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Oklahoma Court Rejects Yet Another Flawed Challenge to the Proposed Clean Power Plan

rp_scales_of_justice.pngThe Clean Power Plan has now won a second round in court – before the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has finished writing it.

The federal district court for the Northern District of Oklahoma rejected another premature challenge on Friday to the proposed standards for carbon pollution from existing fossil fuel power plants.

The first – a challenge brought by Murray Energy Corporation and several states, including Oklahoma – was dismissed by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit just last month. In that decision, the D.C. Circuit court found petitioners’ attack on the Clean Power Plan was premature — relying on the plain text of the Clean Air Act, bedrock principles of administrative law, and (as the petitioners themselves acknowledged) the unbroken practice in the D.C. Circuit allowing challenges only to final agency actions.

This finality requirement is critically important to the integrity of the administrative process, ensuring the agency has an opportunity to consider and incorporate public input and that a reviewing court evaluates the agency’s final, carefully-determined course of action.

In last month’s decision, the D.C. Circuit noted that petitioners were “champing at the bit” to challenge the Clean Power Plan. True to form, the state of Oklahoma filed another challenge – pressing substantially similar claims to those already rejected by the D.C. Circuit, but this time seeking judicial review in Oklahoma federal district court.

If the challenges in the D.C. Circuit represented an attempted end run around the judicial review provisions of the Clean Air Act, then here the plaintiffs tried a double end run — adding to their flawed premature challenge by seeking judicial review in the wrong court.

The Clean Air Act provides that a challenge to any “standard of performance or requirement under section [111]” — which will include EPA’s Clean Power Plan, when finalized — must be filed in the D.C. Circuit. The Clean Air Act vests the D.C. Circuit with this authority to ensure uniform and consistent review of actions that apply nationally.

The Oklahoma federal district court made short work of the suit.

On Friday, the court firmly rejected the challenges – dismissing them on the basis of the plaintiffs’ brief alone, without even waiting for EPA’s response.

The Oklahoma federal district court decision both reaffirmed the courts’ authority to review only final agency actions, and identified the D.C. Circuit as the proper venue for challenging the Clean Power Plan, when it is finalized.

In the decision, written by Oklahoma federal district court Judge Claire Eagen, the court said:

The D.C. Circuit has already determined that the proposed emission standards are not a final agency action, and that court has denied a petition to review the proposed emission standards before they become a final rule. (Page 9)

The decision also says:

Even if the Court found that it would not be premature to exercise jurisdiction over this case, plaintiffs have failed to show that jurisdictional review provision of the CAA would permit this Court to exercise jurisdiction over the case . . . . The ultimate issue of whether the EPA has the authority to promulgate the disputed emission standards pursuant to § 7411(d) must be decided by the court with exclusive jurisdiction over these matters, and that court is the D.C. Circuit. (Page 9 – Emphasis Added)

Taken together, these decisions should give pause to litigants contemplating procedurally-flawed legal challenges — but unfortunately, Oklahoma is continuing to press these misguided claims in an appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit. And these are just the latest in a series of legally-unfoundedattacks on these critical standards.

The health and environmental benefits of the Clean Power Plan could be profound. As EPA prepares for the inevitable legal challenges to come, it has a strong track record of defending the Clean Power Plan and other important clean air safeguards against legal attacks. That's good news for the families and communities that are afflicted by carbon pollution from fossil fuel-fired power plants — the nation's single largest source of this climate-destabilizing pollution.

Also posted in Clean Power Plan, EPA litgation, Policy| Leave a comment

FERC, Grid Operator, Others File Supreme Court Briefs in Demand Response Case

Source: iStock

Source: iStock

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), a grid operator, states, and other parties just filed briefs with the U.S. Supreme Court in a case that could decide whether Americans have access to low-cost, clean and reliable electricity.

The case, EPSA v. FERC, revolves around demand response, a resource that helps keep prices low and the lights on – and does so while also being environmentally friendly.

In 2013, for example, demand response saved customers in the mid-Atlantic region close to 12 billion dollars. And during the polar vortex, which threatened the North-East with freezing cold in 2014, the resource helped prevent black-outs.

The clean energy rule at issue in this case is called FERC Order 745. EDF has been writing about this demand response case throughout the past year. We’ve been fighting for low-cost demand response and we’ll keep fighting in the Supreme Court.

History of the Case

The case involves a FERC rule that allows demand response – a low-cost, clean, and reliable energy conservation resource – the chance to compete fairly in our nation’s wholesale energy market.

EDF and a broad coalition of consumer advocates, environmental groups, companies, and industry organizations support it.

Demand Response – How It Works, Why It’s Popular

The broad support for demand response exists because of how the resource works.

Demand response reduces energy demand when power is needed most, rather than increasing supply from costly, carbon–emitting fuels. It relies on people and technology, not power plants, to affordably meet our country’s rising electricity needs. In so doing, it reduces costs for everyone by taking the place of very expensive generation.

Anyone in favor of cleaner, more reliable, lower-cost energy has a reason to support demand response.

What’s at Issue

FERC is the federal agency responsible for keeping our electricity rates “just and reasonable” (in other words, for making sure we get fairly priced electricity).

FERC created Order 745 to further that goal. Order 745 allows demand response access to the wholesale energy market, where electricity is bought and sold. It levels the playing field between demand response and traditional sources of electricity generation, like coal.

In doing so, demand response has been able to reduce our use of unneeded, costly electricity – the exact type of electricity that should be limited if one wants “just and reasonable” rates.

Electricity producers challenged FERC’s Order 745, arguing that the agency lacked jurisdiction to create it. A three-judge panel for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit Court, in a split 2-to-1 decision, ruled in favor of the challengers.

Now FERC — as well as states, demand response providers, grid operators, and others – have stated their case to the Supreme Court.

The Case Before the Court

In its just-filed brief, the Solicitor General said on behalf of FERC:

Given that demand-response programs unquestionably confer significant benefits on wholesale markets, including lower rates, there is no defensible justification for concluding that the [Federal Power Act] nevertheless altogether excludes the programs from wholesale markets or FERC regulation. (FERC brief page 34)

The FERC brief also says:

By exercising authority over wholesale demand-response programs, FERC can ensure that a practice that occurs in wholesale markets, and has been widely recognized as tremendously important to the efficient functioning of those markets, will continue to provide benefits to consumers and the economy and is deployed in a way that results in just and reasonable wholesale rates and a reliable electricity system. (FERC brief page 45)

Another party to the case, demand response company EnerNOC, said in its brief:

Without demand response participation, wholesale energy markets will not ‘function…effectively’: Competition will be constrained; and prices will be higher. (EnerNOC brief page 39)

What Happens Next

Next, attention will turn to the amicus briefs – briefs filed in support of the parties to the case. Those, including EDF’s amicus brief, will be filed by July 16.

The Supreme Court is expected to hear oral arguments in the case this fall.

You can find all the briefs in the case here. And EDF will keep you updated as the case moves forward.

Also posted in Economics, Energy, Policy| Comments are closed

The Mercury Standards, Post-Supreme Court – Still in Effect, Still Protecting Americans

rp_640px-Oblique_facade_2_US_Supreme_Court.jpg

Supreme Court of the United States

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) first proposed the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards back in 2011, at a news conference at Children’s Hospital with cheering children and families surrounding the speakers.

They were cheering because the Mercury Standards were the single most important clean air measure of our generation – designed to protect Americans from some of the worst, most dangerous types of air pollution.

They still are.

This week’s disappointing Supreme Court decision, remanding the standards back to the D.C. Circuit Court for further analysis, has distracted from that fact.

But the fact remains – the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards are a suite of life-saving protections against some of the most health-harming substances emitted by coal and oil-fired power plants, including mercury, arsenic and other heavy metals, and acid gases.

Here’s What Happened

Coal- and oil-fired power plants are by far the largest emitters of these pollutants, which are dangerous to human health even in small doses. Mercury causes brain damage in children, metal toxics like chromium and nickel cause cancer, and acid gases cause respiratory problems.

This week, the Supreme Court held that EPA should have considered the costs of regulation when it made a threshold determination under section 112 of the Clean Air Act that it is “appropriate and necessary” to move forward with the first-ever national limits for these noxious emissions. It is now up to EPA to determine the best way to respond to the decision.

(The case was Michigan v. EPA. EDF was a party to the case. You can read the decision and the sharp dissent here.)

What does the Supreme Court ruling mean for the Mercury Air Toxics Standards?

Here are three important things you should know.

First — there is every reason to believe EPA can quickly amend its “appropriate and necessary” finding to address the Supreme Court’s decision, without affecting the substance of the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards themselves.

Importantly, the Court left it up to EPA to determine how to evaluate costs and how to weigh those costs against the benefits of regulation. As the Court’s opinion acknowledged, EPA has already conducted an extensive review of both the costs and benefits of the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards as part of the regulatory analyses most agencies carry out under Executive Order 12866. That analysis contains overwhelming evidence showing that the benefits of MATS far outweigh its costs.

According to EPA, the monetized benefits of the Mercury and Air Toxics are expected to be up to $90 billion per year.

That amount reflects the enormous health benefits Americans will get from the standards. EPA estimates that they will prevent 11,000 premature deaths, up to 4,700 heart attacks, and up to 130,000 asthma attacks each year.

There are substantial and additional non-monetized benefits associated with reduced exposure to mercury and other harmful pollutants regulated by the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards.

Moreover, in spite of the power industry’s claims, reducing these emissions has proven much less expensive than initially projected. Major power companies such as AEP, NRG, and FirstEnergy have been reporting to their investors that the costs of the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards are as much as 70 percent lower than they first estimated.

The bottom line is that the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards are an extraordinarily beneficial public health measure and are providing healthier, longer lives for millions of Americans at a fraction of the costs predicted.

Second — the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards can and should continue to be implemented while EPA amends its “appropriate and necessary finding.”

The Supreme Court’s opinion did not prohibit the implementation of the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards – and in the past, the appellate courts have often allowed Clean Air Act regulations to remain in place while EPA amends them to address technical or legal issues.  

In this case, a large majority of American power plants are already in compliance with the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards — in many instances because they have been upgrading pollution controls to comply with state emission standards or other Clean Air Act requirements.  M.J. Bradley & Associates recently estimated that about 70 percent of the U.S. coal fleet had installed pollution controls to comply with the standards by the April 2015 deadline. In addition, a substantial number of plants have received one-year extensions to this compliance deadline and are now working to install pollution controls by April 2016.

Given the importance of the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards to public health, and the overwhelming likelihood that EPA will be able to quickly address the Court’s decision, there is no reason that power plants should be allowed to delay installing pollution controls or cease operating already-installed pollution controls.

Third – the Supreme Court decision has no adverse implications for EPA’s Clean Power Plan – despite the wild claims being made by some opponents of these vital limits on carbon pollution from power plants.

The Mercury and Air Toxics Standards and the Clean Power Plan are based on entirely separate Clean Air Act authorities that reside in separate parts of the statute. The authority EPA is acting on to develop the Clean Power Plan expressly provides for the consideration of costs, and EPA has carefully taken costs into account in the Clean Power Plan in the manner required by the statute. Thus, claims that the ruling on the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards should somehow cast doubt on the legality of the Clean Power Plan are severely misguided.

Summing It Up

Marian Burton, president of the American Academy of Pediatrics, summed it up perfectly back in 2011, when the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards were first proposed:

Dirty air makes children sick … If you think it's an expensive process to put a scrubber on a smokestack, you should see how much it costs over a lifetime to treat a child with a preventable birth defect.

That’s why hundreds of thousands of Americans sent comments to EPA in support of the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards.

It’s why EDF and so many other health, environmental, and social justice groups will go back to the D.C. Circuit Court to defend the standards.

We’ll keep fighting to make sure the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards are fully implemented so we can realize the promise of the Clean Air Act — and make sure all Americans have safe, healthy air to breathe.

Also posted in Clean Air Act, EPA litgation, Health, Policy| Comments are closed

Urgency and Opportunity for Latino Leadership on Climate

Las Vegas -- Wikimedia Commons

Las Vegas — Wikimedia Commons

When I landed in Las Vegas last week, the weather was a broiling 108 degrees. Ouch.

I braved the Las Vegas heat for one of the most inspiring convenings of Latino leaders in the country, the Annual Conference of the National Association of Latino Elected Officials (NALEO). We had a chance to hear from established and rising Latino leaders, as well as from Presidential candidates, about the challenges facing Latino communities and the many paths forward for creating a brighter future.

What we did not hear about was a vision for places like Las Vegas, where summer temperatures are bound to get hotter and water will become even more scarce in the face of climate change. In fact, there was no formal conversation about what climate change means for the U.S., and specifically for Latinos.

Here’s the short version of the missing conversation on climate: climate change presents challenges to everyone but it is having, and will continue to have, a disproportionate impact on Latinos in the United States.

To illustrate, let’s look at the three states that house more than half the Latinos in the US:

  • California, and the state’s majority Latino population, is facing its fourth year in historic drought that’s been exacerbated by climate change.
  • This summer, Texas experienced unprecedented flooding, nearly canceling out the state’s prior state of drought, in a demonstration of the kind of extreme weather linked to climate change.
  • Florida’s real estate and freshwater is already threatened by initial increases in sea-level rise, which are also eroding the state’s beaches.

There are more than 28 million Latinos facing climate threats in these three states alone. That does not count the millions of other Latinos nationwide who will face extreme heat and longer wildfire seasons in the Southwest this summer. It does not account for all 49 percent of Latinos nationally who live in coastal communities and will face more frequent and intense hurricanes and flooding. It also does not account for the full 14 percent of Latino kids diagnosed with asthma, who will face greater challenges to managing this condition due to more days with unhealthy levels of smog.

That was the bad news. It points to the fact that our leaders should not ignore the impacts of climate change on the Latino community. As climate impacts the air we breathe, threatens water we use for drinking, swimming, farming, and fishing, and even endangers our health, leaders at all levels need to take a proactive stance to protect our communities by addressing climate change.

Here’s the good news — the support is already there to act on climate. National polling has shown that 63 percent of Latinos think the federal government should act broadly to address global warming, while 8 in 10 Latinos want the President to curb the carbon pollution that causes climate change.

There are also some great opportunities hidden among the challenges. For example, today’s clean energy economy is creating more jobs than the fossil fuel economy. Jobs in the clean energy economy also offer higher wages to a wide range of workers, relative to the broader economy.

Which brings me back to Vegas. While there was no formal climate change discussion on the program, Latino environmental leaders from around the country were sparking conversations in the halls about conservation, climate change, and la comunidad. Advocates from New Mexico's Hispanics Enjoying Camping, Hunting, and Outdoors talked with conference guests about the importance of protecting our public lands. Colorado's Nuestro Rio shared their work protecting the Colorado River and our bond to this precious resource.

EDF also played a role, teaming up with GreenLatinos, Green 2.0, and Nuestro Rio to host a reception and highlight the importance of addressing climate change at a national level. Nearly everyone we spoke with about our work was interested in hearing about solutions and how to do more.

As we participated in conference events last week, Pope Francis reminded us that we “have the duty to protect the earth and ensure its fruitfulness for coming generations.” Latino communities, and our leaders, are no exception. We have a duty to address climate change — protecting our families, our children, and our climate is something we cannot afford to gamble on.

Also posted in Clean Power Plan, Extreme Weather, Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Jobs, Partners for Change, Science| Comments are closed

American Petroleum Institute Continues Its Long Campaign against Clean Air Standards

iStockphoto.com

I recently had the unfortunate experience of hearing a two-year-old suffer from an asthma attack. The nurses commented in passing how it was actually a great sign to hear the young child screaming, as it was more worrisome when children came in with asthma attacks and were unable to draw breath. As a mother of a two-year-old myself, hearing the terrified screams of this child was utterly heartbreaking.

This was the first time I've come face to face with a child suffering the effects of asthma – a terrible respiratory disease that is often exacerbated by air pollution. The thought of thousands of parents making preventable visits to the emergency room each year, desperate to get help for their children who are having asthma attacks triggered by smog or other air pollution, is gut wrenching. It’s also a poignant reminder of why we need to keep demanding more progress to clean our air.

Smog is primarily formed by emissions of nitrogen oxide (NOx) and volatile organic compounds (VOCs). The main sources of these emissions are power plants, oil and gas operations, and cars and trucks.

Setting smog limits to 60 ppb would, in the year 2025:

  • Prevent up to 7,900 premature deaths
  • Prevent up to 1.8 million asthma attacks among children
  • Prevent up to 4,100 cases of acute bronchitis among children
  • Prevent up to 1.9 million days when kids miss school
  • Provide up to $75 billion in public health benefits

Smog contributes to thousands of asthma attacks and other harmful health impacts every year – including early deaths. Pollution also blows into our national parks, harming wildlife and vegetation. EPA is required by law to re-evaluate each of our nation’s air quality standards every five years, ensuring our air standards are updated to reflect the latest scientific understanding of the impacts of pollution. Strengthening our nation’s outdated smog standards will help us continue the progress we’ve made in cleaning up our air, in line with what scientists and leading public health organizations have determined is needed to protect human health and the environment.

Unfortunately, the American Petroleum Institute (API), a trade association representing oil and natural gas industries, has launched a campaign against strengthened smog standards. In its ads, API claims our current standard is strict enough, despite the fact that an independent advisory committee of scientific experts concluded the opposite over seven years ago. Since that time, an even more extensive body of scientific research documents the harms of ozone to human health.

API is also claiming that strengthened smog standards will bring exorbitant costs to American families — this is based on an analysis roundly criticized by experts for its unrealistic assumptions and for the fact that it ignores the substantial economic benefits of reducing air pollution.

Sadly, this is nothing new from API. API has claimed time and again that clean air standards would be too costly and wouldn’t yield health or environmental benefits. For standards advancing low sulfur fuel and vehicles (Tier 3) API said:

The new EPA requirements could be devastating to consumers and communities across the nation  – Bob Greco, API Director of Downstream Operations, API press release, July 29, 2011.

API also claimed gas prices could rise up to 25 cents a gallon due to the standards. However, EPA and independent analysis by Mathpro projects that gasoline prices will increase by less than 1 penny per gallon due to the Tier 3 standards. EPA also found the standards would provide up to $13 in health benefits from every dollar invested. The Tier 3 Standards were finalized in 2014 with broad support from automakers and manufacturers, labor groups, health and environmental groups, environmental justice groups, moms groups, and numerous states.

Yet again with the smog standards, API is completely ignoring the fact that we have cost-effective tools at our disposal to meet strengthened smog standards. We also have policies underway that are already helping us get there, including tailpipe emissions reduction standards, and the proposed Clean Power Plan. We also know that there are emission reductions that are readily available right now. For example, some power plant units have installed advanced controls for NOx that have not been used consistently in recent years.

Nearly every step of the way to cleaner air in the past four decades, we have had to fight polluter interests that claim the costs will be too high, the economy will be ruined, or that our air is already clean enough. Time and again these claims have been disproven — our economy has grown as our air quality has improved due to clean air standards, and literally trillions of dollars in health and other benefits have accrued.

API's latest campaign against much-needed, long overdue, cost-effective smog standards is a continuation of the decades-long battle we have faced. We ask you to urge API to cease its campaign against the ozone standards and instead constructively engage in the process to reduce the pollution that harms millions of American families. Please help the children across America – each child — breathe cleaner air for life.

Also posted in Health| Comments are closed

New EPA Mapping Tool Sheds Light on Pollution Risk and Social Vulnerability

(This post originally appeared on EDF's Texas Clean Air Matters blog)

EPA is getting into the mapping game in a big way.

Just this week, they launched an environmental justice (EJ) mapping and screening tool called EJSCREEN, an online, publicly accessible index of environmental indicators based on location. It will be a tremendously helpful resource for the EJ movement.EPA's new mapping and screening tool will help advance environmental justice.

In the past, concerned citizens, researchers, and advocates would access national databases individually without the ability to bring multiple sources of information together in one clear and consistent platform. EJSCREEN was created to address that issue. It’s a significant milestone that puts environmental and demographic data at your fingertips and empowers you to learn about your community.

One of the major advancements in EJSCREEN is the combination of environmental risk and social vulnerability information. This intersection defines a critical element of environmental justice: communities that are at elevated risk of exposure to harmful pollution are often home to the elderly, low-income families and other vulnerable populations. Much of EDF’s work focuses on this intersection, such as our environmental health efforts to improve air quality at and near ports and freight hubs. These areas can be pollution hotspots, and they are often close to communities of vulnerable populations.

EJSCREEN will help areas like port communities better understand how environmental and social issues overlap – and shows the information by map. The tool combines a set of demographic indicators and a set of environmental indicators into an “EJ Index.” There is one index per environmental indicator and the index for a particular area is compared to regional, state, and national averages. The tool produces a profile report and a map of a selected area that provides the comparative analysis of a community.

You can use EJSCREEN to visualize your neighborhood or city, or to develop a better understanding of a community that may be affected by environmental risks. Although EJSCREEN does feature a comparison of the selected area to the state and nation, the tool should not be used to define or qualify an environmental justice community. Rather, EJSCREEN is designed to promote a better understanding of the intersection between risk and vulnerability for potentially impacted communities.

Texas in particular will benefit from EJSCREEN as demographic shifts and significant industrial activity carry implications for environmental justice concerns. Houston, for example, is an incredibly diverse city with many sources of potential pollution hotspots. Area residents will be able to use the tool and better interpret environmental risks in the context of the local population.

EJSCREEN is a major advancement, but EPA is already thinking about what may come next for the tool. Right now, EPA wants you, the public, to use and explore this interim version and provide input ahead of the next release in early 2016. That version is set to include a vital dataset for understanding environmental risks: the National Air Toxics Assessment (NATA). The inclusion of this valuable dataset on some of the most hazardous air pollutants will greatly enhance the ability of EJSCREEN to characterize the environmental risk faced by many communities.

The tool comes at an important time for EJ at EPA, as they are preparing to finalize their “EJ 2020” framework that will establish their plan for advancing environmental justice over the next five years. EPA is accepting public input on the draft framework through July 14.

EPA is democratizing data with EJSCREEN. The ability to draw in nationally consistent datasets on demographics and environmental risks and present accessible maps and reports will be a major benefit to communities of all types. EDF is excited to share in the enthusiasm for the release of the interim version of the tool and is looking forward to seeing an even better tool in the future. EJSCREEN can be accessed publically and freely at http://www2.epa.gov/ejscreen.

Image source: flickr/Cheryl

Also posted in Health| Comments are closed
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