Selected category: Policy

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I personally handed him the letter, and the next day the rule was personally withdrawn.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, News, Setting the Facts Straight| Leave a comment

Scott Pruitt keeps Americans in the dark on his activities

In the few months of Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt’s tenure, we’ve already seen ample cause for concern when it comes to how he spends his time – a steady stream of meetings with major industry, together with rollbacks that harm communities and put children’s health at risk.

Last week, we learned that Administrator Pruitt gathered with the American Petroleum Institute board of directors at the Trump Hotel early in his tenure, just weeks before carrying out a host of actions to benefit oil and gas polluters. Just one of those actions — delaying implementation of a national smog health standard — will alone will result in 230,000 more asthma attacks for kids.

These actions have been taken with no meaningful public input or engagement. Meanwhile, the intermittent information we glean about Administrator Pruitt’s calendar and his schedule underscores his extensive meetings and visits with major industry.

Underlying these distressing developments, there’s something even more fundamental at play. How has the American public learned how Administrator Pruitt, a taxpayer-funded public servant, spends his time? How have we gotten information on the company he keeps?

Under past EPA Administrators, the calendars of senior managers — including the Administrator — were released to the public via accessible, concurrent platforms.

Troublingly, Scott Pruitt has ended this practice. We’ve only gotten information about his activities through intermittent information shared with the press, or months after the fact through time-consuming, burdensome Freedom of Information Act requests.

EDF calls on Pruitt to follow long-standing EPA practice and make his calendar public

EPA has an important job to do on behalf of the American public — protecting our health and welfare from dangerous pollution. Without timely information on the activities and schedule of Administrator Pruitt and his senior staff, members of the public cannot have full confidence that EPA’s leadership is working on their behalf.

Administrator Pruitt’s lack of transparency raises serious questions about potential abuse of EPA’s limited resources for activity that contravenes or is in serious tension with important legal and ethical requirements.

That’s why today EDF called on Pruitt to make his schedule, and that of his senior officials, available to the public on a widely accessible platform. Administrator Pruitt should immediately carry out this fundamental transparency practice, followed by EPA administrations of both parties. EDF is simultaneously submitting a Freedom of Information Act request to obtain this information — a public record — in order to assure that the public at least obtains more up to date information on Pruitt’s activities.

EPA is supposed to operate “in a fishbowl”

The important transparency practice of sharing senior policy leaders’ schedules has a long history at EPA.

In 1983, William Ruckelshaus — the first EPA Administrator — was brought back to lead EPA by President Ronald Reagan in order to restore public trust after the scandal-plagued tenure of Administrator Anne Gorsuch. One of Administrator Ruckelshaus’ first actions was to issue was his “Fishbowl Memo,” which vowed that EPA would “operate in a fishbowl” and “attempt to communicate with everyone from the environmentalists to those we regulate and we will do so as openly as possible.”

Ruckelshaus’ Fishbowl Memo adopted as EPA policy a number of specific activities that are the hallmark of fair and transparent government. In particular, Ruckelshaus included a commitment to share senior leadership schedules as the Memo’s very first transparency directive:

In order to make the public fully aware of my contacts with interested persons, I have directed that a copy of my appointment calendar for each week be placed in the Office of Public Affairs and made available to the public at the end of the week. The Deputy Administrator, and all Assistant Administrators, Associate Administrators, Regional Administrators, and Staff Office Directors shall make their appointment calendars available in a similar manner.

This commitment to transparency and public access to EPA calendars has continued across administrations. For example, Administrator Lisa Jackson echoed this commitment upon her arrival, writing that “[t]o keep the public fully informed of my contacts with interested persons,” she would make available to the public, every day via the EPA website, “a working copy of my appointment calendar, showing meetings with members of the public.” She directed her senior staff to do the same. Administrator Gina McCarthy and Acting Administrator Catherine McCabe similarly continued this practice.

Yet Administrator Pruitt has ended the foundational transparency measure of making his and his senior policy leaders’ schedules readily available to the public. The policy change is illustrated by these two snapshots of EPA’s website from six months apart.

EPA’s website on January 19, 2017:

And the same page today:

A true back to basics approach

Pruitt has recently made a show of focusing on “EPA Originalism” and getting EPA “Back to Basics.” We suggest he follow long-standing EPA practice and the guidance of EPA’s original Administrator, William Ruckelshaus. Pruitt should make his calendar, and those of his senior leadership, widely and promptly available to the public.

Also posted in Health, News, Setting the Facts Straight| Read 1 Response

Delaying smog standards risks lives, jeopardizes Americans’ health

Twenty-six. That is how many smog-related air quality alerts were forecast across our country for one single day earlier this week.

From Pennsylvania to Rhode Island, “action days” were called urging “sensitive groups” (including children, people who are active outdoors, older Americans, and people with heart or lung disease) to reduce their time spent outdoors.

Smog is a dangerous air pollutant linked to premature deaths, asthma attacks, lower birth weight in infants, and serious heart and lung diseases.

Smog forms when industrial emissions from power plants, factories, cars, and other sources react with heat and sunlight in the atmosphere.

There have already been many alerts across the U.S. this year for smog pollution, and “smog season” has just begun. That shows we have more work to do to clean the air and protect our families and communities.

That is why it is disturbing to hear that EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt has decided to delay implementation of the updated smog standards by one year.

According to the American Lung Association’s 2017 State of the Air Report [PDF], more than one-third of all Americans live in areas with unhealthful levels of smog. More than 116 million people live in counties that received a grade of “F” for smog levels.

A one-year delay in the implementation of anticipated pollution from the smog standards would mean:

  • 660 more deaths
  • 230,000 asthma attacks among children
  • 180,000 missed work or school days

These are real lives being affected by Administrator Pruitt’s irresponsible actions.

The smog standards are driven by medical science. Here are some of the medical and health associations that supported strengthening the ozone standards:

  • The American Thoracic Society
  • American Academy of Pediatrics
  • American Medical Association
  • American Heart Association
  • American Lung Association
  • American Public Health Association
  • Children’s Environmental Health Network
  • National Association of County and City Health Officials
  • Trust for America’s Health
  • Health Care Without Harm
  • Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America
  • American College of Chest Physicians
  • American College of Preventive Medicine
  • American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine
  • American Association of Cardiovascular and Pulmonary Rehabilitation
  • National Association for the Medical Direction of Respiratory Care
  • Society of Physicians for Social Responsibility

EPA’s mission is to protect public health and the environment. Administrator Pruitt’s decision to delay the smog standards runs counter to that bi-partisan, four-and-a-half decade mission. It also runs counter to the recommendations of leading medical and public health associations.

The successful history of implementing the Clean Air Act shows that states have the flexibility to design tailored solutions to address smog pollution, and that dramatic pollution reductions go hand-in-hand with a strong economy.

We need to reduce the amount of smog in our air – and to achieve that goal, we need EPA to lead.

Also posted in Clean Air Act, Health, Partners for Change| Read 1 Response

President Trump’s mystery math

By this time, your eyes may have glazed over from reading the myriad of fact checks and rebuttals of President Trump’s speech announcing the United States’ withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement. There were so many dizzying falsehoods in his comments that it is nearly impossible to find any truth in the rhetorical fog.

Of all the falsehoods, President Trump’s insistence that compliance with the Paris accord would cost Americans millions of lost jobs and trillions in lowered Gross Domestic Product was particularly brazen, deceptive, and absurd. These statements are part of a disturbing pattern, the latest in a calculated campaign to deceive the public about the economics of reducing climate pollution.

Based on a study funded by industry trade groups

Let’s be clear: the National Economic Research Associates (NERA) study underpinning these misleading claims was paid for by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the American Council for Capital Formation (ACCF) – two lobbying organizations backed by fossil fuel industry funding that have a history of commissioning exaggerated cost estimates of climate change solutions. When you pay for bad assumptions, you ensure exaggerated and unrealistic results.

In the past five years alone, NERA has released a number of dubious studies funded by fossil fuel interests about a range of environmental safeguards that protect the public from dangerous pollution like mercury, smog, and particulate matter – all of which cause serious health impacts, especially in the elderly, children, and the most vulnerable. NERA’s work has been debunked over and over. Experts from MIT and NYU said NERA’s cost estimates from a 2014 study on EPA’s ozone standards were “fraudulent” and calculated in “an insane way.” NERA’s 2015 estimates of the impacts of the Clean Power Plan, which are frequently quoted by President Trump’s EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt and others, have also been rebutted due to unrealistic and pessimistic assumptions.

The study does not account for the enormous costs of climate pollution

In his speech about the Paris agreement, President Trump crossed a line that made even NERA so uncomfortable that it released a statement emphasizing that its results were mischaracterized and that the study “was not a cost-benefit analysis of the Paris agreement, nor does it purport to be one.”

The most important point embedded in this statement is that the study does not account for the enormous benefits of reducing the carbon pollution causing climate change. Climate change causes devastating impacts including extreme weather events like flooding and deadly storms, the spread of disease, sea level rise, increased food insecurity, and other disasters. These impacts can cost businesses, families, governments and taxpayers hundreds of billions of dollars through rising health care costs, destruction of property, increased food prices, and more. The costs of this pollution are massive, and communities all around the U.S. are already feeling the impacts – yet the President and his Administration continue to disregard this reality as well as basic scientific and economic facts.

Cherry-picking an impractical and imaginary pathway to emission reductions

The statistics the President used were picked from a specific scenario in the study that outlined an impractical and imaginary pathway to meet our 2025 targets designed to be needlessly expensive, as experts at the World Resources Institute and the Natural Resources Defense Council have noted. The study’s “core” scenario assumes sector by sector emission reduction targets (which do not exist as part of the Paris accord) that result in the most aggressive level of mitigation being required from the sectors where it is most expensive. This includes an almost 40 percent reduction in industrial sector emissions – a disproportionate level not envisioned in any current policy proposal – which results in heavily exaggerated costs.

An expert at the independent think tank Resources for the Future, Marc Hafstead, pointed out:

The NERA study grossly overstates the changes in output and jobs in heavy industry.

Yale economist Kenneth Gillingham said of these numbers:

It’s not something you can cite in a presidential speech with a straight face … It’s being used as a talking point taken out of context.

The NERA analysis also includes a scenario that illustrates what experts have known for decades – that a smarter and more cost-effective route to achieving deep emission reductions is a flexible, economy-wide program that prices carbon and allows the market to take advantage of the most cost-effective reductions across sectors. Even NERA’s analysis shows that this type of program would result in significantly lower costs than their “core” scenario. Not surprisingly, that analysis is buried in the depths of the report, and has been entirely ignored by the Chamber of Commerce and ACCF as well as President Trump.

Study ignores potential innovation and declining costs of low carbon energy

Finally, the NERA study assumes that businesses would not innovate to keep costs down in the face of new regulations – employing pessimistic assumptions that ignore the transformational changes already moving us towards the expansion of lower carbon energy. Those assumptions rely on overly-conservative projections for renewable energy costs, which have been rapidly declining. They also underestimate the potential for reductions from low-cost efficiency improvements, and assume only minimal technological improvements in the coming years.

In reality, clean energy is outpacing previous forecasts and clean energy jobs are booming. There are more jobs in solar energy than in oil and natural gas extraction in the U.S. right now, and more jobs in wind than in coal mining.

The truth is that the clean energy revolution is the economic engine of the future. President Trump’s announcement that he will withdraw the U.S. from the Paris accord cedes leadership and enormous investment opportunities to Europe, China, and the rest of the world. His faulty math will not change these facts.

Also posted in Clean Power Plan, Economics, Energy, Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Jobs, News| Comments are closed

Suspension of clean air standards for the oil and gas industry: an urgent health threat for Americans

(This post first appeared on EDF's Energy Exchange)

Today, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt officially suspended vital air pollution safeguards that will reduce harmful methane, smog-forming volatile organic compounds and toxic air pollutants like benzene from new and modified sources in the oil and natural gas sector – a move that puts the health and safety of Americans across the country at risk.

EDF, together with a coalition of environmental groups, filed a legal challenge and an emergency motion as soon as the suspension was published.

Our brief asks the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit to immediately block Administrator Pruitt’s dangerous action from taking effect. Read More »

Also posted in Clean Air Act, EPA litgation, Greenhouse Gas Emissions| Comments are closed

6 ways NOAA budget cuts will hurt weather reporting – and Americans

 

(This post first appeared on EDF Voices)

At a time when storms are getting more destructive, floods more devastating and people and property more vulnerable, accurate weather forecasting is more critical than ever.

Which is why the Trump administration’s brazen proposal to slash funding for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s most important forecasting and storm prediction programs has set off alarms in recent days. In all, the president wants to slash the agency’s budget by 16 percent.

Having spent more than six years as a NOAA scientist, I know there are ways to become more efficient and make government work better. Many dedicated professionals within the agency would be eager to partner with the administration to develop that kind of action plan.

Except, efficiency is not what this proposal is about. Rather, it blatantly disregards science and how it protects lives and property.

Here are a few of the NOAA budget lowlights, and why they could matter to you:

1. Delays hurricane forecast improvements

Several NOAA programs are developing advanced modeling to make weather and storm forecasts more accurate and reliable. But the same week NOAA called for an above-average season of hurricane activity, the Trump administration requested a $5 million funding cut for these important programs.

It would slow the transition of such advanced forecasting models into real-life warning systems – directly affecting families and business owners who must prepare for severe storms. It would also make the accuracy of American weather forecasts fall farther behind its European and Japanese peers.

2. Eliminates critical tornado warning program

Vortex-Southeast – a $5 million program used to detect, respond to and warn against tornadoes in Southeastern United States – would be terminated. The program studies the intensity and path of twisters in a region with more tornado deaths than any other, and how to best communicate forecasts to the public.

3. Terminates Arctic research protecting fishermen

The president wants to cut a total of $6 million from two NOAA programs that support improvements to sea ice modeling and predictions, along with a program that models vulnerabilities among ecosystems and fisheries.

These programs, among other things, help predict where potentially hazardous floating sea ice may be present, supporting the safety and business of fishermen, commer­cial shippers, cruise ships and local commu­nities in Alaska.

4. Closes lab tracking mercury pollution, fallout

NOAA’s Air Resources Laboratory researches how mercury and other harmful materials travel through the atmosphere and fall to Earth. The lab’s models also help emergency agencies and the aviation industry minimize and respond to pollution disasters such as radioactive fallout or anthrax attacks.

And yet, the administration has requested a $4.7 million decrease to close the entire lab.

5. Slows flood forecasting improvements

A $3.1 million cut would slow upgrades to the National Water Model, an initiative hailed as a “game changer” for flood prediction when it launched in 2016. The model offers hourly forecasts for the nation’s entire river network – information that helps emergency agencies, farmers, barge operators and others respond faster and more efficiently to floods.

6. Scales back forecasts of El Niño

A $26 million cut targets programs that monitor the tropical Pacific Ocean and help forecasters predict El Niño and other global environmental weather patterns. Such cuts would make it much harder to anticipate short-term climate events such as drought, excessive flooding and other extreme weather.

These are just a few of the highlights of the administration’s proposed budget for NOAA, but should give you an idea of just how severe they are. These program cuts are not in America’s best interest.

Also posted in Extreme Weather, Health, News, Science| Comments are closed
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