Selected category: Policy

New records just released under FOIA raise an important question: Did the Trump transition team consider dismissing EPA’s Inspector General?

Recently released documents from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) suggest that President Trump’s transition team considered — then decided against — dismissing EPA’s Inspector General.

Myron Ebell, who headed the transition at EPA for then-President-Elect Trump, emailed an EPA career staffer on January 13, 2017 that the transition team, “want[ed] to retain the EPA’s IG for the present.”

Ebell wanted to relay the information to the Inspector General “without any formal communication.” He went on to express a strong preference for delivering the message himself, rather than delegating to EPA career staff.

These documents were released under a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request.

Myron Ebell’s stint leading the EPA transition was a brief departure from his usual job at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, where his polluter-funded work aims to slash health and environmental protections and spread climate denialism. It is currently unclear why he — or any member of the Trump transition team — needed to reach out to EPA’s Inspector General for a conversation about job security.

Notably, Ebell’s January 13, 2017 email message was expressly hedged, indicating only that the Inspector General would be retained “for the present.”

For 30 years, dismissing Inspectors General has not been a normal part of presidential transitions. Only President Reagan — the first President to assume office after Congress created Inspectors General — did so, and he partly backtracked under intense political pressure.

Now, the Trump Administration has taken worrying steps toward undermining the integrity of Inspectors General across the federal government.

Congress created the position of Inspector General at federal agencies in order to conduct audits and to prevent waste, fraud, and abuse.

The statute creating the position provides that Inspectors General:

[S]hall be appointed by the President, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, without regard to political affiliation and solely on the basis of integrity and demonstrated ability in accounting, auditing, financial analysis, law, management analysis, public administration, or investigations. (emphasis added)

Congress has repeatedly emphasized the need for independent Inspectors General:

  • A 2010 amendment to the Inspector General Act required the President to provide Congress with advance notice and explanation before removing an Inspector General from office.
  • Congress further enhanced the role of Inspector General with the bipartisan Inspector General Empowerment Act of 2016.

Since assuming office in 2010, EPA’s Inspector General has pursued investigations under both President Obama and President Trump.

Subjecting Inspectors General to political pressure utterly defies the Congressional objective of independent oversight at federal agencies. It sets the stage for corruption and puts taxpayer dollars at risk.

Myron Ebell’s involvement in discussions about the EPA Inspector General’s employment status raises two pressing questions:

  • Why was the EPA Inspector General’s job status ever in doubt among the Trump transition team?
  • Why did Myron Ebell want to conceal his communication with the Inspector General?

The Trump Administration and Myron Ebell owe the public answers to these questions.

Also posted in Jobs, News, Setting the Facts Straight| Comments are closed

Why are the networks ignoring a major cause of stronger storms?

The two-fisted gut punch of Harvey and Irma devastated Caribbean islands, swamped major American cities, blacked out power for millions, and exposed who-knows-how-many people to toxic soup of polluted floodwaters. But one thing these immensely powerful storms could not do was move the television networks to talk about how these storms got to be so strong.

The Sunday morning news shows, which still help determine the narrative for the Capital, failed to mention the clear connection between these more powerful storms and climate change. The hurricanes were covered, of course, but the scientifically established link between our warming climate and their increased destructive power was raised on only one of the four* major talk shows (CNN’s State of the Union with Jake Tapper), according to the non-profit group Media Matters.

More broadly, the study found that two broadcast networks, ABC and NBC, failed to air a “single segment on their morning, evening, or Sunday news shows” on the link between climate change and the storms.

The reality is that warmer waters fuel big hurricanes, warmer air holds more water, and rising sea levels surge higher and father. In short, climate change puts storms on steroids. A point NASA drove home as Irma approached Florida with this tweet:

Without serious coverage of this connection, we are left with only political propaganda from the White House and its allies. President Trump and EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt have repeatedly denied or downplayed the facts of climate science, even though every major American scientific organization has recognized this reality.

These attempts to deny the science are, not surprisingly, backed up by voices like Rush Limbaugh, who claimed last week that the discussion of stronger hurricanes was based on a “desire to advance this climate change agenda” – and then promptly evacuated his Florida studio.

Pruitt is trying to bury the views of the scientific community on climate change generally. The latest climate assessment by government scientists sheds light on the topic of climate change and hurricanes. But Pruitt is sitting on the report because there is apparently never a time he wants people thinking about climate change.

According to the “final draft” of the report, which was provided to the New York Times by authors worried about Pruitt’s political interference, it is “likely” that hurricanes’ maximum wind speeds and rainfall rates will increase. Pruitt has said that he is going to review the report, and it hasn’t been seen since.

The failure to inform the public about the link between more climate pollution and stronger storms – along with more wildfire, droughts, increasing flows of refugees, and other climate costs – means we are more likely to continue down the path toward a more dangerous future. Already, we are paying billions to clean up and rebuild after these storms; Citigroup has estimated that the total bill for unchecked climate change will be more than $40 trillion.

The networks have a lot on their plate covering Washington these days. There’s no shortage of misinformation to correct, and many serious stories to cover. But it’s hard to think of many that are a bigger threat to public health and well-being than the continued rampage of climate change. And just as with any other big story, the causes – not just immediately visible impacts – must be part of the reporting.

*Meet the Press was pre-empted.

Also posted in Basic Science of Global Warming, Extreme Weather, Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Science| Read 2 Responses

Scott Pruitt’s relentless distortions of climate science and law

This summer was anything but quiet for climate policy.

In June, President Trump announced that the U.S. would withdraw from the Paris climate agreement.

In July, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit blocked Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt's attempt to suspend protections from climate-destabilizing oil and gas pollution, calling the move “unauthorized” and “unreasonable.”

In August, two judges of the same court reminded EPA of its “affirmative statutory obligation to regulate greenhouse gases,” citing longstanding Supreme Court precedent.

Now, the devastation caused by Hurricane Harvey and the record strength of Hurricane Irma are showing us what’s at stake, as sea level rises and extreme weather becomes more frequent.

Meanwhile, Administrator Pruitt has continued his pattern of deeply misleading statements about climate change and EPA’s responsibility to protect public health and the environment.

Pruitt uses these statements in an attempt to justify rolling back vital public health and environmental safeguards. In just his first four months in office, he took action against more than 30 health and environmental protections, including the Clean Power Plan — our first and only national limit on carbon pollution from existing power plants.

As America’s proven, life-saving environmental protections come under attack, here are four facts about climate law and science to help cut through Pruitt’s distortions.

  1. EPA has an affirmative statutory obligation to regulate climate pollution

Administrator Pruitt frequently questions EPA’s ability and authority to regulate climate pollutants under the Clean Air Act. But contrary to Pruitt’s claims, the Supreme Court has repeatedly ruled that the Clean Air Act covers climate pollution.

  • In Massachusetts v. EPA, the Court held that climate pollutants “without a doubt” and “unambiguous[ly]” meet the definition of “air pollutant” under the Clean Air Act.
  • In its subsequent American Electric Power v. Connecticut (AEP) opinion, the Supreme Court found that section 111 of the Clean Air Act — the section under which EPA issued the Clean Power Plan — “speaks directly” to the regulation of climate pollution from existing power plants. (Even opponents of climate protections conceded that point during oral argument.)
  • The Court again recognized EPA’s authority to regulate climate pollution in a third decision, Utility Air Regulatory Group v. EPA (UARG).

Former EPA administrators serving in both Republican and Democratic administrations have recognized that “Congress has already made the policy decision to regulate” air pollutants that EPA determines — based on scientific factors — endanger the public health or welfare.

That’s why we now enjoy protections from air pollutants like cancer-causing benzene, brain-damaging lead, and lung-impairing particulates. We may not have had those protections if former EPA Administrators had shared Pruitt’s myopic view of the agency’s responsibility under the Clean Air Act.

As the Supreme Court stated in Massachusetts v. EPA, Congress:

underst[oo]d that without regulatory flexibility, changing circumstances and scientific developments would soon render the Clean Air Act obsolete. The broad language … reflects an intentional effort to confer the flexibility necessary to forestall such obsolescence.

In issuing the Clean Power Plan and other climate protections, EPA scrupulously fulfilled the mandate with which Congress entrusted it. The Clean Power Plan also reflected the Supreme Court’s finding in AEP that climate pollution from existing power plants was covered by section 111.

Administrator Pruitt has seriously misconstrued judicial rulings that conflict with his policy goals.

For example, he claimed that the Supreme Court’s UARG decision “said the authority the previous administration was trying to say that they had in regulating carbon dioxide wasn’t there.”

Pruitt overlooks the fact that the UARG opinion upheld the vast majority of what EPA had done, including the requirement that sources subject to certain permitting obligations under the Clean Air Act utilize “best available control technology” for climate pollution. The Supreme Court only took issue with EPA’s potential regulation of a subset of sources constituting a small percentage of total emissions, which did not implicate EPA’s fundamental obligation to regulate climate pollution.

2. EPA’s obligation to regulate climate pollution is based on scientific factors, not the Administrator’s policy preferences

Administrator Pruitt’s most dangerous Supreme Court misinterpretation might be his twist on Massachusetts v. EPA, a landmark decision that set the foundation for many of the climate protections that followed.

In Pruitt’s reading, when it comes to climate pollution, the Supreme Court held only that EPA “must make a decision whether [to] regulate or not.”

But the Supreme Court actually held that EPA was required to determine — again, based on scientific factors — whether climate pollution endangers public health or welfare.

In 2009, EPA concluded that climate pollution indeed poses a clear danger to public health and welfare, based on an exhaustive review of an expansive array of published studies and surveys of peer-reviewed literature prepared by the U.S. government’s Global Change Research Program, the National Academy of Sciences, and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

The D.C. Circuit upheld this Endangerment Finding against a barrage of legal attacks, finding that it was based on “substantial scientific evidence.”

After issuing the Endangerment Finding, EPA was statutorily obligated to follow the Clean Air Act’s process for regulating the dangerous pollution.

Administrator Pruitt’s position more closely resembles the losing argument in Massachusetts v. EPA. The George W. Bush Administration had justified its decision not to regulate climate pollution based on factors completely unrelated to public health or welfare. But the Supreme Court brushed aside EPA’s “laundry list of reasons not to regulate” and ruled that the agency was not free to — in Pruitt’s words — “make a decision” not to regulate. Rather, EPA must conduct a science-based evaluation of the risks that climate pollution poses to public health and welfare, and if the science supports an Endangerment Finding, regulation must follow.

3. The scientific evidence of climate change is overwhelming

Climate change is happening now. As climate pollution continues to accumulate in the atmosphere, it will bring melting sea ice and glaciers, rising sea levels, and more extreme weather including heat waves, floods, and droughts.

Administrator Pruitt attempts to minimize this threat by focusing on uncertainty. In Pruitt’s parlance, we still have more to learn about “the precision of measurement” when it comes to the effects of climate pollution. But the fact that there are still productive areas for research doesn’t mean we should disregard the vast amount that we already know.

As the American Meteorological Society recently told a different Trump Administration official:

[S]kepticism and debate are always welcome,” but “[s]kepticism that fails to account for evidence is no virtue.

In Massachusetts v. EPA, the Supreme Court held that EPA cannot decline to regulate climate pollution due to:

some residual uncertainty … The statutory question is whether sufficient information exists to make an endangerment finding.

EPA answered that question in its 2009 Endangerment Finding, and since then, the overwhelming scientific evidence for human-caused climate change has continued to grow.

In the final draft of the U.S. Global Change Research Program’s latest Climate Science Special Report — which is currently under review by political officials in the Trump Administration — climate scientists determined that, in the last few years:

stronger evidence has emerged for continuing, rapid, human-caused warming of the global atmosphere and ocean.

The year 2016 marked the third consecutive year of record-high global surface temperatures, and 2017 marked the third consecutive year of record-low winter Arctic sea ice. Meanwhile, the rate of sea level rise is increasing.

In contrast to the extensive scientific research demonstrating the role of climate pollution in destabilizing our climate, Administrator Pruitt has proposed a (possibly televised) “red team/blue team” exercise in which opposing teams of government-selected experts debate climate science.

Christine Todd Whitman, who served as EPA Administrator under President George W. Bush, characterized the red team/blue team exercise as “a shameful attempt to confuse the public into accepting the false premise that there is no need to regulate fossil fuels.”

Pruitt has acknowledged that he is “not a scientist” but nonetheless suggested that his red team/blue team exercise would represent “what science is all about.” Anticipating that some scientists might be reluctant to participate, he taunted:

If you’re going to win and if you’re so certain about it, come and do your deal.

But for most scientists, their “deal” is a careful process of observation, experimentation, and peer review — even when it doesn’t fit between commercial breaks.

However Pruitt manages his red team/blue team exercise, it can’t alter the conclusions of the massive body of climate research developed by thousands of scientists over decades of conscientious inquiry.

4. The American public supports policies to address climate change

One argument that Administrator Pruitt advanced for his red team/blue team exercise is that “the American people would be very interested in consuming that.”

Actually, Americans in every state have already shown an appetite for addressing climate change.

A recent survey found that large majorities of Americans support regulating greenhouse gases as a pollutant, setting strict carbon dioxide limits on existing coal-fired power plants, and requiring utilities to produce 20 percent of their electricity from renewable sources.

In fact, each of those policies garnered majority support in every Congressional district in America.

A majority of Americans opposed the decision to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement, as did the CEOs of many prominent businesses.

And the Clean Power Plan was supported in court by a broad and diverse coalition of 18 states, 60 cities, public health experts, leading business innovators (including Google, Apple, Amazon, and Microsoft), leading legal and technical experts, major consumer protection and low-income ratepayer organizations (including Consumers Union and Public Citizen), faith groups, more than 200 current and former members of Congress, and many others. (You can read their legal briefs on EDF’s website.)

Administrator Pruitt’s legal and scientific distortions show no sign of abating, and neither does his destructive rollback of public health and environmental protections. But his efforts have been rife with legal deficiencies. As EDF President Fred Krupp recently wrote, Pruitt “may have finally met his match: the law.”

Shortly after the D.C. Circuit blocked Pruitt from suspending protections from oil and gas pollution, and in the face of legal challenges from EDF and many others, Pruitt withdrew his unlawful delay of another Clean Air Act protection – the implementation of a national health-based smog standard.

EDF will continue to demand that Pruitt fulfill his solemn responsibility to protect the health of our communities and families under our nation’s bipartisan and time-tested environmental laws.

Also posted in Basic Science of Global Warming, Clean Air Act, Clean Power Plan, Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Science, Setting the Facts Straight| Comments are closed

Americans speak up for clean cars at EPA public hearing

A public hearing today on EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt’s effort to reverse America’s Clean Car Standards drew widespread support for keeping the protections in place.

I got the chance to join more than a hundred people who signed up to testify at the Washington, D.C. hearing – and they overwhelmingly spoke in favor of the Clean Car Standards and praised the benefits they provide for climate security and economic prosperity for our communities and families. (You can read my full testimony here.)

The American public stands to lose vital benefits if the Clean Cars Standards are reversed

The Clean Car Standards are already at work reducing climate pollution, driving innovative new technologies, improving our energy security, and saving American families money at the gas pump. But last month, the Trump Administration announced formal steps to begin reconsidering the existing standards for cars and passenger trucks for model years 2022 to 2025 – which could stop that progress.

Under the standards already in place, people who buy a new car or truck in 2025 would save thousands of dollars on fuel over the lifetime of those vehicles. In total, EPA projects that consumers would save more than $1 trillion because of the standards.

The 86 percent of Americans who finance their vehicle with a five-year loan are expected to immediately realize the cost savings from cleaner, more efficient vehicles. This is true even with recent lower gas prices.

Meanwhile, the Clean Car standards would reduce America’s oil consumption by two million barrels per day by 2025 – more than we import from any single country other than Canada. According to Ret. Lt. General Richard Zilmer:

Over-reliance on oil ties our nation to far-flung conflicts, sends our troops into harm’s way, and endangers them once they’re in conflict zones. Ensuring that the cars and trucks we drive every day go farther on every gallon of gas makes our nation stronger.

The Clean Car program would also eliminate an estimated six billion metric tons of carbon pollution over the life of the vehicles subject to the standards, which is more than a year’s worth of U.S. carbon emissions.

We’re making progress faster and cheaper than expected

EPA’s recent rigorous evaluation of the existing standards found that technologies are developing more quickly and at even lower costs than EPA originally projected – making the standards for the later model years appropriate and even more feasible than was first thought.

Per vehicle compliance costs are significantly lower than those projected in 2012 ($252 lower for cars and $197 lower for trucks as compared to 2012 projections).

 

 

Both the U.S. and world automotive markets are moving forward

Reopening the final Clean Car Standards will create uncertainty, slow innovation and hurt U.S. economic leadership.

Auto manufacturers have strongly recovered from the 2008 recession while increasing vehicle efficiency and cutting pollution

During the height of the economic recession in 2008, the American auto industry was on the verge of collapse. This prompted the Obama Administration to develop a bailout package for the industry, which provided the boost the industry needed to help rebound.

Last year, drivers in the United States bought more cars than ever before – roughly 70 percent more vehicles than during the recession – as fuel economy rose to its highest levels yet.

In total, the auto industry has added nearly 700,000 direct jobs since the recession – supporting several million indirect jobs throughout the economy. Auto manufacturing jobs account for 40 percent of all net jobs added in U.S. manufacturing since the recession.

In a letter supporting EPA’s proposal to reaffirm the Phase 2 standards, the United Auto Workers (UAW) 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.

Today, the auto industry directly employs millions of Americans and employment at auto dealerships is at its highest level ever. Automakers have recognized this strong financial performance in recent annual reports:

Our solid business results included record profits and an increased worldwide market share. Overall, we achieved our sixth consecutive year of both profit and positive operating-related cash flow, which enabled us to distribute $2.5 billion to our shareholders and grow our regular dividend by 20 percent. – Ford 2015 Annual report, Letter from Executive Chairman William Clay Ford, Jr.

2016 was the best year in its history of more than 130 years. — Daimler 2016 Annual Report, Chairman’s Letter

[Fiat Chrysler] closed 2016 with another record financial performance … all of our segments were profitable and showed improvement over the prior year. – FCA 2016 Annual Report, Letter from the Chairman and the CEO

As so many testified today, Americans want to move forward on clean cars.

At EDF, we're committed to holding Administrator Pruitt accountable if he recklessly rolls back these common sense standards. We hope you'll join us and take action for Clean Cars.

Also posted in Cars and Pollution, Economics, Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Jobs, News| Comments are closed

New report: Yes, we can have both clean air and reliable electricity

A new report by M.J. Bradley & Associates – based on an extensive review of data, literature, and case studies – shows that coal-fired power plants are retiring primarily due to low natural gas prices, and that the ongoing trend towards a cleaner energy resource mix is happening without compromising the reliability of our electric grid.

The report follows a highly-publicized order by Secretary of Energy Rick Perry for a review of the nation’s electricity markets and reliability. Perry wanted to determine whether clean air safeguards and policies encouraging clean energy are causing premature retirements of coal-fired power plants and threatening grid reliability.

The Department of Energy (DOE) just released that long-anticipated review — a baseload study that actually confirms that cheap natural gas has been the major driver behind coal retirements.

Now the M.J Bradley report affirms that finding, and offers even more evidence to support it and demonstrate that electric reliability remains strong.

The M.J Bradley report confirms conclusions by multiple studies which demonstrate that, of the three main factors responsible for the majority of the decline in coal generation, the increased competition from cheap natural gas has been by far the major contributor – accounting for 49 percent of the decline.

The two other factors are reduced demand for electricity – accounting for 26 percent – and increased growth in renewable energy – accounting for only 18 percent.

Several case studies featured in the M.J. Bradley report offer further proof that coal retirements are driven by economic factors – specifically low natural gas prices:

For example, PSEG President and COO Bill Levis – referring to the shutdown of Hudson Generating Station — said, “the sustained low prices of natural gas have put economic pressure on these plants for some time.PSEG Senior Director of Operations Bill Thompson also pointed to economic reasons, not environmental regulations, as basis for the decision to retire the plant.

Florida Power & Light (FPL) cited economics and customer savings as the primary reasons for its plans to shut down three coal units. According to FPL, the retirements of Cedar Bay and Indiantown are expected to save its customers an estimated $199 million. FPL President and CEO Eric Silagy said the decision to retire the plants is part of a “forward-looking strategy of smart investments that improve the efficiency of our system, reduce our fuel consumption, prevent emissions and cut costs for our customers.” Retirement of FPL’s St. John River Power Park would add another $183 million in customer savings.

According to the M.J. Bradley report, the overall decline in U.S. coal generation is primarily due to reduced utilization of coal-fired power plants, rather than retirements of those facilities.

Most recently retired facilities were older, smaller units that were inefficient and relatively expensive to operate. On average, coal units that announced plans to retire between 2010 and 2015 were 57 years old – well past their original expected life span of 40 years.

Meanwhile, existing coal plant utilization has declined from 73 percent capacity factor in 2008 to 53 percent in 2016. At the same time, the utilization of cheaper natural gas combined-cycle plants has increased from 40 percent capacity factor to 56 percent.

As a result, M.J. Bradley estimates that less than twenty percent of the overall decline in coal generation over the past six years can be attributed to coal plant retirements, with reduced utilization of the remaining fleet accounting for the rest of the decline.

Implications of coal retirements for electric grid reliability

As coal plants retire and are replaced by newer, cleaner resources, there have been concerns about potential impacts on the reliability of our electric grid. (Those concerns were also the topic of DOE’s baseload study.)

M.J. Bradley examined the implications of coal retirements and the evolving resource mix, looking at extensive existing research including their own reliability report released earlier this year.

These studies conclude that electric reliability remains strong.

These studies also found that flexible approaches to grid management, and new technologies such as electric storage, are providing additional tools to support and ensure grid reliability.

In order to understand that conclusion, consider two factors that are used to assess reliability:

  • Resource adequacy, which considers the availability of resources to meet future demand, and is assessed using metrics such as reserve margins
  • Operational reliability, which considers the ability of grid operators to run the system in real-time in a secure way to balance supply and demand – and is defined in terms of Essential Reliability Services, such as frequency and voltage support and ramping capability.

As many studies have already indicated, “baseload” is an outdated term used historically to describe the way resources were being used on the grid – not to describe the above factors that are needed to maintain grid reliability.

Here is what M.J. Bradley’s report and other assessments tell us about the implications of the evolving resource mix for grid reliability:

There are no signs of deteriorating reliability on the grid today, and studies indicate continued growth in clean resources is fully compatible with continued reliability

In its 2017 State of Reliability report, the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) found that over the past five years the trends in planning reserve margins were stable while other reliability metrics were either improving, stable, or inconclusive.

NERC’s report also found that bulk power system resiliency to severe weather continues to improve.

According to a report by grid operator PJM, which has recently experienced both significant coal retirements and new deployment of clean energy resources:

[T]he expected near-term resource portfolio is among the highest-performing portfolios and is well equipped to provide the generator reliability attributes.

DOE’s own baseload study acknowledges that electric reliability remains strong.  A wide range of literature further indicates that high renewable penetration futures are possible without compromising grid reliability.

Cleaner resources and new technologies being brought online help strengthen reliability

Studies show that technologies being added to the system have, in combination, most if not all the reliability attributes provided by retiring coal-fired generation and other resources exiting the system.

In fact, the evolving resource mix that includes retirement of aging capacity and addition of new gas-fired and renewable capacity can increase system reliability from a number of perspectives. For instance, available data indicates that forced and planned outage rates for renewable and natural gas technologies can be less than half of those for coal.

Studies also highlight the valuable reliability services that emerging new technologies, such as electric storage, can provide. Renewable resources and emerging technologies also help hedge against fuel supply and price volatility, contributing to resource diversity and increased resilience.

Clean energy resources have demonstrated their ability to support reliable electric service at times of severe stress on the grid.

In the 2014 polar vortex, for example, frozen coal stockpiles led to coal generation outages – so wind and demand response resources were increasingly relied upon to help maintain reliability.

And just last year, close to 100 megawatts of electric storage was successfully deployed in less than six months to address reliability concerns stemming from the Aliso Canyon natural gas storage leak in California.

Regulators and grid operators can leverage the reliability attributes of clean resources and new technologies through improved market design

A 2016 report by DOE found that cleaner resources and emerging new technologies are creating options and opportunities, providing a new toolbox for maintaining reliability in the modern power system.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) has long recognized the valuable grid services that emerging new technologies could provide – from its order on demand response to its order on frequency regulation compensation, FERC recognized the value of fast and accurate response resources in cost-effectively meeting grid reliability needs. More recently, FERC’s ancillary service reforms recognize that, with advances in technologies, variable energy resources such as wind are increasingly capable of providing reliability services such as reactive power.

Grid operators are also recognizing the valuable contributions of cleaner resources and emerging new technologies, as well as the importance of flexibility to a modern, nimble, dynamic and robust grid. For instance, both the California Independent System Operator and the Midcontinent Independent System Operator (MISO) have created ramp products, and MISO also has a dispatchable intermittent resource program.

It will be increasingly important for regulators, system planners, and grid operators to continue assessing grid reliability needs, and leveraging the capabilities of new technologies and technological advancements, in the future. It is also important to continue market design and system operation and coordination efforts to support the emerging needs of a modern 21st century electric grid.

The facts show clearly that we shouldn’t accept fearmongering that threatens our clean air safeguards. Instead, working together, America can have clean, healthy air and affordable, reliable electricity.

Also posted in Energy, News| Read 1 Response

EPA Safeguards and the Arkema Chemical Plant Disaster – Information You Should Know

Hurricane Harvey over the Gulf of Mexico. Photo: U.S. Department of the Interior

(This post was co-authored by EDF’s Peter Zalzal)

Like many Americans, we’ve been closely following the story about the Arkema chemical plant that was flooded when Hurricane Harvey hit Texas. The resulting explosions there have added a horrifying new dimension to the tragic events in the greater Houston area.

Here’s more information that you might want to know.

The Arkema chemical facility in Crosby, Texas has had previous health and safety violations and has been the subject of enforcement actions.

The Arkema Crosby chemical facility has been the subject of at least two enforcement actions by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.

  • In 2006, the facility was subject to penalties because of a fire due to inappropriately stored organic peroxides. The fire led to discharge of 3,200 pounds of volatile organic compounds along with other harmful pollutants.
  • In 2011, the facility was subject to penalties for failure to maintain proper temperatures of the thermal oxidizer.

Gina McCarthy, EPA Administrator under President Obama, strengthened the standards governing preparedness for chemical releases during emergency situations.

In January of 2017, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy strengthened key provisions of the Accident Release Prevention / Risk Management Program. Those provisions are designed to help prevent and mitigate chemical accidents. The changes included more protective accident prevention program requirements, emergency response enhancements, and enhanced public transparency and availability of information.

Some of these key improvements, which are jointly known as the “Chemical Disaster Rule,” are summarized below (the final rule is at 82 Fed. Reg. 4594.) These protections were slated to take legal effect on March 14, 2017, and the rule required phased-in compliance with its provisions over the next several years. The rule requirements differ depending on whether the facility is classified as Program 1, 2, or 3, with more rigorous and focused requirements applying to Program 3 facilities due to the types of processes at the facility. The Arkema Crosby plant is a Program 3 facility.

  • Accident Prevention Program Improvement
    • Root Cause analysis: The final rule requires Program 2 or 3 facilities to conduct a “root cause analysis” as part of an incident investigation of a “catastrophic release.” The analysis is meant to look beyond immediate causes to help prevent future disasters by uncovering underlying causes in an incident investigation.
    • Third Party Audit: The rule requires Program 2 or 3 facilities to conduct independent third party audits, or to assemble an audit team led by an independent third party auditor, to perform a compliance audit after a reportable accident. Previously, facilities were allowed to perform self-audits. The revision “is intended to reduce the risk of future accidents by requiring an objective auditing process to determine whether the owner or operator of the facility is effectively complying with the accident prevention procedures and practices.” (82 Fed. Reg. at 4,595)
    • Safer Technology Alternatives Analysis: For Program 3 facilities, the rule requires a Safer Technology Alternatives Analysis to identify the practicability of any inherently safer technology identified.
  • Emergency Response Enhancements
    • The final rule requires all covered facilities to coordinate with local emergency response agencies at least once per year to determine how the facility is addressed in the community emergency response plan, and to ensure that local response organizations are aware of the regulated substances at the facility, their quantities, the risks presented by covered processes, and the resources and capabilities at the facility to respond to an accidental release of a regulated substance. (82 Fed. Reg. at 4,595)
    • The rule also requires Program 2 or 3 facilities to conduct notification exercises to ensure that emergency contact information is accurate and complete, and that certain facilities conduct field or tabletop exercises. From the final rule: “Improved coordination with emergency response personnel will better prepare responders to respond effectively to an incident and take steps to notify the community of appropriate actions, such as shelter in place.” (82 Fed. Reg. at 4,595)
  • Enhanced Availability of Information
    • “The rule requires all facilities to provide certain basic information to the public, upon request. The owner or operator of the facility shall provide ongoing notification of availability of information elements on a company website, social media platforms, or through some other publicly accessible means.” (82 Fed. Reg. at 4,596)

Arkema and its industry trade organization, the American Chemistry Council, filed comments objecting to several of these key improvements.

Arkema filed adverse comments on the proposed improvements to the Chemical Disaster Rule, and also endorsed comments filed by the American Chemistry Council (Arkema is a member company of ACC).

Arkema objected to the third-party audit procedure, objected to the safer technology alternatives analysis as burdensome, and expressed concerns about the requirements to share certain information with emergency responders and the public.

Scott Pruitt immediately obliged and suspended the Chemical Disaster Rule improvements.

One of the immediate actions taken by Trump Administration EPA head Scott Pruitt was to suspend these key improvements to Chemical Risk Program.

On February 28, 2017, an industry coalition including the American Chemistry Council, the American Petroleum Institute, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and the Utility Air Regulatory Group asked EPA to reconsider the Chemical Disaster Rule.

Administrator Pruitt quickly obliged by convening a reconsideration proceeding on March 13, 2017 and suspending the Rule for 90-days on March 16, 2017. Both of these initial actions to halt the rule took place without any public process, a pattern continued in many of Pruitt’s actions as EPA Administrator.

Subsequently, on June 14, 2017, Pruitt issued a rule suspending the requirements until February of 2019. Pruitt’s decision to suspend these protections disrupted the implementation of the rule.

Administrator Pruitt’s suspension is now being challenged in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, with a preliminary decision yesterday denying the petitioners’ motion for a stay but granting expedited briefing on the merits. Air Alliance Houston is one of the organizations challenging Pruitt’s damaging actions. 

A closer look at the Arkema facility in Crosby, Texas.

The Arkema facility in Crosby, Texas is a Program 3 facility and is required to submit a Risk Management Plan under the Chemical Disaster Rule.

The envirofacts webpage for the facility notes that the last plan was submitted in June 2014, pursuant to the less stringent requirements that were then in place.

EPA does not publicly post online Risk Management Plans for facilities but they are available for review in the federal reading rooms. On August 31, 2017, EDF examined the 2014 Risk Management Plan for the Arkema facility. According to Arkema’s documents on file:

  • The Arkema facility manufactures liquid organic peroxides, which are primarily used in the production of plastic resins, polystyrene, polyethylene, polypropylene, PVC, and fiberglass.
  • There are two substances on site that are present at or above the minimum threshold quantities for a Risk Management Plan – 85,256 pounds of 2 methylpropene (a flammable substance), and 66,260 pounds of sulfur dioxide (a toxic substance). Both are present in levels that make the facility subject to Program 3 requirements.
  • The site conducted a process hazard analysis on October 31, 2013 and indicated that any errors identified would be corrected by October 30, 2015. The 2013 hazard analysis identified concerns, including: equipment failure; loss of cooling, heating, electricity;  floods (flood plain); hurricane; other major failure identified: power failure or power surge

There have now been explosions reported at the Arkema facility and 15 police officers were taken to the hospital after inhaling fumes from the chemical plant. Because of limited air monitors operating in the region, we do not know the pollutants or their concentrations in the surrounding air.

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt has led an unprecedented rollback of public health and environmental safeguards for our communities and families.

This is one of many damaging actions by EPA Administrator Pruitt to roll back fundamental safeguards under our health and environmental laws. Pruitt’s actions imperil our communities and families, and increase risks across our nation.

The explosion at the Crosby chemical facility is a terrible tragedy. It is incumbent on those who manufacture and use these dangerous chemicals — and it is the solemn duty of policymakers entrusted with protecting the public – to carry out their responsibilities under our nation’s public health and environmental laws to protect all Americans.

EDF is urging EPA Administrator Pruitt to immediately reinstate the critical Chemical Disaster Rule safeguards that he has suspended, and we are asking all Americans to join us. Please contact EPA and tell them you support these protections.

Also posted in EPA litgation, News| Read 2 Responses
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