Climate 411

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

Scott Pruitt wants to end his own Clean Power Plan lawsuit—but can’t set aside EPA’s duty to protect the public from climate pollution

(This post was co-authored by Tomas Carbonell)

Before he became Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Scott Pruitt was relentless in suing to oppose the Clean Power Plan, America’s first-ever nationwide limits on carbon pollution from power plants.

So relentless, in fact, that as Attorney General of Oklahoma he brought suit four times to block these common sense, cost-effective protections—including litigating to block the proposal, before the Clean Power Plan was even finalized.

Given that history, you’d think that Pruitt would be eager to for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit Court to continue the current litigation over the Clean Power Plan, which Pruitt helped initiate when he was Attorney General.

Instead, the Trump Administration launched a full-court press to stop the court’s deliberations in their tracks.

The administration filed a motion on March 28 asking the court to suspend the litigation indefinitely – almost a year after the last briefs were filed in the case, and more than six months after oral argument took place before the full en banc court.

Why the sudden aversion to the court considering the case, after such a long history of litigating?

Perhaps Pruitt was afraid that the court would see the Clean Power Plan for what it is – a common sense and achievable plan, firmly grounded in the law and in science, which responds to the most urgent environmental challenge of our time.

Pruitt repeatedly argues that the reason to repeal the Clean Power Plan is because it is “illegal.” Without a D.C. Circuit opinion, all we have are his own claims on that point – and maybe Pruitt prefers it that way, given his poor record in past legal challenges to common sense EPA safeguards.

Whatever the reason, Pruitt pressed ahead to stop the very same case he was instrumental in creating. Last week, the D.C. Circuit partially granted his request. The court put the Clean Power Plan litigation on hold for 60 days, and asked for more information so it can decide how to handle the case going forward.

EPA has a duty to protect Americans from dangerous climate pollution

While last week’s order is disappointing, it has not changed the fact that EPA has a clear duty to act under our nation’s clean air laws to protect the public from harmful climate pollution. That duty is enshrined in three separate Supreme Court opinions that confirm EPA has the authority and responsibility to address climate pollution under the Clean Air Act.

EPA’s obligation to address climate pollution under the Clean Air Act is a settled question in American law. And EPA’s history of successfully addressing climate pollution from cars and other sources speaks for itself.

The Clean Power Plan itself has a rock solid legal and technical foundation – as recognized by a huge and varied coalition of supporters including former Republican EPA Administrators, the attorneys general of eighteen states, legal experts who helped draft the Clean Air Act, and the nation’s leading experts on the power grid.

As these experts recognize, the Clean Power Plan relies on strategies that are already being deployed successfully across the power sector—continuing and amplifying a transition to low- and zero-carbon energy that is reducing climate-destabilizing pollution while bringing jobs and economic opportunities to communities across the country. America’s clean energy sector is a rapidly growing $200-billion industry that employs 3.3 million Americans.

Regardless of any legal maneuvers, the fundamental truth remains – EPA has a duty to act to protect the public from dangerous climate pollution. Given the clear and present threat that climate change poses to the well-being of communities across America, this duty is urgent.

Also posted in Clean Air Act, Clean Power Plan, News, Policy / Read 1 Response

The Tenth Anniversary of Massachusetts v. EPA

U.S. Supreme Court

If it feels like we’re being inundated with bad news about federal climate policy, here’s a cause for hope – today marks the tenth anniversary of the Supreme Court’s decision in Massachusetts v. EPA, one of the most important environmental cases in our nation’s history.

The Supreme Court’s landmark decision in Massachusetts came when the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) under the George W. Bush administration was refusing to carry out its responsibilities under the Clean Air Act to address climate pollution.

The case arose from a petition filed in 1999 by citizens, conservation and environmental groups that asked EPA to limit climate pollution under the Clean Air Act. But under President Bush, EPA disavowed its obligation to address climate pollution. At the time, EPA relied on the dubious argument that dangerous climate pollutants emitted into the air somehow didn’t qualify as “air pollutant[s]” under the statute.

Massachusetts, states, cities and a coalition of environmental organizations – including EDF –sought judicial review of that decision, and on April 2, 2007, the Supreme Court rejected EPA’s unlawful claim, ruling that carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases qualified as air pollutants “without a doubt … The statute is unambiguous.”

The Supreme Court also forcefully rejected the Bush EPA’s “laundry list of reasons” not to address climate pollution. The high Court held that protection of human health and the environment from air pollution under our nation’s clean air laws — including protecting the millions of Americans afflicted by the clear and present danger of climate change — must be rooted in science, not politics or expediency.

This historic Supreme Court decision settled that addressing climate pollution is EPA’s responsibility in carrying out the Clean Air Act, holding:

[G]reenhouse gases fit well within the Clean Air Act’s capacious definition of ‘air pollutant.’

Protecting Americans from climate pollution — dangerous air pollution — is the intent, is the purpose, and is provided for under our nation’s vibrant bipartisan clean air laws.

In honor of Massachusetts v. EPA’s tenth anniversary, let’s celebrate this firm and enduring Supreme Court decision and the real-world benefits it has for millions of Americans — and let’s prepare to defend the vital safeguards that followed it. We also celebrate signs of climate progress across society, such as the more than 1,000 businesses and investors that have committed to addressing climate change through implementation of the Paris Climate Agreement. 

Climate Protections under Massachusetts v. EPA

As it turns ten, Massachusetts v. EPA is more relevant than ever. To carry out its responsibility to protect human health and the environment from dangerous climate pollution, EPA has established common sense limits on the pollution discharged from tailpipes, smokestacks, and oil and gas development activities. These actions are fundamental to our nation’s response to climate change and provide enormous health, economic, and environmental benefits to the American people.

Once Clean Cars Standards are fully implemented in 2025:

  • Increased efficiency will provide savings of more than $8,000 in gasoline over the lifetime of a vehicle, compared to a similar vehicle in 2010. Across America, the Clean Cars Standards will save Americans more than $1 trillion at the pump.
  • Americans will have saved 12 billion barrels of oil, increasing U.S. energy security.
  • When new cars are purchased with financing—as they are for most Americans—the fuel savings produce immediate net benefits for American consumers.
  • The auto industry has been beating these standards while adding jobs and achieving record vehicle sales.

Under EPA’s Clean Trucks Standards:

  • Over the lifetime of vehicles covered by the Phase 1 Standards (model years 2014-2018), the standards will save 530 million barrels of oil and yield fuel savings of $50 billion. An operator of a large freight truck is expected to have net savings up to $73,000 over the useful life of a new truck.
  • Over the lifetime of vehicles covered by the Phase 2 Standards (model years 2019-2029), the standards will reduce 1 billion tons of carbon pollution, save nearly 2 billion barrels of oil and save truck owners $170 billion in fuel costs. The Phase 2 benefits are in addition to the benefits of simply leaving the Phase 1 Standards in place.
  • These fuel cost savings will save hard-earned money for truckers and U.S. consumers alike. The Consumer Federation of America found that rigorous fuel economy and climate pollution standards could save American households $250 annually in the near term and $400 annually by 2035 on goods and services.

Once the Clean Power Plan — our first and only national limits on climate pollution from existing power plants — is fully implemented:

  • Americans will breathe cleaner air, which will prevent up to 3,600 premature deaths and 90,000 childhood asthma attacks every year.
  • Average electric bills could decline by as much as 11 percent, due in part to cost-effective energy efficiency measures.
  • Existing power plants’ carbon dioxide pollution will fall approximately 32 perent from 2005 levels. The U.S. has already achieved about two-thirds of that reduction.

Under EPA’s methane pollution standards for new oil and gas operations:

  • Methane pollution will be reduced by 510,000 short tons in 2025, which has the same 20-year climate benefit as closing 11 coal-fired power plants or taking 8.5 million cars off the road.
  • Less natural gas will be wasted, preserving America’s natural resources.
  • These common-sense limits on methane will also reduce 210,000 tons of dangerous smog-forming pollution and 3,900 tons of toxic, carcinogenic pollutants like benzene in 2025.
  • These clean air standards are extremely cost-effective.
  • These standards will also boost America’s vibrant methane mitigation industry—which is already creating jobs and investment in at least 500 different locations across 46 states, especially in major energy-producing states like Texas, Oklahoma, Ohio, and Pennsylvania.

The protections that flow from Massachusetts v. EPA are helping to yield a safer climate for our children, protect the health of our communities, save energy and money for families across America, and build a prosperous clean energy economy. It is not surprising that these safeguards have broad support across red, blue and purple America. In every Congressional district, a majority of adults supports limiting carbon dioxide emissions from existing coal-fired power plants.

Scott Pruitt Is Evading his Obligations under Massachusetts v. EPA

Unfortunately, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt is trying to evade his obligation to address climate pollution. Since taking his oath as Administrator, Pruitt has repeatedly tried to sow doubt as to whether climate pollution should be regulated under the Clean Air Act — demonstrating a profound disregard for the Supreme Court’s holding in Massachusetts.

Make no mistake – EPA’s obligation to address climate pollution under the Clean Air Act is a settled question in American law.

Climate Pollution Meets the Definition of “Air Pollutant” under the Clean Air Act

Under the Bush Administration, EPA argued that climate pollutants could not be “air pollutants” under the Clean Air Act on the convoluted grounds that “EPA lacks regulatory authority to address global climate change.”

But in Massachusetts, the Supreme Court held that “the Clean Air Act’s sweeping definition of ‘air pollutant’” clearly authorizes EPA to regulate climate pollution.

Moreover, the Court recognized that the Clean Air Act was intentionally written with “broad language … to confer the flexibility necessary to” meet challenges like climate pollution, and EPA cannot dodge its obligations with “policy judgments … [that] have nothing to do with whether greenhouse gas emissions contribute to climate change.”

In other words, EPA has to base its actions on law and science, not politics.

Massachusetts involved a petition to regulate pollution from motor vehicles, but the Supreme Court has repeatedly affirmed that climate pollution from other sectors, including power plants, is also subject to Clean Air Act regulation.

In American Electric Power v. Connecticut (AEP), the Court determined:

Massachusetts made plain that emissions of carbon dioxide qualify as air pollution subject to regulation under the Act … And we think it equally plain that the Act ‘speaks directly’ to emissions of carbon dioxide from the … [power] plants.

The Court went on to identify a specific section of the Clean Air Act under which EPA could issue such protections. EPA subsequently finalized pollution limits — including the historic Clean Power Plan — under that very section.

A few years after AEP, in Utility Air Regulatory Group v. EPA, the Court stood by its finding that the Clean Air Act covered climate pollution from power plants and held that new and modified industrial facilities must also limit their climate pollution.

Administrator Pruitt has publicly doubted whether EPA has the “tools” under the Clean Air Act to address climate change. This is just a feeble variation of the George W. Bush Administration’s stale claim rejected by the Supreme Court a decade ago. In fact, the Supreme Court has recognized that multiple programs under the Clean Air Act are suitable for addressing climate pollution — and EPA has adopted several achievable, common-sense climate safeguards that are already protecting American communities while supporting cost-saving efficiencies. Administrator Pruitt is invoking long-discredited arguments to avoid responsibility for addressing life-threatening pollution.

The Science of Climate Change is Clear

A few weeks ago, Administrator Pruitt told CNBC that he “would not agree that [carbon dioxide is] a primary contributor to the global warming that we see.”

But as far back as Massachusetts, the Supreme Court found that “[a] well-documented rise in global temperatures has coincided with a significant increase in the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere” as recognized by “[r]espected scientists” and called carbon dioxide “the most important species … of a ‘greenhouse gas.’”

Following Massachusetts, EPA initiated a rigorous, scientific, peer-reviewed analysis of the effects of carbon dioxide and five other climate pollutants. In 2009, after reviewing an expansive body of scientific evidence reflecting hundreds of peer reviewed studies, EPA determined that the pollutants:

[M]ay reasonably be anticipated to endanger public health and to endanger public welfare.

EPA’s determination, or Endangerment Finding, was resoundingly upheld in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit in Coalition for Responsible Regulation v. EPA, based largely on the “substantial record evidence that anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases ‘very likely’ caused warming of the climate over the last several decades.”

In the CNBC interview, Administrator Pruitt offered no evidence to support his views about carbon dioxide and climate change. That’s unsurprising because the scientific evidence is not on his side. As EPA observed in its 2015 carbon dioxide standards for new power plants, since the Endangerment Finding was finalized:

The facts, unfortunately, have only grown stronger and the potential adverse consequences to public health and the environment more dire.

The science overwhelmingly shows that climate pollution is causing dangerous climate change. EPA has a statutory obligation to address it under the Clean Air Act.

The Clean Air Act is a Statute to Protect Public Health and the Environment

Massachusetts prohibited EPA from touting “some residual uncertainty” about climate science as an excuse for inaction. EPA must act if it can “mak[e] a reasoned judgment” that “greenhouse gases contribute to global warming.”

When a three-judge panel of the D.C. Circuit unanimously upheld EPA’s Endangerment Finding, it explained that the Clean Air Act’s:

[L]anguage requires a precautionary, forward-looking scientific judgment about the risks of a particular air pollutant, consistent with the [Act’s] precautionary and preventive orientation. Requiring that EPA find ‘certain’ endangerment of public health or welfare before regulating greenhouse gases would effectively prevent EPA from doing the job Congress gave it. (internal citations omitted)

The science, which was already clear when the Supreme Court decided Massachusetts in 2007, has only grown clearer in the intervening decade. For instance:

  • Since record keeping began in 1880, the five hottest years globally have all occurred since 2007.
  • Sea levels have risen at increasing rate.
  • The ten summers with the lowest minimum Arctic sea ice extent coincide exactly with the ten summers since Massachusetts was decided. And 2017 has already attained a grim status as the third consecutive year with a record low extent of winter Arctic sea ice.
  • In February 2007, atmospheric carbon dioxide averaged 383.90 parts per million. In February 2017, it averaged 406.42 ppm. The years 2015 and 2016 saw the two biggest annual increases ever recorded.

The Clean Air Act does not require us to watch idly as coastlines disappear, increased instanced of extreme weather such as severe flooding and superstorms cause loss of life and alter lives forever, and more frequent heatwaves threaten vulnerable populations like children and the elderly. It requires action. EPA has an obligation to act to protect public health and the environment by addressing climate pollution in order to reduce the tragic consequences of climate change, which are already unfolding.

The Legacy of Massachusetts v. EPA

Ten years on, Massachusetts v. EPA stands for EPA’s responsibility to address climate change based on law and science. Massachusetts also stands for the ability — and the imperative — to achieve victories for public health and the environment under adverse political conditions. With Administrator Pruitt at the helm of environmental policymaking in the U.S., we have no illusions about the challenges that lie ahead. But there will also be opportunities – opportunities to secure near-term reductions of dangerous pollution, and opportunities to lay the foundation for more progress in the years ahead, all anchored in law and science.

We can’t afford to let climate change accelerate unchecked for the next four years, and Massachusetts inspires us to keep working to protect all Americans from this clear and present danger.

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