Category Archives: US Environmental Protection Agency

Trump wants to trash California emission standards – Newsom and Becerra stand strong

[Editor: First hear our California officials on the Youtube video of today’s press conference.  The LA Times story follows.  – RS]


Newsom, Becerra lash out at Trump plan on California emissions standards

Traffic in downtown Los Angeles seen from the 110 Freeway.
Traffic in downtown Los Angeles seen from the 110 Freeway.  (Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)
Los Angeles Times, by Phil Willon, Anna M. Phillips, Sep. 18, 2019

Gov. Gavin Newsom on Wednesday criticized the Trump administration’s plan to rescind California’s nearly half-century-old authority to impose tough car emissions standards, vowing to take legal action to block the move.

“California will prevail because we’re leaders in this space,” Newsom said.

Newsom’s comments came during a morning news conference with state Atty. Gen. Xavier Becerra, California Air Resources Board Chair Mary Nichols, and California Environmental Protection Agency Secretary Jared Blumenfeld.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is expected to announce plans Thursday morning to overturn a special federal waiver that permits California to set its own strict pollution controls to improve air quality, the foundation of the state’s aggressive efforts to combat climate change.

The EPA originally planned to announce that it would do away with the waiver at an event on Wednesday, while President Trump was visiting Los Angeles. But the announcement was delayed, handing the president an opportunity to deliver the news himself.

In a series of tweets early Wednesday, Trump said that revoking California’s authority to impose emissions standards will help make cars safer and more affordable, an assertion that Newsom has consistently refuted.

“This will lead to more production because of this pricing and safety advantage, and also due to the fact that older, highly polluting cars, will be replaced by new, extremely environmentally friendly cars,” Trump tweeted. “There will be very little difference in emissions between the California Standard and the new U.S. Standard, but the cars will be far safer and much less expensive. Many more cars will be produced under the new and uniform standard, meaning significantly more JOBS, JOBS, JOBS! Automakers should seize this opportunity because without this alternative to California, you will be out of business.”

In fact, automakers have repeatedly warned the administration that forcing a legal battle with California over car pollution standards could significantly damage their bottom line. If the nation’s auto industry is split in two — with some states following California’s standards and others following weaker federal rules — car makers could find themselves caught in a regulatory nightmare, required to comply with both.

Experts have also raised serious doubts about the administration’s argument that the new policy will make new cars safer. In a study published last year in the journal Science, researchers wrote that the administration’s analysis of its own policy proposal “has fundamental flaws and inconsistencies, is at odds with basic economic theory and empirical studies, [and] is misleading.”

Ahead of Wednesday’s news conference, Newsom responded to the president’s claims on Twitter, calling them “simply inaccurate.”

“Your standards will cost consumers $400 billion,” Newsom said in a tweet. “Result in 320 billion more gallons of oil burned and spewed into our air. And hurt car companies’ ability to compete in a global market. It’s bad for our air. Bad for our health. Bad for our economy.”

The Trump administration’s action threatens to derail California’s effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions over the next decade to a level 40% below those recorded in 1990: The primary driver behind that effort is the state’s goal to help ensure more than 1 million zero-emission vehicles and plug-in hybrids are on the road by 2025.

“Our message to those who claim to support states’ rights: Don’t trample on ours,” Becerra said Wednesday.

California’s clash with the Republican president, who is in California to fundraise for his 2020 reelection campaign, comes just over a month after state officials worked to circumvent the Trump administration’s efforts to relax tailpipe pollution regulations by reaching a deal with four major automakers, Ford, Honda, Volkswagen and BMW, to gradually strengthen fuel-efficiency standards. Other automakers have expressed interest in joining the pact.

In a tweet, Trump called California’s agreement with automakers “crazy” and the U.S. Department of Justice has launched an antitrust investigation into whether it violated federal competition law.

The voluntary deal between the California Air Resources Board and automakers covers about a third of the new cars and SUVs sold in the U.S. Under the agreement, the four automakers agreed to produce cars that must reach a minimum of about 50 mpg by 2026.

Since Trump’s election in 2016, California’s state officials have filed more than 50 lawsuits over the administration‘s actions on a variety of issues, including more than two dozen challenges to policies proposed by the EPA, the U.S. Department of the Interior and other federal agencies responsible for setting energy and fuel-efficiency standards. In August, California joined a coalition of 21 other states suing to block the Trump administration’s attempt to gut restrictions on coal-burning power plants.

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    Trump administration to relax restrictions on methane, a powerful greenhouse gas

    The oil and gas industry are split on the rollback

    This 2017 photo shows pumpjacks operating in the western edge of California's Central Valley northwest of Bakersfield. (Brian Melley/AP)
    This 2017 photo shows pumpjacks operating in the western edge of California’s Central Valley northwest of Bakersfield. (Brian Melley/AP)
    The Washington Post, By Juliet Eilperin and Brady Dennis, Aug 29, 2019

    The Environmental Protection Agency announced Thursday that it plans to loosen federal rules on methane, a powerful greenhouse gas linked to climate change.

    The proposed rule would reverse standards enacted under President Barack Obama that required oil and gas operators to prevent the release of methane in new drilling wells, pipelines and storage facilities.

    It also challenges the notion that the federal government has the authority to regulate methane without first making a detailed determination that it qualifies as a pollutant under the Clean Air Act.

    If successful, that change could hamper the ability of future administrations to enact tougher restrictions on methane. Already, the Trump administration has taken several steps to limit the government’s ability to regulate other greenhouse gases in the future, including in a recently finalized rule curbing carbon dioxide emissions from power plants.

    “EPA’s proposal delivers on President Trump’s executive order and removes unnecessary and duplicative regulatory burdens from the oil and gas industry,” EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler said in a statement. “The Trump administration recognizes that methane is valuable, and the industry has an incentive to minimize leaks and maximize its use.”

    Methane is a significant contributor to the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, though it is shorter-lived than carbon dioxide and is not emitted in amounts as large. It often is leaked as companies drill for gas and transport it across the country, and methane emissions are more than 80 times as potent as carbon dioxide emissions over the short term.

    Scientists have projected that the world needs to cut its overall greenhouse gas emissions nearly in half by mid-century to avert catastrophic effects from global warming.

    According to the EPA, methane accounted for more than 10 percent of all U.S. greenhouse gas emissions from human activities as recently as 2017. Nearly a third of those emissions were generated by the natural gas and petroleum industry.

    U.S. greenhouse gas emissions spiked in 2018 — and it couldn’t happen at a worse time

    “What they’re tackling is whether methane can lawfully be a regulatory pollutant,” Erik Milito, vice president of upstream and industry operations for the American Petroleum Institute, said in an interview. “We have a strong consensus that federal agencies need to follow the letter of the law. They did not do that, and they are going back and correcting that.”

    Anne Idsal, assistant administrator​ of the EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation, said the administration is confident that methane emissions from oil and gas companies will continue to decline over time, even without the current regulations.

    “Methane is a valuable resource,” Idsal told reporters in a call Thursday. “There’s every incentive for industry to minimize any type of fugitive methane emissions, capture it, use it and sell it down the road.”

    The agency estimates that the proposed changes, which will be subject to public comment for 60 days after they are published, would save the oil and natural gas industry $17 million to $19 million a year.

    But several of the world’s biggest fossil fuel companies, including Exxon, Shell and BP, have opposed the rollback and urged the Trump administration to keep the current standards in place. Collectively, these firms account for 11 percent of America’s natural gas output.

    In a statement Thursday, Shell U.S. President Gretchen Watkins reiterated the company’s support for national limits on methane, noting that Shell has pledged to reduce its methane leaks from its global operations to less than 0.2 percent by 2025.

    “We believe sound environmental policies are foundational to the vital role natural gas can play in the energy transition and have made clear our support of 2016 law to regulate methane from new and modified onshore sources,” she said. “Despite the administration’s proposal to no longer regulate methane, Shell’s U.S. assets will continue to contribute to that global target.”

    The Wall Street Journal first reported news of the rollback.

    Idsal said the agency will continue regulating volatile organic compounds, which are also released during oil and gas operations, rather than methane directly. Such limits could cut down on the amount of methane released in the process. Milito noted that by 2023, 90 percent of oil and gas facilities will have to install technology curbing volatile organic compounds.

    In September, the Interior Department eased requirements that oil and gas firms operating on federal and tribal land capture the release of methane.

    Environmentalists threatened to fight the Trump administration’s move in court.

    Kassie Siegel, director of the Climate Law Institute at the Center for Biological Diversity, an advocacy group, called the proposal reckless, saying it shows “complete contempt for our climate.” She said that even the Obama administration’s efforts to limit methane emissions were modest, given the significant amount that escapes into the atmosphere each year.

    “The Obama rule was like a Band-Aid on a gaping wound,” Siegel said. “The Trump administration is so fanatical that they couldn’t even live with the Band-Aid. They had to rip off the Band-Aid.”

    The Obama administration’s push to impose the first limits on methane emissions from the oil and gas industry in 2016 came shortly after the EPA found that emissions were on an upswing at a time when booming U.S. shale oil and gas drilling had dramatically driven down the prices of domestic natural gas and global oil alike.

    Ben Ratner, a senior director at the advocacy group Environmental Defense Fund, said in an interview that rolling back the regulations could reward bad actors in the industry. Given that many major players had embraced limits on methane, Ratner said, it made little sense for Trump officials to ease such restrictions.

    “It’s more of an ideological reaction to regulation of any climate pollutant by the federal government,” he said.

    Steven Mufson contributed to this report.

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      E.P.A. Plans to Get Thousands of Deaths Off the Books by Changing Its Math

      By Lisa Friedman, New York Times, May 20, 2019
      The Hunter power plant in Castle Dale, Utah, which burns an estimated 4.5 million tons of coal a year.  Credit: Brandon Thibodeaux for The New York Times

      WASHINGTON — The Environmental Protection Agency plans to change the way it calculates the future health risks of air pollution, a shift that would predict thousands of fewer deaths and would help justify the planned rollback of a key climate change measure, according to five people with knowledge of the agency’s plans.

      The proposed change would dramatically reduce the 1,400 additional premature deaths per year that the E.P.A. had initially forecast as a result of eliminating the old climate change regulation — the Clean Power Plan, which was President Barack Obama’s signature climate change measure. It would also make it easier for the administration to defend its replacement, known as the Affordable Clean Energy rule.

      It has been a constant struggle for the E.P.A. to demonstrate, as it is normally expected to do, that society will see more benefits than costs from major regulatory changes. The new modeling method, which experts said has never been peer-reviewed and is not scientifically sound, would most likely be used by the Trump administration to defend further rollbacks of air pollution rules.

      It is not uncommon for a presidential administration to use accounting changes to make its regulatory decisions look better than the rules of its predecessors. But the proposed new modeling method is unusual because it relies on unfounded medical assumptions and discards more than a decade of peer-reviewed E.P.A. methods for understanding the health hazards linked to the fine particulate matter produced by burning fossil fuels.

      Fine particulate matter — the tiny, deadly particles that can penetrate deep into the lungs and enter the bloodstream — is linked heart attacks, strokes and respiratory disease.

      The five people familiar with the plan, who are all current or former E.P.A. officials, said the new modeling method would be used in the agency’s analysis of the final version of the ACE rule, which is expected to be made public in June. William L. Wehrum, the E.P.A. air quality chief, acknowledged in an interview the new method would be included in the agency’s final analysis of the rule.

      The new methodology would assume there is little or no health benefit to making the air any cleaner than what the law requires. On paper, that would translate into far fewer premature deaths from air pollution, even if it increased. The problem is, scientists say, in the real world there are no safe levels of fine particulate pollution in the air.

      “Particulate matter is extremely harmful and it leads to a large number of premature deaths,” said Richard L. Revesz, an expert in environmental law at New York University. He called the expected change a “monumental departure” from the approach both Republican and Democratic E.P.A. leaders have used over the past several decades and predicted that it would lay the groundwork for weakening more environmental regulations.

      “It could be an enormously significant impact,” Mr. Revesz said.

      The Obama administration had sought to reduce planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions under the Clean Power Plan by pushing utilities to switch away from coal and instead use natural gas or renewable energy to generate electricity. The Obama plan would also have what’s known as a co-benefit: levels of fine particulate matter would fall.

      The Trump administration has moved to repeal the Obama-era plan and replace it with the ACE rule, which would slightly improve the efficiency of coal plants. It would also allow older coal plants to remain in operation longer and result in an increase of particulate matter.

      Particulate matter comes in various sizes. The greatest health risk comes from what is known as PM 2.5, the range of fine particles that are less than 2.5 microns in diameter. That is about one-thirtieth the width of a human hair.

      The E.P.A. has set the safety threshold for PM 2.5 at a yearly average of 12 micrograms per cubic meter. While individual days vary, with some higher, an annual average at or below that level, known as the particulate matter standard, is considered safe. However, the agency still weighs health hazards that occur in the safe range when it analyzes new regulations.

      Industry has long questioned that system. After all, fossil fuel advocates ask, why should the E.P.A. search for health dangers, and, ultimately, impose costs on industry, in situations where air is officially considered safe?

      Mr. Wehrum, who worked as a lawyer and lobbyist for chemical manufacturers and fossil fuel businesses before moving to the E.P.A., echoed that position in the interview. He noted that, in some regulations, the benefits of reduced particulate matter have been estimated to total in the range of $40 billion.

      “How in the world can you get $30 or $40 billion of benefit to public health when most of that is attributable to reductions in areas that already meet a health-based standard,” he said. “That doesn’t make any sense.”

      William L. Wehrum, the E.P.A. assistant administrator for air and radiation. Credit: Ron Sachs/CNP/MediaPunch

      Mr. Wehrum confirmed that he had asked his staff to study the issue and that the final version of the ACE rule would include a variety of analyses, including one that does not take into consideration health effects below the particulate matter standard. He acknowledged that doing so would reduce the 1,400 premature deaths the agency had initially predicted as a result of the measure.

      He called the attention given to that initial forecast “unfortunate” and said the agency had included the figure in its analysis to show the varied results that can be achieved based on different assumptions.

      Mr. Wehrum said the analyses the agency is conducting “illuminate the issue” of particulate matter and the question of what level is acceptable for the purposes of policymaking. He said new approaches would allow for public debate to move ahead and that any new methods would be subject to peer review if they became the agency’s primary tool for measuring health risks.

      “This isn’t just something I’m cooking up here in my fifth-floor office in Washington,” Mr. Wehrum said.

      Roger O. McClellan, who has served on E.P.A. advisory boards and as president of the Chemical Industry Institute of Toxicology, an industry-financed research center, said the data for health risks below the particulate matter standard was weak and that he did not accept the argument that agencies must calculate risk “down to the first molecule of exposure.”

      “These kinds of approaches — that every molecule, every ionization, carries with it an associated calculable health risk — are just misleading,” Mr. McClellan said.

      To put the matter in perspective, most scientists say particulate matter standards are like speed limits. On many highways, a limit of 65 miles per hour is considered reasonable to protect public safety. But that doesn’t mean the risk of an accident disappears at 55 m.p.h., or even 25.

      Jonathan M. Samet, a pulmonary disease specialist who is dean of the Colorado School of Public Health, said the most recent studies showed negative health effects well below the 12-microgram standard. “It’s not a hard stop where we can say ‘below that, air is safe.’ That would not be supported by the scientific evidence,” Dr. Samet said. “It would be very nice for public health if things worked that way, but they don’t seem to.”

      Daniel S. Greenbaum, president of the Health Effects Institute, a nonprofit research organization that is funded by the E.P.A. and industry groups, acknowledged there was uncertainty around the effects of fine particulate matter exposure below the standard.

      He said it was reasonable of the Trump administration to study the issue, but he questioned moving ahead with a new system before those studies are in. “To move away from the way this has been done without the benefit of this full scientific peer review is unfortunate,” he said.


      For more news on climate and the environment, follow @NYTClimate on Twitter.
      Lisa Friedman reports on climate and environmental policy in Washington. A former editor at Climatewire, she has covered nine international climate talks. @LFFriedman
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        Trump appoints another oil industry VIP, recording reveals industry execs celebrating their win

        Repost from Politico
        [Editor: Significant quote: “The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee will hold a confirmation hearing Thursday, March 28.”  See and contact committee members here: https://www.energy.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/members  – RS]

        Recording Reveals Oil Industry Execs Laughing at Trump Access

        The tape of a private meeting was made shortly after the lawyer for an influential industry group was tapped for a high-level post at the Department of the Interior.

        By LANCE WILLIAMS, March 23, 2019
        President Donald Trump and acting Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt.
        President Donald Trump and acting Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt. | AP

        Gathered for a private meeting at a beachside RitzCarlton in Southern California, the oil executives were celebrating a colleague’s sudden rise. David Bernhardt, their former lawyer, had been appointed by President Donald Trump to the powerful No. 2 spot at the Department of the Interior.

        Just five months into the Trump era, the energy developers who make up the Independent Petroleum Association of America had already watched the new president order a sweeping overhaul of environmental regulations that were cutting into their bottom lines — rules concerning smog, fracking and endangered species protection.

        Dan Naatz, the association’s political director, told the conference room audience of about 100 executives that Bernhardt’s new role meant their priorities would be heard at the highest levels of Interior.

        “We know him very well, and we have direct access to him, have conversations with him about issues ranging from federal land access to endangered species, to a lot of issues,” Naatz said, according to an hourlong recording of the June 2017 event in Laguna Niguel provided to Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting.

        The recording gives a rare look behind the curtain of an influential oil industry lobbying group that spends more than $1 million per year to push its agenda in Congress and federal regulatory agencies. The previous eight years had been dispiriting for the industry: As IPAA vice president Jeff Eshelman told the group, it had seemed as though the Obama administration and environmental groups had put together “their target list of everything that they wanted done to shut down the oil and gas industry.” But now, the oil executives were almost giddy at the prospect of high-level executive branch access of the sort they hadn’t enjoyed since Dick Cheney, a fellow oilman, was vice president.

        “It’s really a new thing for us,” said Barry Russell, the association’s CEO, boasting of his meetings with Environmental Protection Agency chief at the time, Scott Pruitt, and the then-Interior Secretary, Ryan Zinke. “For example, next week I’m invited to the White House to talk about tax code. Last week we were talking to Secretary Pruitt, and in about two weeks we have a meeting with Secretary Zinke. So we have unprecedented access to people that are in these positions who are trying to help us, which is great.”

        In that Ritz-Carlton conference room, Russell also spoke of his ties to Bernhardt, recalling the lawyer’s role as point man on an association legal team set up to challenge federal endangered species rules. “Well, the guy that actually headed up that group is now the No. 2 at Interior,” he said, referring to Bernhardt. “So that’s worked out well.”

        Today, Bernhardt is in line for a promotion: the former oil industry lobbyist has been nominated by Trump to be secretary of the Interior. The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee will hold a confirmation hearing Thursday, March 28. Bernhardt has been running the department since early January, when Zinke resigned amid an ethics scandal. The post gives Bernhardt influence over regulations affecting energy production on millions of acres of public lands, deciding who gets to develop it, how much they pay and whether they are complying with the law.

        An Interior Department spokeswoman, Faith Vander Voort, said, “Acting Secretary David Bernhardt has had no communication or contact with either Barry Russell or Dan Naatz.” The IPAA executives were not available to comment on this story, a spokeswoman said.

        At the meeting, the association’s leaders distributed a private “regulatory update” memo that detailed environmental laws and rules that it hoped to blunt or overturn. The group ultimately got its way on four of the five high-profile issues that topped its wish list.

        Trump himself was a driving force behind deregulating the energy industry, ordering the government in 2017 to weed out federal rules “that unnecessarily encumber energy production.” In a 2017 order, Zinke called for his deputy secretary—Bernhardt—to make sure the department complied with Trump’s regulatory rollbacks.

        The petroleum association was just one industry group pushing for regulatory relief — the American Petroleum Institute, the U.S. Oil and Gas Association and the Western Energy Alliance also were active. But since IPAA created its wish list, the Interior Department has acceded to nearly all its requests:

        Rescinded fracking rules meant to control water pollution. Frackers pressure-inject water and chemicals into the ground to break up rock and release oil and gas. In 2015, the Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management moved to minimize water pollution caused by fracking, setting standards for well construction and proper management of fracking fluids. For the first time, the new rule also required frackers to get federal permits, a costly and time-consuming process, the industry complained.

        The IPAA sued, contending the rule was not needed because fracking was already regulated by states. Under Trump, Interior sided with the energy industry, and in 2017 the rule was rescinded.

        Withdrawn rules that limit climate-change causing methane gas releases. An oil strike can release clouds of methane, a potent greenhouse gas. When producers lack the means to capture methane and sell it as natural gas, they either burn it or release it into the air. In 2016, to fight global warming, the BLM issued a rule sharply limiting these practices and imposing a royalty fee on operators who wasted natural gas on public lands.

        IPAA sued, complaining producers would face huge financial losses. Trump’s Interior Department sided with the industry and in 2018 rescinded key provisions of the rule.

        Abandoned environmental restoration of public land damaged by oil development. To offset the harm of oil production, the BLM often required producers to pay for restoration projects as a condition of their permits. This practice of “compensatory mitigation” is used by many government agencies. In 2015, then-President Obama ordered Interior to set a goal of “no net loss for natural resources” when issuing development permits.

        IPAA pushed back hard against the “no net loss” standard, arguing that developers might be saddled with exorbitant mitigation costs. In 2017, Trump himself ordered the repeal of the Obama mitigation rule. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke attacked the concept as Un-American.

        Ended long-standing protections for migratory birds. Every year, millions of migratory birds are killed when they fly into power lines, oil waste pits and other energy development hazards, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says. Since the 1970s, the service has promoted industrial safety practices to protect birds from accidental harm—and has prosecuted and fined energy companies responsible for the deaths of these birds.

        IPAA complained it was unfair to prosecute energy companies engaged in legal activities that unintentionally harmed birds. In 2017, Trump’s Interior Department called a halt to prosecuting companies for the “incidental” deaths of birdlife. Bernhardt played an important role in crafting the legal opinion that gutted these protections, emails obtained through the Freedom of Information Act show.

        “The IPAA’s wish list was granted as asked, in the executive order, and in the actions taken by the Department of the Interior,” said Nada Culver, senior counsel for the Wilderness Society environmental group, who reviewed the document for Reveal. “It pains me to say it.”

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