Selected category: Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Six Ways President Trump’s Energy Plan Doesn’t Add Up

This blog was authored by Jeremy Proville and Jonathan Camuzeaux 

Just 60 days into Trump’s presidency, his administration has wasted no time in pursuing efforts to lift oil and gas development restrictions and dismantle a range of environmental protections to push through his “America First Energy Plan.” An agenda that he claims will allow the country to, “take advantage of the estimated $50 trillion in untapped shale, oil, and natural gas reserves, especially those on federal lands that the American people own.”

Putting aside the convenient roundness of this number, the sheer size of it makes this policy sound appealing, but buyer beware. Behind the smoke and mirrors of this $50 trillion is a report commissioned by the industry-backed Institute for Energy Research (IER) that lacks serious economic rigor. The positive projections from lifting oil and gas restrictions come straight from the IER’s advocacy arm, the American Energy Alliance. Several economists reviewed the assessment and agreed: “this is not academic research and would never see the light of day in an academic journal.”

Here is why Trump’s plan promises a future it can’t deliver:

1. No analytical back up for almost $20 trillion of the $50 trillion.

Off the bat, it’s clear that President Trump’s Plan relies on flawed math. What’s actually estimated in the report is $31.7 trillion, not $50 trillion, based on increased revenue from oil, gas and coal production over 37 years (this total includes estimated increases in GDP, wages, and tax revenue). The other roughly half of this “$50 trillion” number appears to be conjured out of thin air.

2. Inflated fuel prices

An average oil price of $100 per barrel and of $5.64 per thousand cubic feet of natural gas (Henry Hub spot price) was used to calculate overall benefits. Oil prices are volatile: in the last five years, they reached a high of $111 per barrel and a low of $29 per barrel. They were below $50 a barrel a few days ago. A $5.64 gas price is not outrageous, but gas prices have mostly been below $5 for several years. By using inflated oil and gas prices and multiplying the benefits out over 37 years, the author dismisses any volatility or price impacts from changes in supply. There’s no denying oil and gas prices could go up in the future, but they could also go down, and the modeling in the IER report is inadequate at best when it comes to tackling this issue.

3. Technically vs. economically recoverable resources

The IER report is overly optimistic when it comes to the amount of oil and gas that can be viably produced on today’s restricted federal lands. Indeed, the report assumes that recoverable reserves can be exploited to the last drop over the 37-year period based on estimates from a Congressional Budget Office report. A deeper look reveals that these estimates are actually for “technically recoverable resources,” or the amount of oil and gas that can be produced using current technology, industry practice, and geologic knowledge. While these resources are deemed accessible from a technical standpoint, they cannot always be produced profitably. This is an important distinction as it is the aspect that differentiates technically recoverable from economically recoverable resources. The latter is always a smaller subset of what is technically extractable, as illustrated by this diagram from the Energy Information Administration. The IER report ignores basic industry knowledge to present a rosier picture.

4. Lack of discounting causes overestimations

When economists evaluate the economic benefits of a policy that has impacts well into the future, it is common practice to apply a discount rate to get a sense of their value to society in today’s terms. Discounting is important to account for the simple fact that we generally value present benefits more than future benefits. The IER analysis does not include any discounting and therefore overestimates the true dollar-benefits of lifting oil and gas restrictions. For example, applying a standard 5% discount rate to the $31.7 trillion benefits would reduce the amount to $12.2 trillion.

5. Calculated benefits are not additional to the status quo

The IER report suggests that the $31.7 trillion would be completely new and additional to the current status quo. This is false. One must compare these projections against a future scenario in which the restrictions are not lifted. Currently, the plan doesn’t examine a future in which these oil and gas restrictions remain and still produce large economic benefits, while protecting the environment.

6. No consideration of environmental costs

Another significant failure of IER’s report: even if GDP growth was properly estimated, it would not account for the environmental costs associated with this uptick in oil and gas development and use. This is not something that can ignored, and any serious analysis would address it.

We know drilling activities can lead to disastrous outcomes that have real environmental and economic impacts. Oil spills like the Deepwater Horizon and Exxon Valdez have demonstrated that tragic events happen and come with a hefty social, environmental and hard dollar price tag. The same can be said for natural gas leaks, including a recent one in Aliso Canyon, California. And of course, there are significant, long-term environmental costs to increased emissions of greenhouse gases including more extreme weather, damages to human health and food scarcity to name a few.

The Bottom Line: The $50 Trillion is An Alternative Fact but the Safeguards America will Lose are Real

These factors fundamentally undercut President Trump’s promise that Americans will reap the benefits of a $50 trillion dollar future energy industry. Most importantly, the real issue is what is being sacrificed if we set down this path. That is, a clean energy future where our country can lead the way in innovation and green growth; creating new, long-term industries and high-paying jobs, without losing our bedrock environmental safeguards. If the administration plans to upend hard-fought restrictions that provide Americans with clean air and water, we expect them to provide a substantially more defensible analytical foundation.

Photos by lovnpeace and KarinKarin

This post originally appeared on EDF's Market Forces blog.

Also posted in Economics, Energy| Leave a comment

How Do We Know That Humans Are Causing Climate Change? These Nine Lines of Evidence

While most Americans acknowledge that climate change is happening, some are still unsure about the causes.

They are often labeled “climate skeptics,” but that label can cause confusion or even anger.

Isn’t the nature of science to be skeptical? Isn’t it good to question everything?

Yes, but —

Here’s what is getting lost in the conversation:

Scientists have been asking these questions for nearly 200 years. The scientific community has been studying these questions for so long that collectively they have amassed an overwhelming amount of evidence pointing to a clear conclusion.

A similar situation is smoking and cancer. Nowadays, no one questions the link between smoking and cancer, because the science was settled in the 1960s after more than 50 years of research. The questions have been asked and answered with indisputable evidence.

We can think of the state of human activities and climate change as no different than smoking and cancer. In fact, we are statistically more confident that humans cause climate change than that smoking causes cancer.

Our confidence comes from the culmination of over a century of research by tens of thousands of scientists at hundreds of institutions in more than a hundred nations.

So what is the evidence?

The research falls into nine independently-studied but physically-related lines of evidence, that build to the overall clear conclusion that humans are the main cause of climate change:

  1. Simple chemistry that when we burn carbon-based materials, carbon dioxide (CO2) is emitted (research beginning in 1900s)
  2. Basic accounting of what we burn, and therefore how much CO2 we emit (data collection beginning in 1970s)
  3. Measuring CO2 in the atmosphere and trapped in ice to find that it is indeed increasing and that the levels are higher than anything we've seen in hundreds of thousands of years  (measurements beginning in 1950s)
  4. Chemical analysis of the atmospheric CO2 that reveals the increase is coming from burning fossil fuels (research beginning in 1950s)
  5. Basic physics that shows us that CO2 absorbs heat (research beginning in 1820s)
  6. Monitoring climate conditions to find that recent warming of the Earth is correlated to and follows rising CO2 emissions (research beginning in 1930s)
  7. Ruling out natural factors that can influence climate like the Sun and ocean cycles (research beginning in 1830s)
  8. Employing computer models to run experiments of natural vs. human-influenced “simulated Earths” (research beginning in 1960s)
  9. Consensus among scientists that consider all previous lines of evidence and make their own conclusions (polling beginning in 1990s)

(You can also see these nine lines of evidence illustrated in the graphic below)

Skeptics sometimes point to the last two supporting lines of evidence as weaknesses. They’re not. But even if you choose to doubt them, it is really the first seven that, combined, point to human activities as the only explanation of rising global temperatures since the Industrial Revolution, and the subsequent climate changes (such as ice melt and sea level rise) that have occurred due to this global warming.

The science is settled, and the sooner we accept this, the sooner we can work together towards addressing the problems caused by climate change – and towards a better future for us all.

 

(Click here for a pdf version of the graphic)

 

Also posted in Basic Science of Global Warming, Science, Setting the Facts Straight| 28 Responses

Trump Moves to Cook the Books, Undercutting Common Sense Climate Protections

This blog was co-authored with Martha Roberts

It’s reported that the Trump Administration is poised to continue its barrage of attacks on some of our most vital health and environmental protections, following last week’s assault on broadly supported fuel economy and greenhouse gas safeguards for cars and light trucks. Here’s one attack that they may try to sneak under the radar—a move that would undercut common sense climate protection all across the federal government: directing federal agencies to abandon the use of social cost of carbon estimates in their evaluation of new policy.

The social cost of carbon is a measure of the economic harm from the impacts of climate change. Specifically, it’s the dollar value of the total damages from emitting one ton of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Weakening or eliminating the use of the social cost of carbon would result in skewed and biased policy-making that ignores the benefits of crucial safeguards and stacks the deck against actions to protect communities from the mounting costs of climate change.

The devastating impacts of climate change on health and the environment – such as extreme weather events, the spread of disease, sea level rise, and increased food insecurity – can cost American businesses, families, governments and taxpayers hundreds of billions of dollars through rising health care costs, destruction of property, increased food prices, and more. Many of these impacts are already being felt by communities across the country, as the government’s leading scientific agencies have found.

When the federal government develops policy affecting the carbon pollution causing climate change, it is both reasonable and essential that it takes these costs into account. The social cost of carbon is a tool that allows policy-makers to do just that.

Currently, the federal government uses a social cost of carbon estimate—roughly $40 per ton of carbon pollution—that was developed through a transparent and rigorous interagency process, relied on the latest peer-reviewed science and economics available, and allowed for repeated public comment as well as input from the National Academy of Sciences.

But that may not last much longer. As we’ve seen, the Trump Administration is waging war against an array of our most crucial health and environmental protections, ignoring the urgent threat of climate change while prioritizing fossil fuel interests. President Trump’s new Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, Scott Pruitt, denies that carbon pollution is a primary contributor to climate change, and built his political career by suing EPA 14 times as Oklahoma Attorney General to block protections from mercury, arsenic and smog pollution, hand in hand with the worst elements of the fossil fuel industry. Meanwhile the Administration is proposing devastating cuts to the budgets for EPA and climate research, and is moving towards revoking the Clean Power Plan, America’s first-ever nationwide limits on carbon pollution from power plants.

All of this points to a clear disregard for basic science, economic principles, and our nation’s clean air laws. Eliminating or weakening the social cost of carbon is another pernicious tactic by the Administration to undermine the development of crucial climate safeguards – by erroneously making it appear as though reducing carbon pollution has little or no benefit to society and the economy. Even the current figure is very likely a conservative lower bound since it does not yet include all of the widely recognized and accepted impacts of climate change.

The details of the upcoming attack are still unclear. It’s possible that the Administration may end use of the uniform social cost of carbon estimate at the federal level—despite its rigorous basis and judicial precedent. Other indications suggest that the Administration may choose to artificially and arbitrarily discount the costs of climate change for the health and economic well-being of our kids, grandkids, and future generations—ignoring the growing consensus among economists that supports valuing these impacts more, as does a recent report from the Council of Economic Advisors. Or the Administration may decide to disregard the fact that our greenhouse gas pollution has harmful impacts outside U.S. borders that can have costly repercussions for Americans.

Throwing out the social cost of carbon may play well with President Trump’s supporters in the fossil fuel industry. But the importance and appropriateness of accounting for these costs is a matter of both economics and law. We also know that nearly two thirds of Americans are concerned about climate change. Undermining limits on pollution—protections that are rooted in rigorous scientific research, reflecting long-standing bipartisan economic principles—will ultimately harm the health and environmental safety of all Americans, including Trump’s supporters.

This post originally appeared on EDF's Market Forces blog.

Also posted in Economics| Comments are closed

Climate Confusion in the Age of "Alternative Facts"

Earth as seen from a NOAA weather satellite. Photo: NASA

A very familiar type of ad recently appeared in the New York Times. It was the sort of fact-free manifesto normally found only on the fringes of the Internet, until someone with enough money decides to buy a full page in a newspaper.

These kinds of public declarations can be about anything from ancient nationalist grudges to fad nutritional theories. This one, by an obscure South Korean firm called Samsung Chemical Coating Company (no apparent relation to the electronics company), declared that carbon dioxide pollution isn’t causing climate change and that global warming will end in 2060 and be replaced by a destructive ice age, among other similarly oddball assertions.

Usually this kind of claim is barely worth refuting, as it is flatly contradicted by the consensus of the international scientific community. But one important detail made this ad different, and more dangerous.

First, let’s be clear about the substance of the ad and the real scientific facts.

There is absolutely no scientific basis or merit to the claims being made in the ad. No actual climate scientist takes seriously catastrophes in movies like The Day After Tomorrow becoming reality, or strange theories like the idea that creatures mutated from sunlight at the end of an ice age. No information about their “study” is available on the Internet, nor in the peer-reviewed scientific literature. There is no explanation about how they arrived at their conclusions, or any discussion of the information or data that served as the basis for their claims. And if you try Googling information about the authors, you’ll come up empty.

Even the more nuanced statements in the ad about the relationships between Earth’s precession, glacial cycles, and sea level rise are unsubstantiated. The authors use these unsupported claims as “proof” that carbon dioxide emissions do not cause global warming — an argument that should not be taken seriously given the lack of any supporting data. Their claims also demonstrate a profound ignorance of established physics. And the direct “certainty” throughout the ads about specific events – such as the disappearance of Earth’s magnetic field – adds to the characteristically unscientific approach.

All of these are hallmarks of the Crazy Full Page Ad.

Here is the truth:

  • The fact that carbon dioxide and other pollutants are changing our climate in dangerous ways has been established by decades of scientific research and mountains of data – from ice core samples, satellites, and other monitoring and analysis.
  • It is a conclusion strongly endorsed by the National Academies of Science, the scientists at NASA, the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA), and all major American scientific organizations.
  • These climate pollutants, which have the known physical property of trapping heat, have been building up in our atmosphere since the world started burning lots of coal for the Industrial Revolution, and global average temperatures have risen right along with that accumulation.

So if all of this is nonsense, why protest so much?

Because at this moment in history, we have – amazingly, shockingly, dangerously – an Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) who makes similarly outlandish claims. In an appearance on CNBC last week, Scott Pruitt said:

I would not agree that [carbon dioxide] is a primary contributor to the global warming that we see.

In essence, he said he doesn’t know if the greatest environmental challenge of our time, his biggest responsibility, is real. It’s like having a surgeon general who doubts the connection between smoking and lung cancer. Or an attorney general who doesn’t consider the drug cartels to be dangerous organizations.

The result of Pruitt’s statements was a flood of outrage, reportedly locking up EPA’s switchboards like never before. (The agency had to set up an impromptu call center, according to leaks from employees.) Commentators on the left and right were stunned, even in an era when it’s a challenge to say something crazy enough to make the front page.

So what could normally be dismissed as a fringe ad cannot be ignored. We must, unfortunately, remind Americans who instinctively assume an EPA administration would know basic environmental science of the real facts. We must stand up and calmly explain what is at stake for our children and grandchildren. At EDF, we will continue to do that.

Also posted in Basic Science of Global Warming, News, Policy, Science| Comments are closed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pruitt Is Wrong on Climate Science

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

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

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

NASA

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

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

U.S. National Academy of Sciences

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

U.S. Global Change Research Program

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Facts Are Clear

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

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

 

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

In Early Action, EPA Administrator Pruitt Moves to Block Communities’ Right to Know about Oil and Gas Pollution

Last Thursday, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt withdrew the agency’s Information Collection Request (“ICR”) for the Oil and Natural Gas Sector, abruptly halting the gathering of information on harmful methane, smog-forming and toxic pollution from these industrial sources.

In announcing the move, Administrator Pruitt hailed the benefits for the oil and gas industry, but notably ignored the interests of everyday Americans right to know about harmful pollution from oil and gas facilities.

Pruitt’s action also stops EPA from obtaining information that can inform future safeguards against this pollution. Even though cost-effective, common-sense best practices and technologies exist to reduce emissions from oil and gas facilities, most existing facilities in this sector are largely exempt from any requirements to control the vast quantities of pollution they emit.

This flawed decision is at odds with the core tenets of the agency Administrator Pruitt is entrusted to lead and inimical to the health and environmental laws he has committed to faithfully execute. Unfortunately, it is also altogether predictable. Indeed this action—which allows oil and gas companies to withhold vital pollution data from thousands of sites across the country— reflects and reinforces concerns raised about Administrator Pruitt’s ability to lead an agency that he has persistently sought to undermine.

1. Pruitt Chooses Secrecy Over Transparency.

EPA has a long bipartisan history of providing data to the public about pollution in their communities. Indeed, during the Reagan Administration, Congress passed the Emergency Planning and Community Right to Know Act, which included provisions for EPA to create a publicly-available inventory of toxic chemicals down to the local level. Similarly, President George W. Bush signed a bill requiring EPA to collect and disseminate greenhouse gas emissions data from industrial sources across the country.

By withdrawing the ICR, Administrator Pruitt aims to shield the oil and gas sector from public scrutiny. Unfortunately, his penchant for secrecy with respect the oil and gas sector is familiar. During his controversial Senate confirmation process, Pruitt sought to withhold thousands of emails related to his ties to major energy interests who have donated to his political causes. While a number of those e-mails have been released, many more remain hidden from public view.

In the face of last week’s action by Administrator Pruitt, EDF has submitted a Freedom of Information Act request for all ICR data that has been submitted along with all records related to EPA’s decision to halt data collection.

2. Pruitt Places a Premium on the Views of Industry and Their Allies

In recent years, EPA has undertaken a careful, data-driven process to put in place protections to reduce pollution from the oil and gas sector. Often, EPA undertook such extensive data gathering to address industry concerns. The ICR was the latest data gathering effort, designed to ensure EPA had the full complement of information on existing oil and gas facilities. These existing facilities account for the vast majority of the sector’s pollution in coming years, yet remain largely exempt from any methane pollution control requirements.

To tailor its data request, EPA carried out two rounds of public comments, assessed significant stakeholder feedback, and substantially altered the request in response in order to leverage existing data and use electronic reporting frameworks.

In contrast to this careful and deliberative process, Administrator Pruitt withdrew the ICR with just one paragraph of explanation, just one day after receiving a request to do so from the Texas and Oklahoma Attorneys General and others.

Coincidentally, when Pruitt was Oklahoma Attorney General, he was aligned with the oil and gas industry in legal challenges seeking to undermine EPA’s oil and gas methane standards. It is disappointing, but not surprising, that he did not solicit input or wait to hear from any of the many other stakeholders involved in this process. Pruitt’s decision to withdraw the ICR may likewise raise conflicts of interest and should be closely scrutinized in light of his ethical obligations as administrator of EPA.

The Administrator has taken similar approaches in the past. As Oklahoma AG, for example, Pruitt simply copied and pasted industry requests and sent them to senior government officials under his own official seal.

EPA is legally required to protect the public from harmful pollution from oil and gas facilities. In carrying out that obligation, it is critical that public officials base decisions that affect our health and safety on careful review of the most rigorous scientific information available—and not simply accept, without any deliberation or inquiry, the recommendations of parties that have a vested interest in weakening health protections.

3. Pruitt’s Selective View of States Rights

As reason for withdrawing the ICR, Administrator Pruitt pointed to the request from the Texas Attorney General and the need to, in his words, “strengthen … our partnership with the states.”

But Pruitt’s notion of cooperative federalism bears no resemblance to the collaborative approach that EPA and states have taken to solving air pollution problems over the last four decades. Indeed, the Administrator seems comfortable with states’ rights when those states are seeking to hide emissions information and block clean air safeguards, but opposes states’ rights when they want stronger protections for their citizens.

For instance, large oil and gas producing states like Colorado and California have in place standards to reduce oil and gas sector emissions. Last Thursday, Ohio adopted stronger standards for certain sources. Eleven states – including major energy-producing states like New Mexico and California – have intervened in court to defend the same EPA emission standards for the oil and gas sector that the Texas Attorney General and his allies attacked in their letter. And many states have likewise supported EPA’s information collection request.

The Administrator’s decision ignores these views and undermines stronger state-level partnership. This is the very same disregard for state efforts to reduce pollution that Administrator Pruitt demonstrated when, during his confirmation hearing, he conveyed reservations about California’s longstanding authority to adopt vehicle emissions standards to address the state’s unique air pollution problems. And, over the weekend, additional reports surfaced suggesting that the Administration was planning attacks on California’s authority, which could be initiated as soon as this week.

This concept of states’ rights as a one-way justification to erode clean air protections is both dangerous and inconsistent with the Clean Air Act’s framework.

The underminer

During his confirmation hearing, Administrator Pruitt committed to carrying out EPA’s mission to protect human health and the environment using rigorous data.  Unfortunately, with one of his first actions, he chose to undermine both.

This post originally appeared on EDF's Energy Exchange blog.

Also posted in Health, Policy| Comments are closed
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