Climate 411

Proof that the Clean Power Plan’s strategy for cutting carbon pollution is the industry standard

The public comment period is just about to close on EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt’s reckless attempt to repeal the Clean Power Plan, and thousands of Americans — including mayors, CEOs, energy experts, and citizens concerned about the threats Pruitt’s actions pose to our children’s health and future — have already spoken out in vigorous opposition to the misguided repeal effort.

There is a lot at stake. The Clean Power Plan would prevent 4,500 early deaths and 90,000 childhood asthma attacks each year. It would cut carbon pollution by 32 percent from 2005 levels, and would substantially reduce other harmful air pollutants from power plants.

By slashing air pollution and helping mitigate the threats of climate change, the Clean Power Plan would secure significant benefits to public health while growing the clean energy economy.

Yet, as Pruitt continues his misguided effort to turn back the clock on lifesaving climate protections, momentum is growing in states and the power sector to slash carbon pollution and usher in a clean energy future.

States and companies are moving away from carbon-intensive sources of electricity generation, and are increasing their use of cleaner technologies — deploying the same cost-effective strategies to cut carbon pollution that EPA relied upon when establishing emission reduction targets under the Clean Power Plan. Pruitt’s attempt to repeal the Clean Power Plan is putting this flexible approach to ambitious and low-cost emission reductions under attack.

Meaningful federal actions to reduce carbon pollution, such as the Clean Power Plan, remain essential to mitigate climate change. But in the meantime, states and companies – by making continued progress toward emission reductions through time-tested methods – are providing solid evidence that the Clean Power Plan’s approach is not only reasonable, but is the industry-standard for reducing carbon pollution from the power sector. 

The clean energy transformation is accelerating

Carbon pollution from the power sector fell to 27 percent below 2005 levels in 2017, continuing a clear downward trend since the mid-2000’s even as the U.S. economy continues to grow. Carbon pollution levels from the power sector in the U.S. have now fallen below emissions from transportation, demonstrating remarkable progress in cleaning up our electric grid.

The rapid decarbonization of the U.S. power sector continues to be driven by a shift toward clean energy technologies. Renewable energy including solar, wind, and hydropower generated a record 18 percent of U.S. electricity in 2017, and new renewables comprised nearly half of utility-scale generating capacity installed in 2017. As more and more high-polluting coal plants become scheduled for retirement, power companies and regulators from Colorado to New Mexico to Wisconsin are increasingly replacing them directly with renewables.

A precipitous drop in costs has made the outlook for clean energy increasingly bullish in recent years. The cost of utility-scale solar power fell by more than 77 percent from 2010 to 2017. Worldwide, the cost of solar and onshore wind power declined by 18 percent in the last year alone.

As of 2017, the lifetime cost of unsubsidized wind and utility-scale solar is now below that of coal and on par with the cost of natural gas combined cycle technology.

Low-cost projections for clean energy are increasingly becoming a reality on the ground. In Colorado, for example, a recent solicitation for new renewables resulted in bid prices for wind and solar plus energy storage that are cheaper than the operating cost of nearly all coal plants in the state.

States and power companies continue to lead

Across the country, state governors and major power companies have continued to ramp up forward-looking commitments to cut carbon pollution and deploy clean energy — recognizing these clear power sector trends and driving increasingly ambitious climate progress.

Here are some recent examples:

Power companies

  • American Electric Power, the nation’s largest generator of electricity from coal, laid out a strategy in February to reduce carbon pollution by 60 percent below 2000 levels by 2030, and 80 percent by 2050. “There is no question the electrification of our economy is accelerating,” said CEO Nick Akins. “Today, we are taking a longer-term view of carbon by setting new goals for carbon dioxide emission reductions for the future based upon resource plans that account for economics, customer preferences, reliability and regulation.”
  • Southern Company, the nation’s third largest power producer, announced a goal this month to reduce carbon pollution by 50 percent below 2007 levels by 2030 and to achieve “low- to no-carbon operations by 2050.” The commitment comes in the wake of a rapidly changing generation mix for Southern, with its share of generation from coal declining to 28 percent in 2017 from 70 percent in 2010.
  • In March, Oregon’s Portland General Electric committed to reducing carbon pollution by more than 80 percent by 2050, in part by achieving Oregon’s target of 50 percent renewable energy by 2040 and transitioning away from coal by 2035.
  • PacifiCorp subsidiary Rocky Mountain Power plans to add more than 1,300 megawatts of wind power by 2020 — a $1.5 billion investment.

Across the Midwest, a slate of electric utilities recently committed to slash carbon emissions and transition away from coal:

  • PPL Corporation plans to reduce emissions by 2050 to 70 percent below 2010 levels, including retiring the bulk of the company’s coal plants in Kentucky.
  • Wisconsin’s largest utility, WEC Energy Group, plans to reduce carbon pollution by 40% below 2005 levels by 2030.
  • In Indiana, Vectren announced plans to reduce carbon pollution by 60 percent by shuttering three coal-fired power plants.
  • Ameren Missouri committed to reducing emissions to 80 percent below 2005 levels by 2050, and plans to invest $1 billion to add at least 700 megawatts of wind power by 2020.
  • In February 2018, Michigan utility Consumers Energy announced plans to reduce emissions by 80 percent and phase out coal by 2040.

States

  • This month, New Jersey lawmakers passed a sweeping clean energy bill that will put the state on a path to becoming a national clean energy leader. Governor Phil Murphy directed the state to begin negotiations to rejoin the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) – a multi-state program to reduce carbon pollution from the power sector. Governor Murphy also signed an order adding New Jersey to the U.S. Climate Alliance of states committed to upholding the Paris Agreement goals, and has outlined a goal of powering the state with 100 percent clean energy by mid-century.
  • In a show of bipartisan commitment to ambitious climate action, Maryland also joined the U.S. Climate Alliance this January, and participated in a multi-state process to strengthen RGGI.
  • Alaska Governor Bill Walker — an Independent — signed an order in October 2017 establishing an advisory team to propose actions, including “statutory and regulatory changes,” for the state to reduce carbon pollution and support the goals of the Paris Agreement.
  • Just last week, environmental and energy regulators from thirteen states — California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, and Washington delivered a letter to Administrator Pruitt opposing repeal of the Clean Power Plan and highlighting important progress across states to reduce carbon pollution from the power sector. “Low natural gas prices, declining costs of renewable energy technologies, and low demand growth are all existing power sector trends that have allowed our states to reap positive economic benefits from reducing emissions. The CPP would amplify these trends and make emissions reductions easier and more cost-effective,” the states write in the letter.

Shared prosperity under a stable climate

As the impacts of climate change — from wildfires to hurricanescontinue to threaten vulnerable communities across the U.S. and around the world, concerted actions to cut climate pollution are more important than ever.

At the same time, efforts to transition to a clean energy economy are delivering myriad benefits — from millions of good-paying clean energy jobs, to critical public health protections, to more affordable and more reliable electricity.

The leadership demonstrated by a growing group of states and major power companies to advance climate progress is critical to securing the benefits of a stable climate and clean energy future for millions of Americans. With continued leadership, and a return to meaningful federal action, America will see a global clean energy transformation and secure shared prosperity for all.

Also posted in Clean Air Act, Economics, Energy, EPA litgation, Greenhouse Gas Emissions, News, Policy, Pruitt / Comments are closed

It’s up to us to protect the Clean Power Plan

This week is a crucial moment for climate progress.

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt is moving ahead in his efforts to revoke the Clean Power Plan, one of our most important efforts to tackle the climate crisis. The Clean Power Plan provides our only national limit on carbon pollution from existing power plants — America’s largest stationary source of carbon pollution.

EPA’s public comment period for Pruitt’s plan to repeal Clean Power Plan will close this Thursday.

Americans have only a short time left to raise their voice to oppose this reckless rollback. You can make your voice heard here.

Here’s what’s at stake

The Clean Power Plan helps us achieve approximately 32 percent reductions in carbon pollution from existing power plants compared to 2005, while also substantially reducing other harmful pollution from power plants.

EPA estimates that the Clean Power Plan would prevent an estimated 90,000 childhood asthma attacks and as many as 4,500 early deaths each year once fully implemented. These public health benefits would be imperiled if Pruitt succeeds in repealing this vital protection.

Public health experts, business voices and local leaders oppose revoking the Clean Power Plan

The American Lung Association joined with seventeen other public health organizations to denounce the Clean Power Plan rollback, calling it “inconsistent with EPA’s core mission of protecting public health and the environment” and highlighting that “the health impacts of climate change demand immediate action.”

Apple Inc. recently urged Pruitt not to repeal the Clean Power Plan, noting it “gives domestic companies a competitive edge” and that based on Apple’s extensive experience as a large energy consumer “the Clean Power Plan provides achievable targets with no adverse impact on [electricity] reliability or resiliency.”

244 mayors from 48 states and territories, representing 52 million Americans, sent a letter to Pruitt stating:

“[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.”

In a recent poll, 70 percent of registered voters in America supported setting strict limits on carbon pollution produced by coal-fired power plants.

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. It includes quotes from elected leaders, business leaders, consumer advocates, faith leaders, and more — you can read it in full here.

Even more climate progress is possible

More and more evidence shows that achieving the Clean Power Plan’s goals will be even cheaper than expected. Yet Pruitt’s proposal to repeal the Clean Power Plan is using underhanded accounting gimmicks to inflate his estimate of compliance costs.

If anything, lower than expected costs and the alarming pace of climate impacts mean the Clean Power Plan’s targets should be stronger.

Who benefits from a rollback? Pruitt’s political allies

Pruitt has been all over the news lately for his cozy relationships with lobbyists, lavish spending, and other self-aggrandizing abuses of his office. All these reports underscore that his first priority is not the well-being of the American public.

It’s no surprise to hear that organizations that helped fund Pruitt’s political ambitions received extensive contributions from Clean Power Plan opponents, including $25,000 from coal company Murray Energy just one month before the D.C. Circuit Court heard the Clean Power Plan oral argument.

Scott Pruitt built his political career by suing relentlessly to block EPA safeguards — including filing four separate lawsuits to oppose the Clean Power Plan. Pruitt’s proposal to repeal the Clean Power Plan would serve his political and financial backers at the expense of the health and safety of American families.

The time to speak up is now

The window for public input opposing this senseless decision will close this Thursday, April 26. Join with Americans across the country to voice your opposition by clicking here.

Also posted in EPA litgation, News, Policy, Pruitt / 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, Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Health, News, Partners for Change, Policy / Read 2 Responses

Emails indicate Scott Pruitt directed removal of climate info from EPA website

At EDF, we recently gained access to some newly-released emails that provide a troubling glimpse of the efforts to remove information about climate change from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) website.

The emails were released under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), and center on EPA’s website purge of April 2017. They indicate that Administrator Scott Pruitt personally directed efforts to prevent the public from accessing many climate-related EPA web pages.

Along with webpages about climate change and climate science, the purge removed the webpage about the Clean Power Plan — the most significant action that the U.S. has ever taken to address climate change. Gone was information about the Clean Power Plan’s benefits – the lives it would save, the childhood asthma attacks it would prevent, and the way it would bolster America’s overall strategy for combating climate change. Also gone were supporting materials, including EPA’s legal memorandum accompanying the Clean Power Plan and an array of documents presenting the rule’s technical underpinnings.

Instead, the URL for the Clean Power Plan redirected visitors to a page featuring President Trump’s “Energy Independence” executive order.

Emails refer to Pruitt’s personal involvement

In early April 2017, Lincoln Ferguson, a senior adviser to Pruitt, indicated that Pruitt directly ordered the website change.

Ferguson asked in an email:

“How close are we to launching this on the website? The Administrator would like it to go up ASAP. He also has several other changes that need to take place.” (File 2, p. 23)

J.P. Freire, then serving as Pruitt’s Associate Administrator for Public Affairs, responded:

“You can tell him we . . . are just finishing up.” (File 2, p. 23)

Ferguson wrote back:

“Can it happen today?” (File 2, p. 26)

Ferguson quickly followed up to emphasize Pruitt’s personal interest:

“Just asking because he is asking…” (File 2, p. 23)

Scrubbing all traces of the Clean Power Plan

J.P. Freire was emphatic that all Clean Power Plan references should link to the new page about Trump’s executive order.

In a discussion about the new page, he wrote:

“This looks great, and should be on the page for the Clean Power Plan. Any reference to the Clean Power Plan, any link to it, should redirect here.” (File 2, p. 23)

The emails also suggest EPA staff were directed to manipulate search results. Website visitors searching for information about the Clean Power Plan would be diverted to the page promoting Trump’s executive order — instead of what they were actually looking for.

In one conversation, an EPA staff member stated:

“I’ve been asked about search results for the term ‘Clean Power Plan.’”

A colleague responded:

“We can make the Energy Independence homepage a ‘Best Bet’ and thus the first result for Clean Power Plan for our EPA Search engine if you request it.” (File 1, p. 84)

A separate conversation among EPA staff demonstrated just how determined J.P. Freire was to undermine access to the Clean Power Plan page. In that discussion, an EPA staff member recounted a discussion with a colleague about Clean Power Plan search results:

“[S]he said JP wanted to know if ALL of those pages could be redirected.” (File 1, p. 298)

Keeping Americans in the dark, thwarting democratic processes

The website purge at EPA made it harder for the public to access vital information about climate change and public health. It also stymied the public’s ability to engage in democratic processes.

We are currently in the midst of the public comment period on Pruitt’s proposed repeal of the Clean Power Plan, but the website purge has obscured access to information about the rule’s purpose and its tremendous benefits for public health and climate security – possibly impeding commenters.

The Environmental Data and Governance Initiative, which tracks changes to federal websites, has written:

“Anyone valuing the idea of democratic policymaking should demand that public Web resources relevant for regulations should remain readily accessible to the public.”

The website purge reinforces serious concerns that Pruitt has predetermined that he will repeal the Clean Power Plan, and the current rulemaking process is a sham. Instead of listening to the public with an open mind, these emails suggest that Pruitt is personally and directly thwarting meaningful public participation.

The removed webpages are still accessible through various EPA archives, but the archives are a poor substitute. They don’t show up in a search of the EPA website. They’re harder to find with certain search engines, including Google. And they are no longer being updated, which is especially problematic for cutting-edge pages like EPA’s overview of climate science.

The website purge fits Pruitt’s troubling pattern of ruling EPA under a cloak of secrecy. That’s no way to run an agency entrusted with protecting the public health and environment. As part of EDF’s commitment to shining a light on EPA actions, we’ve made these records publicly available in their entirety. We encourage you to contact us if you would like to share observations about the records.

Also posted in EPA litgation, News, Policy / Comments are closed

The fight for transparency and accountability at EPA

This blog was co-authored by Surbhi Sarang, EDF Legal Fellow.

Since taking the helm at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Scott Pruitt has attempted to hide his activities from scrutiny by limiting the public’s access to information.

He has ended the decades-long, bipartisan practice of releasing the daily schedules of top agency leadership, removed EPA webpages, and announced harmful policies close in time with private meetings with lobbyists from affected industries.

EDF has been at the forefront of efforts to promote transparency and accountability at EPA. That’s why we just filed a lawsuit to compel EPA to comply with its legal duty to release public records under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

Scott Pruitt’s record of secrecy and ethical conflicts

Scott Pruitt’s opaqueness and secrecy have sharply contrasted with basic principles of good government.

Under the Ethics in Government Act of 1978, the Office of Government Ethics issued regulations for executive branch employees:

To ensure that every citizen can have complete confidence in the integrity of the Federal Government.

Among other requirements:

Employees shall act impartially and not give preferential treatment to any private organization or individual” and “shall endeavor to avoid any actions creating the appearance that they are violating the law or . . . ethical standards.

The Office of Government Ethics titled this regulation the “basic obligation of public service.”

Pruitt and his senior leadership have raised serious questions as to whether they are abiding by these principles.

In just one example, earlier this summer thirteen state Attorneys General formally objected to a guidance letter in which Pruitt expressed his flawed, misleading opinion about a crucial issue in litigation over the Clean Power Plan — America’s only nationwide limits on carbon pollution from existing power plants.

The Attorneys General wrote that Pruitt’s conduct was “inconsistent with his agreement not to participate in the litigation,” given that he repeatedly sued EPA over the Clean Power Plan when he served as Attorney General of Oklahoma.

Pruitt also discontinued the practice of releasing his schedule, along with the schedules of senior leadership.

The bipartisan practice of releasing schedules stretches back decades and was initiated expressly:

In order to make the public fully aware of [the Administrator’s] contacts with interested persons.

Following months of public pressure and more than 60 FOIA requests, Pruitt finally released a partial public account of his schedule. But that account provides only a minimal level of detail of how and with whom Pruitt spends his time.

Pruitt later released a more detailed appointments calendar, but it covered a limited date range and included many redactions worthy of additional scrutiny. And neither of those releases provides any transparency for other EPA senior officials.

To obtain any more information about how EPA leadership spends its time, EDF’s only recourse has been to demand the release of these public records under FOIA.

EDF’s efforts to promote transparency and accountability

EDF is taking action to protect important standards of transparency and accountability at EPA — and to keep the public informed about policymaking that directly impacts the health and environment of all Americans.

Our lawsuit concerns three FOIA requests that directly address the integrity of EPA’s operations. For each request, EPA’s legally mandated deadline for providing a response is several months overdue, despite EDF’s extensive outreach to EPA over many months in an effort to elicit the requested records.

The first request seeks records related to the ethics agreement that Pruitt signed shortly after his nomination to lead EPA, in which he outlined:

[S]teps that [he] will take to avoid any actual or apparent conflict of interest.

We submitted this FOIA request in January 2017 – more than nine months ago.

Pruitt’s ethics agreement diverged from the standard language used by the Office of Government Ethics – even though Pruitt’s longstanding and very public opposition to a litany of EPA’s public health and environmental safeguards calls into question his ability to be impartial, particularly on matters in which he represented Oklahoma and long ago took fixed positions. Since taking the oath of office as Administrator, Pruitt has actively tried to undermine public health and environmental protections — like the Clean Power Plan — and has proposed to repeal protections that he had long attacked while Attorney General of Oklahoma.

Our FOIA request seeks records pertaining to the evaluation of Pruitt’s actual or potential conflicts of interest, including any analysis that informed his ethics agreement.

The second request is for records related to Pruitt’s and his senior managers’ schedules.

The most complete information we’ve received so far on Pruitt’s activities is only a select snapshot released through a FOIA request. That snapshot contains more than 100 redacted calendar appointments, and only runs through mid-May.

Even this limited information reveals the special access granted to polluter lobbyists — many of whom come from industries that have supported Pruitt’s political career for years. A more comprehensive release, including the calendars of senior EPA managers, would provide a fuller picture of the constituency that Pruitt and his political staff are serving.

The third request is for public documents related to threats to scientific integrity at EPA.

EDF requested these records in light of the Trump Transition Team’s efforts to single out civil servants at the Department of Energy who worked on climate science and policy. Since we submitted this FOIA request more than seven months ago, subsequent events — including the removal of EPA’s Climate Science website, scientific distortions that accompanied the proposal to repeal the Clean Power Plan, threatened efforts that would compromise the integrity of EPA advisory boards, and the muzzling of EPA scientists who were scheduled to deliver public presentations on climate change — have only increased the urgency of providing public access to records about the treatment of scientific integrity at EPA.

EDF will continue working to protect transparency and accountability at EPA by supporting Americans’ ability to access information about health and environmental policies, and by shining a light on the Trump Administration’s attacks on vital safeguards for families and communities across America.

Also posted in Clean Air Act, EPA litgation, Policy, Setting the Facts Straight / Comments are closed

Trump Administration misleads Americans about the cost of climate pollution

The Trump Administration is attempting to justify the rollback of crucial environmental and health protections by vastly undervaluing the costs of climate change.

The latest safeguards under attack are the Clean Power Plan, the nation’s first-ever limits on carbon pollution from existing power plants, and the Bureau of Land Management’s vital standards to reduce wasted natural gas from oil and gas facilities on public and tribal lands. They would have health, environmental, and economic benefits worth an estimated billions of dollars annually. But you wouldn’t know it from reading the Administration’s recently revised documents – because of a series of deceptive accounting tricks, including efforts aimed at obscuring the benefits of reducing carbon pollution.

The Trump Administration has used discredited methods to eviscerate the social cost of carbon — an estimate of the costs that carbon pollution inflicts on the public, represented as the dollar value of the total damages from emitting one ton of carbon dioxide into the earth’s atmosphere.

The social cost of carbon is a tool that helps ensure that policymakers consider the health, environmental and economic benefits of avoiding extreme weather, rising temperatures and intensifying smog when they make decisions that affect climate pollution.

Climate change harms businesses, families, governments and taxpayers through rising health care costs, destruction of property, increased food prices and more — so it’s common sense that we should properly account for the value of avoiding these harmful outcomes. But the Trump Administration has systematically undermined and attacked the well-established science of climate change – including the social cost of carbon, which has had a target on its back for a while now.

The most up-to-date estimates of the social costs of carbon were developed by an Interagency Working Group (IWG) of experts from a dozen federal agencies. They were developed through a transparent and rigorous process based on the latest peer-reviewed science and economics, and with input from the public and the National Academy of Sciences.

But in March, President Trump cast aside the results of this thorough and consultative process. He issued an executive order aimed at discrediting the IWG estimates, withdrawing them as government policy, and directing federal agencies to pick their own metric.

The executive order leaves federal agencies to fend for themselves without specific guidance, opens the door to extensive legal challenges, and effectively sets up agencies to cook the books to serve the Administration’s goals.

That’s exactly what EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt and Department of the Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke just did – releasing benefit-cost analyses that massively undervalue the costs of carbon pollution, radically reducing the estimates by up to 97 percent.

The Trump Administration would have us believe that the costs of carbon pollution are near zero. The Administration’s new estimates are only a couple dollars per ton of carbon dioxide – about as much as a cup of coffee or a bus ticket.

Sadly, communities around the country are already seeing just how wrong that is. From longer wildfire seasons to more intense hurricanes, the American public is already bearing the enormous costs of climate change.

Even the IWG estimates – roughly $50 per ton of carbon dioxide based on year 2020 emissions – are almost certainly a conservative lower bound since they do not yet reflect many different types of climate impacts.

A closer look at the Administration’s deceptive math 

There are two major flaws in the Administration’s drastically reduced estimates, both of which fly in the face of established science and economic principles in service of obscuring the very real benefits of climate action.

First, the reduced estimates ignore that carbon emissions are a global pollutant, so they omit important categories of climate change impacts on the United States.

Second, they shortchange the harm to our children and future generations from climate change.

The so-called “domestic-only” estimate

Since the impacts of carbon pollution are felt globally regardless of where the emissions come from, leading researchers and the IWG have appropriately focused on accounting for that full global impact.

In contrast, the Administration’s revised estimates claim to consider “domestic-only” impacts to the United States. But that title is a misnomer – the Administration’s flawed approach ignores important categories of impacts that affect the American public. Climate impacts beyond our borders have costly repercussions for U.S. citizens in the form of changing global migration patterns, economic and political destabilization, and other “spillover” effects.

The National Academy of Sciences specifically rejected the approach the Administration is taking in a report released earlier this year, concluding that:

[C]limate damages to the United States cannot be accurately characterized without accounting for consequences outside U.S. borders.

Economist Richard Newell – president of the think tank Resources for the Future, which is leading an effort to implement the Nation Academy of Sciences’ recommendations to update the social cost of carbon estimates – has criticized the Administration’s approach, saying that considering only direct domestic impacts is:

[U]nnecessarily constrained and unwise for addressing inherently global pollutants like greenhouse gases.

The use of a “domestic-only” number also harms Americans because it undervalues the cost of climate pollution and encourages other countries to similarly undervalue – and over-emit – this pollution.

More than half a dozen leading experts argue:

[The] United States benefits tremendously if other countries set policy based on global rather than local effects.

They also point out that the use of a global estimate can encourage reciprocal climate action elsewhere. For instance, the Canadian government incorporated the U.S. IWG value in its own policy analysis.

Undervaluing the impacts on children and future generations

The Administration’s estimates also use a sharply lower value for the benefits that today’s carbon reductions provide to children and future generations. Again, this is in direct conflict with the weight of expert opinion that supports valuing these impacts even more than we did before the Trump Administration.

The Administration’s estimates “discount” future impacts at 7 percent – a rate significantly higher than the 3 percent central rate of the IWG, and one that is wholly unsupported by the economics literature when it comes to the long-lived intergenerational effects of carbon pollution.

A growing consensus among leading economists supports lower or declining discount rates, as does the Council of Economic Advisors.

As Richard Newell of Resources for the Future points out:

Practically speaking, the use of such a high discount rate means that the effects of our actions on future generations are largely unaccounted for in the new analysis.

In other words, the Administration’s estimates reveal just how little they value protecting American children and generations to come.

The social cost of carbon has profound influence on our policy process and embodies the very real costs of climate change that communities around the country are already feeling.

The Administration’s distortion of these values is illustrative of a frequent strategy of theirs – twisting the facts to validate their desired outcome, and in the process sowing doubt around the overwhelming scientific consensus on climate change.

Unfortunately, while the math the Administration is using is warped, the costs of climate change are still very real – and the American public is footing the bill.

Also posted in Economics, Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Policy, Setting the Facts Straight / Comments are closed