Climate 411

The lame-duck Trump EPA is rushing to finish its health-harming agenda. Here’s what’s in danger.

On Election Day, Americans rejected the Trump administration and its relentless assault on our health and environment. But now Trump’s EPA administrator, Andrew Wheeler, is rushing to finish a flurry of rules before Inauguration Day – rules that are a threat to the health of the American people, and rules that EDF is prepared to fight in court.

Wheeler is resuming his playbook from earlier this year, when EPA unleashed a barrage of health-harming policies just as Covid-19 was first spreading across the nation. As Americans grappled with sudden and unprecedented health, financial, and childcare challenges, Wheeler exploited the chaos by advancing a series of policies that put the health of our communities in even greater danger. Some of Wheeler’s anticipated moves now would finalize policies that were proposed during the first Covid-19 surge last spring, meaning that both ends of the rulemaking process will face reduced public scrutiny. That would hardly be surprising considering that secrecy and a disregard for public accountability have been hallmarks of the Trump administration’s health and environmental policy.

As EDF and others have repeatedly emphasized, EPA’s actions will cause the greatest harm in low-income communities and communities of color — areas that have long suffered from a disproportionate and unjust share of health-harming pollution. Many of the same communities have suffered the highest rates of Covid-19 impacts, and have struggled against voter suppression in this election season.

At EDF, we are not letting our guard down just because the Trump administration’s days are numbered. We have repeatedly prevailed in court against Wheeler’s attacks on our health and environment, and we are prepared to fight against dangerous policies that the administration finalizes during its waning weeks.

Here are a few of Wheeler’s threats to the nation’s climate and air quality that we are tracking:

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The broad coalition defending America’s state and national clean car standards in court

(Correction: This blog previously referred to a Blue Green Alliance estimate that the Clean Cars rollback would cost 200,000 jobs. That estimate was for the proposed rollback. We have now included the Trump administration’s own analysis of the final rollback, which found it would cost as many as 140,000 job-years.)

The legal battle over America’s Clean Car Standards is now in full swing.

EDF and a broad coalition that includes 23 states from all regions of the country recently filed court documents defending both state and national clean car standards against attacks from the Trump administration.

23 states from across the country have joined the coalition defending our nation’s Clean Car Standards.

The Trump administration recently finalized a rule that would roll back our national Clean Car Standards. This rollback would cause more than 18,000 premature deaths, cost Americans $244 billion at the gas pump, and produce as much climate pollution as running 68 coal plants for five years. The administration has also launched an unprecedented attack on states’ long-standing authority to protect people from vehicle pollution.

EDF and a group of public health and environmental groups, state and local governments, and businesses from across the economy have filed petitions challenging the rollback in court. And we recently filed a brief in a separate lawsuit arguing against the administration’s attack on state authority to limit vehicle emissions.

The broad coalition litigating to defend clean car standards includes:

  • 23 States and several cities that comprise a majority of America’s population and represent every region, from Michigan to North Carolina, Colorado, and California (seen in the map above)
  • Three Air Quality Management Districts responsible for maintaining safe, healthy air in their regions
  • 12 Public Health, Consumer, and Environmental Organizations including EDF, Center for Biological Diversity, Chesapeake Bay Foundation, Communities for a Better Environment, Conservation Law Foundation, Consumer Federation of America, Environment America, Environmental Law and Policy Center, Natural Resources Defense Council, Public Citizen, Sierra Club, and Union of Concerned Scientists
  • Dozens of Major Businesses from across the economy, including Advanced Energy Economy (whose more than 70 members include Microsoft, Google, Apple, Facebook, Lyft, Cummins, Bloomberg Energy, Comcast, Trane, and Apex Clean Energy), National Coalition for Advanced Transportation (whose 17 participating members include Tesla, Rivian, Chargepoint, and Plug In America), and 20 major power companies

In litigation over the attack on state clean car standards, our coalition has been joined by a dozen amici curiae, who have filed briefs as “friends of the court” in support of state authority. These amici include:

  • 147 Members of Congress from 32 states and the District of Columbia
  • Five Former Department of Transportation Secretaries and Four Former EPA Administrators from both Democratic and Republican administrations, as well as former EPA officials Michael Walsh and Margo Oge and Clean Air Act architect Thomas Jorling
  • Leading Researchers and Professors including University of Michigan law professor Leah Litman, New York University School of Law’s Institute for Policy Integrity, and seven climate science professors at California universities
  • Five Major Medical and Public Health Organizations including the American Thoracic Society, American Lung Association, American Medical Association, American Public Health Association, and California Medical Association
  • Four State and Local Government Organizations including the National League of Cities, U.S. Conference of Mayors, and International Municipal Lawyers’ Association, as well as the National Association of Clean Air Agencies
  • Two National Parks Organizations including the National Parks Conservation Association and Coalition to Protect America’s National Parks
  • Edison Electric Institute, the trade association representing all U.S. investor-owned power companies
  • Lyft, which has recently committed to providing 100% of its rides using electric vehicles by 2030

Additionally, six major automakers – Ford, Honda, Volkswagen, BMW, Rolls Royce, and Volvo – have independently entered into voluntary frameworks with California for continued nationwide pollution reductions from their vehicles, in recognition of California’s authority under the Clean Air Act and the continuing need for state leadership.

Protecting well-established state authority

Last September, the Trump administration purported to withdraw California’s authority to set vehicle pollution standards at a more protective level than the federal government, as well as other states’ authority to adopt these California standards. The Clean Air Act has always recognized California’s authority, which is based on the state’s historic leadership in setting vehicle standards and the need to address its serious pollution problems.

California has used this authority to set pathbreaking standards like its Zero Emission Vehicle standards, which 11 other states have adopted. Most recently, Nevada has joined New Mexico and Minnesota in announcing its plans to adopt these standards. This is just one recent example of states and businesses leading the way to lower transportation emissions. Others include California’s ongoing work to develop Advanced Clean Car 2.0 standards, its recently-finalized Advanced Clean Trucks standards (which will lead to electrification of all new medium- and heavy-duty trucks in the state by 2045), a clean trucks agreement by 15 states representing 35% of the national truck fleet (which aims to electrify 30% of new trucks in these states by 2030 and all of the states’ new trucks by 2050), and Lyft’s announcement that, in partnership with EDF, it will reach 100% electric vehicles by 2030. Defending California’s authority will be key in maintaining this momentum.

EDF and our allies have brought a legal challenge to the Trump administration’s attack on state authority. We recently filed briefs arguing that the administration’s reckless departure from longstanding precedent is arbitrary, capricious, and contrary to applicable law. The dozen amicus briefs added further breadth and depth to our coalition’s legal support for state authority.

Defending the Clean Car Standards from a rollback that harms public health, the economy, and the environment

On April 30, the Trump administration finalized a rollback that would eviscerate the national Clean Car Standards, cutting the required annual reduction in fleetwide climate pollution from about 5% to just 1.5%. Analysis by EDF shows that the rollback will result in an additional 1.5 billion tons of climate pollution, cause more than 18,000 premature deaths, and cost Americans $244 billion at the gas pump. The Trump administration’s own analysis shows that the rollback will cut as many as 140,000 job-years from the automotive sector (see page 24,988 of the Final Rule). That’s the amount of work that would employ 140,000 people full-time for one year.

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel told the New York Times that the rollback will be especially harmful to auto industry jobs in her state, so it’s no surprise that many automakers disagree with the administration’s approach. Ford, Honda, Volkswagen, BMW, and Rolls Royce have declined to defend the rollback in court and reaffirmed their voluntary frameworks with California. And electric vehicle manufacturers Tesla and Rivian are among the businesses challenging the rollback.

The rollback is based on massive technical and economic errors and fails to meet core statutory requirements to reduce pollution and maximize fuel economy. In fact, by the Trump administration’s own analysis, the rollback will result in net harm to Americans.

Protective clean car standards deliver critical climate, health, and consumer benefits, and EDF – along with our many partners and allies – will continue working to defend them.

You can find all the legal briefs in the cases on our website.

Also posted in Cars and Pollution, Cities and states, Clean Air Act, Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Health, Jobs, News, Partners for Change, Policy / Comments are closed

The case against the Trump administration’s rollback of the Clean Power Plan

The Environmental Protection Agency will file a legal brief today defending its decision to dismantle the Clean Power Plan and replace it with the harmful and cynically misnamed Affordable Clean Energy (ACE) rule.

But nothing EPA says can alter the fact that ACE is destructive, costly, and unlawful. EPA projects that ACE will reduce power sector emissions by a mere 0.7 percent by 2030, and will increase pollution at nearly one in five of the nation’s coal plants, two-thirds of which are located in minority and low-income communities.

In the face of a growing and ever-perilous climate crisis calling for meaningful action, we expect EPA will claim the Clean Air Act does not permit the agency to do more to reduce emissions from the nation’s largest industrial source of carbon pollution. This claim severely distorts the statutory requirements.

EDF filed suit last summer as part of a broad coalition of states, cities, other health and environmental advocates, power companies, and clean energy trade associations. In April, the coalition filed legal briefs showing that EPA has ample authority — and a clear obligation — under the Clean Air Act to require meaningful reduction of carbon pollution from power plants. These briefs collectively demonstrate that EPA’s repeal of the Clean Power Plan is based on a gross misreading of the Clean Air Act, and the agency’s replacement rule, premised on the same misreading, fails to live up to the statutory command that power plants use the “best system of emission reduction” to limit their carbon pollution.

Here are the key arguments we’ve made against the Clean Power Plan rollback and ACE.

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The pollution-enabling impacts of the Clean Power Plan “replacement”

EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler has suggested that ACE – the Trump administration’s harmful and deeply flawed replacement for the Clean Power Plan – is just as effective in protecting climate and public health as its predecessor.

Wheeler is wrong.

ACE will achieve virtually no reductions in carbon pollution from power plants and will increase health-harming pollution in many communities across the country. This harmful rule represents a huge step backwards at a time when communities across the nation are increasingly suffering devastating impacts from climate change – such as wildfires, extreme weather, coastal flooding, and intense heat waves – that underscore the need for rapid reductions in carbon pollution.

Following the finalization of the ACE rule in June, Wheeler said that when the rule is fully implemented, “we expect to see U.S. power sector CO2 emissions fall by as much as 35 percent below 2005 levels.”

What that claim fails to acknowledge is – that based on EPA’s own analysis – these reductions are projected to occur whether or not there is a federal policy in place. In other words, the ACE rule will accomplish no significant carbon pollution reductions beyond business-as-usual. By claiming credit for reductions that would happen anyway, Wheeler is simply masking the inefficacy of the rule.

The Clean Power Plan was the first-ever policy to set national limits on harmful carbon pollution from existing power plants. The ACE rule, in contrast, contains no binding limits on carbon pollution. Instead, the rule merely provides a list of “heat rate improvement measures” that would incrementally improve the operating efficiency of coal plants, leaving it up to the states to decide which – if any – of those measures to apply.

When the Clean Power Plan was finalized in 2015, EPA projected that power sector carbon pollution would be 17 percent below 2005 levels in 2030 under business-as-usual with no federal policy. Due to the plummeting costs of clean energy technologies and the ongoing market shift towards cleaner electricity sources, EPA now projects that power sector carbon pollution under business-as-usual with no federal policy will be much lower, at 35 percent below 2005 levels in 2030. According to EPA, the ACE rule is projected to achieve a trivial 0.7 percent reduction in carbon pollution compared to business-as-usual in 2030.

Worse still, EPA’s own numbers show that the rule would have the perverse impact of incentivizing some coal-fired power plants to operate and pollute more – leading to more carbon pollution in many states compared to no policy at all.

Experts have warned that under the ACE rule, many parts of the country would also see increases in the health-harming pollution that leads to soot and smog. While the Trump administration has tried to downplay the public health consequences of the rule, EPA’s projections show that vulnerable communities around the nation will likely suffer the most from these dangerous pollution increases.

In addition to disregarding the health and well-being of Americans, the years-long effort by the Trump administration to dismantle the Clean Power Plan represents a squandered opportunity to cost-effectively achieve urgently needed reductions in pollution. EDF filed comments on the proposed rule that demonstrate that fact. Our updated analysis using the same power sector model that EPA relies upon shows that carbon pollution reductions of more than 50 percent below 2005 levels in 2030 are possible at similar costs to what the original Clean Power Plan envisioned. The U.S. Energy Information Administration has also found that even greater reductions of 68 percent below 2005 levels can be achieved by 2030 – along with steep reductions in dangerous soot and smog-forming pollution – at modest cost.

Not only are significant reductions in carbon pollution from the power sector possible, they are also long overdue. We are already facing serious consequences from carbon pollution. The latest reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change make it frighteningly clear that the country and the world are facing unprecedented threats from climate change – and that rapid reductions in climate-destabilizing pollution are needed by 2030 in order to avoid the worst impacts. The devastation from climate change-fueled disasters across the U.S. and the millions of Americans suffering from the health impacts of air pollution underscore the pressing need for reductions in pollution from the power sector, one of the nation’s leading contributors to carbon pollution.

We need real protections against the dangerous carbon pollution that threatens both our environment and our health – not spin from Administrator Wheeler that hides the real impacts of his pollution-enabling rule behind misleading statistics.

Also posted in Clean Air Act, Clean Power Plan, Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Policy / Comments are closed

Trump’s ACE Rule May Especially Harm Vulnerable Communities

(This post was co-authored by EDF intern Laura Supple)

The Trump administration’s latest attack on clean air protections may cause the greatest harm to the most vulnerable communities – according to EPA’s own projections.

In June, the Trump administration repealed the Clean Power Plan – America’s first and only nationwide limit on carbon pollution from existing power plants – and replaced it with a pollution-enabling rule that, by EPA’s own numbers, would increase climate pollution in many states compared to no policy at all.

Experts have warned that under the Trump replacement, called the ACE rule, many parts of the country would also see increases in health-harming sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides pollution that lead to soot and smog. While the Administration has tried to downplay the public health consequences of the new rule, EPA’s projections show that vulnerable communities around the nation will likely suffer the most from these dangerous pollution increases.

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Also posted in Cities and states, Clean Air Act, Clean Power Plan, Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Health, News, Policy / Comments are closed

Four reasons why Wheeler’s Clean Power Plan “replacement” will lead to more pollution

EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler has sent a draft rule that would roll back the Clean Power Plan to the White House for review – a step that suggests the rule is close to being finalized and released.

If this final rule looks anything like the hopelessly flawed and inadequate proposal that was released last August, it will scrap the Clean Power Plan – our nation’s only national limit on carbon pollution from the power sector – in favor of a “do-nothing” program that could actually increase pollution from inefficient, highly-polluting coal-fired power plants.

Even as the nation reels from wildfires, flooding, and hurricanes exacerbated by climate change, Wheeler’s proposal would place no meaningful limits on one of our nation’s largest contributors to climate-destabilizing pollution.

If our experience with the proposal is any guide, we can also expect the release of the final rule to be accompanied by a bevy of misleading assertions that Wheeler’s “replacement” for the Clean Power Plan is just as effective in protecting climate and public health.

Wheeler has already been making such claims. For instance, in testimony before the House of Representatives last month, Wheeler said that EPA’s proposed replacement for the Clean Power Plan would reduce carbon pollution from the power sector by 34 percent once fully implemented, and would go a long way towards meeting our carbon reduction goals for the country. These comments build on Wheeler’s claims during his Senate confirmation process that equated his replacement to the Clean Power Plan.

Here are four reasons why his claims are false: Read More »

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