Trump administration ends EPA clean air policy opposed by fossil fuel companies

The Trump administration announced Thursday it is doing away with a decades-old air emissions policy opposed by fossil fuel companies, a move that environmental groups say will result in more pollution. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) said it was withdrawing the “once-in always-in” policy under the Clean Air Act, which dictated how major sources of hazardous air pollutants are regulated.

Under the EPA’s new interpretation, such “major sources” as coal-fired power plants can be reclassified as “area sources” when their emissions fall below mandated limits, subjecting them to differing standards.

Though formal notice of the reversal has not yet been filed, EPA said the policy it has followed since 1995 relied on an incorrect interpretation of the landmark anti-pollution law.

“This guidance is based on a plain language reading of the statute that is in line with EPA’s guidance for other provisions of the Clean Air Act,” said Bill Wehrum, assistant administrator of EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation. “It will reduce regulatory burden for industries and the states, while continuing to ensure stringent and effective controls on hazardous air pollutants.”

Prior to his confirmation by the GOP-dominated Senate in November, Wehrum worked as a lawyer representing fossil fuel and chemical companies. The American Petroleum Institute was among the industry groups that had called for the longstanding policy to be scraped.

The Clean Air Act defines a “major source” as one that has the potential to emit 10 tons or more per year of any hazardous air pollutant, or 25 tons per year of any combination of hazardous air pollutants. For more than 20 years, EPA’s “once-in always-in” required major sources to remain subject to stricter control standards, even if they took steps to reduce their pollution below the threshold.

Republicans quickly cheered the move by EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, especially those from states that produce oil, gas and coal.

“The EPA’s decision today is consistent with President Trump’s agenda to keep America’s air clean and our economy growing,” said Senate Environment Committee Chairman John Barrasso of Wyoming. “Withdrawal of this policy means manufacturers, oil and gas operations, and other types of industrial facilities will have greater incentive to reduce emissions.”

Environmentalists predicted the change would drastically weaken limits on toxic heavy metals emitted from power-plant smokestacks.

“This is among the most dangerous actions that the Trump EPA has taken yet against public health,” said John Walke, the director for clean air issues at the Natural Resources Defense Council. “Rolling back longstanding protections to allow the greatest increase in hazardous air pollutants in our nation’s history is unconscionable.”

John Coequyt, who leads climate policy initiatives for the Sierra Club, said the move will lead directly to dirtier air and more deaths.

“Trump and Pruitt are essentially creating a massive loophole that will result in huge amounts of toxic mercury, arsenic, and lead being poured into the air we breathe, meaning this change is a threat to anyone who breathes and a benefit only to dangerous corporate polluters,” Coequyt said.

[CBS News]

Trump: US could use some ‘good old Global Warming’ to heat up cold states

President Trump took to Twitter Thursday to note the record-breaking cold weather currently slamming much of the eastern U.S., saying the country could use some “global warming” during the cold snap.

“In the East, it could be the COLDEST New Year’s Eve on record,” Trump tweeted. “Perhaps we could use a little bit of that good old Global Warming that our Country, but not other countries, was going to pay TRILLIONS OF DOLLARS to protect against. Bundle up!”

Large swaths of the U.S. are expected to see record-breaking cold temperatures over New Year’s weekend, with some areas expected to have low temperatures in the negative 40s.

Much of the Northeast is also facing wind chill advisories over the weekend, with wind chills in New England expected to measure between 20 and 40 degrees below zero.

Weather is not climate, however. NASA defines climate as “how the atmosphere ‘behaves’ over relatively long periods of time,” while weather is defined as “what conditions of the atmosphere are over a short period of time.”

Trump has denied that global warming exists in the past, claiming it was “created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.”

In June, Trump announced that the U.S. would withdraw from the Paris climate change agreement, a worldwide pact to cut back on carbon emissions in order to reduce global warming.

Trump has argued the Paris deal puts the American economy at a disadvantage because other nations – primarily China and India – are not aiming to cut their emissions in real terms under the deal.

Trump took particular aim this year at the Green Climate Fund, a United Nations-administered account that international officials hope will inject up to $100 billion in annual climate adaptation financing for poor nations by 2020.

Obama pledged $3 billion for the fund and was able to spend $1 billion before leaving office. Trump said future payments for that fund would now stop.

http://thehill.com/homenews/administration/366734-trump-us-could-use-some-good-old-global-warming-to-heat-up-cold

 

Zinke reprimanded park head after climate tweets

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke brought the leader of a California park to his office last month to reprimand him for climate change-related tweets the park had sent via Twitter, two sources close to the situation said.

Zinke did not take any formal disciplinary action against David Smith, superintendent of Joshua Tree National Park. And the tweets at issue weren’t deleted, because they didn’t violate National Park Service or Interior Department policies.

But Zinke made it clear to Smith that the Trump administration doesn’t want national parks to put out official communications on climate change.

And by bringing Smith from California to Washington, D.C., to deliver the tongue-lashing, he also sent a message to the park service at large.

One source said Smith “got a trip to the woodshed” and described his one-on-one meeting with Zinke as “highly unusual.”

Another source said Zinke expressed concern with the tweets during the meeting, and told Smith “no more climate tweets.”

Other sources with knowledge of the meeting confirmed that Zinke wanted to stop tweets about climate change.

The Park Service didn’t respond to various questions about the situation, including requests to confirm the Zinke-Smith meeting and to identify who sent the tweets at issue.

“Many of our 417 National Park sites have a social media presence and content is generally determined at a local level,” Park Service spokesman Jeremy Barnum said in a statement.

Smith did not talk to The Hill for this story, and the Park Service did not make him available for an interview.

Heather Swift, a spokeswoman for Zinke, denied the description of the meeting.

“You have been given really bad information,” she said, declining to elaborate or to make Zinke available for an interview.

The meeting came after a series of 15 tweets were sent on Nov. 8 by Joshua Tree’s Twitter account. The tweets were focused on climate change’s impacts both on national parks in general and on Joshua Tree in particular.

The tweets were based on scientific conclusions, sometimes citing federal government reports and including caveats when necessary.

An overwhelming consensus—over 97%—of climate scientists agree that human activity is the driving force behind today’s rate of global temperature increase. Natural factors that impact the climate are still at work, but cannot account for today’s rapid warming,” read the first tweet of the series.

“Current models predict the suitable habitat for Joshua trees may be reduced by 90% in the future with a 3°C (5.4°F) increase in average temperature over the next 100 years,” said another.

It detailed climate change’s expected impacts on the desert Southwest, including on flora and fauna species like pinyon pine and desert iguana, and linked to a Park Service web page with more details on Joshua Tree and climate change.

The tweets got significant attention, garnering far more retweets and likes than the vast majority of tweets from national park accounts.

It’s not the first controversy surrounding the Park Service’s social media under the Trump administration.

On the day of President Trump’s inauguration, the Park Service’s main Twitter account retweeted a comparison of the inauguration crowd size on the National Mall — which the agency manages — against an obviously larger crowd from former President Obama’s 2009 inauguration.

The tweet was soon deleted.

Days later, the Twitter account of South Dakota’s Badlands National Park sent out tweets with facts about climate change. They were deleted, and the agency said a former employee with access to the account was responsible.

Trump’s opponents celebrated both episodes, along with the Joshua Tree tweets, as rebellion against the new administration, including Trump’s skepticism of human-induced climate change.

Conservationists say Zinke’s admonishment over the Joshua Tree tweets is especially troubling, both because of the chilling effect on the agency and as a sign of the administration’s views on global warming.

“This meeting shows how little respect Secretary Zinke has for the front-line employees who manage our national parks and public lands. It also reveals how far the Trump administration will go to hide basic facts from the American people,” said Aaron Weiss, spokesman for the Center for Western Priorities, which has fought much of Zinke’s agenda.

Zinke’s decision to call the Joshua Tree superintendent to Washington also serves as a window into Zinke’s leadership style.

He’s caught significant attention as Interior secretary for his brash style, reflected in direct attacks on the outdoor gear maker Patagonia after it criticized him; accusations that “the dishonest media or political operatives” were trying to tie him to Whitefish Energy’s utility repair contract in Puerto Rico; and his declaration that controversies surrounding his travel spending are “a little BS.”

Zinke has instructed employees to raise a flag for the secretary atop Interior’s building when he is there and has had commemorative coins made for him.

Maureen Finnerty, a retired Park Service superintendent and career official with the agency, accused Zinke of ignoring science in criticizing the tweets.

“The parks should be at the forefront of climate change discussion, because it’s impacting them,” she said.

Finnerty is chairwoman of the Coalition to Protect National Parks, a group composed largely of retired Park Service employees who advocate on numerous agency issues.

In Zinke’s time as secretary, he’s worked to roll back nearly all of the department’s major climate policies, including a moratorium on new coal mining on federal land and a policy to limit methane emissions from oil and natural gas drilling.

The changes have been less pronounced at the Park Service. But the agency did scrap a controversial Obama administration policy from December 2016 that asked parks to formulate plans for preserving natural resources and protecting them from threats like climate change.

If Zinke wants park employees to avoid talking about climate change, he should be more transparent about it, Finnerty said.

“They should go through the process, they should be transparent about it, they should seek whatever input they need, and then they can change the policy,” she said.

[The Hill]

CDC banned from using ‘evidence-based’ and ‘science-based’ on official documents

The Trump administration has reportedly banned the Centers for Disease Control from using the phrases “evidence-based” and “science-based” on official documents.

Senior CDC officials distributed the list of “forbidden” words and phrases to policy analysts at the CDC on Thursday, the Washington Post reported Friday. The list also bans the use of “vulnerable,” “entitlement,” “diversity,” “transgender” and “fetus.”

Analysts are reportedly prohibited from using the phrases on official documents they prepare for the 2019 budget, which is expected to be released in February.

An analyst who attended the meeting at the CDC in Atlanta told the Washington Post that instead of “evidence-based” or “science-based,” policy analysts are instructed to use the phrase, “CDC bases its recommendations on science in consideration with community standards and wishes.”

The analyst told the Post that other branches of President Trump’s health department are likely adhering to the same list of banned words. The source said that others at the meeting reacted with surprise when given the list.

“It was very much, ‘Are you serious? Are you kidding?’” the analyst said, “In my experience, we’ve never had any pushback from an ideological standpoint.”

The Trump administration has been repeatedly scrutinized for declining to acknowledge science-based findings, particularly related to climate change. Trump himself has not said whether he believes in climate science, and numerous members of his administration and his appointees have denied aspects of scientific consensus related to global warming.

[The Hill]

EPA cancels appearance of scientists at climate change event

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has canceled the appearance of three scientists at an event on Monday in Rhode Island about a report, which deals in part with climate change.

The New York Times reports EPA spokesman John Konkus confirmed on Sunday that agency scientists would not be speaking at the event in Providence. Konkus did not provide an explanation.

The event is designed to draw attention to the health of Narragansett Bay, which forms New England’s largest estuary.

A spokesman for Democratic U.S. Sen. Jack Reed of Rhode Island says the event will go on as planned and the report that EPA scientists helped work on will be released.

In a statement to The Associated Press Sunday night, Reed said “muzzling EPA scientists won’t do anything to address climate change.”

[CBS News]

Reality

You can read the report here.

Trump on Climate Change and Hurricanes: ‘We’ve Had Bigger Storms’

President Trump on Thursday dismissed the impact of climate change on Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, the two major storms to make landfall in the United States in the last month.

“We’ve had bigger storms,” Trump told reporters on Air Force One, following a trip to Florida to assess the impact of Irma.

Trump later ignored a question about his views on climate change, according to reporters traveling with him.

The president’s trip to Florida was the third he’s taken to survey damage from Harvey and Irma, both of which were unusual it their strength and severity.

Harvey broke the record for rainfall from a tropical cyclone in the United States, dropping more than 50 inches of rain on parts of Texas and Louisiana late last month, leaving Houston inundated.

Irma, at its peak, packed sustained winds of 185 miles per hour, making it one of the five strongest storms to form in the Atlantic Ocean. It was a Category 5 hurricane for three days and three hours, the second-longest for any storm on record.

Climatologists have said that while climate change didn’t cause the two monster storms, it likely exacerbated them and made them stronger.

Trump has said he doesn’t accept the scientific consensus of climate change, calling it a “hoax” perpetrated by the Chinese to undermine the American economy.

[The Hill]

EPA Public Affairs Official Given Right to Veto Climate Change Federal Grants

Scientists and university researchers who are seeking grants from the Environmental Protection Agency are unlikely to see any funding come their way if they mentions the dreaded double-C words: climate change.

According to the Washington Post, the EPA has given veto power over grants and awards to John Konkus, who goes by the title of Deputy Associate Administrator for Public Affairs.

The Post notes that the EPA doles out hundreds of millions of dollars in funding and that those dollars are, in essence, only given with the approval of Konkus now.

Konkus has reportedly told staffers that he is empowered to look for “the double C-word” — climate change — and warned grant officers that they not to be mentioned in funding solicitations.

The report states that Konkus has already canceled close to $2 million awarded to universities and nonprofit organizations.

EPA spokesperson Liz Bowman dismissed concerns about the politicized influence of Konkus, stating in an email that grant decisions are, “to ensure funding is in line with the Agency’s mission and policy priorities. We review grants to see if they are providing tangible results to the American people.”

Former EPA head, Republican Christine Todd Whitman criticized the role of Konkus, saying, “We didn’t do a political screening on every grant, because many of them were based on science, and political appointees don’t have that kind of background.”

Prior to serving in the EPA’s pubic affairs office, Konkus served as President Donald Trump’s Leon County, Florida, campaign chairman and as a political consultant for hire.

[Raw Story]

Trump Nominates Science-Denying Politician To Run NASA

President Trump plans to nominate Rep. James Bridenstine (R-Okla.) to be the next administrator of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the White House announced Friday.

Bridenstine entered Congress in 2013, serving on the House Armed Services Committee as well as the Science, Space and Technology Committee, which has jurisdiction over NASA.

He was also an aviator in the U.S. Navy Reserve, having flown combat missions in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Bridenstine is one of two GOP lawmakers that Trump nominated on Friday to positions in his administration.

The White House also announced Rep. Tom Marino (R-Pa.) as Trump’s pick to be the Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy.

Bridenstine’s nomination drew immediate criticism from both of Florida’s senators, who expressed concern over his lack of experience and partisanship.

“It’s the one federal mission which has largely been free of politics and it’s at a critical juncture in its history,” Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) told Politico.

“I would hate to see an administrator held up – on [grounds of] partisanship, political arguments, past votes, or statements made in the past – because the agency can’t afford it and it can’t afford the controversy.”

[The Hill]

Reality

In 2013, during his first year in Congress, Bridenstine infamously called on then-President Barack Obama to “apologize” to the state of Oklahoma for his “gross misallocation [sic]” of funds to climate change research.

Trump Dissolves Climate Change Advisory Panel

The Trump administration has decided to dissolve a federal advisory panel that contributes to a report that measures the current and future impacts of climate change on the U.S., The Washington Post reports.

The acting administrator for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Ben Friedman, informed the chair of the advisory committee that the agency would not renew its charter, which expired Sunday, the report said. This comes two years after NOAA formed the panel, called the Advisory Committee for the Sustained National Climate Assessment, whose 15 members were tasked with advising government and private sector stakeholders on navigating climate change.

The National Climate Assessment, as the report on climate change is known, is supposed to be issued every four years, and the next one is expected next spring, according to the Post.

In the meantime, the administration is reviewing a report that could be key to the final assessment, which estimates that human activities are to blame for an increase in global temperature from 1951 to 2010. Scientists from 13 different agencies produced the report.

That report, which was obtained by The New York Times earlier this month, is awaiting final approval by the Trump administration. The report indicates that temperatures in recent decades have been the warmest of the past 1,500 years.

[CBS News]

EPA Chief Scott Pruitt: “Science Shouldn’t Dictate American Policy”

You know the drill. The head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Scott Pruitt, has been asked about something scientific and has said something ludicrous in response.

Shortly after announcing that he wants climate researchers to “debate” climate deniers on live TV, he gave a characteristically painful interview to a Texas radio show. Just after appearing to endorse peer-reviewed science, he added that “science should not be something that’s just thrown about to try and dictate policy in Washington DC.”

The idea that science should not dictate nor influence policy is insane. It really doesn’t need to be said that science is one of the key foundations of modern society.

JFK couldn’t have made his famous, rousing speech about heading to the Moon without the advice and expertise of scientific experts, just as lawmakers couldn’t have appropriated funds for the groundbreaking LIGO experiments that detected gravitational waves for the very first time.

Forget America – what about the world? Without science dictating policy, smallpox wouldn’t have been eradicated, hundreds of millions of children would not be alive, and we wouldn’t know that climate change was an existential threat to life on Earth.

Science, as has often been said, is true whether you believe in it or not. It is a constantly self-correcting, unbiased system, one through which our collective understanding of the cosmos advances with each discovery.

Politics is a method in which those with the most convincing argument win elections, regardless of how factual those arguments are.

These two systems are quite different, but in an ideal world, science is used to help the most powerful people on the planet understand what is true and what is not. Evidence is better than reading our future in tea leaves.

When people like Pruitt say that science should stay out of politics, it’s immediately clear that they have an ulterior motive other than concern about the dilution of one or the other. This type of phrase is wielded by those who are unhappy that science is pointing something out to them that they dislike.

Very few people looked up at the solar eclipse and thought that science was a junk field of academia. Plenty of those with vested interests do, however, consider climate science and vaccines to be incredibly suspect. The reason why is incredibly simple: Acceptance of an eclipse probably doesn’t lose this administration votes, but acceptance of climate science does.

So is it any surprise that the Trump administration is doing all it can to destroy the reputation of scientists and the scientific method at any opportunity? Of course not – but it doesn’t make it any less outrageous.

[IFLScience]

 

 

 

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