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’s Coal Bailout Is Dead

One of the Trump administration’s most ambitious plans to buoy the struggling coal and nuclear power industries has been shot down.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission unanimously rejected a proposal to subsidize coal-burning and nuclear power plants on Monday. Its defeat hands a victory to the motley coalition—of environmental groups, natural-gas companies, free-market advocates, and Democratic state attorneys general—who had opposed the rule and promised to fight it in court.

The 5-0 rejection was all the bitterer for the administration because four of the five commissioners who lead the agency were appointed by President Trump, and three are Republicans.

As proposed, the rule aimed to improve the resilience and stability of the electrical grid. Citing some electricity problems that struck during the “polar vortex”-induced cold snap of 2014, Secretary of Energy Rick Perry proposed that utility companies should pay coal and nuclear plants to keep weeks of extra fuel on hand.

The Department of Energy, which Perry leads, doesn’t have the power to force utilities to follow such a rule itself. But the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, or FERC, is charged by Congress with regulating interstate electricity sales and some power utilities. Perry asked FERC’s five commissioners to adopt his proposed rule within 60 days.

The plan was always controversial. Critics argued that Perry’s bailout would harm natural-gas plants, slow the growth of solar and wind energy, and introduce new and costly distortions to U.S. energy markets.

They also doubted the logic of the rule, saying that power plants rarely went down because they didn’t have enough fuel on hand. The Rhodium Group, an economics-research firm, found that only 0.00007 percent of U.S. power-outage hours between 2012 and 2016 were caused by a lack of available fuel.

Energy economists and environmental groups also maintained the rule would effectively subsidize carbon-dioxide pollution, which causes global warming. “Doing nothing [about climate change] is already not merited by economics,” Michael Greenstone, a professor of economics at the University of Chicago, said in October. “This is like doubling down.”

Worst of all, critics said, the plan would spike Americans’ electricity bills. The energy-consulting group ICF estimated that the rule would cost ratepayers an extra $800 million to $3.8 billion every year.

In a statement on Monday, FERC thanked Perry for his attention to grid resiliency and said it would continue to research and pay attention to the issue. But individual commissioners were more cutting in their replies.

“The proposed rule had little, if anything, to do with resilience, and was instead aimed at subsidizing certain uncompetitive electric generation technologies,” said Richard Glick, a Trump-appointed FERC commissioner, dubbing the plan “a multi-billion dollar bailout targeted at coal and nuclear generating facilities.”

He added that he was sympathetic to the plight of coal miners and nuclear workers, but that helping them was outside the agency’s legal power. “We have a history in this country of helping those who, through no fault of their own, have been adversely affected by technological and market change. But that is the responsibility of Congress and the state legislatures. It is not a role that the Federal Power Act provides to the commission,” he said.

Though Perry could use the same mechanism to propose a new rule, FERC’s decision on this one is final.

In a statement, Perry said that he only wanted to start a conversation. “As intended, my proposal initiated a national debate on the resiliency of our electric system,” he said. “I appreciate the commission’s consideration and effort to further assess the marketplace distortions that are putting the long-term resiliency of our electric grid at risk.”

Thus ends one of the biggest policy initiatives of Perry’s first year as energy secretary. Perry had been pushing for the rule since the first months of the Trump administration, commissioning a high-speed study on grid resilience in the spring before proposing the new rule in September.

But from the start, even conservatives noted the proposal was out of step with virtues that Perry had long extolled. “Secretary Perry didn’t sound very much like Governor Perry that I remember back here in Texas, because Governor Perry, of course, was a big fan of free markets in electricity,” Josiah Neeley, the energy-policy director of the conservative R Street Institute, told me in October.

By the end of the year, the plan’s opponents speculated that Perry was embracing the rule merely to please the coal industry, which had supported President Trump during the election and lashed itself to him politically afterward.

Robert Murray, the CEO of the coal-mining company Murray Energy—which appeared to benefit more than any other firm from the rule—told reporters in November that he “had nothing to do” with the proposal.

“This was done by the Trump administration,” he said. “I didn’t have any involvement.”

But in December, the reporter Kate Aronoff of In These Times obtained photos of Rick Perry and Robert Murray meeting in a Department of Energy office in March 2017. In the photos, Murray appears to be presenting a thick “coal action plan” to Perry. At the top of this apparent policy wishlist? A bullet point that new FERC policies should favor “base-load generating assets, especially coal plants.”

[The Atlantic]

 

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

 

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 EPA Pick Defends His Extreme Views as ‘Sound Science’

At his Senate confirmation hearing on Wednesday, Michael Dourson, President Donald Trump’s nominee to lead the federal office for chemical safety, defended his record against fierce attacks from Democrats, who accused him of downplaying the risks of potentially toxic chemicals.

“I have been objective in my work and applied sound science to come to my conclusions,” said Dourson, a toxicologist who is Trump’s pick to lead the Environmental Protection Agency’s chemical safety office.

Democrats repeatedly pressed Dourson to commit to recusing himself from EPA decisions involving chemicals that industry players had paid for him to review, pointing out that his proposed standards for safe exposure were often much weaker than the EPA’s.

Dourson refused to state whether he would recuse himself, saying only that he would rely on EPA’s ethics officials to determine if such actions was necessary. According to his financial disclosure forms, Dourson hasn’t been directly paid by chemical companies within the past year, making it unlikely that he would have to recuse himself because of ethics laws, The New York Times reported.

In his opening remarks, Dourson promised to protect the American public, “including its most vulnerable.” He added that his research and consulting company, Toxicology Excellence for Risk Assessment, received only one-third of its funding from private industry, with the remainder coming from government sponsors.

But Dourson’s testimony did little to assuage Democrats. When Sen. Ed Markey of Massachusetts asked Dourson if he would weaken the EPA’s existing standards for 1,4-Dioxane — a solvent that the agency has classified as a likely carcinogen — Dourson said he would “bring new science and thinking into the agency.”

Markey lashed out, saying that Dourson’s proposed standard for 1,4-Dioxane was 1,000 times higher than the EPA’s. “You’re not just an outlier on the science — you’re outrageous in how far from the mainstream of science you actually are,” Markey said.

Throughout the hearing, Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., the chairman of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, repeatedly quoted praise for Dourson from toxicology professionals who described him as “highly qualified” and “a leader in the field of risk assessment.”

Democrats do not have the votes to block Dourson’s nomination, but if he passes out of committee — which didn’t vote on his nomination Wednesday — they could threaten to prolong the nominating process by using a Senate procedure that requires 30 hours of debate for each nominee.

[NBC News]

Reality

Dourson has written books and often engages in “faith based science” which cherry-picks actual scientific evidence to fit into a Biblical narrative.

Trump’s EPA chief met with chemical CEO before dropping pesticide ban

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt met privately with the CEO of a top chemical company before deciding to drop a ban on a widely-used pesticide that has been shown to harm children’s brains, The Associated Press reported Tuesday.

Pruitt, President Trump’s top environmental official, reportedly met with the CEO of Dow Chemical, Andrew Liveris, for 30 minutes at a Houston hotel on March 9, according to records obtained by the AP.

Pruitt announced later that month that he would no longer pursue a ban on Dow’s chlorpyrifos pesticide from being used on food. An EPA review found that even minuscule amounts of the pesticide could impact fetus and infant brain development.

An EPA spokeswoman told the AP that Pruitt and Liveris were “briefly introduced” at the conference, where both were speaking.

“They did not discuss chlorpyrifos,” the spokeswoman said. “During the same trip he also met with the Canadian minister of natural resources, and CEOs and executives from other companies attending the trade show.”

Pruitt also reportedly attended a larger group meeting with two other Dow executives, but the spokeswoman said they didn’t discuss the pesticide there.

The Pesticide Action Network and the Natural Resource Defense Council both sued the EPA days after Pruitt’s decision. “President Trump and his EPA flouted court orders and EPA’s scientific findings that chlorpyrifos puts children, farmworkers, their families and many others at risk,” Patti Goldman, the Earthjustice managing attorney handling the case, said in a statement at the time.

The American Academy of Pediatrics also called for the pesticide to be taken off the market, sending a letter to Pruitt on Tuesday saying they were “deeply alarmed” by his decision to allow the pesticide to continue to be used.

[The Hill]

After Leaving Paris Accord, Trump Surrogates Go To Absurd Lengths To Deny Science

After Donald Trump isolated America from the rest of the world by pulling us out of the historic Paris Accord, there was a race to the bottom from his surrogates to see who could spit out the dumbest excuse to deny settled science.

Trump’s former communications director Jason Miller was caught by Daily Beast editor John Avlon using fake statistics to support absurd points. EPA head Scott Pruitt also claimed Thursday that the president’s decision isn’t about climate denial. Today, Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA) also claimed the 4.5 billion-year-old sun is no longer reliable and Trump’s economic advisor Steve Moore didn’t know the difference between 1,000-year-old windmills in Holland and wind energy mills in western Kansas. And finally, Trump apologist Jeffrey Lord called coal “the wave of the future.”

[Raw Story]

Trump Announces U.S. Will Exit Paris Climate Deal

President Donald Trump announced his decision to withdraw the US from the Paris climate accord Thursday, a major step that fulfills a campaign promise while seriously dampening global efforts to curb global warming.

The decision amounts to a rebuttal of the worldwide effort to pressure Trump to remain a part of the agreement, which 195 nations signed onto. Foreign leaders, business executives and Trump’s own daughter lobbied heavily for him to remain a part of the deal, but ultimately lost out to conservatives who claim the plan is bad for the United States.

“In order to fulfill my solemn duty to protect America and its citizens, the United States will withdraw from the Paris climate accord but being negotiations to reenter either the Paris accord or an entirely new transaction under terms that are fair to the United States,” Trump said from the White House Rose Garden.

“We’re getting out. And we will start to renegotiate and we’ll see if there’s a better deal. If we can, great. If we can’t, that’s fine,” he added.

[Washington Post]

Reality

The U.S. now joins Syria, which has been mired in a war and Nicaragua, which has said it didn’t join because they didn’t think the climate agreement went far enough, in not taking part in the global agreement.

For years conservatives railed against Barack Obama for what they perceived was “leading from behind.” This is exactly leading from behind. Other countries like China will now take over as global leaders in green energy and reap the economic benefits while Trump at home will push for more oil and coal.

EPA Dismisses Five Scientists from Major Review Board

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has dismissed at least five academic members of one of its scientific review boards and may replace them with representatives from industries the EPA regulates, according to The New York Times.

A spokesperson for EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt said Pruitt is considering replacing the five scientists with representatives of industries whose pollution the EPA polices.

“The administrator believes we should have people on this board who understand the impact of regulations on the regulated community,” spokesperson J.P. Freire told The Times.

It’s the latest in a string of controversial moves by the agency in recent weeks. The agency has removed several pages about climate change from its website and has proposed shuttering a regional office that oversees environmental regulation in several states.

Trump has also signed several executive orders that impact the environment, including rolling back former President Barack Obama’s climate change policies and expanding offshore drilling.

(h/t The Hill)

Trump on Earth Day: ‘Rigorous science is critical to my administration’

President Donald Trump declared his support for the environment and scientific research on his first Earth Day in the White House amid harsh criticisms over his actions to roll back environmental regulations and proposed cuts to non-military spending, including at the Environmental Protection Agency.

“Rigorous science is critical to my administration’s efforts to achieve the twin goals of economic growth and environmental protection,” Trump said in a statement Saturday as thousands of marchers filled the streets of downtown Washington to support science and evidence-based research — a protest partly fueled by opposition to Trump’s threats of budget cuts to agencies funding scientists’ work.

“My administration is committed to advancing scientific research that leads to a better understanding of our environment and of environmental risks,” Trump said. “As we do so, we should remember that rigorous science depends not on ideology, but on a spirit of honest inquiry and robust debate.

“This April 22nd, as we observe Earth Day, I hope that our nation can come together to give thanks for the land we all love and call home,” Trump added.

In a tweet later Saturday, however, Trump stated that while he is “committed” to environmental protection, people shouldn’t forget that “jobs matter.”

“Always remember that economic growth enhances environmental protection,” he said on his official Twitter account.

The Trump administration released a $1.1 trillion budget outline last month that makes good on a number of campaign promises. While the budget blueprint would increase defense spending by $54 billion in fiscal 2018, it would make corresponding cuts to the State Department, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Environmental Protection Agency, which would lose about a third of its funding, and eliminate other federal programs.

Asked at the White House’s roll-out of the spending proposal about the cuts to climate change-related programs, Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney said those programs are “a waste of your money.”

“I think the President was fairly straightforward,” he said. “We’re not spending money on that anymore. We consider that to be a waste of your money to go out and do that. So that is a specific tie to his campaign.”

But Trump dismissed any idea Saturday that his administration will not promote policies in the best interest of the environment months after making comments that some considered dismissive of climate change.

“My administration is committed to keeping our air and water clean, to preserving our forests, lakes, and open spaces, and to protecting endangered species,” the President said in his statement.

Trump argued that advocating for greener environmental policies must not come at the expense of jobs. He vowed last month to end “the war on coal” by cutting “job-killing regulations” and putting miners back to work.

(h/t CNN)

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