issues that are central to EPA’s responsibility under the Clean Air Act to protect the public against climate pollution. The Administration filed its March 28 motion almost a year after the parties submitted briefs in the case, and six months after ten judges of the D.C. Circuit held an exhaustive seven hour-long oral argument.

Because the Supreme Court voted 5-to-4 to temporarily block the enforcement of the Clean Power Plan while the courts reviewed the legal challenges, the Administration’s motion would also indefinitely delay the enforcement of these urgently needed and long-overdue limits on carbon pollution.

The Administration’s motion asked the court for an indefinite pause in the litigation while EPA undertakes the long process of reviewing – and likely rescinding or weakening – the Clean Power Plan. However, if the court declines to decide the central legal questions in this case now, the same issues would likely have to be re-litigated again after EPA has completed its review. This would add years of unnecessary delay at a time when the urgency of action to mitigate climate pollution has never been greater.

Americans have been waiting for protection from climate pollution from power plants for almost twenty years — with no relief:

  • In 1998, EPA’s General Counsel Jonathan Cannon concluded in a memorandum to the EPA Administrator that EPA has authority to regulate carbon dioxide from power plants under the Clean Air Act – but EPA took no action to address the issue.
  • In 2003, environmental organizations filed a complaint against EPA in federal district court seeking carbon dioxide standards for fossil fuel-fired power plants under section 111 of the Clean Air Act.
  • In 2006, states and environmental organizations filed a legal challenge in the D.C. Circuit to EPA’s failure to establish carbon dioxide standards for power plants under the Clean Air Act.
  • In 2007, the Supreme Court issued its landmark decision in Massachusetts v. EPA, which affirmed that climate pollution is subject to regulation under the Clean Air Act. The D.C. Circuit then remanded the 2006 lawsuit to EPA to address the issue of establishing carbon dioxide standards for power plants.
  • In 2010, states, public health, and environmental organizations reached a settlement with EPA in which the agency committed to finalizing carbon pollution standards for new and existing power plants by 2012 – a deadline that the agency failed to meet.
  • In 2011, the Supreme Court relied on EPA’s authority under section 111 of the Clean Air Act as a basis for dismissing suits filed by states for common law damages against some of the nation’s most polluting power companies — holding that section 111 “speaks directly” to the problem of climate pollution from power plants.
  • In 2015, after almost two years of intensive public outreach and after considering millions of public comments — and using its authority under section 111 of the Clean Air Act — EPA adopted the Clean Power Plan.
  • In 2016, a closely divided Supreme Court voted 5-to-4 to temporarily block the enforcement of the Clean Power Plan pending judicial review of the merits.

Affected communities and vulnerable populations have waited long enough for action to protect our health and climate, while more and more climate pollution is accumulating in the atmosphere. That’s why the court should decide this case now rather than leaving climate protection in long-term legal limbo.

The Urgent Need for Limits on Carbon Pollution from the Nation’s Power Plants

The Clean Power Plan is a common sense climate and public health protection that will carbon reduce pollution from one of the nation’s largest sources, saving thousands of lives each year and protecting the health of all Americans.

The Clean Power Plan gives states and power companies tremendous flexibility in deciding how to reduce carbon pollution, including through cost-effective energy efficiency measures that save families money. Investments in clean energy and energy efficiency are already growing rapidly, employing over three million Americans and bringing hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue each year to low-income and rural areas.

That’s why a strikingly broad and diverse coalition emerged to defend the Clean Power Plan in court. The coalition includes: eighteen states and sixty municipalities; power companies that own and operate nearly ten percent of the nation’s generating capacity; leading businesses like Amazon, Apple, Google, Mars, and IKEA; former Republican heads of EPA; public health and environmental organizations; consumer and ratepayer advocates; faith organizations; and many others.

Coal producers, coal-intensive power companies, and their political allies have waged a massive, years-long litigation effort to thwart any limits whatsoever on climate-destabilizing pollution from power plants. Their campaign recently got an assist when the Trump Administration issued an executive order on March 28 that took aim at the Clean Power Plan and many other vital clean air protections.

In response to that executive order, an extraordinary array of leading businesses, faith leaders, medical associations, state and municipal officials, and other stakeholders have spoken out against the Administration’s threats to climate and health protections or vowed to continue moving towards a low-carbon future.

In recent weeks, dissent has emerged even within the coalition challenging the Clean Power Plan: North Carolina formally withdrew its challenge to the Clean Power Plan on February 23.

Millions of Americans in red and blue states – including a majority of Americans in every Congressional district in the country – support strong action to reduce carbon pollution from existing power plants. This public chorus reflects an understanding of the growing hazards of climate change, which is already affecting public health and well-being in a host of ways.

America has been demanding action from EPA since 2003, has been told multiple times by the Supreme Court that EPA has authority to act, and is now counting on the D.C. Circuit to resolve key legal questions about the scope of that authority. For that reason, our brief argues that the most fair and efficient course of action for the Court is to resolve those questions now.

EPA is Required to Act. It’s Up to All of Us to Make Sure EPA Fulfills That Obligation

Regardless of how the Court rules on today’s filings, a few critical facts will remain unchanged:

  • EPA has a clear legal obligation to protect the public from carbon pollution. The Supreme Court has affirmed EPA’s authority to regulate greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act three times since 2007, including EPA’s authority to limit carbon pollution from power plants under the Clean Air Act provision that is the basis for the Clean Power Plan.
  • EPA’s carbon pollution standards for new power plants remain in full force and effect. Separate from the Clean Power Plan, EPA adopted carbon pollution standards for new, modified, and reconstructed fossil fuel-fired power plants in August 2015. Although those standards have also been the target of legal challenges by polluters and their allies, the enforcement of those standards has not been blocked by the courts.  They will remain in full force and effect regardless of how the Court acts.
  • EPA can’t roll back the Clean Power Plan or the carbon pollution standards for new power plants without public comment or judicial review. Even if the court declines to issue an opinion and instead suspends the litigation or remands the rule to EPA, the Clean Power Plan would still be the law of the land. Any attempt to withdraw or modify the Clean Power Plan (or the carbon pollution standards for new power plants) would first have to go through the same rigorous public notice and comment process that EPA carefully followed in adopting them. Such changes would also be subject to judicial review in the federal courts, and would be set aside if they are contrary to the Clean Air Act or do not rest on sound technical and policy foundations.

Americans all across the country are demanding an end to the era of unlimited carbon pollution from power plants.

In the face of the Trump Administration’s assault on common sense protections, the Environmental Defense Fund is ready to fight harder than ever for healthier air and a safer climate for our children.

Posted in Clean Air Act, Clean Power Plan, EPA litgation, News, Partners for Change, Policy| Comments are closed

10 Things You Should Know About the Clean Power Plan

Just hours after President Trump signed an executive order to weaken a wide range of America’s important climate and heath protections, the Administration filed a motion to delay the D.C Circuit court’s review of the Clean Power Plan case.

That’s only the first of what we expect will be many attacks on the Clean Power Plan – our only nationwide limit on climate pollution from power plants. However, the Clean Power Plan is popular with Americans across the country, and an extraordinarily broad and diverse group of leaders and experts from across America have announced their support for the Clean Power Plan since the executive order.

You’ll likely be hearing a lot about this story in the near future. While you follow the news, here are 10 things you should know about the Clean Power Plan.

1. The Clean Power Plan is expected to save thousands of lives and protect the health of Americans across the country. According to EPA’s analysis, when fully implemented the Clean Power Plan will:

    • Prevent up to 3,600 premature deaths each year
    • Prevent up to 1,700 heart attacks each year
    • Prevent up to 90,000 asthma attacks each year
    • Prevent up to 300,000 missed work days and school days each year

2. The Clean Power Plan’s pollution reduction targets are eminently achievable.

Carbon pollution from the power sector has decreased by more than 20 percent since 2005, meaning that we’re already more than two-thirds of the way toward meeting the Clean Power Plan standards for 2030. In fact, most states that are litigating against the Clean Power Plan are on track to meet these pollution limits. The Clean Power Plan is essential to ensure that this momentum is sustained and that power sector investments in clean energy are deployed in a way that maximizes their pollution reduction benefits.

3. The Clean Power Plan can reduce electricity bills for families.

The Clean Power Plan gives states and power companies tremendous flexibility in deciding how to meet the pollution reduction targets – including through cost-effective energy efficiency measures that save families money. Independent analyses of the Clean Power Plan have found that average bills could decline by as much as 11 percent as a result of these measures. That’s why leading consumer and ratepayer advocates, including Consumers Union, support the Clean Power Plan.

4. Our vibrant clean energy sector employs millions of Americans and it is thriving.

According to a recent assessment by Advanced Energy Economy, the United States clean energy sector is now a rapidly-growing, $200 billion industry that employs 3.3 million Americans.

5. Clean energy is creating economic opportunities in communities across the nation.

The American Wind Energy Association estimates that 70 percent of wind farms are located in low-income counties, and that wind developers currently pay $222 million a year in lease payments to U.S. farmers, ranchers and other rural landowners. AWEA also estimates that wind energy has created more than 25,000 manufacturing jobs in 43 states.

6. The Administration’s promises that revoking climate and clean air protections will bring back coal jobs are false, as the coal industry itself recognizes.

Independent analyses have found that employment in the coal industry has been falling steadily since 1975, due largely to changing methods of coal production and – in more recent years – by competition from inexpensive natural gas. These trends cannot be reversed by revoking the Clean Power Plan or other protections for clean air and clean water. Even coal company executives have acknowledged that the executive order can’t bring mining jobs back.

7. An extraordinarily broad and diverse coalition is supporting the Clean Power Plan in court.

This coalition includes, among others: eighteen states and sixty municipalities; power companies that own and operate nearly ten percent of the nation’s generating capacity; leading businesses like Amazon, Apple, Google, Mars, and IKEA; former Republican heads of EPA; public health and environmental organizations; consumer and ratepayer advocates; faith organizations; and many others.

8. Large majorities of Americans in red and blue states alike support reducing climate pollution from existing power plants.

According to a recent national poll, 69 percent of Americans support placing limits on climate pollution from existing power plants – including a majority of Americans in every Congressional district in the country.

9. The nation’s leading businesses support policies to reduce climate pollution.

Just this month, over 1,000 companies and investors called on the Trump Administration to continue low-carbon policies, noting that “failure to build a low-carbon economy puts American prosperity at risk” and that “the right action now will create jobs and boost U.S. competitiveness.”

10. The Clean Power Plan rests on a rock-solid legal foundation.

The Supreme Court has held on three separate occasions that Congress has vested EPA with the responsibility – and the tools – to reduce carbon pollution under the Clean Air Act. Numerous legal experts –  including drafters of the Clean Air Act, former EPA Administrators who served under Presidents Nixon, Reagan, and Bush, and former state energy and environmental officials – have affirmed the strong legal basis for the Clean Power Plan 

Attacks on the Clean Power Plan and our other clean air protections present an unprecedented attack on our children’s health. It takes our nation backwards – to more pollution, more disease – even though Americans support forward progress towards clean air and clean energy.

Posted in Clean Power Plan, Economics, Policy, Setting the Facts Straight| Comments are closed

Scott Pruitt Peddles Junk Science to Serve Trump’s Anti-Climate Agenda

This week has brought alarming indications that the Trump Administration is poised to roll back life-saving, common-sense climate protections with no plan for replacing them — and that the head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rejects basic facts about climate change and the clean air laws he is charged with carrying out.

These developments fundamentally threaten efforts to address climate change – the direst environmental challenge of our time.

News reports say that President Trump is on the verge of signing an executive order aimed at revoking the Clean Power Plan – the only national limits on climate-destabilizing carbon pollution from existing power plants, which are our nation’s largest source of these emissions.

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt did an interview with CNBC in which he made the wildly inaccurate statement that there’s “tremendous disagreement” about the role climate pollution plays in climate change, and said that he does “not agree that [carbon dioxide] is a primary contributor to the global warming that we see.”

And in a second interview, on Fox Business, Pruitt questioned whether EPA has “the tools in the tool box to address [climate change],” and said “Congress has never spoken on this issue” — even though the Supreme Court has determined that the Clean Air Act, which was passed by Congress, does provide those “tools.”

Pruitt does not have a scientific background — just an extensive history of bringing highly politicized lawsuits against environmental protections, and of using his public office on behalf of the fossil fuel interests that have helped fund his political career.

His statements are not just false and misleading representations of climate science. They also call into question whether he can faithfully discharge his clear responsibility under our nation’s clean air laws to protect the public from climate pollution.

Pruitt Is Wrong on Climate Science

The U.S. government’s leading scientific agencies have conclusively determined that climate change is “due primarily to human activities” and is already manifesting itself in rising sea levels, heat waves, more intense storms, and other severe impacts felt by communities across the country.

Just in the last year, respected scientists have reported that the impact of human emissions on climate change is evident in February heat waves, devastating Louisiana storms, and flooded coastal communities.

Contrary to Pruitt’s statement that there’s “tremendous disagreement” about human impacts on climate, there is overwhelming scientific consensus that human emissions of carbon dioxide are destabilizing our climate. This consensus has been affirmed by many of our nation’s most respected scientists and scientific institutions, including:

NASA

Humans have increased atmospheric CO2 concentration by more than a third since the Industrial Revolution began. This is the most important long-lived ‘forcing’ of climate change. – NASA website

The planet’s average surface temperature has risen about 2.0 degrees Fahrenheit (1.1 degrees Celsius) since the late 19th century, a change driven largely by increased carbon dioxide and other human-made emissions into the atmosphere. – NASA press release

U.S. National Academy of Sciences

Direct measurements of CO2 in the atmosphere and in air trapped in ice show that atmospheric CO2 increased by about 40% from 1800 to 2012. Measurements of different forms of carbon … reveal that this increase is due to human activities. Other greenhouse gases (notably methane and nitrous oxide) are also increasing as a consequence of human activities. The observed global surface temperature rise since 1900 is consistent with detailed calculations of the impacts of the observed increase in atmospheric CO2 (and other human-induced changes) on Earth’s energy balance. – Climate Change: Evidence & Causes, page 5 (issued jointly with the Royal Society)

U.S. Global Change Research Program

Evidence from the top of the atmosphere to the depths of the oceans, collected by scientists and engineers from around the world, tells an unambiguous story: the planet is warming, and over the last half century, this warming has been driven primarily by human activity — predominantly the burning of fossil fuels. – U.S. Global Change Research Program website

More than 800 Earth Scientists (in a letter to then-President-Elect Donald Trump)

Publicly acknowledge that climate change is a real, human-caused, and urgent threat. If not, you will become the only government leader in the world to deny climate science. Your position will be at odds with virtually all climate scientists, most economists, military experts, fossil fuel companies and other business leaders, and the two-thirds of Americans worried about this issue. – scientists’ letter

Pruitt either refuses to accept this science, or is unaware of it – and either possibility presents a huge problem for the nation’s top environmental official.

Pruitt Has a Legal Obligation to Protect the Public from Climate Pollution

Pruitt’s assertions that “Congress has not spoken” on climate change and that EPA may lack the “tools” to address the issue show that he is just as wrong on the law as he is on climate science.

Our nation’s clean air laws require EPA to protect public health and well-being from all forms of dangerous pollution, and the Supreme Court has recognized on three separate occasions that this responsibility clearly applies to carbon dioxide and other climate-destabilizing pollutants. Contrary to Pruitt’s comments, the courts have consistently found that Congress has directly “spoken” to the issue of climate change by vesting EPA with broad responsibility and tools to address this and other emerging threats to human health and welfare.  And EPA has, in fact, put these tools into practice over the last few years by establishing common-sense protections that are reducing pollution, protecting public health, and strengthening our economy – including fuel efficiency and emission standards for cars and trucks, emission standards for power plants, and standards for oil and gas facilities.

In Massachusetts v. EPA, decided a decade ago, the Supreme Court found “without a doubt” that EPA is authorized to regulate carbon dioxide and other climate pollutants under the Clean Air Act:

Because greenhouse gases fit well within the Clean Air Act’s capacious definition of ‘air pollutant,’ we hold that EPA has the statutory authority to regulate the emission of such gases from new motor vehicles. — Massachusetts v. EPA, 2007

The Supreme Court then ordered EPA to make a science-based determination as to whether carbon dioxide and other climate pollutants endanger public health and welfare. In 2009 – after an exhaustive review of the scientific literature and over 380,000 public comments – EPA released its nearly 1,000-page finding that climate pollutants posed such a danger.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit unanimously upheld this finding against a barrage of legal attacks by polluters and their allies (including a lawsuit by Scott Pruitt, who was then Attorney General of Oklahoma). The Supreme Court allowed that decision to stand without further review.

Two years after EPA made its determination, the Supreme Court unanimously decided in American Electric Power v. Connecticut that section 111(d) of the Clean Air Act – the provision that EPA relied upon in issuing the Clean Power Plan – clearly authorizes EPA to regulate emissions from existing power plants:

[Massachusetts v. EPA] made plain that emissions of carbon dioxide qualify as air pollution subject to regulation under the Act … And we think it equally plain that the [Clean Air] Act ‘speaks directly’ to emissions of carbon dioxide from the defendants’ plants. – American Electric Power v. Connecticut (2011)

And in Utility Air Regulatory Group v. EPA in 2014 the Supreme Court once again affirmed EPA’s responsibility to address climate pollution by finding that the Clean Air Act requires new and modified industrial facilities to adopt limits on climate pollution. Notably, at the oral arguments in both American Electric Power v. Connecticut and Utility Air Regulatory Group v. EPA, attorneys for some of the same coal-based power companies that now oppose the Clean Power Plan recognized EPA’s authority to regulate climate pollution from power plants.

As George W. Bush’s former EPA Administrator, Christine Todd Whitman, said in a recent interview:

I think, as a matter of law, that carbon is a pollutant has been settled. – (Climatewire, The Clean Power Plan is gone — and there's no 'replace' – March 9, 2017)

Notably, Scott Pruitt told the Senate under oath that he would abide by this framework. He specifically said that Massachusetts v. EPA and the Endangerment Finding are the “law of the land” and that “the endangerment finding is there and needs to be enforced and respected.” Pruitt ought to keep that testimony in mind should he try to attack the bedrock legal principles requiring EPA to protect the public from harmful climate pollution.

The Facts Are Clear

There is scientific consensus that human emissions of carbon dioxide and other climate pollutants are driving dangerous climate change. And under our nation’s clean air laws, EPA is required to protect Americans from this pollution – a responsibility that Pruitt’s predecessors have carried out by taking common-sense, cost-effective steps to reduce pollution from power plants, cars and trucks, oil and gas facilities, and other sources.

It’s outrageous and unacceptable that the principal federal official charged with carrying out this solemn responsibility is relying on “alternative facts” peddled by climate deniers to shirk his responsibility under the law.

 

Posted in Basic Science of Global Warming, Clean Air Act, Clean Power Plan, Energy, Extreme Weather, Greenhouse Gas Emissions, News, Policy, Science, Setting the Facts Straight| Read 3 Responses

EPA Has the Responsibility and the Tools to Address Climate Pollution Under the Clean Air Act

(EDF Attorney Ben Levitan co-authored this post)

It’s barely a week since Scott Pruitt was confirmed as EPA Administrator, and he has already provided yet another indication of why he has no business leading the agency.

In an interview with The Wall Street Journal, Pruitt says he wants to undertake a “careful review” as to whether EPA has the “tools” to address climate change under the Clean Air Act. Pruitt further states that EPA should withdraw the Clean Power Plan – a vital climate and public health measure to reduce carbon pollution from the nation’s power plants – and instead wait for Congress to act on the issue of climate change.

Those statements are contrary to the law and disconnected from reality. As Pruitt surely knows, the federal courts – including three separate decisions of the Supreme Court – have made it abundantly clear that the Clean Air Act requires EPA to protect the public from dangerous pollutants that are disrupting our climate. The courts have repeatedly rejected Pruitt’s theory that climate pollution is an issue that only Congress can address through new legislation.

Over the last eight years, EPA has demonstrated that the Clean Air Act is an effective tool for addressing the threat of climate change — by putting in place common sense, highly cost-effective measures to reduce climate pollution from cars and trucks, power plants, oil and gas facilities, and other sources. These actions under the Clean Air Act are saving lives, strengthening the American economy, and yielding healthier air and a safer climate for our children.

Pruitt’s casual willingness to abandon that progress based on a discredited legal theory demonstrates deep contempt for the laws he is charged with administering and the mission of the agency he now leads.

EPA Is Legally Obligated to Address Climate Pollution

The Supreme Court has repeatedly held that EPA clearly has the authority and responsibility to address climate pollution under the Clean Air Act:

  • In Massachusetts v. EPA (549 U.S. 497, 2007), the Supreme Court held that climate pollutants plainly fall 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 (a determination that EPA ultimately made in 2009, and that has been upheld by the federal courts).
  • In American Electric Power v. Connecticut (564 U.S. 410, 2011), the Supreme Court held that the Clean Air Act “speaks directly” to the problem of climate pollution from power plants.
  • In Utility Air Regulatory Group v. EPA (134 S. Ct. 2427, 2014), the Supreme Court held that the Clean Air Act obligated EPA to address climate pollution from new and modified industrial facilities.

In Massachusetts v. EPA, the Bush Administration’s EPA made — and the Supreme Court rejected —Pruitt’s same argument that EPA lacks the authority and tools to address climate pollution.

The Supreme Court said in no uncertain terms that:

The statutory text forecloses EPA’s reading … Because greenhouse gases fit well within the Clean Air Act’s capacious definition of ‘air pollutant,’ we hold that EPA has the statutory authority to regulate the emission of such gases from new motor vehicles. (emphasis added)

The Supreme Court went on to explain that – contrary to what Pruitt is now saying – Congress intended to provide EPA with the tools it needed to address new air pollution challenges, including climate change:

While the Congresses that drafted [the Clean Air Act] might not have appreciated the possibility that burning fossil fuels could lead to global warming, they did understand that without regulatory flexibility, changing circumstances and scientific developments would soon render the Clean Air Act obsolete. The broad language [of the Act] reflects an intentional effort to confer the flexibility necessary to forestall such obsolescence. (emphasis added)

The Court also found that nothing about climate pollution distinguishes it from other forms of air pollution long regulated under the Clean Air Act. It rejected the Bush Administration’s attempt to argue that climate pollution is somehow “different,” saying that theory was a “plainly unreasonable” reading of the Clean Air Act and “finds no support in the text of the statute.”

That was the law under the Bush Administration – and it remains the law today. It is a binding, rock-solid precedent regardless of who is running EPA at any given time.

Pruitt ought to know all this, because he was one of the Attorneys General who joined polluters and their allies in challenging EPA’s determination that climate pollution endangers public health and welfare.

That 2009 determination was in response to Massachusetts v. EPA, and it was based on an immense body of authoritative scientific literature as well as consideration of more than 380,000 public comments. Yet in their legal challenge to the determination, Pruitt and his allies again argued that EPA should have declined to make an endangerment finding based on the supposed difficulty of regulating climate pollution under the Clean Air Act.

A unanimous panel of the D.C. Circuit rejected those claims, finding that:

These contentions are foreclosed by the language of the statute and the Supreme Court’s decision in Massachusetts v. EPA … the additional exercises [state and industry challengers] would have EPA undertake … do not inform the ‘scientific judgment’ that [the Clean Air Act] requires of EPA … the Supreme Court has already held that EPA indeed wields the authority to regulate greenhouse gases under the CAA. (Coalition for Responsible Regulation v. EPA, 684 F.3d 102, D.C. Cir. 2012, emphasis added)

The Supreme Court did not even regard further challenges to the endangerment finding as worthy of its review. (See Order Denying Certiorari, Sub Nom Virginia v. EPA, 134 S.Ct. 418, 2013)

Pruitt’s suggestion that EPA should stop applying the Clean Air Act’s protections to an important category of pollutants – greenhouse gases – amounts to a repeal of Congress’s core judgment that all air pollutants that cause hazards to human health and the environment need to be addressed under the Clean Air Act. It is an audacious and aggressive effort to alter the Clean Air Act in a way that Congress has never done (and has specifically declined to do when such weakening amendments have been proposed).

EPA Has Established a Strong Record of Successful Climate Protections

Pruitt’s statements also ignore the pragmatic way in which EPA has carried out its legal obligations to address climate pollution. Since Massachusetts v. EPA was decided, EPA has issued common sense, cost-effective measures for major sources of climate pollution – including power plants; cars and trucks; the oil and gas sector; and municipal solid waste landfills.

These actions demonstrate that Pruitt is flatly wrong to suggest that EPA lacks the “tools” to address climate change under the Clean Air Act. They include:

  • The Clean Power Plan will reduce carbon pollution from the nation’s power plants to 32 percent below 2005 levels by 2030, while providing states and power companies with the flexibility to meet their targets through highly cost-effective measures – including shifting to cleaner sources of generation and using consumer-friendly energy efficiency programs that would reduce average household electricity bills by $85 per year. The Clean Power Plan will protect public health too, resulting in 90,000 fewer childhood asthma attacks, 300,000 fewer missed school and work days, and 3,600 fewer premature deaths every year by 2030. The value of these health benefits alone exceeds the costs by a factor of four, and the climate benefits are roughly as large.
  • EPA’s standards for cars and other light-duty vehicles, will save the average American family $8,000 over the lifetime of a new vehicle through reduced fuel costs – while saving 12 billion barrels of oil and avoiding 6 billion metric tons of carbon pollution. A recent analysis by EPA and the U.S. Department of Transportation found that manufacturers are reaching these standards ahead of schedule and at a lower cost than originally anticipated.
  • The most recent Clean Truck Standards, which were finalized in August 2016, will save truck owners a total of $170 billion in lower fuel costs, ultimately resulting in $400 in annual household savings by 2035 – while also reducing carbon pollution by 1.1 billion tons over the life of the program. These benefits are one reason why the Clean Truck Standards have broad support from manufacturers, truck operators, fleet owners and shippers.
  • EPA’s methane emission standards for new and modified oil and gas facilities, finalized in June 2016, will generate climate benefits equivalent to taking 8.5 million vehicles off the nation’s roads – while having minimal impact on industry.

When Scott Pruitt suggests that the Clean Air Act is a poor fit for regulating climate pollution, he overlooks the clear command of the statute, as confirmed repeatedly by the Supreme Court. He also ignores EPA’s successful history of issuing regulations that protect the environment while promoting significant health and economic benefits.

Pruitt might try to distort the truth in an effort to wipe climate protections off the books — subjecting our children and grandchildren to the dire health, security and economic effects of unlimited climate pollution in the process. But the law and the facts are not on his side.

EPA must address climate pollution under the Clean Air Act, and it has the tools to do so effectively.

Posted in Cars and Pollution, Clean Air Act, Clean Power Plan, EPA litgation, News, Policy| Comments are closed

What Do the 2016 Elections Mean for the Clean Power Plan?

President-Elect Trump has repeatedly claimed that climate change is a “hoax,” and has appointed notorious climate denier Myron Ebell to run the transition team for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). During the campaign, Trump advocated for “scrapping” the Clean Power Plan – the nation’s first limits on harmful climate pollution from existing power plants, which are among the United States’ very largest sources of these contaminants.

Lost in this campaign rhetoric was the reality that states and companies across the country are already making cost-effective investments in transformative clean energy technologies that are rapidly reducing emissions of climate pollution across the power sector. These investments are helping deliver a more reliable and affordable electricity grid, yielding tremendous public health benefits by reducing emissions of soot and smog-forming pollutants, and driving job growth in communities around the country.

The Clean Power Plan builds on all of these trends and helps ensure they will continue for years to come, but the Trump Administration will be hard pressed to stop the progress underway in its tracks.

If Trump does try to roll back the Clean Power Plan, he will find himself on the wrong side of history, the law, and public opinion. The Clean Power Plan is firmly rooted in our nation’s clean air laws, and there are millions of Americans across the country – along with a broad and diverse coalition of states, cities, businesses, faith organizations, consumer advocates, and other leaders – who support these protections and will fight to preserve them.

cpp_supportmap_600Large Majorities of Americans Support the Clean Power Plan.

Donald Trump did not get elected with a mandate to dismantle important climate protections supported by large majorities of Americans. Poll after poll shows that Americans all across this country — in red and blue states alike — broadly support clean air, clean energy, and climate progress. This includes strong, diverse support for the Clean Power Plan, even in states currently suing over the standards. More than two-thirds of voters favor federal action to reduce emissions of pollutants that cause climate change.

If the new administration tries to take steps to roll back these important measures, they will have to do so knowing that they are woefully out of touch with the majority of the American people.

Weakening or rescinding the Clean Power Plan, or other public health and environmental protections, also won’t do anything to address the economic concerns that did figure prominently in Trump’s campaign.

As recent analyses by respected energy experts have demonstrated, the coal industry has been experiencing declining production and employment due to factors that have nothing to do with the Clean Power Plan – including intense competition from natural gas, the falling cost of renewables, and a slew of bad investment decisions. Even Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell recently expressed doubt that attacking environmental regulations will cause a turnaround for the coal industry.

At the same time, undoing the Clean Power Plan could adversely and needlessly affect long-term growth in America’s vibrant clean energy industry –  which currently supports hundreds of thousands of manufacturing and construction jobs around the country, and employs far more people than the coal or oil and gas industries.

Leading Businesses, Cities of All Sizes and in All Regions Support the Clean Power Plan

In addition to enjoying the support of millions of Americans, limits on carbon pollution represent good business and good governance. Our cities, states, and companies support limits on climate pollution and investments in new, clean energy technologies that bring jobs and economic opportunity to our communities.

The week after the election, more than 360 of the nation’s leading businesses — including DuPont, General Mills, Levi Strauss, Nike, and Starbucks — signed a remarkable statement urging Trump to honor the United States’ commitments in the Paris Agreement to reduce dangerous climate pollution. These companies declared that “Failure to build a low-carbon economy puts American prosperity at risk,” and that the “right action now will create jobs and boost US competitiveness.”

Power companies that together own or operate one of every ten megawatts of the nation’s generating capacity – including some of the nation’s largest operators of fossil fuel powered plants – are supporting the Clean Power Plan in court.

So are many large energy users. Leading businesses that employ tens of thousands of people in all regions of the country — including Adobe, Apple, Amazon, Google, IKEA, Mars, and Microsoft — recognize the importance of the Clean Power Plan to their economic growth and are also supporting the rule. More than 100 of America’s top companies signed a public statement this spring calling for “swift implementation” of the Clean Power Plan.

Adding to this groundswell of support, 18 States, 60 cities, the U.S. Conference of Mayors, and the National League of Cities are supporting the these standards in court. These municipalities include major cities in states that are litigating against the Clean Power Plan, such as Houston, Grand Rapids, and Miami.  Many of these cities are on the front lines of climate change and they know their citizens don’t want leaders who put politics above their safety and well-being.

Our Nation’s Clean Air Laws Require EPA to Protect the Public from Harmful Pollutants that are Destabilizing Our Climate

EPA has a legal responsibility to protect the public from dangerous climate pollution that threatens our prosperity, security, and public health.

The Supreme Court has affirmed EPA’s authority to regulate greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act three times since 2007, including EPA’s authority to limit carbon pollution from power plants under the Clean Air Act provision that is the basis for the Clean Power Plan.

As so many Americans around the country recognize, the Clean Power Plan is a common-sense and cost-effective step towards fulfilling this bedrock legal obligation. Many companies and states also recognize that it provides unprecedented compliance flexibility that may not be replicated in another regulatory approach. Although Congress could attempt to modify or roll back the Clean Power Plan by amending the Clean Air Act, such action would be extremely controversial and encounter especially stiff opposition. Americans across the country — and the numerous states, municipalities, businesses, consumer advocates, faith organizations, and other leaders who support the Clean Power Plan — will vigorously oppose any attempt to weaken these vital, hard-fought protections for climate and public health.

The Incoming Administration Cannot Simply Dismantle the Clean Power Plan by Fiat

In addition to deep support, proponents of a safer climate have America’s bipartisan bedrock clean air laws on our side.

Any attempt to withdraw or modify the Clean Power Plan or other clean air protections would first have to go through the same rigorous, inclusive public notice and comment process that EPA carefully followed in adopting them. Such changes would also be subject to judicial review in the federal courts, and would be set aside if they are contrary to the Clean Air Act or do not rest on sound technical and policy foundations.

Previous Administrations that have attempted to make sweeping changes to Clean Air Act protections – including the George W. Bush Administration – abandoned these efforts in the face of strong public opposition and defeat in the federal courts.

The Clean Power Plan Builds on and Accelerates the Transition to a Clean Energy Future that is Already Under Way in the Power Sector

Perhaps the biggest reason opponents shouldn’t expect to overturn the Clean Power Plan overnight is that this important rule is only cementing the direction our energy system has been moving for years.

States and power companies across the country recognize this transition is the best way to provide ratepayers with affordable, reliable, and low carbon electricity – and they understand that the Clean Power Plan provides a common-sense, flexible, cost-effective framework for achieving those goals.

Even without the Clean Power Plan targets in effect, the Energy Information Administration has reported that power sector carbon emissions have fallen by 21 percent since 2005 –almost two-thirds of the way towards meeting the Clean Power Plan’s 2030 emission reduction targets.

Wind and solar are expected to account for almost two-thirds of the electric generating capacity added to the grid in 2016. Many states are on track to fully meet their Clean Power Plan reduction targets. Meanwhile, retail electricity prices actually fell in 2016 for the first time in many years.

That doesn’t mean the Trump Administration can’t attack the Clean Power Plan. We fully expect a fight, and we know it won’t be easy. But we are ready to fight – and we hope you’ll join us.

The transition to a clean energy future is already well underway, and it cannot and will not be stopped. The health and prosperity of America’s families and communities depend on it.

Posted in Clean Air Act, Clean Power Plan, EPA litgation, News, Partners for Change, Policy| Read 1 Response
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