Climate 411

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

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

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

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

During that interview, Pruitt asked:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

DOE seeks unprecedented action to exempt coal from competitive markets

(This post was co-authored by EDF’s Rama Zakaria)

Secretary of Energy Rick Perry today announced a sweeping and unprecedented proposal to pay coal and nuclear power plants, a move that would increase electricity bills and climate pollution for Americans.

The proposal would impose a new cost on all electric ratepayers that would be paid primarily to owners of coal plants, undercutting billions of dollars of investment by people risking their capital to compete in and transform our energy markets.

The decision, based on mischaracterized reliability concerns, ignores a recent Department of Energy (DOE) report Secretary Perry commissioned that found no reliability concern. The report’s finding is consistent with voluminous literature and evidence that concludes there are no signs of deteriorating reliability on the grid today, and cleaner resources and new technologies being brought online are strengthening reliability.

DOE’s proposal will increase electricity bills and hurt American families

DOE’s proposal provides cost recovery for uneconomic baseload generators such as coal-fired power plants at the expense of Americans’ electricity bills, families and communities’ health, and the environment.

Cost recovery, put simply, means that no matter how expensive coal-fired power gets Americans must foot the bill. No matter how old, expensive, or dirty a coal plant may be, it would be paid to remain online at the expense of cleaner, newer, and less expensive energy resources.

Such regulatory intervention would stand in the way of an economic and efficient electric grid required by law and would impose massive financial losses on the companies that have been investing to build a new and lower cost power system.

Multiple studies have already shown that coal generators that are retiring are old, inefficient units that are relatively expensive to operate. According to one study, coal units that announced plans to retire between 2010 and 2015 were 57 years old – well past their intended life span of 40 years. These units are not retiring prematurely; they are retiring because they are unable to compete against cheaper, more efficient, and cleaner resources.

As Secretary Perry’s own report stated, coal retirements are primarily driven by low natural gas prices. Yet with this proposal, DOE again appears determined to ignore competitive market forces and instead attempt to bail out coal-fired power plants, no matter the cost to Americans. Not only would this increase electricity bills for the public but also unnecessarily expose the public to dangerous and harmful air pollution.

The costly solution to a non-existent problem

A wide range of literature, including DOE’s own baseload study, confirm that electric reliability remains strong and bulk power system resilience continues to improve. Yet, DOE ignores its own findings and suggests that coal bailouts are needed for reliability and resiliency. Not only is DOE trying to solve a problem that doesn’t exist, it is doing so by forcing ratepayers to pay for a solution that doesn’t work.

DOE’s proposal would compensate coal units for a 90-day on-site fuel supply, yet just recently we saw in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey that W.A. Parish, one of America’s largest coal plants, was forced to shutter two of its units after its coal piles were flooded. Indeed, available data indicates that coal plants fail more than any other resource.

In contrast, clean energy resources are increasingly demonstrating their ability to support reliable electric service at times of severe stress on the grid. For instance, wind energy contributed critical power during Hurricane Harvey. In another example, during the 2014 polar vortex – when frozen coal stock piles led to coal plant failures – wind and demand response resources were increasingly called upon to help maintain reliability.

Cleaner resources and new technologies boost grid reliability and resiliency

Many studies have highlighted the valuable reliability services that emerging new technologies, such as electric storage, can provide. DOE’s own report found that cleaner resources and emerging new technologies are creating options and opportunities and providing a new toolbox for maintaining reliability in the modern power system.

FERC has also long recognized the valuable grid services that emerging new technologies could provide. From its order on demand response to its order on frequency regulation compensation, FERC recognized the value of fast and accurate response resources in cost-effectively meeting grid reliability needs. More recently, FERC’s ancillary service reforms recognize that, with advances in technologies, variable energy resources such as wind are increasingly capable of providing reliability services such as reactive power.

Any action should allow all technologies to compete to provide the least-cost solution to a reliable and resilient grid

Essential Reliability Services, such as frequency and voltage support, are already being procured today to meet grid reliability needs. For instance, frequency regulation is procured as part of the ancillary services markets. These markets allow all resources to compete and to provide the necessary grid services at least cost to Americans.

FERC should ensure that any additional action taken in response to DOE’s proposal continues to be fuel-neutral, non-discriminatory and in-market. By doing so, Americans can not only have reliable and affordable electricity but can also reap the benefits of cleaner and healthier environment.

Also posted in Economics, Energy, News / Read 6 Responses

New records just released under FOIA raise an important question: Did the Trump transition team consider dismissing EPA’s Inspector General?

Recently released documents from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) suggest that President Trump’s transition team considered — then decided against — dismissing EPA’s Inspector General.

Myron Ebell, who headed the transition at EPA for then-President-Elect Trump, emailed an EPA career staffer on January 13, 2017 that the transition team, “want[ed] to retain the EPA’s IG for the present.”

Ebell wanted to relay the information to the Inspector General “without any formal communication.” He went on to express a strong preference for delivering the message himself, rather than delegating to EPA career staff.

These documents were released under a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request.

Myron Ebell’s stint leading the EPA transition was a brief departure from his usual job at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, where his polluter-funded work aims to slash health and environmental protections and spread climate denialism. It is currently unclear why he — or any member of the Trump transition team — needed to reach out to EPA’s Inspector General for a conversation about job security.

Notably, Ebell’s January 13, 2017 email message was expressly hedged, indicating only that the Inspector General would be retained “for the present.”

For 30 years, dismissing Inspectors General has not been a normal part of presidential transitions. Only President Reagan — the first President to assume office after Congress created Inspectors General — did so, and he partly backtracked under intense political pressure.

Now, the Trump Administration has taken worrying steps toward undermining the integrity of Inspectors General across the federal government.

Congress created the position of Inspector General at federal agencies in order to conduct audits and to prevent waste, fraud, and abuse.

The statute creating the position provides that Inspectors General:

[S]hall be appointed by the President, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, without regard to political affiliation and solely on the basis of integrity and demonstrated ability in accounting, auditing, financial analysis, law, management analysis, public administration, or investigations. (emphasis added)

Congress has repeatedly emphasized the need for independent Inspectors General:

  • A 2010 amendment to the Inspector General Act required the President to provide Congress with advance notice and explanation before removing an Inspector General from office.
  • Congress further enhanced the role of Inspector General with the bipartisan Inspector General Empowerment Act of 2016.

Since assuming office in 2010, EPA’s Inspector General has pursued investigations under both President Obama and President Trump.

Subjecting Inspectors General to political pressure utterly defies the Congressional objective of independent oversight at federal agencies. It sets the stage for corruption and puts taxpayer dollars at risk.

Myron Ebell’s involvement in discussions about the EPA Inspector General’s employment status raises two pressing questions:

  • Why was the EPA Inspector General’s job status ever in doubt among the Trump transition team?
  • Why did Myron Ebell want to conceal his communication with the Inspector General?

The Trump Administration and Myron Ebell owe the public answers to these questions.

Also posted in Jobs, News, Policy / Comments are closed

Scott Pruitt’s relentless distortions of climate science and law

This summer was anything but quiet for climate policy.

In June, President Trump announced that the U.S. would withdraw from the Paris climate agreement.

In July, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit blocked Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt's attempt to suspend protections from climate-destabilizing oil and gas pollution, calling the move “unauthorized” and “unreasonable.”

In August, two judges of the same court reminded EPA of its “affirmative statutory obligation to regulate greenhouse gases,” citing longstanding Supreme Court precedent.

Now, the devastation caused by Hurricane Harvey and the record strength of Hurricane Irma are showing us what’s at stake, as sea level rises and extreme weather becomes more frequent.

Meanwhile, Administrator Pruitt has continued his pattern of deeply misleading statements about climate change and EPA’s responsibility to protect public health and the environment.

Pruitt uses these statements in an attempt to justify rolling back vital public health and environmental safeguards. In just his first four months in office, he took action against more than 30 health and environmental protections, including the Clean Power Plan — our first and only national limit on carbon pollution from existing power plants.

As America’s proven, life-saving environmental protections come under attack, here are four facts about climate law and science to help cut through Pruitt’s distortions.

  1. EPA has an affirmative statutory obligation to regulate climate pollution

Administrator Pruitt frequently questions EPA’s ability and authority to regulate climate pollutants under the Clean Air Act. But contrary to Pruitt’s claims, the Supreme Court has repeatedly ruled that the Clean Air Act covers climate pollution.

  • In Massachusetts v. EPA, the Court held that climate pollutants “without a doubt” and “unambiguous[ly]” meet the definition of “air pollutant” under the Clean Air Act.
  • In its subsequent American Electric Power v. Connecticut (AEP) opinion, the Supreme Court found that section 111 of the Clean Air Act — the section under which EPA issued the Clean Power Plan — “speaks directly” to the regulation of climate pollution from existing power plants. (Even opponents of climate protections conceded that point during oral argument.)
  • The Court again recognized EPA’s authority to regulate climate pollution in a third decision, Utility Air Regulatory Group v. EPA (UARG).

Former EPA administrators serving in both Republican and Democratic administrations have recognized that “Congress has already made the policy decision to regulate” air pollutants that EPA determines — based on scientific factors — endanger the public health or welfare.

That’s why we now enjoy protections from air pollutants like cancer-causing benzene, brain-damaging lead, and lung-impairing particulates. We may not have had those protections if former EPA Administrators had shared Pruitt’s myopic view of the agency’s responsibility under the Clean Air Act.

As the Supreme Court stated in Massachusetts v. EPA, Congress:

underst[oo]d that without regulatory flexibility, changing circumstances and scientific developments would soon render the Clean Air Act obsolete. The broad language … reflects an intentional effort to confer the flexibility necessary to forestall such obsolescence.

In issuing the Clean Power Plan and other climate protections, EPA scrupulously fulfilled the mandate with which Congress entrusted it. The Clean Power Plan also reflected the Supreme Court’s finding in AEP that climate pollution from existing power plants was covered by section 111.

Administrator Pruitt has seriously misconstrued judicial rulings that conflict with his policy goals.

For example, he claimed that the Supreme Court’s UARG decision “said the authority the previous administration was trying to say that they had in regulating carbon dioxide wasn’t there.”

Pruitt overlooks the fact that the UARG opinion upheld the vast majority of what EPA had done, including the requirement that sources subject to certain permitting obligations under the Clean Air Act utilize “best available control technology” for climate pollution. The Supreme Court only took issue with EPA’s potential regulation of a subset of sources constituting a small percentage of total emissions, which did not implicate EPA’s fundamental obligation to regulate climate pollution.

2. EPA’s obligation to regulate climate pollution is based on scientific factors, not the Administrator’s policy preferences

Administrator Pruitt’s most dangerous Supreme Court misinterpretation might be his twist on Massachusetts v. EPA, a landmark decision that set the foundation for many of the climate protections that followed.

In Pruitt’s reading, when it comes to climate pollution, the Supreme Court held only that EPA “must make a decision whether [to] regulate or not.”

But the Supreme Court actually held that EPA was required to determine — again, based on scientific factors — whether climate pollution endangers public health or welfare.

In 2009, EPA concluded that climate pollution indeed poses a clear danger to public health and welfare, based on an exhaustive review of an expansive array of published studies and surveys of peer-reviewed literature prepared by the U.S. government’s Global Change Research Program, the National Academy of Sciences, and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

The D.C. Circuit upheld this Endangerment Finding against a barrage of legal attacks, finding that it was based on “substantial scientific evidence.”

After issuing the Endangerment Finding, EPA was statutorily obligated to follow the Clean Air Act’s process for regulating the dangerous pollution.

Administrator Pruitt’s position more closely resembles the losing argument in Massachusetts v. EPA. The George W. Bush Administration had justified its decision not to regulate climate pollution based on factors completely unrelated to public health or welfare. But the Supreme Court brushed aside EPA’s “laundry list of reasons not to regulate” and ruled that the agency was not free to — in Pruitt’s words — “make a decision” not to regulate. Rather, EPA must conduct a science-based evaluation of the risks that climate pollution poses to public health and welfare, and if the science supports an Endangerment Finding, regulation must follow.

3. The scientific evidence of climate change is overwhelming

Climate change is happening now. As climate pollution continues to accumulate in the atmosphere, it will bring melting sea ice and glaciers, rising sea levels, and more extreme weather including heat waves, floods, and droughts.

Administrator Pruitt attempts to minimize this threat by focusing on uncertainty. In Pruitt’s parlance, we still have more to learn about “the precision of measurement” when it comes to the effects of climate pollution. But the fact that there are still productive areas for research doesn’t mean we should disregard the vast amount that we already know.

As the American Meteorological Society recently told a different Trump Administration official:

[S]kepticism and debate are always welcome,” but “[s]kepticism that fails to account for evidence is no virtue.

In Massachusetts v. EPA, the Supreme Court held that EPA cannot decline to regulate climate pollution due to:

some residual uncertainty … The statutory question is whether sufficient information exists to make an endangerment finding.

EPA answered that question in its 2009 Endangerment Finding, and since then, the overwhelming scientific evidence for human-caused climate change has continued to grow.

In the final draft of the U.S. Global Change Research Program’s latest Climate Science Special Report — which is currently under review by political officials in the Trump Administration — climate scientists determined that, in the last few years:

stronger evidence has emerged for continuing, rapid, human-caused warming of the global atmosphere and ocean.

The year 2016 marked the third consecutive year of record-high global surface temperatures, and 2017 marked the third consecutive year of record-low winter Arctic sea ice. Meanwhile, the rate of sea level rise is increasing.

In contrast to the extensive scientific research demonstrating the role of climate pollution in destabilizing our climate, Administrator Pruitt has proposed a (possibly televised) “red team/blue team” exercise in which opposing teams of government-selected experts debate climate science.

Christine Todd Whitman, who served as EPA Administrator under President George W. Bush, characterized the red team/blue team exercise as “a shameful attempt to confuse the public into accepting the false premise that there is no need to regulate fossil fuels.”

Pruitt has acknowledged that he is “not a scientist” but nonetheless suggested that his red team/blue team exercise would represent “what science is all about.” Anticipating that some scientists might be reluctant to participate, he taunted:

If you’re going to win and if you’re so certain about it, come and do your deal.

But for most scientists, their “deal” is a careful process of observation, experimentation, and peer review — even when it doesn’t fit between commercial breaks.

However Pruitt manages his red team/blue team exercise, it can’t alter the conclusions of the massive body of climate research developed by thousands of scientists over decades of conscientious inquiry.

4. The American public supports policies to address climate change

One argument that Administrator Pruitt advanced for his red team/blue team exercise is that “the American people would be very interested in consuming that.”

Actually, Americans in every state have already shown an appetite for addressing climate change.

A recent survey found that large majorities of Americans support regulating greenhouse gases as a pollutant, setting strict carbon dioxide limits on existing coal-fired power plants, and requiring utilities to produce 20 percent of their electricity from renewable sources.

In fact, each of those policies garnered majority support in every Congressional district in America.

A majority of Americans opposed the decision to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement, as did the CEOs of many prominent businesses.

And the Clean Power Plan was supported in court by a broad and diverse coalition of 18 states, 60 cities, public health experts, leading business innovators (including Google, Apple, Amazon, and Microsoft), leading legal and technical experts, major consumer protection and low-income ratepayer organizations (including Consumers Union and Public Citizen), faith groups, more than 200 current and former members of Congress, and many others. (You can read their legal briefs on EDF’s website.)

Administrator Pruitt’s legal and scientific distortions show no sign of abating, and neither does his destructive rollback of public health and environmental protections. But his efforts have been rife with legal deficiencies. As EDF President Fred Krupp recently wrote, Pruitt “may have finally met his match: the law.”

Shortly after the D.C. Circuit blocked Pruitt from suspending protections from oil and gas pollution, and in the face of legal challenges from EDF and many others, Pruitt withdrew his unlawful delay of another Clean Air Act protection – the implementation of a national health-based smog standard.

EDF will continue to demand that Pruitt fulfill his solemn responsibility to protect the health of our communities and families under our nation’s bipartisan and time-tested environmental laws.

Also posted in Basic Science of Global Warming, Clean Air Act, Clean Power Plan, Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Policy, Science / 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, Smog / 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 EPA litgation, News, Policy / Comments are closed