Climate 411

Five things you need to know about the U.S. Clean Car Standards

Cars on a dealer lot, waiting to be sold. Photo: Every Car Listed

America’s Clean Car Standards are one of our biggest success stories, yet the Trump Administration is preparing to dramatically weaken them.

News reports say the Trump Administration is also taking aim at state leadership on clean cars, by preparing to challenge California’s and 12 other states’ authority to maintain more protective standards.

Here’s what you need to know:

1. The Clean Car Standards protect our health and our climate

The transportation sector is now America’s largest contributor of climate pollution. It is also a significant source of harmful soot and smog-causing pollution.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that the Clean Car Standards would reduce climate pollution by six billion tons over its lifetime and cut other dangerous air pollutants as well. Six billion tons is how much climate pollution America emits in a year – from all sources and all sectors.

EDF’s own recent analysis shows that more than two billion tons of climate pollution reductions are at risk under the Trump Administration’s proposed rollback of the U.S. standards.

The American Lung Association and twelve other public health organizations have all underscored the importance of maintaining protective clean cars standards.

2. State leadership is under attack

California’s and 12 other states’ vehicle standards are firmly rooted in the fabric of the Clean Air Act, apply to a third of U.S. car sales, and have long provided effective protections for millions of Americans.

For more than half a century, the Clean Air Act has contained express authority for California to set more protective standards to meet its compelling air pollution problems. The Clean Air Act also allows other states to adopt and enforce California’s standards – currently, twelve other states and the District of Columbia have done so.

State leadership has long played a key role in spurring the development and deployment of clean car solutions, like smog-fighting catalytic converters, and has resulted in enormous health benefits for Americans across the country.

Today a third of U.S. new car sales are covered by the coalition of states that have committed to protective clean car standards.

Last week, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt testified to Congress that these states’ clean car standards were not in imminent danger. Pruitt was asked if EPA intends to begin proceedings to revoke California’s authority to set its own clean cars standards. He replied, “not at present.” (See C-SPAN video at 1:49:56)

But one day later, news reports said the Trump Administration would begin challenging California’s standards “within days.”

Such an attack by the Trump Administration is contrary to law and would result in substantial harm to Americans through increased air pollution and lost financial savings from decreased fuel use.

3. Millions of Americans save money because of the Clean Car Standards

The Clean Car Standards are a win-win – in addition to reducing pollution, they save people money at the gas pump.

Over the lifetime of the standards, American families and businesses will save more than a trillion dollars.

Drivers are already benefiting from our existing Clean Car Standards. For example, each Ford F-150 truck bought in 2015 uses about 180 fewer gallons of gas a year than earlier models. That saves its owner eight trips to the gas station and up to $700 per year, depending on the price of fuel.

In my state – Colorado – rolling back the clean car standards would deprive the average Coloradan of up to $5,000 in fuel savings over the life of their car or truck, depending on oil prices. We’d also lose the tremendous climate and health benefits associated with these protections.

For the 86 percent of Americans who finance their car or truck with a five-year loan, the Clean Car Standards provide immediate real world cost savings from cleaner, more efficient vehicles. This is true even if gas prices start going down.

4. Many automakers and suppliers don’t want this rollback and have urged the Trump administration to work with California

A rollback of our Clean Car Standards would create discord to no one’s benefit.

For example, Ford and Honda have urged the Trump administration not to dismantle the effective partnership between EPA, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, and California that has given automakers a single national standard to meet.

Honda stated “we do not support their rollback,” and noted the importance of “maintain[ing] consistency between federal standards and those adopted by California.”

Ford also publicly disavowed the rollback and the attack on California, saying “we support increasing clean car standards through 2025 and are not asking for a rollback.” Ford also stated “we want one set of standards nationally.”

James Verrier, the CEO of Borg Warner – a leading component supplier based in Michigan – noted that his company wants to maintain and build on America’s protective Clean Car Standards, saying “do not slow down the pace on CAFE standards” and “we’ve come a long way as an industry and we need to keep going forward. Don’t go backwards and don’t slow down.”

The Automotive Technology Leadership Group, a coalition of five automotive trade associations, recently issued a set of principles that included their position on this issue. They said “it is very important that there be a coordinated national light duty vehicle program setting fuel economy and greenhouse gas standards that continue to make progress on reducing emissions and oil consumption while saving consumers money at the gas pump.” The group also urged the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and EPA to work with California.

5. We have the know-how to exceed these standards

Improvements under our existing Clean Car Standards are both technically feasible and affordable. Automakers and suppliers are developing and deploying innovative technologies faster than anticipated when the standards were finalized.

EPA, the Department of Transportation, and the California Air Resources Board conducted an exhaustive technical review of the auto industry’s ability to meet the 2022 to 2025 model year standards. They found extensive evidence that the automotive industry can meet those standards at lower costs than predicted when the standards were initially finalized in 2012.

Since the Clean Cars Standards began in 2012, we have roughly doubled the number of SUVs that get 25 miles per gallon or more, the number of cars that get 30 miles per gallon or more, and the number of cars that get 40 miles per gallon or more.

Today there are already more than 100 car, SUV, and pickup models on the market that meet standards set for 2020 and beyond.

If any changes are made, the standards should be strengthened.

Also posted in Cars and Pollution, Economics, Greenhouse Gas Emissions, News, Policy, Pruitt / Comments are closed

Proof that the Clean Power Plan’s strategy for cutting carbon pollution is the industry standard

The public comment period is just about to close on EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt’s reckless attempt to repeal the Clean Power Plan, and thousands of Americans — including mayors, CEOs, energy experts, and citizens concerned about the threats Pruitt’s actions pose to our children’s health and future — have already spoken out in vigorous opposition to the misguided repeal effort.

There is a lot at stake. The Clean Power Plan would prevent 4,500 early deaths and 90,000 childhood asthma attacks each year. It would cut carbon pollution by 32 percent from 2005 levels, and would substantially reduce other harmful air pollutants from power plants.

By slashing air pollution and helping mitigate the threats of climate change, the Clean Power Plan would secure significant benefits to public health while growing the clean energy economy.

Yet, as Pruitt continues his misguided effort to turn back the clock on lifesaving climate protections, momentum is growing in states and the power sector to slash carbon pollution and usher in a clean energy future.

States and companies are moving away from carbon-intensive sources of electricity generation, and are increasing their use of cleaner technologies — deploying the same cost-effective strategies to cut carbon pollution that EPA relied upon when establishing emission reduction targets under the Clean Power Plan. Pruitt’s attempt to repeal the Clean Power Plan is putting this flexible approach to ambitious and low-cost emission reductions under attack.

Meaningful federal actions to reduce carbon pollution, such as the Clean Power Plan, remain essential to mitigate climate change. But in the meantime, states and companies – by making continued progress toward emission reductions through time-tested methods – are providing solid evidence that the Clean Power Plan’s approach is not only reasonable, but is the industry-standard for reducing carbon pollution from the power sector. 

The clean energy transformation is accelerating

Carbon pollution from the power sector fell to 27 percent below 2005 levels in 2017, continuing a clear downward trend since the mid-2000’s even as the U.S. economy continues to grow. Carbon pollution levels from the power sector in the U.S. have now fallen below emissions from transportation, demonstrating remarkable progress in cleaning up our electric grid.

The rapid decarbonization of the U.S. power sector continues to be driven by a shift toward clean energy technologies. Renewable energy including solar, wind, and hydropower generated a record 18 percent of U.S. electricity in 2017, and new renewables comprised nearly half of utility-scale generating capacity installed in 2017. As more and more high-polluting coal plants become scheduled for retirement, power companies and regulators from Colorado to New Mexico to Wisconsin are increasingly replacing them directly with renewables.

A precipitous drop in costs has made the outlook for clean energy increasingly bullish in recent years. The cost of utility-scale solar power fell by more than 77 percent from 2010 to 2017. Worldwide, the cost of solar and onshore wind power declined by 18 percent in the last year alone.

As of 2017, the lifetime cost of unsubsidized wind and utility-scale solar is now below that of coal and on par with the cost of natural gas combined cycle technology.

Low-cost projections for clean energy are increasingly becoming a reality on the ground. In Colorado, for example, a recent solicitation for new renewables resulted in bid prices for wind and solar plus energy storage that are cheaper than the operating cost of nearly all coal plants in the state.

States and power companies continue to lead

Across the country, state governors and major power companies have continued to ramp up forward-looking commitments to cut carbon pollution and deploy clean energy — recognizing these clear power sector trends and driving increasingly ambitious climate progress.

Here are some recent examples:

Power companies

  • American Electric Power, the nation’s largest generator of electricity from coal, laid out a strategy in February to reduce carbon pollution by 60 percent below 2000 levels by 2030, and 80 percent by 2050. “There is no question the electrification of our economy is accelerating,” said CEO Nick Akins. “Today, we are taking a longer-term view of carbon by setting new goals for carbon dioxide emission reductions for the future based upon resource plans that account for economics, customer preferences, reliability and regulation.”
  • Southern Company, the nation’s third largest power producer, announced a goal this month to reduce carbon pollution by 50 percent below 2007 levels by 2030 and to achieve “low- to no-carbon operations by 2050.” The commitment comes in the wake of a rapidly changing generation mix for Southern, with its share of generation from coal declining to 28 percent in 2017 from 70 percent in 2010.
  • In March, Oregon’s Portland General Electric committed to reducing carbon pollution by more than 80 percent by 2050, in part by achieving Oregon’s target of 50 percent renewable energy by 2040 and transitioning away from coal by 2035.
  • PacifiCorp subsidiary Rocky Mountain Power plans to add more than 1,300 megawatts of wind power by 2020 — a $1.5 billion investment.

Across the Midwest, a slate of electric utilities recently committed to slash carbon emissions and transition away from coal:

  • PPL Corporation plans to reduce emissions by 2050 to 70 percent below 2010 levels, including retiring the bulk of the company’s coal plants in Kentucky.
  • Wisconsin’s largest utility, WEC Energy Group, plans to reduce carbon pollution by 40% below 2005 levels by 2030.
  • In Indiana, Vectren announced plans to reduce carbon pollution by 60 percent by shuttering three coal-fired power plants.
  • Ameren Missouri committed to reducing emissions to 80 percent below 2005 levels by 2050, and plans to invest $1 billion to add at least 700 megawatts of wind power by 2020.
  • In February 2018, Michigan utility Consumers Energy announced plans to reduce emissions by 80 percent and phase out coal by 2040.

States

  • This month, New Jersey lawmakers passed a sweeping clean energy bill that will put the state on a path to becoming a national clean energy leader. Governor Phil Murphy directed the state to begin negotiations to rejoin the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) – a multi-state program to reduce carbon pollution from the power sector. Governor Murphy also signed an order adding New Jersey to the U.S. Climate Alliance of states committed to upholding the Paris Agreement goals, and has outlined a goal of powering the state with 100 percent clean energy by mid-century.
  • In a show of bipartisan commitment to ambitious climate action, Maryland also joined the U.S. Climate Alliance this January, and participated in a multi-state process to strengthen RGGI.
  • Alaska Governor Bill Walker — an Independent — signed an order in October 2017 establishing an advisory team to propose actions, including “statutory and regulatory changes,” for the state to reduce carbon pollution and support the goals of the Paris Agreement.
  • Just last week, environmental and energy regulators from thirteen states — California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, and Washington delivered a letter to Administrator Pruitt opposing repeal of the Clean Power Plan and highlighting important progress across states to reduce carbon pollution from the power sector. “Low natural gas prices, declining costs of renewable energy technologies, and low demand growth are all existing power sector trends that have allowed our states to reap positive economic benefits from reducing emissions. The CPP would amplify these trends and make emissions reductions easier and more cost-effective,” the states write in the letter.

Shared prosperity under a stable climate

As the impacts of climate change — from wildfires to hurricanescontinue to threaten vulnerable communities across the U.S. and around the world, concerted actions to cut climate pollution are more important than ever.

At the same time, efforts to transition to a clean energy economy are delivering myriad benefits — from millions of good-paying clean energy jobs, to critical public health protections, to more affordable and more reliable electricity.

The leadership demonstrated by a growing group of states and major power companies to advance climate progress is critical to securing the benefits of a stable climate and clean energy future for millions of Americans. With continued leadership, and a return to meaningful federal action, America will see a global clean energy transformation and secure shared prosperity for all.

Also posted in Clean Power Plan, Economics, Energy, EPA litgation, Greenhouse Gas Emissions, News, Policy, Pruitt / Comments are closed

Administrator Pruitt opened the door to making Houston’s air toxics problem worse

Residents of Houston, Texas – our nation’s fourth largest city – have long been burdened with a serious air pollution problem.

Between 2013 and 2015, the Houston area reported unhealthy levels of ground-level ozone (“smog”) on an average of over 23 days each year. Last year, the American Lung Association ranked Houston as the sixteenth-most polluted city in the nation for year-round particle pollution.

The city’s massive industrial base – which includes two of the nation’s four largest petroleum refineries and more than 400 chemical manufacturing plants – spews a wide array of carcinogenic and toxic substances like benzene, 1,3-butadiene, and formaldehyde. The Environmental Protection Agency’s latest National Air Toxics Assessment, not surprisingly, found elevated cancer risks in many Houston neighborhoods as a result of these pollutants.

Recent records also show that pollution releases from these industrial facilities in the wake of Hurricane Harvey are also much higher than initially reported.

Yet EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, rather than working to reduce this dangerous pollution, has opened the door to even greater risks to public health.

On January 25th, Pruitt’s EPA abruptly overturned a long-standing policy that was designed to prevent large industrial sources from increasing their emissions of hazardous air pollutants such as benzene. Under the new policy, many industrial facilities that are now subject to tough emission standards for “major” sources would be allowed to become subject to weaker emission standards, or even avoid federal emission limits altogether.

This dangerous new “Air Toxics Loophole” was issued without any opportunity for public comment, and with no consideration of its public health or air pollution impacts.

That’s why, we joined with six other public health and environmental organizations last month to file a legal challenge to the Air Toxics Loophole in a federal court of appeals

Today, we are releasing a white paper that takes a closer look at what the Air Toxics Loophole might mean for emissions of hazardous air pollutants in the Houston-Galveston area. We used EPA’s own enforcement and compliance database, EPA’s most recent National Emissions Inventory (NEI), and a careful review of federal permitting records to identify facilities that might be able to take advantage of the Air Toxics Loophole – and to estimate what the potential emissions impact might be.

The results aren’t pretty. In the Houston area alone, we identified 18 facilities that are potentially eligible to use the new Air Toxics Loophole. These facilities collectively emitted approximately 183 tons (366,000 pounds) of hazardous air pollutants in 2014. If all of these facilities exploited the Air Toxics Loophole to the maximum degree, we estimated that annual hazardous air pollution from these facilities would increase by almost two-and-a-half times – to a total of about 450 tons (900,000 pounds).

Many of these facilities are located in communities that are highly vulnerable to the harmful impacts of air pollution: half are located in areas where more than one in five people live in poverty and where people of color make up more than 30 percent of the population. On average, almost 20,000 people live within three miles of each facility in our dataset.

We aren’t the only ones to point out the potential risks of the Air Toxics Loophole. A report issued by the Environmental Integrity Project last month identified twelve additional facilities across the Midwest that could take advantage of the Air Toxics Loophole – and estimated that emissions from those facilities could more than quadruple to 540,000 pounds per year if they were to do so.

EPA’s own staff have pointed out the risks as well. Under the George W. Bush Administration, EPA floated – but never finalized – a proposal that was very similar to the Air Toxics Loophole. EPA received critical comments from state air regulators and EPA’s regional offices that raised the same concerns about the potential increases in toxic air pollution.

That Administrator Pruitt has decided to plow ahead again despite those warnings, and with no public input and no analysis of health impacts, is unconscionable. The results of our Houston analysis underscore how reckless that decision was.

Unfortunately, this isn’t the first time this EPA has denied the public an opportunity to participate in a major decision that will impact so many lives. Over the last year, EPA has taken a series of actions to roll back important safeguards, often at the demand of industry representatives, with no opportunity for the public to comment. Luckily, courts have been serving as an important backstop and are rejecting agency actions taken with disregard for required administrative procedures.

Let’s hope that the Air Toxics Loophole meets the same fate.

Photo: Manchester Ship Channel in Houston. Credit: Garth Lenz/International League of Conservation Photographers

Also posted in EPA litgation, Policy / Comments are closed

An outpouring of support for clean car standards, in the face of Pruitt’s attempted rollback

Cars on a dealer lot, waiting to be sold. Photo: Every Car Listed

(EDF Legal Fellow Erin Murphy co-authored this post)

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt just announced his intention to rollback one of our country’s biggest climate success stories – clean car standards that reduce pollution and save Americans money at the pump.

In a closed-door ceremony, Pruitt kicked off a process to weaken these standards — placing at risk as much as two billion tons of climate pollution reductions and $460 billion in consumer savings.

His determination cited the auto industry dozens of times yet made no mention of people’s health or climate change, and cited zero EPA analyses justifying the rollback.

Even some auto industry leaders have raised concerns about this attack:

  • Honda: “We didn’t ask for that,” said Robert Bienenfeld, assistant vice president in charge of environment and energy strategy. “The position we outlined was sensible.”
  • Ford: “We support increasing clean car standards through 2025 and are not asking for a rollback.”
  • Adam Lee, chairman of Lee Auto Malls: “Trump has been saying these standards are crushing the auto industry. But we’ve had record years for the past four or five years, in terms of sales and profit. It almost makes you think he doesn’t have the facts.”
  • Automotive Technology Leadership Group: “It is in the nation’s best interest for the U.S. to continue leading in the development and manufacture of the cleanest and most efficient vehicles in the world. The innovation brought on by competition and our national performance standards has created hundreds of thousands of jobs in this country and significant market opportunities for U.S. companies abroad.”

Pruitt’s announcement has even generated a backlash in the most auto-industry-friendly place in America – Detroit.

In a strongly-worded editorial, the Detroit Free Press accused auto companies of reneging on their deal with the American taxpayer:

  • “[T]he auto bailout was more than a federally guaranteed loan; it was a multi-lateral agreement that your companies would henceforth go about the business of manufacturing cars and trucks more thoughtfully than they had in the past … [M]anufacturing more fuel-efficient vehicles that would cost less to operate and spew a dramatically smaller amount of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere was part of the bargain that saved your lives.” – Detroit Free Press editorial

The clean car standards have strong public support across the country. A recent American Lung Association poll showed that nearly seven in 10 voters want EPA to leave current fuel efficiency standards in place.

That support is reflected in the broad outpouring of support for clean cars expressed in the run up to, and aftermath of, Pruitt’s rollback announcement. A diverse group of leaders recognizes that weakening these protections will cost Americans money, hurt our health, and harm our national security:

  • “Thanks to emissions and efficiency standards, consumers have saved billions of dollars on fuel over the last 5 years. And if the standards were protected instead of undermined, consumers could expect to save a lot more over the next decade. It would be wasteful to discard those consumer savings, but EPA now appears poised to do just that.” – Shannon Baker-Branstetter, Consumers Union
  • “The American Lung Association strongly opposes EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt’s decision to revise the clean car standards … Transportation is the nation’s single largest contributor of carbon pollution, which drives climate change. Starting a process to weaken clean car standards marks yet another step backward from the fight to curb climate change. Climate change poses serious threats to millions of people, especially to some of the most vulnerable Americans, including children, older adults and those living with chronic diseases such as asthma.” – American Lung Association CEO Harold Wimmer
  • “Weakening CAFE and reducing future U.S. net oil exports will further diminish the future global energy leverage of the United States and leave the country and its allies on a more precarious footing.” – Council on Foreign Relations blog, 3/13/18

Political leaders across the country have voiced strong bipartisan support for the existing clean car standards:

  • “Today’s EPA decision on vehicle emissions won’t prevent us from fulfilling what we believe is an obligation to protect Colorado’s air and the health of our citizens. Many of our auto manufacturers are making cars cleaner and more efficient. Indeed, many support the existing stricter standards. It doesn’t make sense that the EPA would take us backwards. Who is the EPA trying to protect?” – Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper:
  • “As U.S. attorneys general, mayors and county executives, we – not federal officials in Washington, D.C. – are primarily responsible for the transportation systems upon which our residents and our local and regional economies depend. A clean, efficient and high-performance vehicle fleet is an essential component of these systems. We strongly support the current federal standards for such a modern vehicle fleet agreed to in 2012 by the automotive industry, the federal government and the State of California.” – A Coalition of 12 State Attorneys General and Over Fifty Mayors
  • “Today’s announcement by EPA Administrator Pruitt to weaken vehicle emissions standards is in direct conflict with the agency’s mandate to reduce air pollution. This decision will increase air pollution and limit innovative technology advancements that bring cleaner, more efficient cars to market. We support the current federal standards agreed to in 2012 by the automotive industry, the federal government, and the State of California.  These standards are helping to drive the global transition to more efficient transportation technologies. They also protect the health of our communities and reduce the pollution that is changing our climate.” – 17 Governors of states across the country and Puerto Rico

Labor and investment experts have also recognized that the clean car standards are essential for long-term American auto sector innovation, vitality, and jobs:

  • “The current standards have helped bring back, secure, and create jobs nationwide; they have reduced pollution; saved consumers billions at the pump; and have been integral to growing and sustaining America’s manufacturing sector over the past decade. Weakening the rules — which is indicated to be the intent of today’s decision — could put American jobs at risk today and in coming years, and would threaten America’s competitiveness in manufacturing critical technology.” – BlueGreen Alliance Director of Advanced Vehicles and Transportation, Zoe Lipman
  • “Strong national fuel economy and emissions standards spur innovation and open the door to tremendous economic opportunities. They represent an investment in technological and economic leadership. Weakening them would be a bad deal for investors, workers, car owners, and businesses—and for the American economy itself.” -­ David Richardson, Impax Asset Management
Also posted in Cars and Pollution, Economics, Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Health, Jobs, News, Partners for Change, Policy, Pruitt, What Others are Saying / Comments are closed

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt’s Dirty Cars Action – By the Numbers

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt just announced an attack on our nation’s clean car standards – standards that are reducing dangerous pollution and saving Americans’ hard-earned money.

We’ve reviewed Pruitt’s action. Here’s a look – by the numbers:

  • Zero – Number of times Pruitt mentions the words “children,” “health,” “air pollution” or “climate”
  • Fourteen – Number of times Pruitt directly quotes the auto industry
  • One – Number of times Pruitt quotes anyone else
  • Sixty-Three – Number of times Pruitt cites the auto industry
  • Zero – Number of cited EPA analyses that support rollbacks
  • Two – Number of automakers – Ford and Honda – who have stated they do not need a rollback of EPA’s clean car standards
  • Fifteen – Number of states that warned the Trump Administration that any effort to weaken our nation’s clean car standards would be met by a “vigorous” court challenge
  • Three – Number of auto companies whose association is represented by Steven Hart, the lobbyist whose wife owns the condo that Pruitt rented for only $50-per-night
  • Two Billion –The tons of climate pollution reductions at risk under Pruitt’s attack
  • 17.5 percentGeneral Motor’s contribution to the potential excess pollution – the single largest volume of pollution associated with any single automaker
  • $460 Billion – The fuel savings for American families at risk under Pruitt’s attack
Also posted in Cars and Pollution, Greenhouse Gas Emissions, News, Policy / Comments are closed

Key takeaways from the court decision blocking suspension of BLM’s Waste Prevention Rule

(EDF Legal Fellow Samantha Caravello co-authored this post)

A U.S. District Court judge has halted Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s latest effort to suspend the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) Waste Prevention Rule.

The judge issued a preliminary injunction last night in response to legal challenges brought by the states of California and New Mexico, and by EDF and a coalition of conservation and tribal citizen groups.

The court decision ensures that the Waste Prevention Protections are in full force and effect, delivering important benefits to tribes, ranchers and families across the West. It also demonstrates that facts matter, and that public input matters — and, as the court recognized, Zinke ignored both when he suspended the Waste Prevention Rule.

Here are some key takeaways from the court’s decision.

Zinke’s suspension would have resulted in immediate and irreparable harms

The Waste Prevention Rule requires that oil and gas companies take common sense actions to prevent the waste of valuable natural gas on federal and tribal lands. These actions also reduce harmful air pollution including methane, and smog-forming and toxic pollutants.

Judge William Orrick, of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, found that Zinke’s attempt to suspend the Waste Prevention Rule would have real, immediate, and irreversible effects on public health and the environment.

In reaching this conclusion, the judge highlighted the severe health threat that Zinke’s suspension would pose for people living near oil and gas operations.

He cited:

“[T]he waste of publicly owned natural gas, increased air pollution and associated health impacts, and exacerbated climate impacts.” (Order, page 2)

The judge referred to declarations from EDF experts and members that documented these health and climate harms, including:

  • “Environmental Defense Fund member Francis Don Schreiber, for example, resides on a ranch in Governador, New Mexico, where there are 122 oil and gas wells either on or immediately adjacent to his land, all managed by BLM and subject to the Suspension Rule…. He notices an ‘extremely strong’ ‘near-constant smell from leaking wells,’ which ‘make[s] breathing uncomfortable’ and causes concern that he and his wife ‘are breathing harmful hydrocarbons…’ As Schreiber suffers from a heart condition and has already had open heart surgery, he is ‘at a higher risk from breathing ozone,’ and is ‘constantly concerned about the impact of the air quality on [his] heart condition.’” (Order, page 26)
  • “Dr. Ilissa B. Ocko, climate scientist, states that the 175,000 additional tons of methane that will result during the one-year suspension is ‘equivalent to the 20-year climate impact of over 3,000,000 passenger vehicles driving for one year or over 16 billion pounds of coal burned.’” (Order, page 25)
  • “Dr. Renee McVay, whose research focuses on atmospheric chemistry, estimates that approximately 6,182 wells subject to the Waste Prevention Rule are located in counties already suffering from unhealthy air with elevated ozone levels… The Suspension Rule will result in additional emissions of 2,089 tons of VOCs in these already at-risk communities, where many of the conservation and tribal group plaintiffs’ members reside, leading to and exacerbating impaired lung functioning, serious cardiovascular and pulmonary problems, and cancer and neurological damage.” (Order, page 25)

The court concluded:

“Plaintiffs list several environmental injuries with effects statewide, to the general public, and on the personal level, any of which might be sufficient to establish likely irreparable harm.” (Order, page 27)

Facts and analysis matter

In addition to these irreparable harms, the court found that EDF and our allies were likely to succeed on the merits:

“Plaintiffs have provided several reasons that the Suspension Rule is arbitrary and capricious, both for substantive reasons, as a result of the lack of a reasoned analysis, and procedural ones, due to the lack of meaningful notice and comment.” (Order, page 29)

Under the law, when a federal agency seeks to change a prior policy – as Zinke did when he sought to suspend the common sense requirements in the Waste Prevention Rule – that agency must provide “good reasons and detailed justification.” (Order, page 12)

The court found that Zinke fell short of these important requirements because he repeatedly “fail[ed] to point to any factual support underlying [his alleged] concern[s]” over the Waste Prevention Rule. (Order, page 14)

The court carefully evaluated each alleged justification for the suspension put forth by Zinke, and found them all lacking.

For example, the court noted that with respect to Zinke’s “concerns” regarding production wells:

“[C]ounsel for the government essentially conceded that it was in possession of no new facts or data underlying this ‘newfound’ concern.’” (Order, page 14)

Ultimately, the court found:

“[I]t appears that BLM is simply casually ignoring all of its previous findings and arbitrarily changing course.” (Order, page 17, internal quotation omitted)

The court’s careful analysis underscores that these facts matter, and that Zinke cannot ignore the substantial record evidence supporting the common sense standards in the Waste Prevention Rule.

Public input matters

The court also found that Zinke attempted to ignore key input from the public on the suspension of the Waste Prevention Rule by deeming comments on the importance and effectiveness of the Waste Prevention Rule “outside of the scope” of his action. (Order, page 23)

The court found Zinke’s “refus[al] to consider” this important input on “integral” issues was inconsistent with bedrock requirements of administrative law.

The fight to protect these safeguards is not over

The court has now determined that EDF and our allies are “likely to succeed on [our] claim that BLM failed to consider the scope of commentary that it should have in promulgating the Suspension Rule and relied on opinions untethered to evidence.” (Order, page 24)

Next, the case will proceed to the merits stage, in which the court will issue a final decision on the legality of Zinke’s suspension of the Waste Prevention Rule. A schedule has not yet been set for this next phase of the litigation.

However, just as the court was blocking his suspension, Zinke was separately trying to rescind nearly all of the key provisions of the Waste Prevention Rule that he was also trying to suspend.

Zinke acknowledges that this rescission will cost taxpayers millions in lost royalties, and will result in additional emissions of climate-warming methane as well as smog-forming volatile organic compounds and hazardous air pollutants – but he nonetheless is proposing to eliminate the protections in the Waste Prevention Rule.

BLM is accepting public comment on the rescission proposal until April 23. It is important that Zinke continue to hear from the public about the harmful impacts that will result from his actions to remove these common sense protection. Comments on the proposal can be filed here.

Also posted in Energy, Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Health, News, Policy / Read 1 Response