Selected category: EPA litgation

The fight for transparency and accountability at EPA

This blog was co-authored by Surbhi Sarang, EDF Legal Fellow.

Since taking the helm at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Scott Pruitt has attempted to hide his activities from scrutiny by limiting the public’s access to information.

He has ended the decades-long, bipartisan practice of releasing the daily schedules of top agency leadership, removed EPA webpages, and announced harmful policies close in time with private meetings with lobbyists from affected industries.

EDF has been at the forefront of efforts to promote transparency and accountability at EPA. That’s why we just filed a lawsuit to compel EPA to comply with its legal duty to release public records under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

Scott Pruitt’s record of secrecy and ethical conflicts

Scott Pruitt’s opaqueness and secrecy have sharply contrasted with basic principles of good government.

Under the Ethics in Government Act of 1978, the Office of Government Ethics issued regulations for executive branch employees:

To ensure that every citizen can have complete confidence in the integrity of the Federal Government.

Among other requirements:

Employees shall act impartially and not give preferential treatment to any private organization or individual” and “shall endeavor to avoid any actions creating the appearance that they are violating the law or . . . ethical standards.

The Office of Government Ethics titled this regulation the “basic obligation of public service.”

Pruitt and his senior leadership have raised serious questions as to whether they are abiding by these principles.

In just one example, earlier this summer thirteen state Attorneys General formally objected to a guidance letter in which Pruitt expressed his flawed, misleading opinion about a crucial issue in litigation over the Clean Power Plan — America’s only nationwide limits on carbon pollution from existing power plants.

The Attorneys General wrote that Pruitt’s conduct was “inconsistent with his agreement not to participate in the litigation,” given that he repeatedly sued EPA over the Clean Power Plan when he served as Attorney General of Oklahoma.

Pruitt also discontinued the practice of releasing his schedule, along with the schedules of senior leadership.

The bipartisan practice of releasing schedules stretches back decades and was initiated expressly:

In order to make the public fully aware of [the Administrator’s] contacts with interested persons.

Following months of public pressure and more than 60 FOIA requests, Pruitt finally released a partial public account of his schedule. But that account provides only a minimal level of detail of how and with whom Pruitt spends his time.

Pruitt later released a more detailed appointments calendar, but it covered a limited date range and included many redactions worthy of additional scrutiny. And neither of those releases provides any transparency for other EPA senior officials.

To obtain any more information about how EPA leadership spends its time, EDF’s only recourse has been to demand the release of these public records under FOIA.

EDF’s efforts to promote transparency and accountability

EDF is taking action to protect important standards of transparency and accountability at EPA — and to keep the public informed about policymaking that directly impacts the health and environment of all Americans.

Our lawsuit concerns three FOIA requests that directly address the integrity of EPA’s operations. For each request, EPA’s legally mandated deadline for providing a response is several months overdue, despite EDF’s extensive outreach to EPA over many months in an effort to elicit the requested records.

The first request seeks records related to the ethics agreement that Pruitt signed shortly after his nomination to lead EPA, in which he outlined:

[S]teps that [he] will take to avoid any actual or apparent conflict of interest.

We submitted this FOIA request in January 2017 – more than nine months ago.

Pruitt’s ethics agreement diverged from the standard language used by the Office of Government Ethics – even though Pruitt’s longstanding and very public opposition to a litany of EPA’s public health and environmental safeguards calls into question his ability to be impartial, particularly on matters in which he represented Oklahoma and long ago took fixed positions. Since taking the oath of office as Administrator, Pruitt has actively tried to undermine public health and environmental protections — like the Clean Power Plan — and has proposed to repeal protections that he had long attacked while Attorney General of Oklahoma.

Our FOIA request seeks records pertaining to the evaluation of Pruitt’s actual or potential conflicts of interest, including any analysis that informed his ethics agreement.

The second request is for records related to Pruitt’s and his senior managers’ schedules.

The most complete information we’ve received so far on Pruitt’s activities is only a select snapshot released through a FOIA request. That snapshot contains more than 100 redacted calendar appointments, and only runs through mid-May.

Even this limited information reveals the special access granted to polluter lobbyists — many of whom come from industries that have supported Pruitt’s political career for years. A more comprehensive release, including the calendars of senior EPA managers, would provide a fuller picture of the constituency that Pruitt and his political staff are serving.

The third request is for public documents related to threats to scientific integrity at EPA.

EDF requested these records in light of the Trump Transition Team’s efforts to single out civil servants at the Department of Energy who worked on climate science and policy. Since we submitted this FOIA request more than seven months ago, subsequent events — including the removal of EPA’s Climate Science website, scientific distortions that accompanied the proposal to repeal the Clean Power Plan, threatened efforts that would compromise the integrity of EPA advisory boards, and the muzzling of EPA scientists who were scheduled to deliver public presentations on climate change — have only increased the urgency of providing public access to records about the treatment of scientific integrity at EPA.

EDF will continue working to protect transparency and accountability at EPA by supporting Americans’ ability to access information about health and environmental policies, and by shining a light on the Trump Administration’s attacks on vital safeguards for families and communities across America.

Also posted in Clean Air Act, Clean Power Plan, Policy, Setting the Facts Straight| Comments are closed

Yes, Administrator Pruitt, EPA does have the obligation to protect America from climate pollution

(This post was co-authored by EDF’s Ben Levitan)

The head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is once again misleading the American people in an effort to avoid doing his job.

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt was interviewed on Fox News this week, and questioned his legal authority and responsibility to protect the public from the pollution that causes climate change.

During that interview, Pruitt asked:

[W]hat authority has Congress given the EPA to engage in rulemaking to reduce [carbon dioxide]?

Pruitt made similar remarks at the Heritage Foundation earlier this week – peddling the discredited notion that the “Clean Air Act was set up to address local and regional air pollutants, not the global phenomena of [climate pollution].”

We’ve written about this extensively at EDF. We’re happy to go over it one more time to help Administrator Pruitt, since he seems to be having trouble understanding it.

  • That authority is in the Clean Air Act, which is a law that was passed by Congress.
  • We know that authority is in the Clean Air Act because the Supreme Court told us so.
  • The Supreme Court then said so again – and again after that.

So to sum up, we’ve been told by the High Court three times that the authority is indeed in the law that was passed by Congress.

Pruitt’s remarks come just over a week after he signed a proposed rule to abolish the Clean Power Plan — America’s only nationwide limit on climate pollution from fossil fuel power plants.

EPA is legally obligated to protect Americans from harmful climate pollution, but Pruitt’s destructive proposal would leave American communities exposed to greater climate risks, and cost thousands of American lives by increasing dangerous air pollution.

Pruitt’s words on Fox News, and even more so his actions, are appalling. The official who is charged with administering our nation’s clean air laws for the benefit of the American people – laws that the Supreme Court has now held on three separate occasions clearly apply to pollutants that are driving destructive climate change – should not be questioning his basic job description.

Communities and families across the country are already feeling the impacts of climate change through stronger hurricanes, increased flooding, more damaging wildfires, rising sea levels, worsened air quality, and more intense heat waves. Americans overwhelmingly want swift action to address this clear and urgent threat – not Pruitt’s distortions and delay.

Here’s more detail about Pruitt’s legal responsibilities:

Contrary to Pruitt’s claims, the Supreme Court has repeatedly and unequivocally affirmed that Congress gave EPA authority to regulate climate pollution:

  • In Massachusetts v. EPA (549 U.S. 497, 2007), the Supreme Court found “without a doubt” that climate pollution falls within the broad definition of “air pollutants” covered by the Clean Air Act. The Court ordered EPA to make a science-based determination as to whether those pollutants endanger public health and welfare. EPA finalized its determination 2009. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit categorically rejected a barrage of legal challenges to the determination, including one brought by Scott Pruitt when he was attorney general of Oklahoma.
  • In American Electric Power v. Connecticut (564 U.S. 410, 2011), the Supreme Court unanimously held that the Clean Air Act “speaks directly” to the problem of climate pollution from power plants – a point that even opponents of the Clean Power Plan conceded at oral argument in the case.
  • In Utility Air Regulatory Group v. EPA (134 S. Ct. 2427, 2014), the Supreme Court held that the Clean Air Act obligated EPA to ensure that new and modified industrial facilities apply the best available control technology to reduce their emissions of carbon dioxide.

Scott Pruitt’s latest statement questioning EPA’s authority not only contradicts the rulings of the Supreme Court, it departs from the views of former EPA Administrators who have served in administrations of both political parties.

As Christine Todd Whitman, EPA Administrator under George W. Bush, put it:

I think, as a matter of law, that carbon is a pollutant has been settled.

Pruitt’s comments to Fox News also contradict his own previous statements to Congress. During his confirmation hearing to become EPA Administrator, Pruitt told United States Senators that the Supreme Court rulings were the “law of the land” and needed to be “enforced and respected.”

In the Fox News interview, Pruitt also took aim at the Clean Power Plan, repeating his false claim that the Supreme Court held the plan to be unlawful.

In fact, the Supreme Court never issued an opinion on the merits of the Clean Power Plan. It never even heard the case.

The Supreme Court simply put the Clean Power Plan on hold until legal challenges played out in the courts. And since then, Pruitt’s EPA has gone to extraordinary lengths to prevent any court from ruling on the legal merits of the Clean Power Plan.

Just as Pruitt glosses over Supreme Court precedent he doesn’t like, he also seems to have invented a Supreme Court ruling that he desires.

Pruitt’s continued claims that the Clean Power Plan is unlawful are also at odds with the views of leading legal experts – including the Attorneys General of eighteen states, former Republican Administrators of EPA under Presidents Nixon, Reagan, and Bush, and leading drafters of the Clean Air Act. They have all stood up in federal court to defend the fundamental legality of this vital climate and health safeguard.

Pruitt also took a moment in his interview with Fox News to question the health benefits associated with the Clean Power Plan – which include as many as 3,600 avoided deaths each year and thousands of avoided heart attacks and asthma attacks.

As many experts have documented, Pruitt’s EPA has deployed deceptive gimmicks to hide the consequences to human health of repealing the Clean Power Plan. Those gimmicks include assuming, contrary to the conclusions of the American Heart Association, the World Health Organization, the National Research Council, and EPA’s own scientific advisors, that there are zero benefits to reducing air pollution beyond certain levels.

Pruitt made those claims even though EPA acknowledged in its proposed repeal that the Clean Power Plan would achieve pollution reductions that would protect the health of our children.

This isn’t the first time Scott Pruitt has distorted the law and science in order to dismantle key climate and public health protections. Along with the Clean Power Plan, Pruitt has attacked pollution standards for oil and natural gas facilities, climate pollution standards for cars, and standards for heavy-duty trucks.

Americans should be outraged at Scott Pruitt’s repeated misleading statements on settled questions of law and science.

Also posted in Clean Air Act, Clean Power Plan, Health, News, Policy, Setting the Facts Straight| Comments are closed

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 News, Policy| Read 2 Responses

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 News, Policy, Setting the Facts Straight| 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, Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Policy| Comments are closed

EDF, coalition partners urge the D.C. Circuit to decide the Clean Power Plan case

Environmental Defense Fund and fourteen other public health and environmental organizations filed a brief yesterday urging the United States Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit to issue a decision on the merits in the litigation over the Clean Power Plan – America’s only nationwide standards limiting harmful carbon pollution from existing fossil fuel power plants.

Other parties supporting the Clean Power Plan also filed briefs, including 18 states and 7 municipalities, power companies representing nearly 10 percent of the nation’s generation, and associations representing America’s vibrant $200 billion clean energy industry.

The latest filings all respond to a recent D.C. Circuit order which temporarily suspended the litigation and directed the parties to submit briefs on whether to continue the suspension (known as an “abeyance”) or terminate the case and hand the matter back to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for further review (known as “remand”).

This order addressed a motion filed by the Trump Administration on March 28, which asked the court to suspend the Clean Power Plan litigation indefinitely and refrain from deciding the legal merits of the Clean Power Plan.

Here’s what’s at stake at this critical juncture in the Clean Power Plan litigation – and a few things we can count on regardless of how the court rules on yesterday’s filings.

 Real World Consequences for Healthier Air and a Safer Climate

The briefs have vital real-world consequences for everyone who cares about healthier air and a safer climate.

As legal experts have noted, the Administration’s move is a brazen, eleventh-hour attempt to prevent the D.C. Circuit from issuing a timely opinion on legal issues that are central to EPA’s responsibility under the Clean Air Act to protect the public against climate pollution. The Administration filed its March 28 motion almost a year after the parties submitted briefs in the case, and six months after ten judges of the D.C. Circuit held an exhaustive seven hour-long oral argument.

Because the Supreme Court voted 5-to-4 to temporarily block the enforcement of the Clean Power Plan while the courts reviewed the legal challenges, the Administration’s motion would also indefinitely delay the enforcement of these urgently needed and long-overdue limits on carbon pollution.

The Administration’s motion asked the court for an indefinite pause in the litigation while EPA undertakes the long process of reviewing – and likely rescinding or weakening – the Clean Power Plan. However, if the court declines to decide the central legal questions in this case now, the same issues would likely have to be re-litigated again after EPA has completed its review. This would add years of unnecessary delay at a time when the urgency of action to mitigate climate pollution has never been greater.

Americans have been waiting for protection from climate pollution from power plants for almost twenty years — with no relief:

  • In 1998, EPA’s General Counsel Jonathan Cannon concluded in a memorandum to the EPA Administrator that EPA has authority to regulate carbon dioxide from power plants under the Clean Air Act – but EPA took no action to address the issue.
  • In 2003, environmental organizations filed a complaint against EPA in federal district court seeking carbon dioxide standards for fossil fuel-fired power plants under section 111 of the Clean Air Act.
  • In 2006, states and environmental organizations filed a legal challenge in the D.C. Circuit to EPA’s failure to establish carbon dioxide standards for power plants under the Clean Air Act.
  • In 2007, the Supreme Court issued its landmark decision in Massachusetts v. EPA, which affirmed that climate pollution is subject to regulation under the Clean Air Act. The D.C. Circuit then remanded the 2006 lawsuit to EPA to address the issue of establishing carbon dioxide standards for power plants.
  • In 2010, states, public health, and environmental organizations reached a settlement with EPA in which the agency committed to finalizing carbon pollution standards for new and existing power plants by 2012 – a deadline that the agency failed to meet.
  • In 2011, the Supreme Court relied on EPA’s authority under section 111 of the Clean Air Act as a basis for dismissing suits filed by states for common law damages against some of the nation’s most polluting power companies — holding that section 111 “speaks directly” to the problem of climate pollution from power plants.
  • In 2015, after almost two years of intensive public outreach and after considering millions of public comments — and using its authority under section 111 of the Clean Air Act — EPA adopted the Clean Power Plan.
  • In 2016, a closely divided Supreme Court voted 5-to-4 to temporarily block the enforcement of the Clean Power Plan pending judicial review of the merits.

Affected communities and vulnerable populations have waited long enough for action to protect our health and climate, while more and more climate pollution is accumulating in the atmosphere. That’s why the court should decide this case now rather than leaving climate protection in long-term legal limbo.

The Urgent Need for Limits on Carbon Pollution from the Nation’s Power Plants

The Clean Power Plan is a common sense climate and public health protection that will carbon reduce pollution from one of the nation’s largest sources, saving thousands of lives each year and protecting the health of all Americans.

The Clean Power Plan gives states and power companies tremendous flexibility in deciding how to reduce carbon pollution, including through cost-effective energy efficiency measures that save families money. Investments in clean energy and energy efficiency are already growing rapidly, employing over three million Americans and bringing hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue each year to low-income and rural areas.

That’s why a strikingly broad and diverse coalition emerged to defend the Clean Power Plan in court. The coalition includes: eighteen states and sixty municipalities; power companies that own and operate nearly ten percent of the nation’s generating capacity; leading businesses like Amazon, Apple, Google, Mars, and IKEA; former Republican heads of EPA; public health and environmental organizations; consumer and ratepayer advocates; faith organizations; and many others.

Coal producers, coal-intensive power companies, and their political allies have waged a massive, years-long litigation effort to thwart any limits whatsoever on climate-destabilizing pollution from power plants. Their campaign recently got an assist when the Trump Administration issued an executive order on March 28 that took aim at the Clean Power Plan and many other vital clean air protections.

In response to that executive order, an extraordinary array of leading businesses, faith leaders, medical associations, state and municipal officials, and other stakeholders have spoken out against the Administration’s threats to climate and health protections or vowed to continue moving towards a low-carbon future.

In recent weeks, dissent has emerged even within the coalition challenging the Clean Power Plan: North Carolina formally withdrew its challenge to the Clean Power Plan on February 23.

Millions of Americans in red and blue states – including a majority of Americans in every Congressional district in the country – support strong action to reduce carbon pollution from existing power plants. This public chorus reflects an understanding of the growing hazards of climate change, which is already affecting public health and well-being in a host of ways.

America has been demanding action from EPA since 2003, has been told multiple times by the Supreme Court that EPA has authority to act, and is now counting on the D.C. Circuit to resolve key legal questions about the scope of that authority. For that reason, our brief argues that the most fair and efficient course of action for the Court is to resolve those questions now.

EPA is Required to Act. It’s Up to All of Us to Make Sure EPA Fulfills That Obligation

Regardless of how the Court rules on today’s filings, a few critical facts will remain unchanged:

  • EPA has a clear legal obligation to protect the public from carbon pollution. The Supreme Court has affirmed EPA’s authority to regulate greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act three times since 2007, including EPA’s authority to limit carbon pollution from power plants under the Clean Air Act provision that is the basis for the Clean Power Plan.
  • EPA’s carbon pollution standards for new power plants remain in full force and effect. Separate from the Clean Power Plan, EPA adopted carbon pollution standards for new, modified, and reconstructed fossil fuel-fired power plants in August 2015. Although those standards have also been the target of legal challenges by polluters and their allies, the enforcement of those standards has not been blocked by the courts.  They will remain in full force and effect regardless of how the Court acts.
  • EPA can’t roll back the Clean Power Plan or the carbon pollution standards for new power plants without public comment or judicial review. Even if the court declines to issue an opinion and instead suspends the litigation or remands the rule to EPA, the Clean Power Plan would still be the law of the land. Any attempt to withdraw or modify the Clean Power Plan (or the carbon pollution standards for new power plants) would first have to go through the same rigorous public notice and comment process that EPA carefully followed in adopting them. Such changes would also be subject to judicial review in the federal courts, and would be set aside if they are contrary to the Clean Air Act or do not rest on sound technical and policy foundations.

Americans all across the country are demanding an end to the era of unlimited carbon pollution from power plants.

In the face of the Trump Administration’s assault on common sense protections, the Environmental Defense Fund is ready to fight harder than ever for healthier air and a safer climate for our children.

Also posted in Clean Air Act, Clean Power Plan, News, Partners for Change, Policy| Comments are closed
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