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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Also posted in Clean Air Act, EPA litgation, Health, News, Policy / 3 Responses

Summer smog review: new analysis shows continued challenges to air quality

(This post was co-authored by EDF intern Jayne Stevenson)

Summer brings sunshine, fun, and outdoor adventures – but unfortunately, it also brings smog that causes serious health problems for many American families.

We have made significant progress delivering healthier summer air, but many families still find themselves sidelined by ground-level ozone pollution – commonly called smog. That pollution will be made even worse by climate change.

New EDF analysis shows that so far in 2019 we’ve seen more than 2,500 smog exceedances – meaning ground-level ozone pollution monitoring stations recorded levels higher than allowed under the 2015 National Ambient Air Quality Standards for Ozone. (That limit is a maximum eight-hour concentration greater than 70 parts per billion).

Approximately 185 million people across America were exposed to at least one of those exceedances, which spanned 248 counties in 40 states and the District of Columbia.

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Also posted in Cities and states, Clean Air Act, Health, Policy / Comments are closed

Colorado charges forward with Zero Emission Vehicle proposal

This post was written by EDF attorney Laura Shields 

Colorado moved farther down the road toward a cleaner, less-polluting transportation sector today.

The Colorado Air Quality Control Commission unanimously voted to move forward with a formal hearing to consider adoption of state Zero Emission Vehicle (ZEV) standards.

The ZEV standards would provide for manufacturers to sell a certain number of clean zero-emitting vehicles in Colorado. That would deliver vital reductions in climate pollution, smog, and other harmful air pollution. At the same time, it would help save Coloradans hard-earned money through major fuel cost savings.

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment Air Division’s initial economic impact analysis projects Colorado ZEV standards would reduce the state’s greenhouse gas pollution by roughly 2.2 million metric tons between 2023 and 2030.

The analysis also projects that a ZEV program would decrease the contaminants that contribute to ground-level ozone (otherwise known as smog) in the state. Colorado has struggled to meet both the 2008 and 2015 health-based National Ambient Air Quality Standards for ground-level ozone, and the American Lung Association’s 2019 State of the Air report ranked Denver the 12th most ozone-polluted city in the nation.

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Also posted in Cars and Pollution, Cities and states, Climate Change Legislation, Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Health, News, Policy / Comments are closed

Andrew Wheeler’s record shows he is unfit to lead EPA

Sad but true: since he became acting head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Andrew Wheeler has ramped up Scott Pruitt’s relentless attack on public health and environmental safeguards.

Wheeler is leading efforts to severely weaken or altogether eliminate meaningful limits on the largest sources of climate pollution – including cars, power plants, and oil and gas production. He is undermining policies that protect against toxic and smog-forming air pollution. He is systematically weakening the new bipartisan law that protects Americans from toxic chemicals.

These rollbacks risk thousands of additional early deaths and hundreds of thousands of additional asthma attacks every year.

After Scott Pruitt’s disastrous tenure, EPA needs a leader who will return to the agency’s life-saving and essential mission of protecting communities from harmful pollution. Yet President Trump has said he will nominate Andrew Wheeler to officially serve as EPA Administrator.

Wheeler’s existing record as Acting Administrator shows he is hostile to EPA’s mission and would double down on attacking core safeguards. He is unfit to lead EPA.

Here are a dozen safeguards Wheeler has attacked in his six months as acting head of EPA. This isn’t an exhaustive list — unfortunately there are other vital protections Wheeler has attacked, further imperiling clean water, clean air, and healthy communities across America. Read More »

Also posted in Cars and Pollution, Clean Air Act, Clean Power Plan, Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Health, News, Policy, Pruitt / Read 1 Response

EPA refuses to act on smog pollution. Here’s what’s at stake.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is refusing to move forward with the implementation of health-based standards that protect Americans from dangerous ground-level ozone pollution — more commonly known as smog.

That’s why Environmental Defense Fund, along with a broad coalition of public health and environmental groups, sent a letter to EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt informing him that we will take legal action if he does not carry out his mandatory duty to begin implementing our nation’s 2015 health-based smog standard.

Smog is a caustic pollutant that irritates the lungs, exacerbates lung conditions like asthma, and is linked to a wide-array of serious heart and lung diseases.

It is particularly harmful for children, seniors, people with lung impairments like asthma, and anyone active outdoors.

Under the Clean Air Act, October 1, 2017 was the deadline for identifying the communities that meet our nation’s health-based smog standard, and for identifying those that are violating the standard. Administrator Pruitt missed this mandatory deadline to begin implementing the smog safeguards.

The Clean Air Act’s statutory deadlines are not merely suggestions – they are of critical importance to achieving better air quality. When EPA shirks mandatory deadlines, the Clean Air Act’s mechanisms to improve air quality fail to engage and American families suffer the harmful effects of breathing polluted air for longer.

Administrator Pruitt unlawfully attempted to extend this same deadline, by one year, earlier this summer. However, he was forced to withdraw this extension and reinstate the October 1, 2017 deadline in response to legal challenges filed by EDF and our public health partners, and by a coalition of 16 state Attorneys General.

Now Pruitt has failed to meet the deadline – adding to his concerning pattern of delay, and undermining these important public health safeguards.

Here’s more on the consequences of ignoring our national health-based smog standards:

By delaying implementation of the standards, EPA is allowing vulnerable communities to suffer the consequences of polluted air while Administrator Pruitt stalls.

For instance, delaying the standards will mean that residents of the Uintah Basin in Northeastern Utah will potentially be faced with more and longer exposure to pollution levels that at times can rival smoggy Los Angeles.

This is truly unacceptable when there are clear solutions for reducing smog and protecting public health, such as reducing the pollution emitted from the thousands of oil and gas wells that dot the basin – common sense solutions that would be helped along if the 2015 health-based smog standard was properly and timely implemented.

Administrator Pruitt’s failure to identify which communities have air quality that violates the health standard obscures Americans’ basic right to know whether the very air we breathe meets the level that EPA has determined to be healthy.

The health-based national air quality standard for deadly air pollutants like smog form the foundation of the Clean Air Act — a bedrock public health statute that has provided for extraordinary, bipartisan progress in protecting Americans’ health and the environment for more than 40 years.

These consensus-backed health standards save lives and protect American families. By EPA’s own estimate, compliance with the 2015 smog standard will save hundreds of lives, prevent 230,000 asthma attacks in children, and prevent 160,000 missed school days for children each year.

Failure to carry out his responsibilities under our nation’s clean air laws also demonstrates Administrator Pruitt’s disregard for the recommendations of EPA’s own public health experts and scientists.

The 2015 health-based standard for smog was developed through a rigorous and extensive rulemaking process over the course of several years, and the science on smog’s health impacts is well-established.

EPA finalized a revised, strengthened standard of 70 parts per billion after engaging in a transparent, public process and relying on well-established scientific information and the recommendations of an independent committee of scientific advisors.

Administrator Pruitt has a legal duty to carry out the health standard to ensure healthier, longer lives for millions of Americans afflicted by dangerous smog pollution. That’s why EDF joined so many others in telling him we’ll go to court if he doesn’t.

Those joining us on the notice of intent to sue are the American Lung Association, American Public Health Association, American Thoracic Society, Appalachian Mountain Club, Earthjustice, Environmental Law & Policy Center, National Parks Conservation Association, Natural Resources Defense Council, Sierra Club and West Harlem Environmental Action.

The Attorneys General of New York, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Mexico, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington, and Washington D.C. sent a similar letter.

We urges Administrator Pruitt to “expeditiously” carry out his responsibility under our nation’s clean air law to protect the health of our families and communities. There is no time to waste.

Also posted in Clean Air Act, Health, Partners for Change, Policy / Comments are closed

Pruitt six months in: “taking a meat ax to the protections of public health and environment and then hiding it”

In Scott Pruitt’s six-month tenure as President Trump’s EPA Administrator, his administration has firmly established a reputation for secrecy and for glossing over conflicts of interest.

This pattern of making decisions behind closed doors and stocking EPA with industry representatives is problematic for many reasons, but most importantly because so many of those decisions are putting our health at risk.

Former EPA Administrator Bill Ruckelshaus — appointed by Presidents Nixon and Reagan —described Pruitt’s tenure thus far:

[I]t appears that what is happening now is taking a meat ax to the protections of public health and environment and then hiding it.

Pruitt’s troubling pattern of behavior has even caught the interest of the EPA’s Inspector General, who recently opened an investigation into Pruitt’s repeated travel to Oklahoma at taxpayers’ expense. And one of Pruitt’s handpicked appointees, Albert Kelly, was just penalized by a federal banking agency for “unsound practices” in his previous position as a bank CEO.

Weakening safeguards across the board

As we’ve documented, Pruitt has a troubling record of attacking public safeguards without providing any opportunity for public input – including protections against toxic wastewater, oil and gas pollution, climate pollution, and safety risks at major chemical facilities.

Pruitt took aim at limits on smog that would prevent 230,000 childhood asthma attacks every year. He tried to unilaterally delay these standards without any public input on his decision, until eventually he backed down in the face of legal and public backlash.

Pruitt also suspended enforcement of existing standards for pollution from oil and gas facilities without any public input. Pruitt’s announcement did not even mention the harmful health impacts from halting implementation of pollution controls for 18,000 wells across the country. Earlier this month a federal appeals court overwhelmingly rejected Pruitt’s move as illegal after a panel decision that deemed Pruitt’s actions “unlawful,” “arbitrary,” and “capricious.”

Undermining enforcement that holds polluters accountable 

A recent analysis of EPA’s enforcement program showed that penalties against polluters have dropped by a remarkable 60 percent since the Inauguration. Not holding companies responsible for their pollution has tangible impacts in the form of more pollution, more illness, and more avoidable, early deaths.

The Trump Administration’s proposed budget calls for a 40 percent cut to EPA’s enforcement office, which would further hamper EPA’s ability to hold polluters accountable. Meanwhile, EPA overall would face a 30 percent cut, which also puts public health at risk.

Pruitt sometimes tries to mask his focus on rolling back important EPA initiatives. For example, he claims to be concentrating on cleaning up contaminated land through EPA’s Superfund program, yet the Trump Administration’s budget proposal would cut Superfund by more than 30 percent.

Pervasive conflicts of interest

In Pruitt’s former role as Oklahoma Attorney General, he was exposed for cutting and pasting industry requests and sending them to EPA on his official stationary. He shamelessly responded by calling his conduct “representative government in my view.”

At EPA, Pruitt and his most senior advisors are now driving vital decisions about public health notwithstanding clear, severe conflicts of interest.

As just one example, Dr. Nancy Beck, the senior political appointee in EPA’s toxic chemicals office, recently left her prior position at the chemicals industry’s main trade association. In her current role at EPA, she has a key role in implementing the new reforms to the Toxic Substances Control Act passed last year. In this capacity, Dr. Beck is making decisions that directly affect the financial interests of companies she represented in her previous position on issues on which she advocated for the chemical industry as recently as earlier this year. The unsurprising result? Important protections are being weakened or reversed.

Pruitt’s lax approach to ethics may also extend to his travel schedule. Pruitt’s travel records show that he traveled repeatedly to Oklahoma at taxpayer expense, straining EPA’s limited resources. (Some sources have speculated that Pruitt’s extensive travel may be a run up to a future Pruitt campaign for political office in Oklahoma.) As we mentioned at the beginning of this post, EPA’s Inspector General has now opened an investigation into the matter

Pruitt’s appointment of Albert Kelly is another example of how he seems to tolerate behavior that other administrations would find unacceptable. Pruitt appointed the former banking CEO to lead a task force on Superfund cleanup sites. As we mentioned earlier, just this week Kelly was sanctioned by the FDIC, which issued a lifetime bar against his participation in any future banking-related activities and noted violations that involved Kelly’s “willful or continuing disregard for the safety or soundness of the bank” where he was CEO. Nonetheless, Pruitt continues to entrust Kelly with the responsibility for leading efforts to reform management of the billion-dollar hazardous waste clean-up program.

Pruitt’s pattern of secrecy

This summer Pruitt won the Golden Padlock Award, given by investigative reporters and editors to recognize the most secretive U.S. agency or individual.

Robert Cribb, chair of the Golden Padlock committee, noted:

Judges were impressed with the breadth and scope of Pruitt’s information suppression techniques around vital matters of public interest.

Pruitt has overseen the elimination of important climate science resources that EPA previously made publicly available on its website. EDF recently received more than 1,900 items from EPA in response to a Freedom of Information Act request for climate-related information and data deleted from, or modified on, EPA websites.

Even the basics of how Pruitt spends his business hours, and with whom he spends them, are hidden from the public. Contravening a bi-partisan EPA transparency practice, Pruitt no longer makes senior management calendars — including his own — available to the public. The website comparison below highlights this sudden change:

EPA’s website on January 19, 2017

And the same page today

The start of Scott Pruitt’s term as EPA Administrator has been marked by continuous attacks on our public health safeguards and government transparency. Perhaps it’s not a surprise that Pruitt is keeping Americans in the dark about his actions, because the more we learn, the more we see reasons to be outraged. The American public deserves better from the senior leader in charge of protecting our health and welfare from dangerous pollution.

Also posted in News, Policy, Setting the Facts Straight / Read 2 Responses