Climate 411

It’s time to close EPA’s harmful new air toxics loophole

This post was co-authored by EDF Legal Fellow Surbhi Sarang

Earlier this year EPA created a pollution loophole that would allow industrial facilities to increase their emissions of toxic air pollutants like benzene, creating a huge risk to public health.

This week EDF and a coalition of seven other environmental, environmental justice, and public health organizations are saying ‘enough,’ and asking the courts to close this outrageous loophole.

Closing this damaging loophole is an important step in our fight to defend long-standing Clean Air Act protections that safeguard families and communities in the nation.

On Monday, the coalition filed an opening brief with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit explaining our case.

Why this loophole is so problematic

Under the Clean Air Act, large industrial facilities like refineries and chemical plants are required to obey strict pollution control standards (called “maximum achievable control technology” or “MACT” standards) once their emissions of toxic air pollutants exceed certain “major source” thresholds.

These standards are highly effective in reducing pollution – so effective that they often cause industrial facilities to reduce their emissions of air pollution below the “major source” thresholds.

The air pollutants controlled by these MACT standards are known as “hazardous air pollutants” and include 187 separate pollutants, including mercury and lead, that are known or suspected to cause cancer or otherwise seriously harm human health.

In order to keep these dramatic air pollution reductions in place, since 1995 — under administrations of both parties — EPA has required large industrial facilities to continue complying with the strict MACT standards for as long as they operate.

EPA has done so for an important reason – if a facility could simply “opt out” of a MACT standard because complying with the standard caused it to reduce its emissions below the threshold, that facility would then be free to stop or reduce its use of those required pollution controls and increase pollution once again. That would harm the health of people nearby and defeat the very purpose of the Clean Air Act.

But in January, heeding requests from a number of industry trade groups, then-EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt suddenly reversed this long-standing policy. He did so unlawfully – in a four-page memo issued without consulting with the public and without even considering the damage this would cause to our environment and public health or the disproportionate impact this would have on environmental justice communities.

The loophole is a profoundly harmful and abrupt policy decision that – according to analyses published by EDF and other organizations – could allow thousands of industrial facilities across the country to become subject to much weaker or even no air pollution controls.

Unfortunately, it’s part of a larger pattern in which this administration is systematically dismantling vital Clean Air Act protections – which has included attacks on protections against climate pollution and toxic air pollution from power plants, protections on pollution from oil and gas facilities, and clean car standards.

The Air Toxics Loophole is filled with fatal legal flaws

In our opening brief, we show that:

  • It allows industrial facilities to “opt out” of mandatory pollution control standards in a way that is inconsistent with the language and structure of the Clean Air Act, and defeats Congress’s intent in creating these air pollution control requirements.
  • It fails to acknowledge or grapple with the legal and policy rationales for EPA’s long-standing prior policy – or even consider the potential impacts on public health.
  • It disregards warnings about the impacts on air pollution and public health by EPA’s own staff, state environmental officials, and other stakeholders that the agency received when it hinted it might adopt a similar policy back in 2007.
  • EPA’s failure to provide any public notice or opportunity for public comment violates a basic legal requirement for all changes in Clean Air Act regulations.

The state of California, which is also challenging the loophole, has filed a separate brief with the D.C. Circuit.

We expect the court will set oral argument for early next year – and we look forward to making a strong case against this dangerous loophole.

Also posted in Clean Air Act, Health, Policy, Pruitt / Comments are closed

Experts condemn the Trump administration’s attack on strong Clean Car Standards

Americans are already speaking out in droves against the Trump Administration’s proposal to roll back America’s Clean Car Standards.

The proposal, if finalized, would increase pollution by billions of tons, cost consumers hundreds of billions of hard-earned dollars at the gas pump, and attack long-standing state leadership on clean cars.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) are now accepting public comments (you can write to them here) and they’ll hold three public hearings in September – in Fresno, California; Dearborn, Michigan; and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (The administration had originally announced hearings in Los Angeles, Detroit and Washington D.C. – then abruptly cancelled them with no explanation.)

But right from the beginning, before the public comment period even started, people across the country were voicing their concerns about rolling back these critical protections. Automakers themselves, including Ford and Honda, have disavowed the path the Trump administration is taking.

Here are a few of the more recent statements:

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Also posted in Cars and Pollution, Clean Air Act, Economics, Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Health, Jobs, News, Policy / Read 1 Response

A chorus of opposition to Wheeler’s sham Clean Power Plan replacement

Acting EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler just released his proposal to severely weaken America’s only nation-wide carbon pollution protections for existing power plants – to a chorus of opposition from the American public, state and local officials, faith organizations, health and environmental organizations, and leaders across the political spectrum.

Wheeler’s proposal would scrap the landmark Clean Power Plan –increasing harmful air pollution and exacerbating climate change. According to EPA’s own numbers, Wheeler’s proposal could lead to more than one thousand extra deaths and tens of thousands of additional asthma attacks each year. It forfeits the lifesaving benefits the Clean Power Plan would provide for the health and well-being of all Americans.

More than 70 percent of Americans – including a majority in every Congressional district in the country – support putting strict limits on carbon pollution from existing power plants, according to a recent poll analysis. A broad and diverse group of them spoke out in opposition to the sham Clean Power Plan replacement proposal.

Here are some notable quotes (and you can see a more complete list here).

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Also posted in Clean Air Act, Clean Power Plan, Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Health, News, Policy / Comments are closed

An outpouring of support for clean car standards, in the face of Pruitt’s attempted rollback

Cars on a dealer lot, waiting to be sold. Photo: Every Car Listed

(EDF Legal Fellow Erin Murphy co-authored this post)

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt just announced his intention to rollback one of our country’s biggest climate success stories – clean car standards that reduce pollution and save Americans money at the pump.

In a closed-door ceremony, Pruitt kicked off a process to weaken these standards — placing at risk as much as two billion tons of climate pollution reductions and $460 billion in consumer savings.

His determination cited the auto industry dozens of times yet made no mention of people’s health or climate change, and cited zero EPA analyses justifying the rollback.

Even some auto industry leaders have raised concerns about this attack:

  • Honda: “We didn’t ask for that,” said Robert Bienenfeld, assistant vice president in charge of environment and energy strategy. “The position we outlined was sensible.”
  • Ford: “We support increasing clean car standards through 2025 and are not asking for a rollback.”
  • Adam Lee, chairman of Lee Auto Malls: “Trump has been saying these standards are crushing the auto industry. But we’ve had record years for the past four or five years, in terms of sales and profit. It almost makes you think he doesn’t have the facts.”
  • Automotive Technology Leadership Group: “It is in the nation’s best interest for the U.S. to continue leading in the development and manufacture of the cleanest and most efficient vehicles in the world. The innovation brought on by competition and our national performance standards has created hundreds of thousands of jobs in this country and significant market opportunities for U.S. companies abroad.”

Pruitt’s announcement has even generated a backlash in the most auto-industry-friendly place in America – Detroit.

In a strongly-worded editorial, the Detroit Free Press accused auto companies of reneging on their deal with the American taxpayer:

  • “[T]he auto bailout was more than a federally guaranteed loan; it was a multi-lateral agreement that your companies would henceforth go about the business of manufacturing cars and trucks more thoughtfully than they had in the past … [M]anufacturing more fuel-efficient vehicles that would cost less to operate and spew a dramatically smaller amount of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere was part of the bargain that saved your lives.” – Detroit Free Press editorial

The clean car standards have strong public support across the country. A recent American Lung Association poll showed that nearly seven in 10 voters want EPA to leave current fuel efficiency standards in place.

That support is reflected in the broad outpouring of support for clean cars expressed in the run up to, and aftermath of, Pruitt’s rollback announcement. A diverse group of leaders recognizes that weakening these protections will cost Americans money, hurt our health, and harm our national security:

  • “Thanks to emissions and efficiency standards, consumers have saved billions of dollars on fuel over the last 5 years. And if the standards were protected instead of undermined, consumers could expect to save a lot more over the next decade. It would be wasteful to discard those consumer savings, but EPA now appears poised to do just that.” – Shannon Baker-Branstetter, Consumers Union
  • “The American Lung Association strongly opposes EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt’s decision to revise the clean car standards … Transportation is the nation’s single largest contributor of carbon pollution, which drives climate change. Starting a process to weaken clean car standards marks yet another step backward from the fight to curb climate change. Climate change poses serious threats to millions of people, especially to some of the most vulnerable Americans, including children, older adults and those living with chronic diseases such as asthma.” – American Lung Association CEO Harold Wimmer
  • “Weakening CAFE and reducing future U.S. net oil exports will further diminish the future global energy leverage of the United States and leave the country and its allies on a more precarious footing.” – Council on Foreign Relations blog, 3/13/18

Political leaders across the country have voiced strong bipartisan support for the existing clean car standards:

  • “Today’s EPA decision on vehicle emissions won’t prevent us from fulfilling what we believe is an obligation to protect Colorado’s air and the health of our citizens. Many of our auto manufacturers are making cars cleaner and more efficient. Indeed, many support the existing stricter standards. It doesn’t make sense that the EPA would take us backwards. Who is the EPA trying to protect?” – Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper:
  • “As U.S. attorneys general, mayors and county executives, we – not federal officials in Washington, D.C. – are primarily responsible for the transportation systems upon which our residents and our local and regional economies depend. A clean, efficient and high-performance vehicle fleet is an essential component of these systems. We strongly support the current federal standards for such a modern vehicle fleet agreed to in 2012 by the automotive industry, the federal government and the State of California.” – A Coalition of 12 State Attorneys General and Over Fifty Mayors
  • “Today’s announcement by EPA Administrator Pruitt to weaken vehicle emissions standards is in direct conflict with the agency’s mandate to reduce air pollution. This decision will increase air pollution and limit innovative technology advancements that bring cleaner, more efficient cars to market. We support the current federal standards agreed to in 2012 by the automotive industry, the federal government, and the State of California.  These standards are helping to drive the global transition to more efficient transportation technologies. They also protect the health of our communities and reduce the pollution that is changing our climate.” – 17 Governors of states across the country and Puerto Rico

Labor and investment experts have also recognized that the clean car standards are essential for long-term American auto sector innovation, vitality, and jobs:

  • “The current standards have helped bring back, secure, and create jobs nationwide; they have reduced pollution; saved consumers billions at the pump; and have been integral to growing and sustaining America’s manufacturing sector over the past decade. Weakening the rules — which is indicated to be the intent of today’s decision — could put American jobs at risk today and in coming years, and would threaten America’s competitiveness in manufacturing critical technology.” – BlueGreen Alliance Director of Advanced Vehicles and Transportation, Zoe Lipman
  • “Strong national fuel economy and emissions standards spur innovation and open the door to tremendous economic opportunities. They represent an investment in technological and economic leadership. Weakening them would be a bad deal for investors, workers, car owners, and businesses—and for the American economy itself.” -­ David Richardson, Impax Asset Management
Also posted in Cars and Pollution, Clean Air Act, Economics, Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Health, Jobs, News, Policy, Pruitt, What Others are Saying / Comments are closed

Mayors across the country announce their opposition to repealing the Clean Power Plan

(EDF’s John Bullock co-authored this post)

236 U.S. Mayors just added their voices to the growing chorus that opposes rolling back the Clean Power Plan.

The mayors represent more than 51 million Americans from 46 states, Washington D.C. and Puerto Rico.

They just sent a letter to Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt saying:

“[W]e strongly oppose the repeal of the Clean Power Plan, which would put our citizens at risk and undermine our efforts to prepare for and protect against the worst impacts of climate change.”

The Clean Power Plan establishes the first-ever nationwide limits on carbon pollution from power plants. It is the most significant measure to address climate change that our country has taken so far.

Pruitt is now trying to roll back the Clean Power Plan, which would be a huge retreat from EPA’s duty to protect Americans from the increasingly urgent threat of climate change.

Repealing the Clean Power Plan would rob the public of its enormous public health benefits. The Clean Power Plan would prevent 3,600 premature deaths, 90,000 childhood asthma attacks, and 300,000 missed school and workdays every year once fully implemented.

The mayors’ letter is just the latest example of the Clean Power Plan’s broad popularity.

In a recent poll, almost 70 percent of Americans — including a majority in every Congressional district — supported setting strict limits on carbon dioxide produced by coal-fired power plants.

And, since Pruitt first proposed repealing the Clean Power Plan, other Americans – state leaders, public health groups, faith leaders, consumer representatives, and concerned citizens – have spoken out.

We’ve kept a list of quotes opposing the Clean Power Plan rollback, affirming a commitment to combating climate change, and supporting strong action to invest in clean energy solutions. You can read the full – and lengthy – list here.

Here are just a few of the comments from America’s elected leaders:

  • “We already get nearly a third of L.A.’s energy from renewable sources, and we're pushing hard to get that number to 100 percent. The Clean Power Plan makes that kind of progress possible everywhere in America, and the President should leave it in place today so that we can build on that momentum tomorrow.” – Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, chair of Climate Mayors – the group that organized the letter to EPA.
  • “We have dramatically cleaner air and we are saving money. My question to the EPA would be, ‘Which part of that don’t you like?’” – Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper
  • “The Trump Administration’s constant assault on our environment will not diminish Minnesotans’ resolve to build a vibrant clean energy economy.” – Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton
  • “The Trump Administration's move to dismantle the Clean Power Plan is a reckless decision that gives power plant operators free reign to do what they will without any concern for our climate … Climate change is a profound threat to our planet, and it cannot be wished away by denial. There is no denial here in New York.” – New York Governor Andrew Cuomo
  • "I am deeply disappointed in the repeal of the Clean Power Plan rule. Oregon will not turn its back on the environment or the thousands of jobs that have been created through the clean energy industry … [W]e’re stepping up, as the federal government steps down from its leadership role in tackling climate change." – Oregon Governor Kate Brown
  • “President Trump has failed his climate IQ test with the repeal of the Clean Power Plan. He is giving up on the economic opportunity that would be unleashed by deploying clean energy technologies in every state of the union.” – Senator Ed Markey of Massachusetts
  • “Protecting our environment is critical to our people, businesses & way of life in NH. Scrapping the Clean Power Plan is completely backward.” – Senator Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire
  • “We should meet the challenge of taking on climate change with a state-federal partnership to cut carbon pollution, not walk away from it.” – Senator Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin
  • “At the heart of today’s Clean Power Plan decision is one of the cruelest deceptions perpetrated in politics today: telling the American people that clean air protections are responsible for reduced demand for coal and that getting rid of those protections will create tens of thousands of coal jobs. Both are false.” — Representative John Yarmuth of Kentucky
  • “By repealing the #CleanPowerPlan, the Trump administration jeopardizes our health & safety, economic competitiveness, & global leadership.” – Representative Brendan Boyle of Pennsylvania
  • “Rescinding the Clean Power Plan will hurt our environment and isolate us on the international stage. The actions today by [Scott Pruitt] do not move us in the right direction toward protecting the planet for our grandchildren.” – Representative Gene Green of Texas

It’s not just elected officials. Here are some notable comments from other experts:

  • “The Trump administration has mangled the costs and benefits of one of the most significant climate regulations of the Obama years in an effort to justify its repeal … these methodological contortions are meant to obscure a very basic truth: that any ‘savings’ achieved by rescinding the Clean Power Plan will come at an incredibly high cost to public health and welfare. If the Trump administration is willing to make that trade, it should at least have the courage to admit it.” – Richard Revesz, Dean Emeritus of New York University Law School, and Jack Lienke, regulatory policy director at the Institute for Policy Integrity
  • “If Trump and Pruitt do succeed in dismantling the Clean Power Plan, people will die. Thousands and thousands of Americans will suffer adverse health effects. And the costs will far outweigh the benefits. Don’t take my word for it, though. Take Scott Pruitt’s. Remarkably, Pruitt’s proposed rollback actually concedes that the health-related costs of abandoning the Clean Power Plan are likely to be staggering.” – Eli Savit, Adjunct Professor of Law, University of Michigan Law School
  • “The energy future is renewables. That is why I led the American Sustainable Business Council effort to file an amicus brief on behalf of that organization and 23 other business organizations in support of the Clean Power Plan.” – Frank Knapp, South Carolina Small Business Chamber of Commerce
  • “The United States has been a leader in environmental policies that move our country and the rest of the world forward. The repeal of the Clean Power Plan represents a major step backwards – one that is deeply harmful to creation and disproportionately unjust to vulnerable groups … [W]e have a mandate from our Creator to steward the earth well and care for creation. We are also called to love and care for our neighbors as ourselves. Allowing carbon emissions that have been proven harmful to pollute the atmosphere without limit is morally wrong and rationally illogical.” – Reginald Smith, Christian Reformed Church
  • “Faithfulness to these commands in a warming world requires that we care for God's good world and that we show compassion to those whose very lives are threatened by a changing climate. If our political leaders, many of whom confess our faith, will not take the action necessary to respond to these commands, then the rest of us will." – Kyle Meyaard-Schaap, Young Evangelicals for Climate Action
  • “The decision to repeal the Clean Power Plan is a direct attack on our health. In the face of this atrocity, our most vulnerable communities will suffer increased adverse health effects from power plant pollution.” – Adrienne Hollis, WE ACT for Environmental Justice
  • “The League is appalled at this irresponsible decision that will have a long-term devastating impact on our planet and health of the American people.” – Chris Carson, president of the League of Women Voters
  • “Repealing the rule … is a historic step backward. But it’s just the latest move from an administration singularly hostile to environmental and climate protections. Like the decision to leave the Paris Agreement, the White House’s action signals to the world that the United States is unwilling to take the responsibility that comes with being one of the planet’s largest carbon emitters. Nor does it seem like the White House is willing to acknowledge the economic opportunities that come with climate action.” – Brian Sewell, Appalachian Voices
  • “The rollback of the Clean Power Plan (CPP) represents one of the biggest policy errors of this still-young administration — which is saying a lot, considering the record. The action holds out the false promise that the government can save a dying industry by defying common-sense rules to curb harmful emissions from coal-fired plants. That’s like trying to stop the sun from shining or the tide from rolling in.” – Miami Herald Editorial Board

(This post was updated on 3/21/18)

Also posted in Clean Air Act, Clean Power Plan, Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Health, News, Policy / Read 2 Responses

EPA refuses to act on smog pollution. Here’s what’s at stake.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is refusing to move forward with the implementation of health-based standards that protect Americans from dangerous ground-level ozone pollution — more commonly known as smog.

That’s why Environmental Defense Fund, along with a broad coalition of public health and environmental groups, sent a letter to EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt informing him that we will take legal action if he does not carry out his mandatory duty to begin implementing our nation’s 2015 health-based smog standard.

Smog is a caustic pollutant that irritates the lungs, exacerbates lung conditions like asthma, and is linked to a wide-array of serious heart and lung diseases.

It is particularly harmful for children, seniors, people with lung impairments like asthma, and anyone active outdoors.

Under the Clean Air Act, October 1, 2017 was the deadline for identifying the communities that meet our nation’s health-based smog standard, and for identifying those that are violating the standard. Administrator Pruitt missed this mandatory deadline to begin implementing the smog safeguards.

The Clean Air Act’s statutory deadlines are not merely suggestions – they are of critical importance to achieving better air quality. When EPA shirks mandatory deadlines, the Clean Air Act’s mechanisms to improve air quality fail to engage and American families suffer the harmful effects of breathing polluted air for longer.

Administrator Pruitt unlawfully attempted to extend this same deadline, by one year, earlier this summer. However, he was forced to withdraw this extension and reinstate the October 1, 2017 deadline in response to legal challenges filed by EDF and our public health partners, and by a coalition of 16 state Attorneys General.

Now Pruitt has failed to meet the deadline – adding to his concerning pattern of delay, and undermining these important public health safeguards.

Here’s more on the consequences of ignoring our national health-based smog standards:

By delaying implementation of the standards, EPA is allowing vulnerable communities to suffer the consequences of polluted air while Administrator Pruitt stalls.

For instance, delaying the standards will mean that residents of the Uintah Basin in Northeastern Utah will potentially be faced with more and longer exposure to pollution levels that at times can rival smoggy Los Angeles.

This is truly unacceptable when there are clear solutions for reducing smog and protecting public health, such as reducing the pollution emitted from the thousands of oil and gas wells that dot the basin – common sense solutions that would be helped along if the 2015 health-based smog standard was properly and timely implemented.

Administrator Pruitt’s failure to identify which communities have air quality that violates the health standard obscures Americans’ basic right to know whether the very air we breathe meets the level that EPA has determined to be healthy.

The health-based national air quality standard for deadly air pollutants like smog form the foundation of the Clean Air Act — a bedrock public health statute that has provided for extraordinary, bipartisan progress in protecting Americans’ health and the environment for more than 40 years.

These consensus-backed health standards save lives and protect American families. By EPA’s own estimate, compliance with the 2015 smog standard will save hundreds of lives, prevent 230,000 asthma attacks in children, and prevent 160,000 missed school days for children each year.

Failure to carry out his responsibilities under our nation’s clean air laws also demonstrates Administrator Pruitt’s disregard for the recommendations of EPA’s own public health experts and scientists.

The 2015 health-based standard for smog was developed through a rigorous and extensive rulemaking process over the course of several years, and the science on smog’s health impacts is well-established.

EPA finalized a revised, strengthened standard of 70 parts per billion after engaging in a transparent, public process and relying on well-established scientific information and the recommendations of an independent committee of scientific advisors.

Administrator Pruitt has a legal duty to carry out the health standard to ensure healthier, longer lives for millions of Americans afflicted by dangerous smog pollution. That’s why EDF joined so many others in telling him we’ll go to court if he doesn’t.

Those joining us on the notice of intent to sue are the American Lung Association, American Public Health Association, American Thoracic Society, Appalachian Mountain Club, Earthjustice, Environmental Law & Policy Center, National Parks Conservation Association, Natural Resources Defense Council, Sierra Club and West Harlem Environmental Action.

The Attorneys General of New York, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Mexico, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington, and Washington D.C. sent a similar letter.

We urges Administrator Pruitt to “expeditiously” carry out his responsibility under our nation’s clean air law to protect the health of our families and communities. There is no time to waste.

Also posted in Clean Air Act, Health, Policy, Smog / Comments are closed