Tag Archives: EPA

New Environmental Protection Agency regulations take aim at phasing out hydrofluorocarbons

Earlier this week, the EPA gave the green light on regulation that limits the production and domestic use of hydrofluorocarbons. These compounds are used for refrigeration and in air conditioners but are extremely powerful greenhouse gases, and even small leaks have an outsized effect on the climate.

Image via TexasGOPVote.com / Flickr.

The rules comes as part of the government’s American Innovation and Manufacturing (AIM) Act of 2020, and aims to slash production of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) in the U.S. by 85% over the next 15 years. In total this would reduce the country’s emissions by an estimated 4.5 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent by 2050.

Cutting back

“As we move in this direction, we are also opening up a huge opportunity for American industries,” Gina McCarthy, White House climate advisor, said during a briefing on Wednesday. “Reducing HFCs is a huge climate success story.”

EPA Administrator Michael Regan explained that the transition towards safer and more energy-efficient methods of cooling and refrigeration is expected to bring in around $270 billion, mostly in public health benefits and cost savings, over the next three decades. HFCs see use in various industrial and domestic applications where cooling or refrigeration are needed, but the new rule deals predominantly with domestic users. The National Association of Manufacturers, American Chemistry Council, and the Air-Conditioning, Heating, and Refrigeration Institute are among the backers of the regulation.

This piece of regulation is backed by industry groups who hope it will launch the U.S. to the forefront of the manufacturing and production of alternative refrigerants. It has also been hailed as the most significant climate change law passed by Congress in the last decade. It draws its roots from a 2016 amendment to the 1987 Montreal Protocol on ozone pollution which calls for the U.S. and other large industrialized countries to reduce HFCs by 85% by 2036.

Besides goals to reduce the production and use of HFCs, the AIM act is intended to also foster technologies in the areas of carbon dioxide capture and storage in order to limit emissions from power generation and manufacturing facilities. It also calls for a shift away from diesel engines in public transport and other vehicle categories.

The regulation enjoyed bi-partisan support, with the chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., and Sen. John Kennedy, R-La., being two of its main backers. Both represent states that are home to companies producing alternative refrigerants and said that they backed it to ensure regulatory certainty for their states.

The Biden administration adds that it’s also exploring new options to ensure that the new regulations around HFCs are enforced, including the creation of an interagency task force to prevent illegal trade, production, use, or sale of the compounds. This task force will most likely be led by the Department of Homeland Security, and the EPA’s offices of Air and Radiation and Enforcement and Compliance Assurance. It will have jurisdiction to act both against illegal producers on U.S. soil and to “detect, deter, and disrupt” attempts to illegally import these chemicals into the country.

The need for such a task force was made apparent by the European Union’s difficulties in implementing similar policies against HFCs, according to Goffman.

“Unfortunately, [the EU] has experienced a lot of illegal activity [on this issue]” he says. “We’re going to be vigorous and proactive.”

The State Department has been preparing for the formal ratification of the amendment, and the documents are now awaiting submission to the Senate.

Trump gives companies “license to pollute” amid coronavirus outbreak

The number of COVID-19 cases in the United States has already exceeded 100,000, making it the country with the highest number of infections, although not of deaths. This crisis triggered a series of environmental and economic measures by the Trump administration.

EPA headquarters. Credit EPA

Among them, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) decided to implement a sweeping relaxation of environmental laws and fines. The move is a response to requests by oil factories and refineries, EPA said, which are dealing with the economic impact of the pandemic.

EPA’s Assistant Administrator for Enforcement and Compliance Assurance Susan Parker Bodine sent a letter to government and private sector partners informing that the agency is not planning to enforce environmental standards on power plants and factories, who won’t be penalized for breaking the rules.

All companies in the US normally have to file a report when they release a certain level of pollution to the air or water. But that’s no longer needed while the coronavirus outbreak continues. Instead, companies will be monitoring their own air and water pollution levels.

“EPA is committed to protecting human health and the environment, but recognizes challenges resulting from efforts to protect workers and the public from COVID-19 may directly impact the ability of regulated facilities to meet all federal regulatory requirements,” said EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler in a press release.

Any company that is polluting the environment will be able to avoid penalties by claiming that the violations were related to the pandemic. While giving them the green light to pollute, the EPA asked companies to “act responsibly” and “minimize the effects and duration” of their violations.

The new guidelines, which extend indefinitely, were harshly questioned by environmental organizations, which warned they could lead to further environmental damage. Air pollution more emissions released to the atmosphere, leading to a warmer world and more people exposed to respiratory diseases.

“This is an open license to pollute. Plain and simple,” Gina McCarthy, CEO of the Natural Resources Defense Council, said in a press release. “The administration should be giving its all toward making our country healthier right now. Instead, it is taking advantage of an unprecedented public health crisis to do favors for polluters.”

On the same line, Collin O’Mara, president and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation, said in a statement that the “misguided” decision by EPA is putting at risk the country’s “drinking water, wildlife and way of life,” recalling the efforts of communities to clean up polluted waters.

“As the country focuses on protecting public health and safety from COVID-19, Donald Trump and Andrew Wheeler are exploiting this pandemic to make toxic pollution legal,” said Michael Brune, Executive Director of environmental organization the Sierra Club, in a statement. “This illegal and reckless action will not go unchecked.”

EPA moves forward with new standards for drinking water in the US

After sustained pressure from scientists and environmental groups, the Environment Protection Agency (EPA) has announced it will start regulating the presence of two compounds in the drinking water — compounds linked to cancer and several other health problems.

Two “forever chemicals” will now be regulated by the EPA. Image via Wikipedia.

The government agency will start controlling a group of chemicals known as perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl (or PFAS), known for their persistence in the environment and the human body. EPA will specifically regulate two compounds, PFOA and PFOS, which are banned in the US.

“Under President Trump’s leadership, EPA is following through on its commitment in the Action Plan to evaluate PFOA and PFOS,” EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler said in a statement, welcomed by environmental groups – who have questioned Trump for rolling back environmental regulations

The decision means the start of a two-year period for EPA to establish a new maximum contamination level. Once proposed, there will be another 18-month period before it kicks in. Now, the EPA suggests water shouldn’t have more than 70 parts per trillion (ppt) of PFAS, but this isn’t mandatory.

This has led to many states in the last few years implementing their own guidelines and limits for PFAS in drinking water, much tougher than EPA’s suggestion. For example, in California, the limit is 13 ppt, while in Minnesota it is 15 ppt and in Vermont 20 ppt.

“The decision shows that an avalanche of public pressure and overwhelming science is finally forcing EPA to act,” Melanie Benesh with the Environmental Working Group said in a statement. Benesh and other environmental groups estimate it might take up to four years for EPA to get a new standard in place.

A report by the US Environmental Working Group (EWG) warned in January that the presence of PFAS in water was much worse than initially thought. The substance was found in every state except Hawaii, with the highest levels being reported in Philadelphia, New Orleans, and Miami.

The PFAS substances are known as the “forever chemicals” as they persist in the environment and the human body for decades. They have been linked to a growing list of health problems, such as several types of cancer, liver damage and low weight levels on newborn babies.

“EPA needs to move quickly to prevent chronic disease by halting the use of the entire class of these industrial toxins until they are proven safe,” Mindi Messmer, co-founder of the New Hampshire Safe Water Alliance, said in a statement. “Every single day, these chemicals continue to contaminate the air and water.

The chemical substances can be found not only in water but also on food and food packaging, consumer products, and household dust, among others. Food is a big source of exposure to PFAS, but it’s still uncertain how people are being exposed, according to several studies.

The average exposure of a US citizen is equal to drinking water with 14 ppt of PFOA and 36 ppt of PFOS daily for the past few years, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s measurements. This is 14 times higher and 36 higher, respectively, than what’s recommended by the EWG

After decades of progress, air pollution in the U.S. has now gotten worse

For years, Americans have been breathing increasingly cleaner air. However, according to a new analysis of Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) data, particle matter pollution has increased in 2017 and 2018. The findings may signal a trend reversal after decades of generally positive environmental accomplishments.

Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Air pollution is responsible for a fifth of all deaths around the world, killing around 5.5 million annually.

People suffer both short-term and long-term health effects from air pollution, causing diseases and complications in nearly every system of the body. Some of these include:

  • Respiratory and cardiovascular diseases,
  • Neuropsychiatric complications (i.e., seizures, attention deficits, palsies, migraine headaches, and mood disorders),
  • Eye irritation,
  • Skin diseases,
  • Cancer,
  • Infertility,
  • Birth defects,
  • Premature death.

Studies have even associated air pollution with damage to short-term memory and IQ, as well as even increases in violent crime rates.

Some of the most dangerous air pollutants include nitrogen oxides, sulfur oxides, carbon monoxide, lead, or ground-level ozone. The main component of air pollution, however, is particulate matter smaller than 2.5 micrometers, often labeled as PM2.5. This fine dust or soot particles are small enough to travel through a person’s respiratory tract, causing illness and premature death.

Since the U.S. Congress passed the Clean Air Act in 1963, air quality at the national level has tended to improve. More recently, between 2009 and 2016, PM2.5 concentrations in the air dropped by 24%.

However, according to a new report authored by two Carnegie Mellon economists, PM2.5 concentrations have increased by 5.5% in 2017 and 2018.

“The increase was associated with 9,700 additional premature deaths in 2018. At conventional valuations, these deaths represent damages of $89 billion,” the authors wrote.

The researchers identified three potential factors that may be responsible for the recent uptick in air pollution: increased economic activity, wildfires, and EPA enforcement actions. It is important to note that the authors haven’t traced any causal links between the three factors and worsening air quality.

Since 2017, economic activity in the U.S. has increased significantly, which means more factories are producing goods (along with emissions) and there are more vehicles on the road.

Air pollution may have increased because of soot from wildfires, particularly in the West where such events have become more common since 2016.

And, finally, the authors found that EPA enforcement activity of the Clean Air Act has been declining since 2009. That’s nothing particularly wrong with that because there are now more compliant businesses and organizations than ever so it makes sense that there now fewer inspections and reports. The authors note, however, that EPA enforcement actions have not matched the rate of air pollution increase. Why this may be happening is the subject of a new study the authors have planned for in the future.

California freeway.

Eighteen U.S states are taking the EPA to court over weakening emission regulations

A coalition of 18 U.S states is suing the current administration over “arbitrary and capricious” moves to weaken air quality regulations.

California freeway.

California freeway.
Image via Wikimedia.

Eighteen states will take representatives of the Trump administration to court. In a move championed by the golden state of California, they will fight against the administration’s revisions of Obama-era car greenhouse gas emission rules — one of his most significant measures against climate change.

“Arbitrary and capricious”

New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Vermont, Maine, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Washington, Oregon, the District of Columbia, and California are suing the EPA and its Administrator Scott Pruitt.

Together, the states hold roughly 43% of the U.S.’s cars and are understandably angry at the EPA’s moves to weaken current car emission regulation. They aim to “set aside and hold unlawful” the newer (and weaker, compared to those adopted in 2012) fuel economy standards, which are slated to take effect in 2022.

According to The New York Times, the Trump administration said the standards were too stringent and began legal procedures to revise them. The EPA hasn’t offered any new standards, instead choosing to draft regulation that weakens existing ones post-2020. In other words, we’re not talking about a different take or a paradigm shift here — just a simple, old-fashioned cut.

The NYT explains that after executives from General Motors, Ford, and Fiat Chrysler visited the White House to request more lenient emissions rules, Trump’s administration began to try and roll back the standards. The Agency claims that the standards are “based on outdated information” and that new data suggests “the current standards may be too stringent.” For context, these standards aimed to raise efficiency requirements to about 50 miles per gallon by 2025.

The states, however, contend that the EPA acted “arbitrarily and capriciously” in changing these rules, in direct opposition to their citizens’ best interests. Furthermore, they hold that the EPA under Pruitt violated the Clean Air Act and didn’t follow its own regulations.

The lawsuit comes just days after learning that the Department of Transportation is planning to propose freezing fuel economy standards at model year 2020 levels, Politico adds.

“The federal standard the states are suing to protect is estimated to reduce carbon pollution equivalent to 134 coal power plants burning for a year, and save drivers $1,650 per vehicle,” the states said.

Which, you have to admit, sounds pretty sweet. There’s something for everybody, no matter if you care about the environment or your bottom line. No matter how this plays out, we’re likely to look at a protracted legal battle as both sides seem intent to see it through to the bitter end.

“My message to the EPA and Administrator Pruitt is simple: Do your job. Regulate carbon pollution from vehicles,” California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said at a press conference on Tuesday. “We are not looking to pick a fight with the Trump administration, but we are ready for one.”

“This is about health, it’s about life and death,” adds California Gov. Jerry Brown. “I’m going to fight it with everything I can.”

The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

EPA ends important Clean Air policy, fulfilling request of fossil fuel lobby

Strike another win for the fossil companies and another loss for the people. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced the withdrawal of a key provision of the Clean Air Act. Following this move, hundreds of U.S. industrial facilities will be allowed to dramatically increase their emissions of the most toxic air pollutants.

Image credits: Petter Rudwall.

The EPA has removed the “once-in always-in” policy under the Clean Air Act, which oversaw the regulation of hazardous air pollutant emissions for large-scale polluters. Under the new interpretation, major sources such as coal power plants can be reclassified, allowing them to follow different standards and emit much more than they were allowed to do before now.

This move is only the latest in a worrying series of environmental rollbacks issued by the Trump Administration. John Walke, clean air director at the Natural Resources Defense Council, says this decision is among the most dangerous yet.

“This is among the most dangerous actions that the Trump EPA has taken yet against public health. Rolling back longstanding protections to allow the greatest increase in hazardous air pollutants in our nation’s history is unconscionable.”

“This move drastically weakens protective limits on air pollutants like arsenic, lead, mercury and other toxins that cause cancer, brain damage, infertility, developmental problems and even death. And those harmed most would be nearby communities already suffering a legacy of pollution. NRDC will fight this terrible decision to unleash toxic pollutants with every available tool.”

The move highlights President Donald Trump’s relentless efforts to roll back federal environmental regulations. The withdrawal of this particular policy was sought by utilities, the petroleum industry, and other large-polluters. But in their zeal to roll back such regulations, they seem to have forgotten the best interests of citizens and focus overwhelmingly on corporate industrial interests. There is good reason to believe that while this will ease the regulatory burden on corporations, it will have massive consequences on the health of US citizens.

“The possibility seems very likely that some [downgraded] sources could actually increase their emissions as long as they don’t hit the cap,” said Janice Nolen, assistant vice president for national policy at the American Lung Association, who added that changing these rules would remove an important tool for the public to enforce air quality laws.

In recent times, the EPA seems to have become the antithesis of what it stands for. Instead of ensuring environmental and health protection, under Scott Pruitt, the agency has become a fiefdom where industry lobbying — especially coming from coal and oil — can get pretty much everything it asks for. Scientists have been swiftly removed by industry reps, and just recently, an EPA representative said that the air is “a bit too clean for human health” — well, the recent rollback should certainly help with that.

Pruitt Bag.

Scott Pruitt says subsidies give renewables an unfair edge, and here’s why he’s a monumental hypocrite

In a pioneering display of cognitive dissonance, EPA chief Scott Pruitt said on Monday that he would to do away with subsidies for renewable energy and let them “stand on their own and compete against” other sources of energy, such as fossil — the latter being heavily subsidized, and has been so for decades.

Pruitt Bag.

Mom says I’m good at Photoshop, ok?
Image credits me / ZMEScience, free to use with attribution.

Another week, another Pruittism. This Monday, the Environmental Protection Agency Administrator said that he believes federal tax credits for wind and solar power should be eliminated in the interest of fair play on the energy market.

“I would do away with these incentives that we give to wind and solar,” he told attendees at a Kentucky Farm Bureau event.

“I’d let them stand on their own and compete against coal and natural gas and other sources, and let utilities make real-time market decisions on those types of things as opposed to being propped up by tax incentives and other types of credits that occur, both in the federal level and state level,” he further explained.

Now, I like hypocrisy just as much as the next guy (spoiler alert: I don’t) but Mr. Pruitt definitely went to previously un-dredged lows with that announcement. To see why, let’s take a look at what subsidies are and how they play out across the energy sector.

Energy subsidies.

Here’s the too long; didn’t read version, presented by David Hochschild, a commissioner with the California Energy Commission, at the Energy Productivity Summer Study in Sydney in February 2016. Image via CleanTechnica.

[panel style=”panel-info” title=”Subsidy, according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary” footer=””]

A grant or gift of money: such as:
a) a sum of money formerly granted by the British Parliament to the crown and raised by special taxation
b) money granted by one state to another
c) a grant by a government to a private person or company to assist an enterprise deemed advantageous to the public.
[/panel]

We’re interested in the latter meaning of the word. Let’s take a look at the subsidies Mr. Pruitt would do away with:

  1. Wind power currently enjoys a tax credit of about 2.3 cents per kWh produced, and the measure starts phasing out this year and will expire completely in 2020.
  2. Solar energy investments get tax credits equal to 30% of their sum to encourage companies to invest in the sector. These credits will expire completely by 2022.

These incentives enjoy wide support among environmentalists and Democrats, while direct competitors of renewable in the energy market obviously oppose them, as do some Republicans. They’ve been touted again and again as the sole reason why renewable energy has seen such rapid growth in recent years, and the fossil fuel industry has been endlessly complaining they’re an unfair advantage.

Now let’s take a look at the subsidies oil, gas, and coal receive, as quantified by researchers at Oil Change International (full report at the bottom of the article). The sums in brackets are the estimated costs per year of these subsidies. Find a comfy seat, ’cause this is going to take a while.

The monetary black hole that is fossil fuel subsidies

Exploration and production related:

  1. Intangible drilling oil & gas deduction ($2.3 billion): Independent producers can fully deduct costs that aren’t directly related to the final operation of wells (such as labor, surveying, ground clearing, including development costs). Integrated companies can deduct 70% up front and the rest of 30% over five years.
  2. Excess of percentage over cost depletion ($1.5 billion): Independent fossil fuel producers can deduct a percentage of their gross income from production, reflecting reservoir depreciation.

Non-production related:

  1. Master Limited Partnerships tax exemption ($1.6 billion): A special corporate form that is exempt from corporate income taxes and publicly-traded on stock markets, primarily available to natural resource firms, the majority of which are fossil fuel companies.
  2. Last-in, first-out (LIFO) accounting ($1.7 billion): Allows oil companies to assume for accounting purposes that they sell the inventory most recently acquired or manufactured first. When inventory is experiencing increasing prices, LIFO assigns the most recent prices to cost of goods sold and oldest prices to remaining inventory, hence resulting in the highest amount of cost of goods sold and lowest taxable income for the company. It gets even better! LIFO-like measures are prohibited under international financial reporting standards.

Fire-sale on federal lands:

Author’s note: these methods hand over energy resources from public lands and federally-controlled waters to the fossil fuel industry at extremely low relative prices.

  1. Lost royalties from onshore and offshore drilling ($1.2 billion): outdated royalty exemptions, rate setting, and procedures for assessing oil and gas production on federal lands shortchange taxpayers by more than a billion dollars each year. If the federal government were to charge a 20% royalty rate for onshore drilling, the lowest rate charged by the state of Texas, taxpayers would benefit from an additional $3 billion in revenues.
  2. Low-cost leasing of coal-production in the Powder River Basin ($963 million): allows coal companies to lease federal land at low costs in the Powder River Basin (PRB), a mostly federally-owned coal-producing region in Wyoming and Montana that accounts for 40 percent of U.S. coal production (and 85 percent of coal production from federal lands). By exempting from ‘major coal producing region’ status, the federal government did away with requirements to plan and monitor coal production according to a systematic management process, making for significantly lenient lease rates in the PRB.

From now on I’ll just give a few examples in each category, and I’ll keep them short because most of you are probably dozing off by now.

Coal Bailouts:

Author’s note: as coal companies become insolvent, taxpayer dollars cover their obligations to communities and workers.

  1. Inadequate industry fees recouped to cover the Abandoned Mine Land Grant Fund ($400 million).
  2. Inadequate industry support to cover worker health impacts ($330 million).

Pollution subsidies:

  1. Deduction for oil spill penalty costs ($334 million).
  2. Tar sands exemption from payments into the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund ($47 million).

Subsidies that lock in fossil fuel dependence:

  1. Enhanced oil recovery credit ($235 million in 2017, could cost $8.8 billion over the next decade according to The Office of Management and Budget).
  2. CO2 sequestration credit ($95 million).

Gets hard to follow, so here it is in chart form for 2016:

PermaTaxBreaks.

Image credits OCI.

Subsidies by industry.

Image credits OCI.

Fuel subsidies categories.

Image credits OCI.

Add everything up and you get $14.7 billion in federal subsidies and $5.8 billion in state-level incentives, for a total of $20.5 billion annually in corporate welfare. One-fifth of that goes to coal, the rest to oil and gas. Another factor at play here is continuity and length of these subsidizing schemes.

david-susbidies-time.

Another graph presented by Hochschild in Sydney, showing the short-term nature of the subsidies for renewable energy.
Image via CleanTechnica.

“There is a myth around subsidies, but there is no such thing as an unsubsidised unit of energy,” Hochschild told RenewEconomy after his presentation, and CleanTechnica later picking up on the quote here. “The fossil fuel industry hates to talk about that,” he added.

He explained that oil depletion allowances have been in place since 1926 and would continue, despite the fact that oil is “one of the most profitable industries in the world.” Insurance costs for nuclear plants, “without which there would be no nuclear plants,” are also a subsidy, CleanTechnica goes on to write. Drilling or fracking, which have been made exempt from compliance with the safe drinking water act, also serve as a subsidy by allowing natural gas companies to cut costs.

US wind and solar industries were stifled with repeated changes to their federal support mechanisms. The tax credits have been changed seven times in a decade, according to Hochschild.

“How can you plan a wind turbine factory or project in those types of conditions?” he asked.

A sliver of a crumb

Everything I’ve listed above is only part of the direct subsidies fossil fuel companies receive in the US, because the OCI only looked at direct production subsidies. OCI notes that the estimates of state-level subsidies are probably low, since many states don’t report the costs of tax expenditures (i.e., tax breaks and credits to industry), so data is difficult to come by.

Add to the above roughly $14.5 billion in consumption subsidies (things like Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, which helps residents pay for heating bills,) $2.1 billion in subsidies for overseas fossil fuel projects, and probably the single greatest offender, indirect subsidies. This latter category involves things like the money the US military spends to protect oil shipping routes, or the unpaid costs of health and climate impacts from burning fossil fuels, which are naturally really hard to quantify precisely but navigate in the region of hundreds of billions of dollars.

It’s not happening in the US alone. According to the International Energy Agency, global subsidies for fossil fuels outweigh those for renewable energy more than 10-fold — CleanTechnica estimates it’s more than 13-fold if you don’t count biofuels. Vox reported that the International Monetary Fund estimates the world spends $500 billion in direct subsidies for fossil energy, a figure that increases to about $5.3 trillion a year after indirect spending (including environmental damages) are factored in.

But only Mr. Pruitt has the audacity to claim subsidies unfairly favor renewables, and they should be scrapped. It’s both hilarious and infuriating when the chief of the EPA says that, considering that the US’ subsidy policy on renewables is “hey we’ll help cover a bit of the cost of each unit of energy a wind turbine produces, and any company that invests in building solar energy will get just shy of 1/3 of that investment as a tax reduction. For the next 3-5 years.” Then it turns around and shells some $30 billion to fossil fuel companies every year.

Why? Well, as OCI concludes:

“In the 2015-2016 election cycle, oil, gas, and coal companies spent $354 million in campaign contributions and lobbying and received $29.4 billion in federal subsidies in total over those same years — an 8,200% return on investment.”

Every penny of that is paid from your pocket. Every year, your taxes pay for a company’s search for new deposits and the means to exploit them, its tax breaks, covers accounting artifices that are banned under international financing standards, forfeiture of royalties, dirt-cheap leasing, and finally they cover the costs when that company pollutes your air and water or simply fracks up big time and spills something or goes insolvent. Every year, some starting as far back as the 1900s.

All of it so that a fossil fuel company can keep making money, despite the fact that renewables can take up the job for less spending, fewer health impacts, less wealth concentration. And with 100% less global warming cover-up shenanigans.

So tell me again about how energy companies need to “stand on their own and compete” Pruitt, you brass-necked hypocrite.

OCI’s full report is available here. For a more comprehensive list of the subsidy schemes energy companies enjoy, as well as more details for the ones I’ve listed here, you can use the Green Scissors database.

The EPA building.

EPA’s Office of Water director resigns to protest Trump’s choke-hold of the agency

The EPA’s director of science and technology in the agency’s Office of Water resigned her post on Tuesday to protest that “the [Trump] administration is seriously weakening EPA’s mission.”

The EPA building.

Image credits USEPA Environmental Protection Agency.

Elizabeth Southerland has served with the EPA for the last 30 years, and she loved every minute of it — until the current administration and the agency’s new Administrator, Scott Pruitt, stepped onto the scene with a bang (of ignoring science). To protest their efforts of neutering the EPA, the environmental protection veteran decided to join a growing body of protesting researchers and leave the agency. While she admits that family concerns also played a hand in the decision, her blistering exit letter makes no qualms in criticizing the Trump administration’s fondness for outright lies.

“The environmental field is suffering from the temporary triumph of myth over truth,” she wrote.

“The truth is there is NO war on coal, there is NO economic crisis caused by environmental protection, and climate change IS caused by man’s activities.”

Sutherland says that since Scott Pruitt took over as EPA’s Administrator, he’s rejected dozens of new environmental protection regulations. Budget cuts proposed by the Trump administration (both for the agency and for their state and tribal funding) would also severely limit the EPA’s ability to implement new measures, enforce already-existing ones, and will cripple many communities’ ability to uphold EPA regulation even if they want to. One measure, in particular, seems tailor-made to force the agency into inaction — president Trump’s demand that two federal regulations be struck from the books for every new one added.

And no, this isn’t one of those cases where the invisible hand will take over to guide markets into a new, regulation-less era of safety, health, and prosperity for all. Oh no. Like medical insurees and national park personnel can attest, it’s one of those times where the Orange Overlord’s government is actively looking to shaft you.

“Should EPA repeal two existing rules protecting infants from neurotoxins in order to promulgate a new rule protecting adults from a newly discovered liver toxin?” Sutherland wrote.

“Faced with such painful choices, the best possible outcome for the American people would be regulatory paralysis where no new rules are released so that existing protections remain in place.”

You know who doesn’t like new environmental and health regulation? Companies willing to pump mercury into the atmosphere to raise their stock by a few points. You know who should like new regulation? The average John and Jane trying not to get brain damage when drinking a glass of water. The EPA is the one advocating on behalf of the latter two, the one trying “to make the ‘right thing’ happen for the greater good”– limiting its ability to act and keep up with the going-ons isn’t the way to go.

Southerland is confident that eventually, “Congress and the courts will […] restore all the environmental protections repealed by this administration,” as most Americans recognize that the EPA’s safeguarding of the public health and safety is “right and it is just.” However, the issue here is time. “It may take a few years and even an environmental disaster” to make it happen, she admits. In the meantime, the US is shackling its foremost environmental agency as governments across the globe are scrambling to meet the demands of the Paris agreement. The administration is disarming their environmental watchdog and making quality medical assistance a pipe dream for a lot of Americans, despite them being faced with literally deadly conditions in the future. Because you know, regulation is bad, mkay?

Maybe it’s just me but when you put it like that, ideology doesn’t seem that important anymore. Guess it’s just greed then.

Gas Cover.

The lid stays shut on methane emissions despite Pruitt’s wishes, Columbia Court of Appeals judges rule

The US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled that Obama-era methane safeguards must be enforced until they’re overturned.

Gas Cover.

Image credits Andrew Martin.

This Monday, the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is obligated to enforce methane emission rules set in place by the Obama administration last year. These measures were inked into law following reports of massive and systemic methane leaks throughout continental and coastal US.

Leaking gas

Methane is a chemically simple gaseous hydrocarbon, found in virtually all fossil-fuel deposits (either as a by-product of their formation or as the main resource therein). It’s also a much more powerful greenhouse gas than CO2, although it does degrade faster than the latter (but breaks down into yet more CO2). Oil and gas companies were playing fast and loose with this gas, leaking a huge quantity into the atmosphere, either accidentally or just to cut costs.

Under President’s Obama administration the Department of the Interior set rules in place in an effort to control and quantify methane emissions. These essentially obligated oil and gas companies to track and capture methane leaking from wells on federal land. Among other things, they set performance standards for new drilling operations and required many oil and gas companies to conduct an initial survey of methane emissions at their wells by June 3, 2017.

The Trump administration has shown great interest in making these rules (good rules in general) go away. Trump’s EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt first announced his intention of starting a reconsideration process for these rules back in April but changing legislature set in place is an often lengthy and difficult task.

So Pruitt also announced that the Environmental Pruitt Agency won’t bother with mere technicalities such as “law,” “facts,” or “ethics” and will simply not enforce four items specified in the rules — including regulation of low-production wells and the requirement that a professional engineer certify well vent system designs — in the meantime. This was a reasonable course of action, Pruitt argued, as Obama’s administration didn’t give all stakeholders an opportunity to comment on the rules’ final wording.

Nope!

A host of environmental groups, including the Environmental Defense Fund, Natural Resources Defense Council, Environmental Integrity Project, Earthworks, the Clean Air Council, and the Sierra Club, naturally challenged this in court. A panel of three judges was appointed to the case, and on Monday they announced their ruling: the rules still stand, so EPA has to enforce them.

“As we have explained, ‘an agency issuing a legislative rule is itself bound by the rule until that rule is amended or revoked’ and ‘may not alter [such a rule] without notice and comment.'”

“The administrative record […] makes clear that industry groups had ample opportunity to comment on all four issues on which EPA granted reconsideration, and indeed, that in several instances the agency incorporated those comments directly into the final rule,” the panel wrote.

The judges further pointed out that the EPA can start a reconsideration process for the rules at any time, but until they’re overturned the agency is obligated to stand by and enforce them.

Which I bet was music to the ears of the good men and women still struggling to do good in the EPA in spite of Administrator Pruitt.

EPA dismisses climate change scientists ‘to replace them with industry reps’

Under president Trump and administrator Scott Pruitt, the Environmental Protection Agency is not staying true to its name — instead, it’s becoming more of an agency protecting the industry. The latest signal of this movement is the dismissal of at least five members of a major scientific review board, rumored to be replaced with industry representatives.

It’s ‘eyes on the prize’ for EPA’s administrator Scott Pruit, and the prize is the fossil fuel industry. Image credits: Gage Skidmore.

According to The New York Times, EPA spokesman J.P. Freire suggested that Scott Pruitt is not interested in maintaining the science-only direction of the board.

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

Freire said the agency wanted “to take as inclusive an approach to regulation as possible,” but his statement is little more than smoke and mirrors. For starters, the move was not announced or properly justified. Although all the scientists being dismissed are at the ends of their three-year terms, they are not political actors and the mandates are generally renewed, barring special circumstances. Still, Freire made it clear that this administration will do everything in its power to wipe the environmental legacy of the Obama administration.

“We’re not going to rubber-stamp the last administration’s appointees. Instead, they should participate in the same open competitive process as the rest of the applicant pool.” Freire added, “We’re making a clean break with the last administration’s approach.”

Scientists have also been vocal against this action, seeing it as a political move which has nothing to do with protecting the environment.

“Most of us on the council are academic people,” said Ponisseril Somasundaran, a chemist at Columbia University who focuses on managing hazardous waste. “I think they want to bring in business and industry people.”

Indeed, it has to be said that this is not an isolated move. It’s not just the fact that president Trump has been vocal about undoing all things environmental or that he believes climate change to be a hoax, but the way his administration has been treating the EPA is very telling of their intentions. Right after he was elected, Trump has issued a media blackout at the EPA, and has ordered employees to remove the climate science pages from the website. Then, administrator Scott Pruit said he doesn’t believe CO2 causes climate change and is taking active steps towards lowering EPA regulations to according to industry lobby. This seems to be the main prize sought by Pruitt and Trump in this regard — favoring the fossil fuel industry.

“This is completely part of a multifaceted effort to get science out of the way of a deregulation agenda,” said Ken Kimmell, the president of the Union of Concerned Scientists. “What seems to be premature removals of members of this Board of Science Counsellors when the board has come out in favour of the EPA strengthening its climate science, plus the severe cuts to research and development – you have to see all these things as interconnected.”

In this context, with all these moves adding up to this, it’s becoming increasingly clear that the EPA is being corrupted from the inside. The science is out there, but Pruitt and like-minded lawmakers in Congress are not interested in hearing it.

“I see the dismissal of the scientists from the Board of Scientific Counsellors as a test balloon,” said Joseph Arvai, an environmental scientist at the University of Michigan who is on the Scientific Advisory Board. “This is clearly very political, and we should be very concerned if it goes further.”

 

EPA removes climate science website to “reflect the priorities… of President Trump and Administrator Pruitt”

The US Environmental Protection Agency has started revamping some of its science websites, to reflect the new agenda under President Trump and administrator Scott Pruitt. Normally, we wouldn’t be too worried about this, but since they have both taken climate change denial positions and blatantly supported the fossil fuel industry, this may be more than just a couple of tweaks.

Trump vs the environment

If you’re unfamiliar with the EPA and its recent context, the agency was created for the purpose of protecting human health and the environment by writing and enforcing regulations based on the US laws. It employs some 15,000 workers, half of which are are engineers, scientists, and environmental protection specialists. After the recent elections which sent Donald Trump to the White House, the EPA has been under a tremendous and unjustified pressure.

For starters, Trump put forth plans to cut the EPA’s budget by 31%, from $8.1 billion to $5.7 billion and cut down about a quarter jobs. He also appointed Scott Pruitt as the head of the agency, which already turned out to be an unfortunate decision — for the EPA and the environment itself. Scott Pruitt didn’t take long to out himself as a climate change denier, saying that CO2 doesn’t cause climate change, something which goes against centuries of research and on which there isn’t even a debate. I don’t think there’s a ‘climate change denial ranking,’ but if there was, this statement would be a top contender — even ranking higher than Trump’s own statements on global warming. Of course, researchers quickly dismissed Pruitt’s false claims, but this was a clear sign of a new direction for the EPA: an anti-scientific and anti-environmental direction.

We’re not sure exactly what will happen to the EPA webpages.

Another telling sign was the brief but very acute media blackout Trump ordered on the EPA. He also told employees to ‘cut climate change webpage’ and… this may very well be what is happening now.

Censorship vs science

Ironically, one of the EPA’s own web pages disagreed with Pruitt and Trump, citing findings of the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. It also contained scientific explanations of climate change, its causes and consequences, and how all this relates to fossil fuels. That media page has been taken down, after almost 20 years.

“If you are looking for information on “climate change,” “the greenhouse effect,” or “global warming, ” you’ve come to the right place,” it declared in August 1997. “At this web site you will find information pertaining to the science of global warming; current and projected impacts of global warming; international and U.S. Government policies and programs; opportunities for individuals and corporations to help stop global warming (and in many cases, save money, too!); state and local actions that help mitigate greenhouse gas emissions; and, easy ways to obtain more information by fax, email and electronic order form.”

Among the pages which have been taken down, there were datasheets on greenhouse gas emissions, detailed information about the Clean Power Plan, and data on how environmental issues affected different demographic groups. All those have been replaced with a vague statement:

“Thank you for your interest in this topic. We are currently updating our website to reflect EPA’s priorities under the leadership of President [Donald] Trump and Administrator Pruitt.”

Scott Pruitt. Image credits: Gage Skidmore.

EPA spokespeople have argued that nothing massive will change, and all this is just done to “eliminate confusion”

“As EPA renews its commitment to human health and clean air, land, and water, our website needs to reflect the views of the leadership of the agency,” J.P. Freire, the agency’s associate administrator for public affairs, said in a statement. “We want to eliminate confusion by removing outdated language first and making room to discuss how we’re protecting the environment and human health by partnering with states and working within the law.”

Are we getting too worked out about this? That’s possible, but given the overall trend of the Trump administration, I think it’s safe to say all things with ‘environment’ written on them have a big red target attached. Shortly after President Trump was elected, many researchers from the Department of Energy and EPA started archiving data out of fear these might get destroyed. We’re also past the point where insurances coming from the White House can be taken seriously. After the whole charade with the “alternative facts” and after many lies have been perpetuated by Trump and his administration, I would not give two cents on reassuring statements from EPA spokespeople.

Trump orders media blackout at the EPA, tells employees to ‘cut climate change webpage’

The Trump administration has effectively banned scientists from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from talking to the media.

Trump’s views on climate change should be a secret to no one by now.

In a deeply concerning move, Trump has banned the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from talking to reporters or even posting social media updates. Emails sent to EPA staff since President Trump’s inauguration on Friday and reviewed by the Associated Press detail the exact prohibitions.

“Incoming media requests will be carefully screened,” one directive said. “Only send out critical messages, as messages can be shared broadly and end up in the press.”

As a result, the EPA websites and social media accounts, which typically post several updates every day, have remained silent in the past few days.

The Trump administration has also ordered a “temporary suspension” of all new business activities at the department, effective immediately and with a nationwide impact.

Censoring such an important agency is not something to be taken lightly, and needless to say, scientists are not thrilled by this move.

“Any effort to stop a scientific agency from responding to congressional, federal, state and local inquiries has a chilling effect,” Bob Cord, director of public affairs at the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, told the Huffington Post.

Then, as Reuters reports, the administration asked the Environmental Protection Agency to remove the climate change page from its website. This is not an isolated move, and it is not a coincidence — it’s part of a larger move to limit the flow of information from US agencies to the public. Valerie Volcovici at Reuters writes:

“The moves have reinforced concerns that Trump, a climate change doubter, could seek to sideline scientific research showing that carbon dioxide emissions from burning fossil fuels contributes to global warming, as well as the career staffers at the agencies that conduct much of this research.”

Trump: environmentalism is “out of control”

At a meeting, President Trump told the CEOs of Ford, General Motors, and Fiat Chrysler that “Environmentalism is out of control”. Although details are scarce, Trump seems hellbent on cutting down pollution laws and boosting the fossil fuel industry.

“We want regulations but we want real regulations that mean something,” he said. “We’re going to make the process much more simple for the auto companies and everybody else who wants to do business in the United States.”

According to Climate Change News, last week, Trump’s pick for environment chief Scott Pruitt said he will not maintain California’s decades-long ability to enforce its own vehicle emission standards, which are tougher than those at the federal level.

Sadly, the president seems committed to do the opposite of this list. Image credits: John Englart / COP22

With Trump’s war on the environment, it seems like good times are coming for car makers and people in the fossil fuel industry. As for climate and science … well, who cares, really?