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The Environmental Protection Agency has restored healthier air and cleaner water for millions of Americans, bringing our country back from the brink of far-reaching – and dangerous – industrial pollution. All Americans in red, purple and blue states alike have benefited profoundly from the balanced safeguards EPA has put in place.
Gutting EPA, as proposed by some, imperils American lives, puts our children and communities at serious health risk, and will have lasting public health and environmental consequences for future generations.
Here is a snapshot of EPA by the numbers:
EPA established with bi-partisan support by Republican President Richard Nixon
Percent of Americans across the country who think EPA should stay the same or be strengthened
Lives saved each year by EPA’s implementation of the Clean Air Act in 2020
Asthma attacks prevented each year by EPA’s implementation of the Clean Air Act in 2020
Avoided lost school or work days each year due to EPA’s implementation of the Clean Air Act in 2020
Ratio of benefits to costs– the Clean Air Act provides $30 in health benefits for every $1 invested in compliance
Number of enforcement actions concluded in fiscal year 2016 under the Clean Water Act and Safe Drinking Water Act
Pounds of hazardous waste EPA enforcement actions required companies to commit to treat, minimize, or properly dispose of in fiscal year 2016
Cubic yards of contaminated soil and groundwater cleanup commitments secured in fiscal year 2016 alone (enough to fill the Empire State Building over 138 times)
Number of compliance inspections and evaluations EPA conducted in fiscal year 2016
EPA staff in 2016 – already down from 18,110 staff in 1999
EPA staff under the Trump Administration’s proposed draconian budget cuts (assumes a 25 percent cut in EPA staff). This would put staff near 1984 levels
Pounds of toxic mercury cut from coal plants by the Mercury and Air Toxics Rule
EPA Administrator who laughed about dismantling the EPA – 1 in over 40 years
EPA has saved and improved millions of Americans’ lives while our nation has also had tremendous economic growth and prosperity, as the graphic below demonstrates. Gross Domestic Product, population, vehicle miles traveled, and energy consumption have risen dramatically while the U.S. has reduced lethal particulates, lead, sulfur dioxide, smog, and other contaminants.
Unfortunately, many Americans still struggle with dirty air and unclean water supplies. And we are all at risk from the threat of climate change. The progress that EPA has made in protecting Americans needs to be continued and strengthened, not cut back. We need EPA operating on all cylinders – fully staffed — to protect human health and the environment for all Americans.
(EDF Attorney Ben Levitan co-authored this post)
It’s barely a week since Scott Pruitt was confirmed as EPA Administrator, and he has already provided yet another indication of why he has no business leading the agency.
In an interview with The Wall Street Journal, Pruitt says he wants to undertake a “careful review” as to whether EPA has the “tools” to address climate change under the Clean Air Act. Pruitt further states that EPA should withdraw the Clean Power Plan – a vital climate and public health measure to reduce carbon pollution from the nation’s power plants – and instead wait for Congress to act on the issue of climate change.
Those statements are contrary to the law and disconnected from reality. As Pruitt surely knows, the federal courts – including three separate decisions of the Supreme Court – have made it abundantly clear that the Clean Air Act requires EPA to protect the public from dangerous pollutants that are disrupting our climate. The courts have repeatedly rejected Pruitt’s theory that climate pollution is an issue that only Congress can address through new legislation.
Over the last eight years, EPA has demonstrated that the Clean Air Act is an effective tool for addressing the threat of climate change — by putting in place common sense, highly cost-effective measures to reduce climate pollution from cars and trucks, power plants, oil and gas facilities, and other sources. These actions under the Clean Air Act are saving lives, strengthening the American economy, and yielding healthier air and a safer climate for our children.
Pruitt’s casual willingness to abandon that progress based on a discredited legal theory demonstrates deep contempt for the laws he is charged with administering and the mission of the agency he now leads.
EPA Is Legally Obligated to Address Climate Pollution
The Supreme Court has repeatedly held that EPA clearly has the authority and responsibility to address climate pollution under the Clean Air Act:
- In Massachusetts v. EPA (549 U.S. 497, 2007), the Supreme Court held that climate pollutants plainly fall within the broad definition of “air pollutants” covered by the Clean Air Act. The Court ordered EPA to make a science-based determination as to whether those pollutants endanger public health and welfare (a determination that EPA ultimately made in 2009, and that has been upheld by the federal courts).
- In American Electric Power v. Connecticut (564 U.S. 410, 2011), the Supreme Court held that the Clean Air Act “speaks directly” to the problem of climate pollution from power plants.
- In Utility Air Regulatory Group v. EPA (134 S. Ct. 2427, 2014), the Supreme Court held that the Clean Air Act obligated EPA to address climate pollution from new and modified industrial facilities.
In Massachusetts v. EPA, the Bush Administration’s EPA made — and the Supreme Court rejected —Pruitt’s same argument that EPA lacks the authority and tools to address climate pollution.
The Supreme Court said in no uncertain terms that:
The statutory text forecloses EPA’s reading … Because greenhouse gases fit well within the Clean Air Act’s capacious definition of ‘air pollutant,’ we hold that EPA has the statutory authority to regulate the emission of such gases from new motor vehicles. (emphasis added)
The Supreme Court went on to explain that – contrary to what Pruitt is now saying – Congress intended to provide EPA with the tools it needed to address new air pollution challenges, including climate change:
While the Congresses that drafted [the Clean Air Act] might not have appreciated the possibility that burning fossil fuels could lead to global warming, they did understand that without regulatory flexibility, changing circumstances and scientific developments would soon render the Clean Air Act obsolete. The broad language [of the Act] reflects an intentional effort to confer the flexibility necessary to forestall such obsolescence. (emphasis added)
The Court also found that nothing about climate pollution distinguishes it from other forms of air pollution long regulated under the Clean Air Act. It rejected the Bush Administration’s attempt to argue that climate pollution is somehow “different,” saying that theory was a “plainly unreasonable” reading of the Clean Air Act and “finds no support in the text of the statute.”
That was the law under the Bush Administration – and it remains the law today. It is a binding, rock-solid precedent regardless of who is running EPA at any given time.
Pruitt ought to know all this, because he was one of the Attorneys General who joined polluters and their allies in challenging EPA’s determination that climate pollution endangers public health and welfare.
That 2009 determination was in response to Massachusetts v. EPA, and it was based on an immense body of authoritative scientific literature as well as consideration of more than 380,000 public comments. Yet in their legal challenge to the determination, Pruitt and his allies again argued that EPA should have declined to make an endangerment finding based on the supposed difficulty of regulating climate pollution under the Clean Air Act.
A unanimous panel of the D.C. Circuit rejected those claims, finding that:
These contentions are foreclosed by the language of the statute and the Supreme Court’s decision in Massachusetts v. EPA … the additional exercises [state and industry challengers] would have EPA undertake … do not inform the ‘scientific judgment’ that [the Clean Air Act] requires of EPA … the Supreme Court has already held that EPA indeed wields the authority to regulate greenhouse gases under the CAA. (Coalition for Responsible Regulation v. EPA, 684 F.3d 102, D.C. Cir. 2012, emphasis added)
The Supreme Court did not even regard further challenges to the endangerment finding as worthy of its review. (See Order Denying Certiorari, Sub Nom Virginia v. EPA, 134 S.Ct. 418, 2013)
Pruitt’s suggestion that EPA should stop applying the Clean Air Act’s protections to an important category of pollutants – greenhouse gases – amounts to a repeal of Congress’s core judgment that all air pollutants that cause hazards to human health and the environment need to be addressed under the Clean Air Act. It is an audacious and aggressive effort to alter the Clean Air Act in a way that Congress has never done (and has specifically declined to do when such weakening amendments have been proposed).
EPA Has Established a Strong Record of Successful Climate Protections
Pruitt’s statements also ignore the pragmatic way in which EPA has carried out its legal obligations to address climate pollution. Since Massachusetts v. EPA was decided, EPA has issued common sense, cost-effective measures for major sources of climate pollution – including power plants; cars and trucks; the oil and gas sector; and municipal solid waste landfills.
These actions demonstrate that Pruitt is flatly wrong to suggest that EPA lacks the “tools” to address climate change under the Clean Air Act. They include:
- The Clean Power Plan will reduce carbon pollution from the nation’s power plants to 32 percent below 2005 levels by 2030, while providing states and power companies with the flexibility to meet their targets through highly cost-effective measures – including shifting to cleaner sources of generation and using consumer-friendly energy efficiency programs that would reduce average household electricity bills by $85 per year. The Clean Power Plan will protect public health too, resulting in 90,000 fewer childhood asthma attacks, 300,000 fewer missed school and work days, and 3,600 fewer premature deaths every year by 2030. The value of these health benefits alone exceeds the costs by a factor of four, and the climate benefits are roughly as large.
- EPA’s standards for cars and other light-duty vehicles, will save the average American family $8,000 over the lifetime of a new vehicle through reduced fuel costs – while saving 12 billion barrels of oil and avoiding 6 billion metric tons of carbon pollution. A recent analysis by EPA and the U.S. Department of Transportation found that manufacturers are reaching these standards ahead of schedule and at a lower cost than originally anticipated.
- The most recent Clean Truck Standards, which were finalized in August 2016, will save truck owners a total of $170 billion in lower fuel costs, ultimately resulting in $400 in annual household savings by 2035 – while also reducing carbon pollution by 1.1 billion tons over the life of the program. These benefits are one reason why the Clean Truck Standards have broad support from manufacturers, truck operators, fleet owners and shippers.
- EPA’s methane emission standards for new and modified oil and gas facilities, finalized in June 2016, will generate climate benefits equivalent to taking 8.5 million vehicles off the nation’s roads – while having minimal impact on industry.
When Scott Pruitt suggests that the Clean Air Act is a poor fit for regulating climate pollution, he overlooks the clear command of the statute, as confirmed repeatedly by the Supreme Court. He also ignores EPA’s successful history of issuing regulations that protect the environment while promoting significant health and economic benefits.
Pruitt might try to distort the truth in an effort to wipe climate protections off the books — subjecting our children and grandchildren to the dire health, security and economic effects of unlimited climate pollution in the process. But the law and the facts are not on his side.
EPA must address climate pollution under the Clean Air Act, and it has the tools to do so effectively.
Scott Pruitt’s Misleading Senate Testimony – Will ‘Alternative Science’ Replace Real Science at EPA?
As a climate scientist who is trained to base his conclusions strictly on scientific evidence and not politics, I find it particularly troubling that Scott Pruitt, President Trump’s pick to head the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), is misrepresenting the scientific data that shows the earth’s atmosphere is warming.
Pruitt hopes to run the agency responsible for protecting the lives and health of Americans from environmental threats, and that includes reducing greenhouse gas emissions that are warming the planet. And as the Supreme Court has ruled, EPA has the authority to address greenhouse gases.
However, in his testimony before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee on January 18, and then in follow-up written answers to Senators, Pruitt made several misleading, or flat-out inaccurate, statements.
In his attempt at subterfuge, Pruitt leaned on false and misleading climate-skeptic myths that have been debunked time and time again.
For instance, consider this one question and answer:
Written question from Sen. Jeff Merkley: Are you aware that each of the past three decades has been warmer than the one before, and warmer than all the previous decades since record keeping began in the 1880s? This trend is based on actual temperature measurements. Do you believe that there is uncertainty in this warming trend that has been directly measured? If so, please explain.
Written answer from Scott Pruitt: I am aware of a diverse range of conclusions regarding global temperatures, including that over the past two decades satellite data indicates there has been a leveling off of warming, which some scientists refer to as the "hiatus." I am also aware that the discrepancy between land-based temperature stations and satellite temperature stations can be attributed to expansive urbanization within in our country where artificial substances such as asphalt can interfere with the accuracy of land-based temperature stations and that the agencies charged with keeping the data do not accurately account for this type of interference. I am also aware that 'warmest year ever' claims from NASA and NOAA are based on minimal temperature differences that fall within the margin of error. Finally, I am aware that temperatures have been changing for millions of years that predate the relatively short modern record keeping efforts that began in 1880. (Questions for the Record, page 145)
In response to the scientific evidence that the last three decades have each been warmer than the one before it, Mr. Pruitt offered negligent claims that both the satellite data and surface based observations have shown there to be no warming over the last two decades – the so-called global warming hiatus.
Science does not agree with this assessment.
The idea of a hiatus and a potential discrepancy between satellite and surface based data have been under intense objective scrutiny by the scientific community for some time – and the results are in:
- NOAA scientists recently published a peer reviewed article in the Journal Science that clearly shows the “hiatus” to have never existed.
- Then last month a follow up study, undertaken by a separate group of researchers as an objective check on the NOAA result, also confirmed that the global warming hiatus never happened.
- Additionally, the alleged satellite discrepancy has also been debunked – its origin an artifact of necessary, but potentially faulty, post-processing techniques that are employed when using data gathered by a satellite from space, as opposed to direct surface temperature measurements from thermometers. Stated plainly, raw satellite observations from space are not as accurate as those taken in the actual location, so these raw observations need to be quality controlled for scientific accuracy.
Next, in the same answer, in what can only be described as countering his own misguided narrative, Pruitt attempted to blame the increasing temperature trend – which he just stated did not exist via the hiatus argument – on an unfounded discrepancy between satellite based and urban land based data.He claimed the increase in urbanization was causing a fictitious rise in global temperature – an impact long shown to be minimal at best, especially when applied to the massive geographic expanse of the world relative to the lesser change in the geographic extent of cities.
Pruitt went on to quibble with the fact that 2016 was the warmest year ever recorded, by overemphasizing the role of negligible differences in how various scientific agencies around the world calculate the globally averaged temperature.
Actually, the diversity of approaches is a scientific strength, because it provides a balanced view of the data – much like seeking a second opinion on a medical diagnosis. It's vital to note that despite these trivial differences in methodology, the three long-running analyses by NASA, NOAA, and Great Britain’s UK Met Office all showed 2014 to 2016 to be the three consecutive warmest years on record. This fact is indisputable.
Pruitt concluded his misdirection by pointing out his awareness that temperatures have been changing for millions of years, and predating the relatively short modern record. Mr. Pruitt is indeed correct that the rapid warming in recent decades is quite alarming in the context of the much slower and longer term natural changes – although I don’t think that was what he was trying to say.
Pruitt seemed unaware of the latest scientific evidence on the various topics he chose to explore during his testimony. That indicates an ignorance of science coupled with a lack of preparation which adds up to being unfit to lead a scientifically-based government agency.
The century-old industry has been hailed as the fastest U.S. job creator – expanding payroll by “nearly 35 percent” in recent years. Manufacturers have introduced dozens of new, fuel-efficient models. Technology companies and automotive manufacturers are collaborating more than ever to add features, and to get the world ready for self-driving vehicles.
The need for climate action has been a critical driving factor in each of these trends.
The Clean Car Standards have been focusing auto industry investment and innovations since they were finalized in 2010. Over that time, the automobile industry has made a dramatic return to profitability and added jobs – all while exceeding the Clean Car Standards. The industry has also started to bring to market a new generation of fuel-saving solutions.
Confirmation of these trends could be found at the recent Consumer Electronics Show and the Detroit Auto Show, where manufacturers paraded out their latest developments.
- Ford stated that it expects sales of electric vehicles will overtake sales of gas-fueled vehicles within 15 years. Ford showcased its ability to improve conventional vehicles by unveiling the 2018 model Ford F150 – the best selling vehicle in the U.S. – with options for a more fuel efficient 3.3 liter six cylinder engine and automatic stop-start technology. It also announced new hybrid versions of the F-150 and Mustang by 2020. The company promised a new fully electric SUV vehicle with 300-mile range by 2020.
- General Motors (GM) celebrated having the fully-electric, 238-mile range Chevy Bolt awarded the North American Car of the Year or Truck of the Year. The Chevy Bolt was previously awarded Motor Trend Car of the Year. The Bolt, which came to market last month, is also at the center of GM’s work on self-driving vehicle technology
- Nissan announced a new generation of its LEAF electric vehicle, with “autonomous drive functionality" for highways.
- Honda publicized its plan to introduce a new, U.S.-made hybrid vehicle in 2018 and roll out its Clarity Electric and the Clarity Plug-In Hybrid vehicles.
- Toyota appointed its president (grandson of the company’s founder) to lead their newly formed electric car division, in an effort to “speed up development of electric cars.”
- Volkswagen – unveiled a prototype electric van capable of a 270-mile range and with room for eight-passengers. The company has committed to have at least 25 percent of its global sales be electric vehicles by 2025.
- Samsung introduced a new lithium-ion battery cell for electric vehicles. The battery promises over 350 miles of range and a 20-minute fast charge. The battery is slated for production in 2021.
- Tesla declared that its gigafactory for battery production was open for business. The Reno, Nevada facility already employees almost 3,000 workers, and is ultimately expected to employ 6,500 in full-time positions.
- Mercedes announced in Paris last year that electric cars would account for 25 percent of the company’s deliveries in 2025, backed by plans to invest $1.1 billion in battery technology.
As these developments show, automakers and their suppliers are investing and bringing to market clean vehicle solutions beyond what even the Clean Car Standards require.
These companies are making these investments because there is a robust domestic market for clean cars. Electric vehicle sales in the U.S., for example, were up more than 50 percent in the second half of 2016 (compared to 2015).
Companies are also making these investments to stay competitive in a global race that will define the next chapter of mobility. GM, for example, had a third of its global sales in China in 2016. China is the largest market worldwide for electric vehicles and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles, and if U.S. automakers want to be competitive there they will need to stay on the leading edge of the technology curve. Autotomy and electrification will be the hallmarks of this new, global chapter.
By driving more investment in future offerings, the Clean Car Standards help position U.S. manufacturers to win this race at home and abroad.
This perspective was recently voiced by the United Auto Workers, which noted:
“Our competitors around the globe are working to strengthen environmental standards and it would be counterproductive to enact policies that provide disincentives for investing in advanced technologies and improving efficiency. History has taught us that a diverse fleet is essential for strong export sales and keeping jobs in the United States. Efficiency and emission standards can and must continue to be a win-win for the environment, working families, domestic manufacturing and the overall economy.”
We couldn’t agree more.
So here we are again with yet another annual global temperature record. That’s right, 2016 will go down as the warmest year globally since record-keeping began, with preliminary reports indicating that 2016 was 1.3 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial times.
If it feels like you’ve heard this song before it’s because you have. The last three years have all smashed the previous year’s record for highest globally averaged temperature, a clear signal that the Earth continues its unprecedented rate of warming.
For sure, the 2016 record was helped along somewhat by one of the strongest El Niño events on record, but we also know that over many years, such cycles have very little to do with the overall global warming trend from rising greenhouse gas emissions. The trajectory is clear.
But there’s more to the story. As temperatures rise, we’re also learning more about how these rising temperatures affect our weather – and extreme weather events, in particular.
With the help of new and evolving climate research, we’re detecting a stronger link between warming and changing weather patterns.
Rapid response: Climate analysis in real time
Until recently, all studies on climate attribution were typically published a year or more after a big storm or heat wave, long after news headlines and public attention had waned.
But the science of climate attribution – an emerging and rapidly advancing branch of climate science that separates out the greenhouse gas cause from naturally occurring causes to quantify the human impact – is becoming nimble.
The World Weather Attribution project, an international effort “to sharpen and accelerate the scientific community’s ability to analyze and communicate the possible influence of climate change on extreme-weather events,” now conducts initial analyses in near real time.
In 2016, this project covered the March coral bleaching in the Pacific Ocean, the May European rain storms, the August Louisiana floods, the extreme Arctic warming during November and December, and the December cold air outbreak over the United States – all significant weather events.
In four of the five events, scientists found links to human-caused climate change, with the December cold air outbreak being the only event without a discernible human fingerprint.
The next step for climate science: to project how future weather events will change under different scenarios spelled out by the 2015 Paris climate agreement.
Extreme weather in a 1.5° or 2° degree world
Scientists are engaged in a new international research effort trying to predict differences in weather extremes under both a 1.5 degrees and 2 degrees Celsius warmer world, the targets discussed during the Paris climate talks.
Although climate change impacts on weather extremes are already underway, as 2016 has shown, it is critical to understand potential socioeconomic consequences under these two policy scenarios.
We’ve already experienced more than 1 degree Celsius of global warming and its impacts. The big question now is to what extent the next degree will be worse than the first.
As we continue to break heat records, quicker climate analyses and better predictions will be critical as we adjust to our rapidly changing climate – and science is on the case.