Climate 411

Key takeaways from the court decision blocking suspension of BLM’s Waste Prevention Rule

(EDF Legal Fellow Samantha Caravello co-authored this post)

A U.S. District Court judge has halted Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s latest effort to suspend the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) Waste Prevention Rule.

The judge issued a preliminary injunction last night in response to legal challenges brought by the states of California and New Mexico, and by EDF and a coalition of conservation and tribal citizen groups.

The court decision ensures that the Waste Prevention Protections are in full force and effect, delivering important benefits to tribes, ranchers and families across the West. It also demonstrates that facts matter, and that public input matters — and, as the court recognized, Zinke ignored both when he suspended the Waste Prevention Rule.

Here are some key takeaways from the court’s decision.

Zinke’s suspension would have resulted in immediate and irreparable harms

The Waste Prevention Rule requires that oil and gas companies take common sense actions to prevent the waste of valuable natural gas on federal and tribal lands. These actions also reduce harmful air pollution including methane, and smog-forming and toxic pollutants.

Judge William Orrick, of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, found that Zinke’s attempt to suspend the Waste Prevention Rule would have real, immediate, and irreversible effects on public health and the environment.

In reaching this conclusion, the judge highlighted the severe health threat that Zinke’s suspension would pose for people living near oil and gas operations.

He cited:

“[T]he waste of publicly owned natural gas, increased air pollution and associated health impacts, and exacerbated climate impacts.” (Order, page 2)

The judge referred to declarations from EDF experts and members that documented these health and climate harms, including:

  • “Environmental Defense Fund member Francis Don Schreiber, for example, resides on a ranch in Governador, New Mexico, where there are 122 oil and gas wells either on or immediately adjacent to his land, all managed by BLM and subject to the Suspension Rule…. He notices an ‘extremely strong’ ‘near-constant smell from leaking wells,’ which ‘make[s] breathing uncomfortable’ and causes concern that he and his wife ‘are breathing harmful hydrocarbons…’ As Schreiber suffers from a heart condition and has already had open heart surgery, he is ‘at a higher risk from breathing ozone,’ and is ‘constantly concerned about the impact of the air quality on [his] heart condition.’” (Order, page 26)
  • “Dr. Ilissa B. Ocko, climate scientist, states that the 175,000 additional tons of methane that will result during the one-year suspension is ‘equivalent to the 20-year climate impact of over 3,000,000 passenger vehicles driving for one year or over 16 billion pounds of coal burned.’” (Order, page 25)
  • “Dr. Renee McVay, whose research focuses on atmospheric chemistry, estimates that approximately 6,182 wells subject to the Waste Prevention Rule are located in counties already suffering from unhealthy air with elevated ozone levels… The Suspension Rule will result in additional emissions of 2,089 tons of VOCs in these already at-risk communities, where many of the conservation and tribal group plaintiffs’ members reside, leading to and exacerbating impaired lung functioning, serious cardiovascular and pulmonary problems, and cancer and neurological damage.” (Order, page 25)

The court concluded:

“Plaintiffs list several environmental injuries with effects statewide, to the general public, and on the personal level, any of which might be sufficient to establish likely irreparable harm.” (Order, page 27)

Facts and analysis matter

In addition to these irreparable harms, the court found that EDF and our allies were likely to succeed on the merits:

“Plaintiffs have provided several reasons that the Suspension Rule is arbitrary and capricious, both for substantive reasons, as a result of the lack of a reasoned analysis, and procedural ones, due to the lack of meaningful notice and comment.” (Order, page 29)

Under the law, when a federal agency seeks to change a prior policy – as Zinke did when he sought to suspend the common sense requirements in the Waste Prevention Rule – that agency must provide “good reasons and detailed justification.” (Order, page 12)

The court found that Zinke fell short of these important requirements because he repeatedly “fail[ed] to point to any factual support underlying [his alleged] concern[s]” over the Waste Prevention Rule. (Order, page 14)

The court carefully evaluated each alleged justification for the suspension put forth by Zinke, and found them all lacking.

For example, the court noted that with respect to Zinke’s “concerns” regarding production wells:

“[C]ounsel for the government essentially conceded that it was in possession of no new facts or data underlying this ‘newfound’ concern.’” (Order, page 14)

Ultimately, the court found:

“[I]t appears that BLM is simply casually ignoring all of its previous findings and arbitrarily changing course.” (Order, page 17, internal quotation omitted)

The court’s careful analysis underscores that these facts matter, and that Zinke cannot ignore the substantial record evidence supporting the common sense standards in the Waste Prevention Rule.

Public input matters

The court also found that Zinke attempted to ignore key input from the public on the suspension of the Waste Prevention Rule by deeming comments on the importance and effectiveness of the Waste Prevention Rule “outside of the scope” of his action. (Order, page 23)

The court found Zinke’s “refus[al] to consider” this important input on “integral” issues was inconsistent with bedrock requirements of administrative law.

The fight to protect these safeguards is not over

The court has now determined that EDF and our allies are “likely to succeed on [our] claim that BLM failed to consider the scope of commentary that it should have in promulgating the Suspension Rule and relied on opinions untethered to evidence.” (Order, page 24)

Next, the case will proceed to the merits stage, in which the court will issue a final decision on the legality of Zinke’s suspension of the Waste Prevention Rule. A schedule has not yet been set for this next phase of the litigation.

However, just as the court was blocking his suspension, Zinke was separately trying to rescind nearly all of the key provisions of the Waste Prevention Rule that he was also trying to suspend.

Zinke acknowledges that this rescission will cost taxpayers millions in lost royalties, and will result in additional emissions of climate-warming methane as well as smog-forming volatile organic compounds and hazardous air pollutants – but he nonetheless is proposing to eliminate the protections in the Waste Prevention Rule.

BLM is accepting public comment on the rescission proposal until April 23. It is important that Zinke continue to hear from the public about the harmful impacts that will result from his actions to remove these common sense protection. Comments on the proposal can be filed here.

Also posted in Clean Air Act, Energy, Greenhouse Gas Emissions, News, Policy / Read 1 Response

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, News, Partners for Change, Policy / Read 2 Responses

The accelerating market for zero emission trucks

Tesla Semi prototype. Photo: Smnt, Creative Commons

The recent reveal of the Tesla semi-truck is  garnering  attention for the role zero emission vehicles can play in the future of trucking.

Much of the excitement around zero emission trucks stems from the fact that medium-and-heavy duty trucks – critical tools of our modern economy that operate daily in our neighborhoods and communities — have outsized environmental and health impacts.

Trucks today emit dangerous pollutants, including:

Zero emission vehicles are exciting because of their ability to drive progress on all of these pollutants simultaneously.

A clear indicator of the emergence of zero emission trucks is the plethora of recent product announcements from major manufacturers:

Multiple large manufacturers are investing in electric trucks because they recognize a robust, long-term market for these products. These investments reinforce each other by building resilient supply chains, industry knowledge, and production scale.

Most zero emission truck announcements have been for urban or regional vehicle platforms. Urban areas stand to benefit greatly from the significant reduction in local air pollution offered by zero emission trucks because cities’ density means that many people will get to breathe cleaner air. Buses and delivery vehicles typically have modest daily range demands and predicable charging patterns.

Drayage vehicles should be another high-priority for electrification. These trucks run cargo in and out of marine ports and railyards, frequently traversing dense urban neighborhoods. Often these vehicles are among the oldest and highest polluting trucks on the road. Replacing them with zero emission solutions provides critical local air quality benefits to overburdened communities while also driving meaningful greenhouse gas reductions. In fact, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that up to 1,200 pounds of nitrogen oxides  and more than 100 pounds  of particulate matter could be reduced annually by replacing an old diesel drayage truck with a zero emission vehicle. More than 12 tons of carbon dioxide would also be reduced each year.

Zero emission solutions are needed for freight operations too. A recent ICCT analysis found wide-scale adoption of electric tractor-trailers in Europe would reduce climate emissions by 115 million tons in 2050 beyond a scenario that relied solely on maximizing diesel truck efficiency. The analysis illustrates a crucial point – in order to get the largest clean air and climate benefits from freight trucks, we will need both zero emission trucks and significantly more fuel efficient diesel trucks. Each vehicle configuration has an important role to play.

The U.S. Clean Trucks program, extended and strengthened in 2016 by the Obama Administration, is a model that other countries can follow for driving efficiency improvements. It sets long-term, protective standards. The latest round of the standards will cut more than a billion tons of carbon emissions and save truck owners $170 billion dollars. The program enjoys broad support among manufacturers, fleets, shippers and clean air advocates.

The Trump Administration has taken aim at key Clean Truck program provisions that drive improvements in trailer design and close a loophole for super-polluting trucks. Defending the popular and effective program from these pernicious attacks must be an imperative for the freight industry. No company wants its freight hauled by a truck that spews 40 times more pollution or contributes to an additional 1,600 premature deaths annually. Electric semi-trucks will of course be pulling trailers. These trailers will need to be designed with fuel efficiency in mind if electric semi-trucks are to deliver on their full potential.

Zero emission freight trucks need to be operated in a manner that minimizes lifecycle emissions across the entire freight system. Thus, green freight best practices are relevant for zero emission vehicles too. These vehicles will need to complement use of freight rail, which emits more than 80 percent less carbon per ton mile than conventional trucks. They will need to be regularly run with full loads to minimize lifecycle emissions per ton mile. They should be charged primarily by renewable energy. All of these actions, made by fleets, will be influenced by the demands of cargo owners.

It is time for companies and communities to pay attention to these zero emission solutions. These trucks have a clear near-term role in urban delivery. Embracing low and zero emissions drayage solutions will provide immediate and significant human health benefits for communities near ports and railyards. In the years ahead, ZEVs will even have a role in longer-haul operations.

Also posted in Cars and Pollution, News / Comments are closed

EPA's Pruitt Tries to Open a Loophole to Allow Super-Polluting Trucks on Our Roads

Have you ever seen a truck belching black soot as you drive on the highway and wondered, “isn’t that level of pollution illegal?”

We see less and less of that these days, thanks to common sense standards from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that protect us from this harmful, excessive pollution.

But that progress is now at risk. The current EPA Administrator, Scott Pruitt, is trying to reopen a loophole that would allow the sale of super-polluting trucks that lack modern pollution controls.

The trucks in question are called “glider trucks.” They look new – but their engines are old and polluting. Anyone who likes to breathe air should be concerned.

Loophole would risk as many as thousands of lives a year

Pruitt’s proposed loophole would allow the sale of glider trucks – new trucks with old engines installed in them – without any modern pollution controls.

These super-polluting trucks emit harmful soot and smog-causing pollutants – including oxides of nitrogen, particulate matter, and cancer-causing diesel particulate – at a rate as much as forty times that of new engines. By 2025, glider trucks would comprise just five percent of the nation’s truck fleet, but they would cause one third of the air pollution.

Data that Pruitt’s own agency has collected shows that reopening the loophole could result in as many as 6,400 premature deaths by 2021 from oxides of nitrogen and particulate matter pollution. That assessment is actually conservative, as it doesn’t account for the health harms from cancer-causing diesel particulate pollution or from smog formation caused by these super-polluting trucks.

Benefiting the worst polluters at the expense of responsible companies

Pruitt’s action to reopen this loophole goes against the stated wishes of other truck manufacturers and dealers, who responsibly invested in pollution control equipment and depend on a level playing field for the well-being of their businesses and the Americans they employ.

For example, truck dealership Nuss Trucks commented that:

The original intent of selling gilder [trucks] has moved from a rebuilding mechanism to now mainly evading diesel emissions EPA mandates.

Volvo, the manufacturer of MAC Trucks, noted that the availability of “glider trucks” is creating:

an unlevel playing field for manufacturers of new vehicles designed and certified to be compliant to all current emissions, fuel efficiency, and safety regulations.

So why is Pruitt giving the glider industry special treatment over responsible trucking companies — and over the health of American families?

As recently reported by the Washington Post, Pruitt granted a glider industry request to reconsider the standards after a meeting with a major glider manufacturer in May.

That same manufacturer prominently hosted an event for Donald Trump early in his presidential campaign.

Super-polluting trucks are designed to evade pollution controls

Historically, only a few hundred glider trucks were sold each year. They were typically produced by truck repair shops when a customer wanted to salvage the undamaged engine from a wrecked truck by installing it into a new frame.

But after pollution limits on heavy-duty freight engines were updated in 2010, a small handful of companies recognized a loophole – an opportunity to sell old, dirty engines in new frames, and thereby evade modern pollution standards. The result was mass production of super-polluting trucks that do not come close to meeting current emission standards.

Glider truck manufacturers created a market that didn’t exist before 2010. They made a business out of sourcing large numbers of old, high-polluting engines to sell in new trucks, with sales likely surpassing 10,000 a year in the last few years. The pre-2002 engines they mainly use have essentially no air pollution controls, and cause the classic puff of black diesel smoke you hated to be stuck behind in traffic. (And with good reason, as diesel particulate is known to cause lung cancer.)

EPA took action in 2016 to close the loophole and bring glider truck sales back to pre-2010 levels.

The agency took pains to cause as little disruption as possible while still meeting its responsibility under the Clean Air Act to protect public health and welfare. It phased in the glider truck standards over a period of several years, and never outright banned the sale of glider vehicles (since it recognized the benefit to truckers in being able to salvage the engine from a damaged truck).

Under EPA’s common sense actions to close the loophole, beginning in 2018, glider manufacturers must cap production of high-polluting vehicles at 300 annually beginning in 2018. They may continue to produce additional glider vehicles as long as those meet the modern air pollution controls that all other manufacturers already have to meet.

A decision with devastating consequences for our health  

Pruitt announced his intent to revisit the just-closed loophole in August of this year. He has now released a new proposal to repeal emission requirements for these super-polluting trucks, indicating that he is moving forward with his regressive plan to reopen this loophole and put thousands of lives at risk.

Pruitt’s attempt to repeal these important safeguards reeks of political cronyism, and is being done at the expense of public health. Families and communities across America will be exposed to the dangerous pollution from thousands more of these dirty trucks on our highways. We all deserve better – especially from EPA, the agency with the core mission of protecting us from pollution.

Also posted in Cars and Pollution, Clean Air Act, News, Policy / Comments are closed

Why Honeycutt is such an alarming choice for EPA's science advisory panel

Michael Honeycutt – the man set to lead the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s prestigious Science Advisory Board – has spent most of his career as a credentialed counterpoint against almost anything the EPA has proposed to protect human health.

Fortunately, his lone voice for the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality rarely carried beyond the Lone Star State. Until now.

The EPA science advisory panel Honeycutt will chair is supposed to provide the agency with independent scientific expertise on a wide range of issues. In a highly unusual move, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt picked the Texan for the job even though he has never been a member of the board.

More than Honeycutt’s inexperience, however, what worries me most is his faulty logic and what this means for science at the EPA.

Honeycutt downplays ozone dangers

A toxicologist by training, Honeycutt has criticized the EPA’s health-based standards for ozone because “most people spend more than 90 percent of their time indoors,” reducing their exposure to the ubiquitous pollutant.

Houston residents know differently. The city’s worst day for lung-damaging ozone this year happened while many people were outside for long hours of cleanup after Hurricane Harvey.

Honeycutt doubled-down on his position that ozone is not harmful to human health in a 2014 interview with the Texas Tribune.

“I haven’t seen the data that says lowering ozone will produce a health benefit,” he said. “In fact, I’ve seen data that shows it might have a negative health benefit.”

Honeycutt’s statement suggests he believes that more air pollution might actually be good for you.

…even though ozone can cause premature death

I am a toxicologist in Texas, too, and here is the truth about ozone: The pollutant can exacerbate asthma, lung disease and heart disease – and even lead to premature death.

The current acceptable limit, recommended during the George W. Bush administration and set under Obama’s in 2015, is 70 parts per billion, a standard that the public health community still believes is too high. The EPA’s own science advisors had recommended a limit as stringent as 60 ppb to protect human health.

Honeycutt spent millions to refute science

In his Texas role, Honeycutt responded to the recommendation by paying more than $2.6 million for research that says tighter ozone rules would cost the state billions of dollars annually with little or no impact on public health.

“Every part per billion that they don’t lower it is millions of dollars,” Honeycutt told the Houston Chronicle. “So we think that the return on investment in this is just phenomenal. Just phenomenal.”

And it’s not just ozone that seems to be a target for Honeycutt. He also has issues with protections against mercury, particulate matter and air toxics.

The reality is, however, that by failing to improve air quality, we’re paying more in health and social costs. This is real money lost on hospital visits, and on missed work and school days.

…and now he’ll steer EPA science

All this matters because Honeycutt, as the board’s chair, will help prioritize which issues the EPA decides to investigate and pick the scientists who review studies and reports before they come to the full board.

My worry is that he will continue down a path that is destructive to public health protections, a well-known pattern within the Trump administration.

We know that clean air and a strong economy go hand in hand – and that claims by industry doomsayers claims are unsubstantiated.

But none of that matters to an administration that scrubs qualified scientists from serving on advisory committees, that eradicates scientific data from websites that do not support the its agenda, and that does not want to be challenged.

Honeycutt’s appointment is yet another attack against science. With American health at stake, we can not stay silent about this latest EPA development.

This post originally appeared on our EDF Voices blog.

Image source: Source: Flickr/Science Democrats.

Also posted in Policy, Science / Comments are closed

Pruitt takes steps to remove science from decisions affecting the health of American families

Today EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt announced additions to the Agency’s Scientific Advisory Board (SAB) and the Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee (CASAC). Taken in conjunction with the drastic policy shift also announced today, Pruitt is set to fundamentally undercut the role science in driving EPA decisions that directly affect the health and safety of American families and communities.

The new policy would exclude any scientist receiving an EPA grant from serving on any of the agency’s advisory panels. This creates a profound hypocrisy: under the policy scientists who take money from ExxonMobil or even Russia—since funding from other governments wouldn’t be disqualifying—Pruitt would regard as trusted to offer impartial advice. Meanwhile, those who have grants from the US environmental agency – whose research program was praised by the National Academy of Sciences in a report just this past summer – cannot.

In Pruitt’s Alice-in-Wonderland world, the EPA advisory panels intended to ensure the agency is making use of the best and latest science should be populated overwhelmingly by industry-affiliated scientists, at the expense of independent academic scientists.

Along with the policy, Pruitt’s new appointments to the SAB and CASAC (see a selection of the reported additions below) include longtime fossil fuel and chemical industry advocates, who have consistently played down or outright dismissed concerns about the risks of pollution or toxic chemical exposures based on discredited and outrageous scientific claims. Although the SAB is supposed to “provide independent advice and peer review on the scientific and technical aspects of environmental issues to the EPA's Administrator,” these additions cannot be relied upon to faithfully uphold the Board’s mission.

Meanwhile, Pruitt is also reportedly taking the unprecedented step of not renewing any appointments for members whose terms expire this year. This allows Pruitt to reshape the panel in his own image more quickly.

All told, the goal is as clear as it is concerning: to create a rubber-stamp set of scientific advisers that can distort the science while still lending an aura of credibility to Pruitt’s destructive actions at the Agency.

The real losers are not the researchers, but rather American families who depend on having an agency that actually works to protect their health.

Meet some of Mr. Pruitt’s new science advisers

Texas official with a long record of downplaying health concerns about pollutants and toxic chemicals ranging from ozone to benzene. Honeycutt argued against stronger ozone standards by noting most people spend their days indoors. He also claimed that “some studies even suggest that PM [particulate matter] makes you live longer.”

Denver-based consultant with long track record of conducting research that disputes the public health benefits of reducing air pollution. Cox has stated that there is “no evidence that reductions in air pollution levels have caused any reductions in mortality rates.”

Record of disputing the benefits of clean air and air pollution limits; said that “Modern air … is a little too clean for optimum health.”

Professor at NC State affiliated with the climate-denying Heartland Institute, who claims that the “evidence is overwhelming” that if temperatures do increase, it will be “better for humans.”

Former Secretary of North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality (NCDEQ), who questions the well-established scientific consensus of climate change and, had a controversial tenure at the agency, notably over health advisories to well owners whose water might have been contaminated by coal ash.

Smith is a Managing Director of NERA Economic Consulting and co-head of its environmental practice. In work funded by the fossil fuel industry trade group the American Petroleum Institute, Smith argued that EPA data on lung response to ozone is imprecise, roundly debunked by policy experts and independent fact-checkers.

Also posted in Basic Science of Global Warming, Science, Setting the Facts Straight / Comments are closed