Climate 411

Administrator Pruitt opened the door to making Houston’s air toxics problem worse

Residents of Houston, Texas – our nation’s fourth largest city – have long been burdened with a serious air pollution problem.

Between 2013 and 2015, the Houston area reported unhealthy levels of ground-level ozone (“smog”) on an average of over 23 days each year. Last year, the American Lung Association ranked Houston as the sixteenth-most polluted city in the nation for year-round particle pollution.

The city’s massive industrial base – which includes two of the nation’s four largest petroleum refineries and more than 400 chemical manufacturing plants – spews a wide array of carcinogenic and toxic substances like benzene, 1,3-butadiene, and formaldehyde. The Environmental Protection Agency’s latest National Air Toxics Assessment, not surprisingly, found elevated cancer risks in many Houston neighborhoods as a result of these pollutants.

Recent records also show that pollution releases from these industrial facilities in the wake of Hurricane Harvey are also much higher than initially reported.

Yet EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, rather than working to reduce this dangerous pollution, has opened the door to even greater risks to public health.

On January 25th, Pruitt’s EPA abruptly overturned a long-standing policy that was designed to prevent large industrial sources from increasing their emissions of hazardous air pollutants such as benzene. Under the new policy, many industrial facilities that are now subject to tough emission standards for “major” sources would be allowed to become subject to weaker emission standards, or even avoid federal emission limits altogether.

This dangerous new “Air Toxics Loophole” was issued without any opportunity for public comment, and with no consideration of its public health or air pollution impacts.

That’s why, we joined with six other public health and environmental organizations last month to file a legal challenge to the Air Toxics Loophole in a federal court of appeals

Today, we are releasing a white paper that takes a closer look at what the Air Toxics Loophole might mean for emissions of hazardous air pollutants in the Houston-Galveston area. We used EPA’s own enforcement and compliance database, EPA’s most recent National Emissions Inventory (NEI), and a careful review of federal permitting records to identify facilities that might be able to take advantage of the Air Toxics Loophole – and to estimate what the potential emissions impact might be.

The results aren’t pretty. In the Houston area alone, we identified 18 facilities that are potentially eligible to use the new Air Toxics Loophole. These facilities collectively emitted approximately 183 tons (366,000 pounds) of hazardous air pollutants in 2014. If all of these facilities exploited the Air Toxics Loophole to the maximum degree, we estimated that annual hazardous air pollution from these facilities would increase by almost two-and-a-half times – to a total of about 450 tons (900,000 pounds).

Many of these facilities are located in communities that are highly vulnerable to the harmful impacts of air pollution: half are located in areas where more than one in five people live in poverty and where people of color make up more than 30 percent of the population. On average, almost 20,000 people live within three miles of each facility in our dataset.

We aren’t the only ones to point out the potential risks of the Air Toxics Loophole. A report issued by the Environmental Integrity Project last month identified twelve additional facilities across the Midwest that could take advantage of the Air Toxics Loophole – and estimated that emissions from those facilities could more than quadruple to 540,000 pounds per year if they were to do so.

EPA’s own staff have pointed out the risks as well. Under the George W. Bush Administration, EPA floated – but never finalized – a proposal that was very similar to the Air Toxics Loophole. EPA received critical comments from state air regulators and EPA’s regional offices that raised the same concerns about the potential increases in toxic air pollution.

That Administrator Pruitt has decided to plow ahead again despite those warnings, and with no public input and no analysis of health impacts, is unconscionable. The results of our Houston analysis underscore how reckless that decision was.

Unfortunately, this isn’t the first time this EPA has denied the public an opportunity to participate in a major decision that will impact so many lives. Over the last year, EPA has taken a series of actions to roll back important safeguards, often at the demand of industry representatives, with no opportunity for the public to comment. Luckily, courts have been serving as an important backstop and are rejecting agency actions taken with disregard for required administrative procedures.

Let’s hope that the Air Toxics Loophole meets the same fate.

Photo: Manchester Ship Channel in Houston. Credit: Garth Lenz/International League of Conservation Photographers

Posted in Clean Air Act, EPA litgation, Policy / Comments are closed

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.

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