Author Archives: Vickie Patton

The Broad and Diverse Coalition That Is Supporting the Clean Power Plan in Court

Minneapolis -- one of 14 cities and counties that just announced legal support for the Clean Power Plan.

Minneapolis — one of 14 cities and counties that just announced legal support for the Clean Power Plan. Source Flickr/m01229.

The National League of Cities, the U.S. Conference of Mayors, and the cities of Baltimore (MD), Coral Gables (FL), Grand Rapids (MI), Houston (TX), Jersey City (NJ), Los Angeles (CA), Minneapolis (MN), Portland (OR), Pinecrest (FL), Providence (RI), Salt Lake City (UT), San Francisco (CA), West Palm Beach (FL) and Boulder County (CO) all filed a motion with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit to help defend the Clean Power Plan as amici curiae  — or “friends of the court.” (The news was announced by the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia University Law School – you can read their press release here.)

According to the motion filed by the cities:

The Local Government Coalition and its member national associations and local governments seek to participate as amici curiae to support their common view that the Clean Power Plan is a valid exercise of EPA’s authority and represents a reasonable interpretation of the ‘best system of emissions reduction’ standard established under Section 111(d) of the Clean Air Act. (Page 8)

That impressive group of cities joins a tremendously broad group of entities that are standing up for the Clean Power Plan. Some of these groups, including EDF, are parties to the case; others have filed as friends of the court or have filed supportive declarations:

  • 18 states and seven other cities – including New YorkChicago, and Philadelphia – already filed with the court in support of these vital clean air safeguards.
  • Power Companies – including Calpine, NextEra, National Grid Generation and many others– are supporting the Clean Power Plan, and the cities of Austin (TX) and Seattle (WA) are joining in that support through their municipal power departments.
  • Public health groups like the American Lung Association, the Institute for Policy Integrity at New York University Law School, two former EPA Administrators who served under Republican Presidents Nixon, Reagan and George H.W. Bush, and environmental advocates – including EDF – are showing their support as well.
  • A host of clean energy companies represented by Advanced Energy Economy and the national wind and solar associations weighed in on behalf of America’s $200 billion clean energy industry.
  • Google, a major power consumer, filed a declaration in support for the Clean Power Plan, highlighting that it reinforces the company’s conclusion that purchasing renewable energy makes “good business sense” because of its “low and stable marginal cost.”
  • More than six dozen experts have filed declarations with the court in support of the Clean Power Plan, including: former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright; Larry Soward, who led environmental policy under Texas Governor Rick Perry; Sue Tierney of Analysis Group, a leading energy and environmental expert; former FERC Chairmen from both sides of the aisle, including Joseph Kelliher who served under President George W. Bush; and the Rev. Sally Bingham of Interfaith Power & Light, and many others. (The declarations in support of the Clean Power Plan can be found here.)
  • The National Nurses Union, our country’s largest professional association of registered nurses, highlighted the real world impacts of climate change and air pollution on community health, from asthma attacks to natural disasters
  • Ron Busby, head of the U.S. Black Chambers, underscored the economic opportunities and electricity bill savings that American communities can realize under the Clean Power Plan.

It’s no surprise that the Clean Power Plan is winning such support. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) effort is the single biggest step America has ever taken to address the threat of climate change. It builds on our nation’s tremendous success in addressing soot and smog pollution from existing power plants, as well as our recent breakthrough progress in cutting greenhouse gas emissions from cars and trucks.

EPA estimates that by 2030, the Clean Power Plan will:

  • Reduce carbon pollution from existing power plants 32 percent below 2005 levels
  • Save 3,600 lives annually
  • Prevent 90,000 childhood asthma attacks annually
  • Save American families almost $85 on their annual energy bill

The Clean Power Plan will accomplish all this while building on the economic growth and job creation we’re already experiencing from the ongoing expansion of cost-effective clean energy nationwide.

The Clean Power Plan also gives states extensive flexibility to forge pollution-reduction strategies tailored to their individual needs and economic opportunities.

Opponents of the Clean Power Plan, including major emitters of harmful carbon pollution, started suing to stop it before EPA even finished writing it. (Various courts threw out those lawsuits). Their litigation — brought before they had even reviewed the final standards on the merits — illuminated objections that are highly reflexive.

The many and diverse supporters of the Clean Power Plan recognize that climate change is a threat to all of us, and that we must take action to address that threat. Allowing power plants to discharge unlimited amounts of carbon pollution into our air is a clear and present danger to public health, the environment and our economy, and we cannot allow it to continue. EDF is proud to be part of this vibrant group of supporters.

(Read more about the Clean Power Plan, and find all the legal briefs in the case, on our website.)

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

The Supreme Court Has Been Clear – EPA Has Authority to Address Carbon Pollution from Power Plants

(This post was written by EDF General Counsel Vickie Patton and EDF Senior Attorney Peter Zalzal)

This upcoming Monday, June 2nd, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will announce proposed standards to reduce harmful, climate-destabilizing carbon pollution from our nation’s fleet of existing fossil fuel fired power plants.

EPA has clear authority to address this harmful pollution, authority that is manifest in our nation’s clean air laws, that has been confirmed time and again by the United States Supreme Court, and that has been recognized even by those who continue to obstruct climate progress in the courts.  And the agency has a responsibility to exercise that authority through science-based actions to address climate pollution in a way that protects public health and welfare.

In Massachusetts v. EPA, the U.S. Supreme Court held that EPA had clear authority under the Clean Air Act to address Greenhouse Gas emissions:

[b]ecause greenhouse gases fit well within the Act's capacious definition of ‘air pollutant.’

             549 U.S. 497, 532 (2007)

The Court continued:

The Clean Air Act's sweeping definition of “air pollutant” includes “any air pollution agent or combination of such agents, including any physical, chemical . . . substance or matter which is emitted into or otherwise enters the ambient air . . . . " § 7602(g) (emphasis added). On its face, the definition embraces all airborne compounds of whatever stripe, and underscores that intent through the repeated use of the word "any." Carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, and hydrofluorocarbons are without a doubt "physical [and] chemical  . . . substance[s] which [are] emitted into . . . the ambient air."  The statute is unambiguous.

             Id. at 528-29 

The Court emphasized that EPA’s responsibility to exercise this authority was grounded in science and the agency’s duty to protect public health and welfare.  In rejecting various policy reasons for inactions, the Court concluded that EPA must move forward with standards if it found climate pollution endangered human health and welfare, noting that:

[T]here is nothing counterintuitive to the notion that EPA can curtail the emission of substances that are putting the global climate out of kilter.

             Id. at 531

In 2011, the Supreme Court directly addressed EPA’s authority to establish carbon pollution standards for existing power plants under Section 111(d) of the Clean Air Act – the foundational provisions for Monday’s announcement.

In American Electric Power Co. v. Connecticut, the Court found:

And we think it equally plain that the Act “speaks directly” to emissions of carbon dioxide from the defendants’ plants.

Section 111 of the Act directs the EPA Administrator to list “categories of stationary sources” that “in [her] judgment . . . caus[e], or contribut[e] significantly to, air pollution which may reasonably be anticipated to endanger public health or welfare.” §7411(b)(1)(A). Once EPA lists a category, the agency must establish standards of performance for emission of pollutants from new or modified sources within that category. §7411(b)(1)(B); see also§7411(a)(2). And, most relevant here, §7411(d) then requires regulation of existing sources within the same category.7 For existing sources, EPA issues emissions guidelines, see 40 C. F. R. §60.22, .23 (2009); in compliance with those guidelines and subject to federal oversight, the States then issue performance standards for stationary sources within their jurisdiction, §7411(d)(1).

             131 S. Ct. 2527, 2537 (2011) 

Our nation’s highest court, then, has twice affirmed EPA’s authority to address climate destabilizing pollution from the power sector.  First, in Massachusetts, by confirming that greenhouse gases fall squarely within the Clean Air Act’s definition of “air pollutant,” and then again in American Electric Power, where the Court found that the Clean Air Act authorizes EPA to address carbon pollution from existing power plants using the precise provision that is basis for EPA’s action this Monday.

EPA’s authority in this area is so unequivocal that, in an oral argument before the Supreme Court in a recent case concerning a distinct, separate climate program, the attorney arguing for industry challengers conceded:

I think most critically, Your Honor, [EPA’s authority] includes the new source performance standards program of Section 111 that this Court discussed in Connecticut v. AEP. And this is a very important point, because this case is not about whether EPA can regulate greenhouse gases from stationary sources. This Court held that it could under this program in Section 11 [sic].

            (see Supreme Court transcript page 22).

EPA has determined that six greenhouse gases – carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons, and sulfur hexafluoride – endanger the health and welfare of current and future generations.  And this determination has been upheld by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit and the Supreme Court declined to review it – meaning it is firmly the law of the land.

This endangerment determination along with EPA’s manifest authority under the Clean Air Act to address greenhouse gas emissions – twice affirmed by the Supreme Court – form an unshakeable legal foundation for EPA’s action to cut carbon pollution from power plants,  the nation’s single largest source of carbon pollution and one of the largest in the world.

Moving forward swiftly to address climate pollution could not be more urgent to protect the health of our communities and families.

Posted in Clean Power Plan, News| Read 4 Responses

The Supreme Court and Climate Pollution: What is – and is not — at stake

(This post originally appeared on EDF Voices)

Today, the Supreme Court will hear oral argument in a case challenging EPA’s interpretation that the Clean Air Act permit program requiring new and rebuilt industrial sources to deploy leading pollution control technology for each pollutant subject to regulation under the Act applies to greenhouse gases, just as these requirements have limited other airborne contaminants for over three decades.

The case is Utility Air Regulatory Group v. EPA (No. 12-1146)

What’s at stake: Innovation in Addressing Climate Pollution and Clearing the Air about Climate Obstructionism

This case is remarkable for what is not at stake, as well as for what is.

While the Supreme Court is considering only a single legal question of the numerous issues that were raised, this case has important implications.

Exempting climate pollution from these specific provisions of the Clean Air Act would harm innovation, because they were carefully designed by Congress to spur the development of new pollution prevention and control techniques for industrial sources. Putting a stop to these legislatively-crafted incentives to innovation in precisely the area where we so urgently need innovation – in addressing climate-destabilizing pollution — would be a damaging loss and risks “locking in” new high emitting and long lived industrial infrastructure. Such an exemption for climate pollution is patently contrary to Congress’s specific command, in the statutory provisions at issue here, that these innovation-spurring requirements apply to “each pollutant subject to regulation under the Act”.

Climate obstructionists will undoubtedly twist the meaning of the case to suggest broader implications, despite the court's decision to review only one narrow question. While the Administration is judiciously carrying out its responsibilities under the Clean Air Act to address climate pollution – in accordance with the authority that was twice affirmed by the United States Supreme Court — climate obstructionists will use this case to sow havoc and attack the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Indeed, these forces have already attacked EPA by unsuccessfully litigating virtually every aspect of EPA’s first generation climate protections in court over a span of many years. Unfortunately, they will continue to attack EPA in the public square invoking the polarizing rhetoric that most Americans associate with divisive Beltway politics – not real world solutions.

What is not at stake in this case is the EPA’s determination that six greenhouse gases –carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons, and sulfur hexafluoride –endanger the health and welfare of current and future generations. This is the bedrock for EPA’s manifest authority to adopt climate protections for cleaner cars and cleaner freight trucks, for reducing the potent methane leaked and vented from oil and gas development activities in the same way that Colorado has adopted methane emissions standards, and for cutting the massive carbon pollution from power plants — the nation’s single largest source of carbon pollution and one of the largest in the world.

The history behind the case

For the past four years, big polluters and litigants such as the Attorney General of Texas have been suing the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency over all aspects of EPA’s climate protections for America – including the science-based endangerment finding, and the historic Clean Cars Standards that are saving Americans money at the gas pump while strengthening our nation’s energy security and reducing pollution. By contrast, the U.S. Automakers have consistently supported the clean car standards.

These dozens of lawsuits were considered together by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit – which upheld EPA’s climate protections and rejected the legal challenges. In 2012, a three Judge panel of that court held that EPA’s interpretation of the Clean Air Act was “unambiguously correct.” Then-Chief Judge David Sentelle, appointed to the Court by President Ronald Regan, was a member of the three Judge panel that unanimously affirmed EPA’s action.

Opponents filed numerous petitions seeking review by the Supreme Court, which refused to entertain most of their challenges.

Instead, the Court granted review of a single question – whether, under the terms of the Clean Air Act, EPA’s regulation of climate pollution from cars triggered the requirement for pre-construction permits limiting the climate pollution discharged by large, new and rebuilt industrial sources of that pollution in the same way these requirements have applied to other air pollutants from these sources for over 35 years.

Bottom line

We need all available safeguards under the Clean Air Act to address the urgent challenge of climate change – including the advanced pollution control measures required as an essential protection in construction permits for large industrial sources. These measures are vital if we hope to minimize industrial climate pollution.

Further, one of the principal legal theories being advanced by petitioners would have adverse consequences for EPA’s long-standing interpretation of the law – spanning the Presidencies of Ronald Regan, George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush – that has expansively applied the protections of the Clean Air Act’s pre-construction review permit program to all regulated air pollutants. This line of attack, designed to narrow the air pollutants subject to these limits, would call into question the application of the program to pollutants such as hydrogen sulfide, fluorides and sulfuric acid mist.

Finally, we need to tell the truth to the public, to policymakers and to the highest Court in the land that EPA is judiciously carrying out its responsibilities under the nation’s clean air laws to protect human health and the environment from climate pollution. We must take a stand against the sharply polarizing rhetorical excess leveled at EPA. For the real world solutions that have won far reaching support, look no further than the cleaner cars on the road today that are strengthening our energy security, saving families hard earned money at the gas pump, and cutting carbon pollution.

This is why EDF will be at the Supreme Court today.

Editor’s Note: Environmental Defense Fund is a party to the case before the Supreme Court and participated in the presentation of oral arguments when the case was before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.  A coalition of states and NGO allies are also vigorously defending these clean air protections against legal attack — including California, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington, and the city of New York.

Posted in Clean Air Act, EPA litgation, Greenhouse Gas Emissions, News, Policy| Read 1 Response

New Study — Web of Entities Invests Heavily in Obstructing Climate and Clean Energy Progress

A few days ago, the Wall Street Journal reported that Peabody Coal Company is one of the top five worst performing stocks of 2013.

In a year when the S&P 500 was up 29 percent and the Dow rose by 26 percent, Peabody Coal’s stock plummeted by 28 percent.

While most investors recognize the serious environmental and financial risks associated with coal and its pollution, not all do.

Drexel University Professor Robert Brulle reviewed IRS data from 2003 to 2010 and found a web of entities investing over $900 million annually in organizations dedicated to obstructing climate progress and fighting the deployment of safe, clean energy in America.

If you take a closer look at those specific organizations identified in Brulle’s study, you’ll find that several of them are involved – now – in extensive efforts to obstruct climate and clean energy progress under the nation’s clean air laws and leading state programs.

Take a look at these examples:

The Landmark Legal Foundation, Competitive Enterprise Institute and FreedomWorks all just filed briefs before the U.S. Supreme Court challenging the Clean Air Act’s requirement that, at the time of their design and construction, large industrial sources deploy cost-effective modern pollution control technologies to mitigate their climate pollution.

In its challenge to clean air measures for climate pollution, the Competitive Enterprise Institute and FreedomWorks brief (filed along with Southeastern Legal Foundation) relies extensively — and chillingly — on the tobacco industry case FDA v. Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp. and the legal attacks on our nation’s efforts to eliminate the scourge of youth tobacco addiction:

The Court’s approach to FDA’s assertion of regulatory authority over tobacco products has direct relevance in the present case and should control the outcome here.

(That’s from page 7 of their brief. The Supreme Court has already considered – and rejected – this misguided legal attack in the context of EPA's authority to regulate climate pollution.)

Earlier this year, the Landmark Legal Foundation unsuccessfully asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review EPA’s science-based determination that six greenhouse gases endanger the health and welfare of current and future generations. They tried to challenge EPA’s determination, anchored in extensive science reflecting decades of research, by ridiculously questioning whether this finding is a “scientific judgment.” (see page 11 of their brief)

The Competitive Enterprise Institute also litigated to overturn New York Republican Governor George Pataki’s leading efforts to cap and reduce the climate pollution from fossil fuel power plants in New York and to participate in a broader regional pollution control program, the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative.

On December 5th, New York’s appellate court affirmed the decision of the state’s trial court firmly rejecting these legal attacks.

In his study, Brulle also chronicles the “evidence of a trend toward concealing the sources of [climate obstructionism] funding through the use of donor directed philanthropies” such as the Donors Trust.

A closer look at funding by the Donors Trust through its most recent IRS Form 990 (2011) indicates $1,189,730 in grant funding provided to an organization called the Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow (CFACT).  CFACT is a major outlet for climate denialism.

CFACT, too, just filed a brief with the U.S. Supreme Court in which it asserts that the overwhelming scientific consensus on human-induced climate change is “tenuous, biased, inaccurate, incomplete, unsupported by actual observations, and lacking in scientific integrity.”

The recent scientific findings of the world’s leading scientists set out in the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change found that climate change is unequivocal and its impacts are unprecedented and profound.

Another organization that has received support from the Donors Trust according to the Trust’s IRS Form 990 (2011) is the Judicial Education Project.

They also just filed a brief with the U.S. Supreme Court challenging the federal government’s authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from the nation’s largest sources of such pollution. The brief alleges that the Environmental Protection Agency exceeded its authority under the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2007 landmark case, Massachusetts v. EPA, in which the Court stated that the “harms associated with climate change are serious and well recognized.”

Earlier this year, the Mercatus Center — another group identified by Brulle’s researchsubmitted adverse comments on proposed clean air standards for cars and gasoline by calling into question the extensive body of peer reviewed science linking particulate pollution and mortality.

It is well documented that these clean air standards for cars and gasoline will provide healthier, longer lives. They have also won the support of diverse interests, including the American Lung Association and the U.S. auto industry, because of the dual benefits of reducing health-harming pollutants and enabling more efficient clean car technologies.

Recently, the Landmark Legal Foundation joined by the Cato Institute — both groups identified in Brulle’s research — challenged the Department of Energy’s adoption of improved appliance efficiency standards for microwaves.

The microwave standards will lead to less energy use, consumer cost savings and pollution reductions. Landmark Legal Foundation and the Cato Institute objected to DOE’s consideration of the societal benefits of mitigating carbon pollution. Patrick Michaels, a well-known climate denialist, co-authored the Cato comments. Landmark asked DOE to immediately halt implementation and rescind the Rule.

DOE has denied the request to upend these common sense energy conservation standards for our nation.

And it is not surprising that Peabody Coal Company, too, has just filed a brief in the U.S. Supreme Court objecting to the Clean Air Act requirement that our nation’s largest industrial emitters use modern pollution controls to mitigate climate pollution.

Peabody’s brief begins by asserting that “[w]hether and how to regulate GHGs [greenhouse gases] remains a highly debated, contentious issue in Congress, agencies and the courts.” (Page 2 of their brief)

But Brulle’s research elucidates how Peabody’s assertion is a tautology. Through massive funding of groups dedicated to climate obstructionism, Brulle documents how climate change remains contentious because there is a vast climate change counter-movement dedicated to making it so:

[A] number of conservative think tanks, trade associations, and advocacy organizations are the key organizational components of a well-organized climate change counter-movement (CCCM) that has not only played a major role in confounding public understanding of climate science, but also successfully delayed meaningful government policy actions to address the issue.

Climate change is happening. The toll exacted from extreme weather — fueled in part by climate change — on human life and our economy is profound, and reaches from the ravages wrought on New York and New Jersey by Hurricane Sandy to the tragic flooding in the Rockies.

However, the solutions are at hand.

In 2012, wind power was “the number one source of new U.S. electric generation capacity for the first time—representing 43 percent of all new electric additions and accounting for $25 billion in U.S. investment.”

And even more recently, in November 2013, 100 percent – ALL – of the new electrical power in America came from renewable energy.

While Peabody’s stock falls and its rhetoric rises, and while the forces of obstructionism fight clean energy, the winds of change are blowing briskly.

Brulle’s study is a clarion call for moms, dads, grandparents, aunts, and uncles to resolve that in 2014 we will work together to fight for clean air and clean energy for our children — and for all children.

In spite of a well-funded group of obstructionists, we can prevail.

We can secure climate progress and clean energy for our nation, for our communities and for our future.

Posted in EPA litgation, Greenhouse Gas Emissions, News, Policy, Setting the Facts Straight| Read 1 Response

EDF Applauds New Fuel Efficiency and Emissions Standards for Cars and Trucks

America has driven a little bit further down the road toward clean and fuel efficient cars.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Transportation just announced their joint proposal to set new, stronger fuel economy standards for cars and light trucks – for model years 2017 to 2025.

EDF’s Fred Krupp said the announcement:

 … is more good news for American consumers, auto manufacturers, public health and the environment. By 2025 we’ll have cars that on average get more than 54 miles to the gallon, save their owners more than $8,000 in fuel costs, save our country more than two million barrels of oil a day, and drastically reduce the carbon dioxide pollution in our air.

This is the second phase of setting new fuel efficiency standards for cars. The Administration already set standards for model year 2012 to 2016 cars, which will reach an average of 35.5 miles to the gallon.

They also set new standards for trucks and buses. (Our experts have written about all of this before, of course – most recently here)

But the newly proposed standards are the biggest step forward yet. Together with the earlier improvements, they will:

  • Save Americans a total of $1.7 trillion in national fuel savings over the life of the program.
  • Reduce our oil consumption by an amount more than our 2010 oil imports from the entire Persian Gulf, by the year 2025
  • Reduce our carbon dioxide pollution, over the life of the program, by the equivalent to the emissions from the entire United States in 2010

You can get a lot more details, and a illustrative graph, on our new fact sheet.

Posted in Cars and Pollution, Clean Air Act, Greenhouse Gas Emissions, News, Policy| Comments are closed

Early Christmas Gift from EPA: A Commitment to Cleaner Air for America's Children

Great news, today, for anyone who wants cleaner air.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) just announced a settlement agreement to establish national emission standards that will address the greenhouse gas pollution from new and existing fossil fuel power plants.

The agreement follows litigation launched in 2006 by a wide variety of parties — including EDF — after EPA refused to address greenhouse gas pollution in establishing national emission standards for power plants. EPA's 2006 action was based on an interpretation of the Clean Air Act rejected by the U.S. Supreme Court.    

U.S. power plants are one of the single largest sources of airborne contaminants. They discharge more than 30 percent of all global warming pollution in America, about 40 percent of our toxic mercury, and almost two-thirds of our sulfur dioxide (which transforms into deadly fine particulate pollution and contributes to acid rain).

Now, EPA will establish new standards that will include the greenhouse gas emissions from the plant. EPA will issue a draft of the standards by July 26, 2011, and then take final action by May 26, 2012.

The announcement was immediately cheered by people across the country — including EDF's own Fred Krupp, who said in a statement:

EPA's commitment to address the dangerous, climate-disrupting pollution from power plants through common sense national standards will provide important environmental protections and will create economic certainty for vibrant new investments.

Along with EDF, the other parties to today's settlement agreement are: the states of New York, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington; the Commonwealth of Massachusetts; the District of Columbia; the City of New York; Natural Resources Defense Council; and Sierra Club.

And in more good news, EPA also announced a settlement agreement to address pollution limits for refineries today. That proposal is due by next December, and final action is due in 2012.

Posted in Clean Air Act, Greenhouse Gas Emissions, News| Read 2 Responses
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