Climate 411

It’s time to close EPA’s harmful new air toxics loophole

This post was co-authored by EDF Legal Fellow Surbhi Sarang

Earlier this year EPA created a pollution loophole that would allow industrial facilities to increase their emissions of toxic air pollutants like benzene, creating a huge risk to public health.

This week EDF and a coalition of seven other environmental, environmental justice, and public health organizations are saying ‘enough,’ and asking the courts to close this outrageous loophole.

Closing this damaging loophole is an important step in our fight to defend long-standing Clean Air Act protections that safeguard families and communities in the nation.

On Monday, the coalition filed an opening brief with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit explaining our case.

Why this loophole is so problematic

Under the Clean Air Act, large industrial facilities like refineries and chemical plants are required to obey strict pollution control standards (called “maximum achievable control technology” or “MACT” standards) once their emissions of toxic air pollutants exceed certain “major source” thresholds.

These standards are highly effective in reducing pollution – so effective that they often cause industrial facilities to reduce their emissions of air pollution below the “major source” thresholds.

The air pollutants controlled by these MACT standards are known as “hazardous air pollutants” and include 187 separate pollutants, including mercury and lead, that are known or suspected to cause cancer or otherwise seriously harm human health.

In order to keep these dramatic air pollution reductions in place, since 1995 — under administrations of both parties — EPA has required large industrial facilities to continue complying with the strict MACT standards for as long as they operate.

EPA has done so for an important reason – if a facility could simply “opt out” of a MACT standard because complying with the standard caused it to reduce its emissions below the threshold, that facility would then be free to stop or reduce its use of those required pollution controls and increase pollution once again. That would harm the health of people nearby and defeat the very purpose of the Clean Air Act.

But in January, heeding requests from a number of industry trade groups, then-EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt suddenly reversed this long-standing policy. He did so unlawfully – in a four-page memo issued without consulting with the public and without even considering the damage this would cause to our environment and public health or the disproportionate impact this would have on environmental justice communities.

The loophole is a profoundly harmful and abrupt policy decision that – according to analyses published by EDF and other organizations – could allow thousands of industrial facilities across the country to become subject to much weaker or even no air pollution controls.

Unfortunately, it’s part of a larger pattern in which this administration is systematically dismantling vital Clean Air Act protections – which has included attacks on protections against climate pollution and toxic air pollution from power plants, protections on pollution from oil and gas facilities, and clean car standards.

The Air Toxics Loophole is filled with fatal legal flaws

In our opening brief, we show that:

  • It allows industrial facilities to “opt out” of mandatory pollution control standards in a way that is inconsistent with the language and structure of the Clean Air Act, and defeats Congress’s intent in creating these air pollution control requirements.
  • It fails to acknowledge or grapple with the legal and policy rationales for EPA’s long-standing prior policy – or even consider the potential impacts on public health.
  • It disregards warnings about the impacts on air pollution and public health by EPA’s own staff, state environmental officials, and other stakeholders that the agency received when it hinted it might adopt a similar policy back in 2007.
  • EPA’s failure to provide any public notice or opportunity for public comment violates a basic legal requirement for all changes in Clean Air Act regulations.

The state of California, which is also challenging the loophole, has filed a separate brief with the D.C. Circuit.

We expect the court will set oral argument for early next year – and we look forward to making a strong case against this dangerous loophole.

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

How Trump’s EPA is leaving Houston and all of America at risk one year after Hurricane Harvey

This weekend marks one year since Hurricane Harvey made landfall and wreaked a huge amount of havoc in Texas and other Gulf Coast states. While there are many lessons we can learn from the storm, and much finger pointing that can be done, one fact is clear: Trump’s EPA failed to properly protect children and families in Houston from chemical leaks triggered by the storm.

We now know that Houston’s vast petrochemical industry released at least 8.3 million pounds of air pollution in the wake of the storm, and that many of the area’s toxic Superfund sites were improperly secured and subsequently flooded.

But perhaps worse than these impacts is the fact that one year later, the more than 134 million Americans who live near chemical plants and storage facilities, a disproportionate number of whom are people of color and lower-income, are still at great risk.

Map of US Chemical Manufacturing facilities. Source: EPA

The Trump EPA’s dangerous failures

During and after Hurricane Harvey, as well as Hurricanes Irma and Maria that followed, EPA failed to take important steps to protect families and neighborhoods from health threats:

  • Arkema chemical plant explosion: Neither EPA nor the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) moved fast enough to monitor air quality issues at the Arkema plant when chemical drums caught fire and lids exploded. But a lack of data didn’t stop them from reassuring residents about local air quality. To date, neither TCEQ nor EPA has taken any enforcement action against Arkema, despite the violations (although the company and its CEO and plant manager have been indicted for reckless emissions of dangerous pollutants).
  • Valero refinery leak: Hundreds of families in Houston’s Manchester neighborhood may have breathed in concentrations of benzene that could have damaged their health. But neither EPA nor TCEQ tested the air there until news outlets had published independent air quality monitoring results showing high benzene readings that EDF and Air Alliance Houston paid to do (as did the city of Houston).

Read More »

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s what you need to know:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s up to us to protect the Clean Power Plan

This week is a crucial moment for climate progress.

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt is moving ahead in his efforts to revoke the Clean Power Plan, one of our most important efforts to tackle the climate crisis. The Clean Power Plan provides our only national limit on carbon pollution from existing power plants — America’s largest stationary source of carbon pollution.

EPA’s public comment period for Pruitt’s plan to repeal Clean Power Plan will close this Thursday.

Americans have only a short time left to raise their voice to oppose this reckless rollback. You can make your voice heard here.

Here’s what’s at stake

The Clean Power Plan helps us achieve approximately 32 percent reductions in carbon pollution from existing power plants compared to 2005, while also substantially reducing other harmful pollution from power plants.

EPA estimates that the Clean Power Plan would prevent an estimated 90,000 childhood asthma attacks and as many as 4,500 early deaths each year once fully implemented. These public health benefits would be imperiled if Pruitt succeeds in repealing this vital protection.

Public health experts, business voices and local leaders oppose revoking the Clean Power Plan

The American Lung Association joined with seventeen other public health organizations to denounce the Clean Power Plan rollback, calling it “inconsistent with EPA’s core mission of protecting public health and the environment” and highlighting that “the health impacts of climate change demand immediate action.”

Apple Inc. recently urged Pruitt not to repeal the Clean Power Plan, noting it “gives domestic companies a competitive edge” and that based on Apple’s extensive experience as a large energy consumer “the Clean Power Plan provides achievable targets with no adverse impact on [electricity] reliability or resiliency.”

244 mayors from 48 states and territories, representing 52 million Americans, sent a letter to Pruitt stating:

“[W]e strongly oppose the repeal of the Clean Power Plan, which would put our citizens at risk and undermine our efforts to prepare for and protect against the worst impacts of climate change.”

In a recent poll, 70 percent of registered voters in America supported setting strict limits on carbon pollution produced by coal-fired power plants.

We’ve kept a list of quotes opposing the Clean Power Plan rollback, affirming a commitment to combating climate change, and supporting strong action to invest in clean energy solutions. It includes quotes from elected leaders, business leaders, consumer advocates, faith leaders, and more — you can read it in full here.

Even more climate progress is possible

More and more evidence shows that achieving the Clean Power Plan’s goals will be even cheaper than expected. Yet Pruitt’s proposal to repeal the Clean Power Plan is using underhanded accounting gimmicks to inflate his estimate of compliance costs.

If anything, lower than expected costs and the alarming pace of climate impacts mean the Clean Power Plan’s targets should be stronger.

Who benefits from a rollback? Pruitt’s political allies

Pruitt has been all over the news lately for his cozy relationships with lobbyists, lavish spending, and other self-aggrandizing abuses of his office. All these reports underscore that his first priority is not the well-being of the American public.

It’s no surprise to hear that organizations that helped fund Pruitt’s political ambitions received extensive contributions from Clean Power Plan opponents, including $25,000 from coal company Murray Energy just one month before the D.C. Circuit Court heard the Clean Power Plan oral argument.

Scott Pruitt built his political career by suing relentlessly to block EPA safeguards — including filing four separate lawsuits to oppose the Clean Power Plan. Pruitt’s proposal to repeal the Clean Power Plan would serve his political and financial backers at the expense of the health and safety of American families.

The time to speak up is now

The window for public input opposing this senseless decision will close this Thursday, April 26. Join with Americans across the country to voice your opposition by clicking here.

Also posted in Clean Power Plan, EPA litgation, News, Policy / Comments are closed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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