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The Trump Administration outlines its plans for EPA – and it’s bad news for our health

Across Republican and Democratic administrations alike, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has regularly identified and shared with the public a detailed list of the agency’s upcoming priority policy actions – safeguards that will help protect the air we breathe and the water we drink, assure the safety of chemicals in everyday products, and provide for proper handling of hazardous wastes.

But the Trump Administration unveiled its first such blueprint last week – and it takes dead aim at fundamental public health and environmental safeguards that are essential to protecting our communities and families. It’s an agenda that would lead to more pollution, fewer common sense safeguards, and more asthma attacks and premature deaths in communities across the country.

Here are a few key targets in the Trump Administration’s plan to dismantle vital public health and environmental safeguards:

Imperiled: the Clean Power Plan. The blueprint reiterates the Trump Administration’s intention to withdraw the Clean Power Plan. The agenda indicates no intent to provide a replacement program to limit dangerous climate pollution from existing power plants – one of America’s largest sources of this harmful pollution – despite the growing urgency of climate disruption, and despite three separate Supreme Court decisions underscoring EPA’s duty to protect Americans from this harmful pollution. The agenda’s justification for rolling back the Clean Power Plan rests on faulty legal reasoning that has been forcefully rejected by legal experts and is at odds with EPA’s past practices.

  • What’s at stake? The Clean Power Plan is one of the most significant actions America has ever taken to combat climate change. EPA estimates that when fully implemented, it would prevent up to 3,600 premature deaths and up to 90,000 asthma attacks per year.

Imperiled: limits on carbon pollution from new power plants. The Trump Administration also underscored its plans to end existing limits on carbon pollution from new power plants – an important complement to the Clean Power Plan. Yet again, this announcement includes no intention for a replacement safeguard.

  • What would be the result? New fossil fuel-fired power plants, which have lifespans in the decades, and emit staggering quantities of carbon pollution over their lifetimes, could be built with needlessly outdated, lower performing technologies.

Imperiled: pollution controls for oil and gas facilities. The Trump Administration’s plan also commits EPA to review pollution limits on new oil and gas facilities. These limits include measures for leak detection and repair – measures that save otherwise wasted natural gas, reduce pollution in surrounding communities, and create well-paying jobs. EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt has already taken steps to suspend these protections. His actions meant that more than 18,000 natural gas wells across America were no longer required to fix pollution leaks. While Administrator Pruitt’s suspension was recently found unlawful by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, the threat remains that EPA may fully revoke these important safeguards.

Imperiled: protections for Americans from smog. The Trump Administration’s plan also highlights Administrator Pruitt’s decision to suspend his duty to identify the regions that are failing to meet national air quality standards for ground-level ozone, commonly known as smog. Smog is a dangerous air pollutant linked to premature deaths, asthma attacks, lower birth weight in infants, and serious heart and lung diseases. EPA analysis indicates that Administrator Pruitt’s announced one-year suspension alone will lead to as many as 230,000 more asthma attacks among children.

Imperiled: protections for downwind communities from interstate air pollution. EPA has a long-standing responsibility to ensure that upwind facilities are good neighbors and do not discharge pollution that imperils public health in downwind states. The Trump Administration’s blueprint recognizes that there are six separate petitions pending before EPA in which downwind states are seeking the agency’s assistance to protect themselves against pollution drifting into their communities from dozens of upwind power plants. It is crucial that EPA carry out this responsibility to ensure that all Americans can breathe easier – but the agency is currently failing to act, and its blueprint provides no commitment to act despite clear legal responsibility under our nation’s clean air laws.

Changes to underlying EPA transparency protections

At the same time that the Trump Administration’s blueprint outlines a host of rollbacks for important pollution controls, it also identifies that the administration will be moving ahead with changes to underlying, fundamental EPA procedures and operational practices.

Here’s just one example:

  • Under review: EPA’s open records requirements. Under the Freedom of Information Act, EPA is required to share public records with the public. The Trump Administration’s agenda notes that EPA will be updating its own policies for implementation of the agency’s requirements under this vital transparency law. During Administrator Pruitt’s tenure as Oklahoma Attorney General, he had an extensive, troubling record of stonewalling these types of open records requests.

These changes are just as important to watch carefully, to ensure essential transparency and rigor in the administration’s conduct. So far, Administrator Pruitt has given ample reason for concern: shutting the public out of key decisions; refusing to share how he spends his time and with whom he meets; and a long history of intertwined relationships with the industries he’s supposed to oversee.

Are more rollbacks possible? President Trump and Administrator Pruitt signal yes

The above summary is hardly complete. The Trump Administration’s blueprint also highlights a host of harmful potential rollbacks for important protections for water, hazardous waste, and beyond.

Moreover, this blueprint may not reflect the full scope of future attacks. In other contexts, President Trump and Administrator Pruitt have taken aim at even more EPA protections against air pollution. For instance, President Trump has signaled his willingness to reconsider standards for emissions from cars and trucks – despite their record of saving consumers money, driving auto innovation, and reducing pollution. And Administrator Pruitt’s EPA has moved to pause litigation over mercury protections while the agency evaluates its position. (In the past, Pruitt even expressed doubt about mercury pollution’s well-established harmful impacts on brain development in kids.)

These risks are critical. But together we can turn back these threats, ensure healthier lives for all Americans, address dangerous climate pollution, and grow our clean energy economy.

Here at EDF we will be working to stop these rollbacks. Please join us, and take action! Click here to let EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt know that you support America’s public health and environmental protections.

Also posted in Clean Air Act, Clean Power Plan, Health, Policy| Comments are closed

Electric vehicles enter the here and now

A Ford at an electric car charging station in Buffalo, NY. Photo by Fortunate4now

The high level of confidence that automotive industry leaders have in the future of electric vehicles (EV’s) has been on full display recently.

In just the past few weeks:

This spurt of corporate announcements has been paired with a bevy of statements of international leadership:

These developments are more than just excitement about an emerging solution. They are indicators that the market for EVs is developing faster than anticipated even just last year.

Consider the findings of a new report from Bloomberg New Energy Finance. It found that:

[L]ithium-ion cell costs have already fallen by 73 percent since 2010.

The report updated its future cost projections to reflect further steep cost reductions in the years ahead, with a price per kilowatt-hour in 2025 of $109 and in 2030 of $73.

Cost reductions on this order would result in EVs achieving cost parity with some classes of conventional vehicles by 2025 – and across most vehicle segments by 2029, according to the report. EV sales are expected to really take off once they achieve cost parity with conventional vehicles, as the vehicles are significantly less expensive to fuel and maintain.

The acceleration in the EV market is great news for climate protection too. A recent assessment found that zero-emission vehicles, such as EVs, need to comprise 40 percent of new vehicles sold by 2030 in order for the automotive sector to be on a path to achieve critical mid-century emissions targets. With the momentum in the EV market, we have a critical window to further boost this market by ensuring greater access of electric vehicles and a cleaner electric grid to power them.

Unfortunately, the U.S. has not demonstrated the same appetite for national leadership on EVs as other countries. Even worse, we are going in the wrong direction – with serious implications for our health, climate and economy.

Instead of leading, the Trump Administration is undermining critical clean air and climate protections including the landmark clean car standards for 2022 to 2025. The actions of individual automakers, however, tell a very different story from the “can’t do it” mantra put forth by the Administration.

In their commitments, investments and new product introductions, automotive manufacturers and their suppliers are clearly telling us that low emissions vehicles can play a much bigger role in the near future.

The fact is that automakers can meet the existing 2022 to 2025 federal greenhouse gas standards through deployment of current conventional technology alone. Now, in addition to the robust pathway automakers have through existing technologies, EV adoption rates in the U.S. will be 10 percent in 2025 if the Bloomberg New Energy Finance forecasts hold true. This is further proof that the existing standards are highly achievable. Rather than weaken the standard, the Administration should be pursuing options to further scale EVs over the next decade.

Investing in clear car solutions is sound economic policy. These investments enhance the global competitiveness of the U.S. automotive sector.

This is why the UAW in a letter supporting the existing 2022 to 2025 clean car standards, noted:

UAW members know firsthand that Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) and greenhouse gas (GHG) standards have spurred investments in new products that employ tens of thousands of our members.

Like other key aspects of the potential of the emerging EV marketplace, the role it can play as an employer has been in the news recently too.

An AM General assembly plant in northern Indiana was acquired by electric vehicle manufacture SF Motors. The company announced that it will make a $30 million investment in the facility and keep on all the 430 employees.

Fittingly, most of the 430 jobs that were saved to manufacture an emerging, clean technology are represented by UAW Local 5 – the oldest continuously operating UAW Local in the country.

Also posted in Cars and Pollution, Economics, Energy, Green Jobs, Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Jobs, Partners for Change, Policy| Comments are closed

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Posted in News| Comments are closed

Pruitt listens to industry — not the public — on important decisions that affect public health

My EDF colleagues and fellow attorneys won an important victory for public health this month when the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected an effort by EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt to suspend vital limits on oil and gas pollution. 

There’s an important detail to this story that you might have missed. Turns out the public got no opportunity to provide any feedback on Pruitt’s decision, even though it put their health at risk. Instead, Pruitt abruptly declared he was granting this suspension through a letter to industry, with no formal notice given to the public until well afterwards — and no opportunity provided for public input.   

Unfortunately, this is just one example of a consistent pattern of conduct. Again and again, Pruitt has shut the public out of key decisions while giving a direct line to industry laggards and their allies.

Public safeguards undermined without public input 

Early in his tenure, one of Pruitt’s very first actions was to withdraw a request for information on pollution levels from oil and gas facilities — acting unilaterally, with no advanced notice and no opportunity for public input.

Most of what we know about Pruitt’s decision comes from Attorney General Ken Paxton of Texas, who has battled pollution safeguards while fundraising from fossil fuel interests, mirroring Pruitt’s approach as Oklahoma Attorney General.

Paxton openly bragged about his role in driving Pruitt to eliminate this information request:

I personally handed him the letter, and the next day the rule was personally withdrawn.

While Paxton got an opportunity for input, the public never had a chance to weigh in on this decision. Not surprisingly, Pruitt’s announcement hailed the withdrawal’s benefits for the oil and gas industry while ignoring Americans’ right to know about harmful pollution from oil and gas facilities.

A pattern of shutting out everyday Americans

This practice has been repeated across different sectors and different safeguards.

Pruitt delayed the implementation of health-based limits on ground-level ozone, commonly called smog, without any opportunity for public input. The standards would prevent 230,000 childhood asthma attacks every year.

Pruitt delayed toxic wastewater standards for power plants without public input. Same for a program to manage risks of accidents at petroleum refineries and other major chemical plants.

A recent rollback request from the landfills industry called for a delay to important improvements to pollution standards that had not been substantially updated in 20 years. The request was granted via a letter from Pruitt to industry representatives with no opportunity for public comment — and formal public notice wasn’t provided until more than two weeks after the delay was granted.  

Who is guiding Pruitt’s decisions? The public is in the dark

Pruitt has made the unusual and troubling decision to end public access to his calendar and the calendar of senior EPA managers in spite of a bipartisan EPA history of making those calendars public. Without access to the calendars, it’s impossible to know who is meeting with the Administrator or his senior staff — and who is informing their decision-making.

What little information we’ve learned about his calendar is that it’s been “filled” with meetings with industry interests. Many of these meetings are with the same individuals or companies benefiting from his rollbacks. In just one example, Pruitt gathered with the American Petroleum Institute board of directors behind closed doors early in his tenure, soon before rolling back oil and gas protections.

Pruitt’s intertwined relationship with major industry interests goes back to before he became EPA Administrator to his time as the Attorney General of Oklahoma. In a 2014 exposé, he was documented copying and pasting industry requests and sending them to EPA, nearly word for word, on Oklahoma Attorney General letterhead. Pruitt has defended this conduct as “representative government in my view,” begging the question of who Pruitt thinks he’s supposed to represent.

Industry representatives in senior leadership

Pruitt isn’t only hearing from industry voices outside the agency. Within EPA, his leadership team is filled with former industry representatives.

In just one recent example, the agency’s new senior deputy general counsel, Erik Baptist, was previously a top lawyer at the American Petroleum Institute — which has been lobbying, among other things, to repeal EPA safeguards that reduce harmful methane pollution from oil and gas operations. Baptist is just the latest example of the pervasive conflicts of interest among Pruitt’s senior staff.

Accountable to the law 

Fortunately, Pruitt’s practice of leaving the public in the dark is getting pushback. The recent D.C. Circuit decision in the oil and gas methane case is an important step in holding him accountable to the law. Pruitt must listen to all voices — including those of members of the public — as he makes decisions with serious implications for public health and welfare. 

 

Also posted in EPA litgation, Policy, Setting the Facts Straight| Comments are closed

Huge Antarctic iceberg breaks off. Here's why it worries scientists.

The massive rift in the Antarctic Peninsula's Larsen C ice shelf, photographed by NASA scientists in November 2016. Photo by Stuart Rankin.

This post was co-authored by Mason Fried, a Ph.D. student of glaciology at the University of Texas Institute for Geophysics. It originally appeared on EDF Voices.

Scientists watched with alarm this week as the fourth-largest ice shelf in Antarctica rapidly broke apart, causing an enormous, Delaware-size iceberg to float into the Southern Ocean.

Scientists had been observing the anomalous rift widening across a section of the so-called Larsen C ice shelf for the past several years. Now they’re left with some critical questions: What are this event’s broader consequences for the Antarctic ice sheet, what happens next, and – importantly – what role did climate change play here?

Antarctica: A frontline for climate change

So far, scientists have been hesitant to attribute the Larsen C ice shelf breakup to rising global temperatures.

Indeed, such events – known to scientists as “calving” – occur naturally and are essential for maintaining ice shelf balance. Without them, ice shelves would grow unabated to cover large swaths of the Southern Ocean.

Still, the magnitude and timing of this ice loss warrants attention.

The Antarctic Peninsula, where the Larsen ice shelves reside, has long been viewed as a frontline for climate change. Warming in the peninsula exceeds the global average, glaciers there are retreating, and two other ice shelves on the peninsula already collapsed over the past couple of decades after being stable for thousands of years.

Such changes will help raise global sea levels by 3 to 6 feet by 2100, projections show, affecting dense coastal communities along our Eastern seaboard and across the globe.

Ice breakup starts chain reaction

We do know that this latest ice separation could set in motion a string of chain reactions that further destabilize the ice shelf and surrounding glaciers, and ultimately contribute to global sea level rise.

Ice shelves are floating extensions of grounded glaciers and ice sheets that, importantly, buttress and impede inland ice flow. When an ice shelf collapses or becomes weaker, this defense disappears, allowing inland glaciers to accelerate downslope and transport more ice to the ocean, which can quickly affect sea level.

Scientists worry that the remnant Larsen C ice shelf will now be at considerable risk of further breakup.

The new ice berg reduced the ice shelf area by more than 12 percent when it broke off, leaving behind an ice shelf that is inherently unstable. This can, in turn, trigger new ice cracks and rifting, and cause more icebergs to break off – further increasing the possibility of runaway ice loss amid rising global temperatures.

Whether or not this latest calving event will be attributed to climate change, it’s safe to say that it will make the region more vulnerable to the impacts of global warming.

Climate change caused 2002 ice shelf collapse

The Larsen C ice shelf, named for a Norwegian whaling vessel captain who sailed the Southern Sea in the late 1800s, has two smaller northern neighbors known as Larsen A and Larsen B – both of which collapsed in the past 23 years.

Those events taught us that ice sheets, landscapes we used to think of as stable and slow to change, can actually transform rapidly.

The Larsen B collapse was particularly dramatic, with nearly the entire ice shelf disintegrating during a three-week period in 2002 after remaining stable for at least 10,000 years.

The speed of that event was unprecedented and attributed directly to increasing atmospheric warming, although rising ocean temperatures and long-term ice loss from surrounding glaciers may also have played a role.

A hint of what’s to come?

After the Larsen B shelf collapse, researchers observed dramatic increases in glacier speed, thinning and ice transfer to the ocean.

Some researchers are already drawing parallels between this week’s Larsen C collapse and the series of events that led to the eventual collapse of Larsen B. The latter experienced a similar large calving event in 1995 that foreshadowed further retreat and widespread disintegration in 2002.

While it remains to be seen if and when Larsen C will meet the same fate, warning signs are already in place. What’s happening to the Larsen ice shelves could, in fact, be a proxy for what’s to come across even larger sections of the Antarctic ice sheet unless we take action to slow warming.

Also posted in Arctic & Antarctic, Science| Comments are closed

Cleaning the air saves lives and creates an engine for job growth

The Clean Air Act has a long, well-documented history of reducing pollution, and thus improving – and often even saving – lives in America.

This bedrock law represents one of the greatest environmental and health success stories in the world. Gross Domestic Product in the U.S. has grown 246 percent over the life of the Clean Air Act while at the same time pollutants have been reduced 71 percent.

The Clean Air Act has led to enormous innovation in technology

The Clean Air Act has helped launch innovation in technologies that reduce pollution –technologies which in many cases can be exported around the world.

We know from previous experience with standards we adopted to reduce sulfur dioxide emissions from power plants in 1971 and 1979 that pollution standards can reduce emissions substantially, and that the more the technology is deployed to meet the standards the more costs go down. The Clean Air Act helped create a market demand for various pollution control technologies by creating standards for pollutants, including for sulfur dioxide. (Read more from technology experts who filed a legal brief in support of carbon standards for power plants)

Source: The Effect of Government Actions on Technological Innovation for SO2 Control. The EPA/DOE/EPRI Mega Symposium, August 20-23, 2001.

America’s homegrown environmental protection industry

The U.S. is the single largest producer of environmental technologies in the world, capturing 29 percent of the world’s $1.05 trillion market.

In 2015, there were an estimated 1.73 million jobs in the U.S. environmental industry, with projected growth of 3 to 4 percent over the next several years.

According to the U.S. government, 99 percent of the businesses in this industry were small to medium-sized. U.S. environmental companies exported about $48 billion in goods in 2013. At the same time, 2005 data from U.S. manufacturers indicate that their expenses for reducing pollution account for less than one percent of the value of the goods they ship.

Environmental protection standards can drive jobs in a myriad of sectors including manufacturing, engineering, construction, operations, and more.

Some examples of jobs and industries created by specific EPA clean air protections include:

Clean air saves lives and improves productivity

Cleaner air saves lives and protects the health of American families.

According to a landmark analysis, in 2010 alone the Clean Air Act prevented 160,000 deaths.

It also prevented 13 million lost workdays and 3.2 million lost school days because of illnesses and diseases caused or exacerbated by air pollution. The value of avoiding those lost work and school days in 2010 was approximately $2 billion.

That same landmark analysis estimates that the central benefits of the Clean Air Act outweigh costs by more than 30 to one.

The evidence is clear – environmental protection helps improves lives and grow the economy.

Posted in News| Comments are closed
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