Climate 411

Heatwaves to become more deadly and increase global inequality

A new study shows that heatwaves will worsen in the future and that the most vulnerable populations will be hit the hardest

Source: Flickr/
Rupert Ganzer

Human-caused climate change has already increased the frequency and severity of heatwaves across the globe, and new research shows that heatwaves will get even worse as the planet warms further.

Scientists have found that climate change played a major role in recent heatwaves: the chance of extreme heat at the levels seen in northern Europe in 2018 has doubled; the “Lucifer” heatwave in Europe’s Mediterranean region during summer of 2017 is four times more likely to occur; and the scorching 2016-2017 summer in New South Wales, Australia, was made at least 50 times more likely.

The new study, published on January 11th, 2019 in Nature Communications, shows the growing threat of heatwaves in a warming world, especially for less developed nations. In fact, the researchers found that less developed countries will likely be more affected by heatwaves in a 1.5°C (2.7°F) warmer world than developed countries will be in a 2°C (3.6°F) warmer world.

Read More »

Also posted in Extreme Weather, News, Science / Comments are closed

Andrew Wheeler’s record shows he is unfit to lead EPA

Sad but true: since he became acting head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Andrew Wheeler has ramped up Scott Pruitt’s relentless attack on public health and environmental safeguards.

Wheeler is leading efforts to severely weaken or altogether eliminate meaningful limits on the largest sources of climate pollution – including cars, power plants, and oil and gas production. He is undermining policies that protect against toxic and smog-forming air pollution. He is systematically weakening the new bipartisan law that protects Americans from toxic chemicals.

These rollbacks risk thousands of additional early deaths and hundreds of thousands of additional asthma attacks every year.

After Scott Pruitt’s disastrous tenure, EPA needs a leader who will return to the agency’s life-saving and essential mission of protecting communities from harmful pollution. Yet President Trump has said he will nominate Andrew Wheeler to officially serve as EPA Administrator.

Wheeler’s existing record as Acting Administrator shows he is hostile to EPA’s mission and would double down on attacking core safeguards. He is unfit to lead EPA.

Here are a dozen safeguards Wheeler has attacked in his six months as acting head of EPA. This isn’t an exhaustive list — unfortunately there are other vital protections Wheeler has attacked, further imperiling clean water, clean air, and healthy communities across America. Read More »

Also posted in Cars and Pollution, Clean Air Act, Clean Power Plan, Greenhouse Gas Emissions, News, Policy, Pruitt, Smog / Read 1 Response

Year in Review: 18 numbers that tell 2018’s story of the environment, health, and climate

2018 brought with it a torrent of stories that now shape the world we live in and will shape 2019 and years to come.

From a disgraced EPA Administrator, to urgent reports on climate change, the year showed how far we’ve come and how much work remains—especially as President Trump and his administration continue to assault safeguards and deny the reality of a warming world.

Here, we recap the 18 numbers that encapsulate the year that was, and what we’ll be keeping a close eye on in the year to come.

  1. Public Health Threat #1: Acting EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler. Former coal lobbyist Wheeler took the reins after the end of Scott Pruitt’s destructive tenure, and picked up right where Pruitt left off. Since then, Wheeler has targeted several foundational health and environmental safeguards. It’s now expected that Wheeler will be nominated for the post permanently. Keep reading to see how dangerous that could be to the American people and our planet.
  2. Two mothers who lost their sons because of exposure to methylene chloride, a dangerous chemical in common paint strippers, met with Pruitt and members of Congress from both parties. These moms asked EPA to support a ban on consumer and most commercial uses of methylene chloride. Over 6 months ago, Pruitt said he’d do so, but no action has been taken since.
  3. As for other chemicals the Trump EPA is flouting 2016’s Toxic Substance Control Act amendments, allowing potentially dangerous chemicals into the marketplace and consumers’ homes. Here are three examples.
  4. Wheeler is proposing to gut the EPA methane rules, a move that could result in more than 400,000 tons of additional potent methane, even though some leading companies have asked EPA to regulate methane emissions from oil and gas.
  5. Check out this list of five states that took bold action on climate change this year, showing the kinds of common-sense, economic solutions that can be implemented at scale while protecting people, our economy and our environment.
  6. According to the World Health Organization air pollution kills an estimated 600,000 children every year under the age of 15 and accounts for almost 1 in 10 deaths in children under five. The report found links between air pollution and childhood cancers, asthma, pneumonia and other respiratory infections, making it one of the leading threats to child health.
  7. It’s not all doom and gloom. Prompted by the urgency to act on climate and the advancement of affordable, renewable energy technologies, we’ve seen seven signs that the global energy economy is in transition.
  8. Eight hurricanes formed in Atlantic waters this year, two of which—Hurricanes Florence and Michael—devastated states across the Mid-Atlantic and Southeast. These kinds of super storms are becoming more powerful—and more destructive—due to warmer water, higher seas, shifting weather patterns and increased moisture in the air.
  9. On the other side of the country, California saw wildfires ravage the state, destroying entire towns and killing scores. In total, the fires are expected to cost insurers more than $9 billion and signal the kind of climate dangers the world could face more regularly if greenhouse gases are allowed to pollute our air unchecked.
  10. Might that have something to do with the fact that fossil fuel industries outspent clean energy advocates on climate lobbying by a startling 10 to 1?
  11. By EPA’s own calculations, the Mercury and Air Toxic Standards prevent as many as 11,000 deaths per year, yet the Administration reportedly wants to undercut the rule anyway, with a proposal expected imminently.
  12. A concentrated effort by the oil industry to fight back against clean car standards resulted in more than a quarter of the 12,000 “public” comments submitted to the federal register reflecting the language written by a pro-industry group. Marathon Petroleum, the country’s largest refiner, lobbyists for Exxon Mobil, Chevron, and Phillips 66, joined a network funded by the Koch Brothers network in a massive effort to fight standards that would reduce pollution from vehicles and save Americans money at the gas pump.
  13. The National Climate Assessment, issued by 13 federal agencies, sounded the alarm on the impacts America stands to suffer from climate change, yet went largely ignored by the Trump Administration, which has chosen to side with special interests and industry allies.
  14. 414 investors across the globe—with $31 trillion under management—called for governments to take serious steps to curb climate pollution, citing the “ambition gap” between government commitments and what is needed to sufficiently prevent the world from reaching warming of 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.
  15. 2015 saw the adoption of the landmark Paris Agreement, setting nations on a hopeful path toward emissions reduction. Since then, the leadership once shown by America in critical climate talks has been abdicated, left vacant by an administration that chooses to cover its ears and place the world’s children and grandchildren at risk. This year’s climate summit, COP24, saw the creation of a “rule book” to implement the Paris agreement, but also showed that much more needs to be done.
  16. A letter sent by coal baron Robert E. Murray to Vice President Mike Pence listed 16 wishes that the administration has largely taken up as policy. Several among them have led the administration to foolishly attempt to prop up the coal industry despite economic signals diminishing coal’s viability, not to mention its severe health and environmental effects.
  17. After 17 months of countless scandals and reckless attempts to assault bedrock environmental protections, Scott Pruitt resigned his post as EPA Administrator. This list could extend dozens of items longer if we were to count Pruitt’s many offenses. American families and children will not miss him.
  18. A cheery and hopeful note as we head toward the new year: 2018’s midterms saw a wave of pro-environment and climate candidates elected to office across the country. Those candidates-elect—ranging from governors and representatives, to mayors and councilwomen—are leading a charge toward ambitious climate action.

Read More »

Also posted in Basic Science of Global Warming, Cars and Pollution, Clean Air Act, Clean Power Plan, Energy, Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Policy, Science / Comments are closed

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why this loophole is so problematic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Air Toxics Loophole is filled with fatal legal flaws

In our opening brief, we show that:

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

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

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

Also posted in Clean Air Act, Partners for Change, Policy, Pruitt / Comments are closed

Five things you should know about the Trump Administrations latest assault on the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards

In 1990, while I was busy with kid priorities like learning to roller-skate, Congress was updating the Clean Air Act – kicking off a process to reduce mercury and other air toxic air pollution from coal-fired power plants.

Fast-forward several decades to 2012, the year my first daughter was born, and we finally had the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards in effect.

Unfortunately, after that 20-year journey to get strong protections against mercury pollution, the Trump Administration is now trying to move us backward.

Trump’s Acting Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Andrew Wheeler has confirmed that he’s “reconsidering” the legal foundation of the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards – a move that could allow him to topple our national safeguards against the pollution linked to cancer, lung disease, and brain damage in babies.

What’s worse, Wheeler proudly announced the move on National Child Health Day.

Here are five things you should know about the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards – and Wheeler’s assault against them:

Read More »

Also posted in Clean Air Act, News, Policy / Read 1 Response

The Trump administration’s Clean Power Plan replacement – for many states, worse than doing nothing

The Trump Administration’s proposed “replacement” for the Clean Power Plan would not only increase dangerous climate pollution and cost American lives – it would actually be worse than doing nothing at all in many states.

The proposal would severely weaken our nation’s only limits on carbon pollution from existing power plants. It would increase climate and health-harming pollution from those plants, and would lead to more premature deaths compared to leaving the Clean Power Plan in place.

But that’s not all – EPA’s own numbers show that the proposal would also increase pollution in many states compared to a world without the Clean Power Plan.

In many states, this proposal would leave communities worse off than if the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) had done nothing at all.

Read More »

Also posted in Clean Air Act, Clean Power Plan, Greenhouse Gas Emissions, News, Policy, Setting the Facts Straight / Comments are closed