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ENVIRONMENT POLICIES, ANALYSIS, AND RESOURCES

The Environment Domain tracks and reports on policies that deal with the use of natural resources, climate change, energy emissions, pollution, and the protection of endangered species. This domain tracks policies emanating from the White House, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Energy Department, and the Interior Department.

Latest Environment Posts

 

Trump EPA Refuses to Ban Pesticide Shown to Reduce IQ and Infant Brain Development

Trump EPA Refuses to Ban Pesticide Shown to Reduce IQ and Infant Brain Development

Policy

The Environmental Protection Agency under Donald Trump has released a new assessment of the pesticide Chlorpyrifos, claiming the current science is inconclusive as to the amount of exposure necessary to be harmful. Chlorpyrifos is an organophosphate pesticide typically used on crops, animals, and buildings, to kill various pests, including insects and worms. The chemical has been used extensively in grape, almond, soybean, and particularly strawberry production. It acts on the nervous systems of insects by inhibiting the acetylcholinesterase enzyme.

In 2015 the Obama administration announced it would ban chlorpyrifos citing studies by the EPA warning of the chemical’s potential to make farm workers sick and impede brain development in children. However, in 2017, before the ban could be enforced, the EPA Administrator at the time, Scott Pruitt, reversed the decision, igniting a legal uproar. The EPA was ordered by a federal appeals court to make a final ruling by July 2019 on whether to ban Chlorpyrifos. Upon that deadline, Andrew Wheeler, now EPA Administrator, announced the agency would reject the petition to ban the pesticide, questioning the significance of the data around the chemical’s neurological impact on young children. Despite the agency’s continued rejection of a ban, the EPA is required by law to review a pesticide’s uses at least every 15 years, and with another legal case pending in the U.S. 9th Circuit of Appeals, the agency will be due to deliver a new final ruling on the use of Chlorpyrifos in about two years. Meanwhile, the EPA says it will make an interim decision this October.

Preceding the interim decision and final ruling, while pending legal cases loom from a dozen environmental and labor groups demanding an immediate ban, the EPA released this September, a new assessment of the dangers associated with the use of Chlorpyrifos. The report concludes that “Despite several years of study, the science addressing neurodevelopmental effects remains unresolved…. With respect to effects on the developing brain, very little is known about the duration of chlorpyrifos exposure needed to precipitate adverse effects in the developing brain.”

Analysis

Some farm groups have defended the use of Chlorpyrifos, claiming the chemical has been a safe, effective, and versatile tool for protecting their crops since 1965. The EPA’s new assessment of the pesticide points to Oregon strawberry growers who have been particularly reliant on Chlorpyrifos for controlling symphylans, a pest that feeds on the plant’s roots. However, it should be noted that many certified organic strawberry growers throughout the country use a combination of alternative management practices to control symphylans and other pests, such as solarizing field soils with tarps, flooding fields, compacting growing beds, and incorporating cover crops. They prevent pest outbreaks naturally by maintaining optimal soil and plant nutrition throughout the growing season and establishing a balanced farm ecosystem.

The EPA’s assessment does acknowledge that Chlorpyrifos can have a negative effect on neurodevelopment, and even identifies “concerns about dietary exposure to chlorpyrifos and to pesticide handlers,” mirroring the same concerns expressed by the EPA back in 2015. However, the agency claims the risk of exposure to residential communities is “negligible,” and argues that there is insufficient data to definitively say what level of exposure is dangerous.

Many in the scientific community dispute this claim, pointing to several epidemiological studies, including one from Columbia University, showing “a correlation between prenatal exposure to chlorpyrifos and developmental disorders in toddlers,” such as lower birth weights, lower IQ’s, and higher risk of autism. The EPA’s recent assessment, however, has rejected those findings, citing a lack of access to the raw data of those studies. Spokesman for the EPA, James Hewitt, said in a statement that the agency “remains unable to verify the reported findings” of the Columbia study (despite having been supported by other peer-reviewed studies), deeming its findings inconclusive. This move by the EPA suggests that the agency may be unofficially adopting its proposed “secret science” regulation, aiming to reject or give less weight to scientific studies that do not (or cannot) publicly release their underlying data.

As previously reported by Lisa Friedman at the New York Times, “This controversial policy would eliminate many studies that track the effects of exposure to substances on people’s health over long periods of time, because the data often includes confidential medical records of the subjects.” Trump’s EPA has used this same argument to justify weakening restrictions and rejecting bans on other toxic chemicals and pollutants, such as perchlorate (a water contaminant tied to fetal brain damage) and asbestos, despite repeated objections from agency scientists. The EPA has not finalized or officially adopted the “[secret science] regulation that would officially restrict using such studies in decision-making, but the chlorpyrifos assessment suggests it has moved forward in applying it.”

EPA officials claim they have been prevented from independently assessing the findings of the Columbia University study, by not being provided the study’s raw data. Lawyers supporting a ban on Chlorpyrifos say researchers from the Columbia University study “were willing to show their data to agency officials in a secure location but have not released the information publicly because of privacy concerns.”

EarthJustice attorney, Patti Goldman, criticized the EPA’s new assessment of the pesticide, saying, “Ignoring the demonstrated harm to children doesn’t make chlorpyrifos safe. It shows a commitment to keep a toxic pesticide in the market and in our food at all cost.” Earthjustice has also accused the administration of “fudging the data” in the new assessment, to reach its preferred conclusion. Erik D. Olson, senior director for health at the Natural Resources Defense Council, said of the EPA’s report, “This shows that EPA has completely abandoned any commitment to protecting children from this extremely toxic chemical when their own scientists recommended twice to ban it. The science is being overridden by politics.”

California, New York, Hawaii, and other states have enacted their own bans and restrictions on the use of Chlorpyrifos. Corteva, the world’s largest manufacturer of the pesticide, says it has already ended production of the chemical. Entomologist Allen Felsot of Washington State University claims the use of chlorpyrifos is in decline, and notes, “The market tends to take care of a lot of this.” The EPA’s Draft Ecological Risk Assessment and Revised Human Health Risk Assessment of Chlorpyrifos will be open to scientific review and public comment once the Proposed Interim Decision is released this month. Both documents will remain open for review and comment for 60 days.

Resistance Resources

EarthJustice

  • Behind nearly every major environmental win, you will find EarthJustice. EarthJustice’s legal work has saved irreplaceable wildlands, cleaned up the air we breathe, and fueled the rise of 100% clean energy. It has protected countless species on the brink of extinction, and secured long-overdue, historic limits on our nation’s worst polluting industries. https://earthjustice.org/

 

Natural Resources Defense Council

  • Works to safeguard the earth, its people, its plants and animals, and the natural systems on which all life depends. Combining the power of more than three million members and online activists with the expertise of some 700 scientists, lawyers, and policy advocates across the globe to ensure the rights of all people to the air, the water, and the wild. https://www.nrdc.org/

 

Union of Concerned Scientists

  • The Union of Concerned Scientists is a national nonprofit organization founded more than 50 years ago by scientists and students at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. UCS uses rigorous, independent science to solve our planet’s most pressing problems. Joining with people across the country, UCS combines technical analysis and effective advocacy to create innovative, practical solutions for a healthy, safe, and sustainable future. https://www.ucsusa.org/

 

Sources Cited

Biden’s Climate Plan and California’s Example

Biden’s Climate Plan and California’s Example

Democratic Presidential Candidate Joe Biden has rolled out a $2 trillion climate change plan that has become a hallmark of his candidacy. Biden is pledging to green the nation’s transportation infrastructure in the next decade by funding “high-quality, zero-emissions public transportation options through flexible federal investments.”

The Biden campaign is banking on its climate change plan — which would create millions of jobs — to capture a diverse group of voters on Election Day, from climate advocacy groups to trade unions that support the construction industry.

The plan marks the first time that climate change is a central plank for the Democratic Party, and has the support of popular party leaders, including U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York and John F. Kerry, former Secretary of State.

“We can lead America to become the world’s clean energy superpower,” Biden said. The plan would redefine the nation’s transportation and energy industries. Its lofty goals include requiring:

  • All new U.S.-made buses to be emissions free in a decade;
  • The nation to have net-zero emissions by 2050;
  • The electricity industry to end carbon pollution by 2035.

Biden’s climate change plan has emerged as a centerpiece of the Democrat’s campaign and is an issue of “national security,” according to the candidate. The $2 trillion plan indeed is getting heightened attention leading up to the election but not for the reasons the Biden team had expected.

President Trump denies that climate change exists. “I don’t think science knows actually,” Trump said recently about climate change. Biden labeled him a “climate denialist.” There is perhaps no other campaign issue where the candidates are further apart.

  • The Biden plan would invest more than $1.7 trillion in the next decade in clean energy, climate research and innovation. It would create incentives in the private sector and with state and local governments for implementing green energy solutions that would total $5 trillion during the same time period.
  • The plan would set stringent limits on the use of fossil fuels, impacting the oil and gas industries. It would impose new fuel standards aimed at the auto industry that would transition the nation to 100 percent electric cars and light trucks. Consumers would get rebates or financial incentives to trade in their gas-powered vehicles for electric cars and light trucks.
  • Addressing concerns of environmentalists, the Biden plan permanently protects the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and ends new oil and gas permitting on public lands and waters, instead focusing on solar, hydraulic and wind power. Trump is preparing to allow drilling in the refuge.

CALIFORNIA’S ROLE MODEL STATUS CONFLICTS WITH PAST POLICIES

California’s own experience as a national leader in efforts to reduce greenhouse gases demonstrates the opportunities and benefits in moving consumers toward a more energy conscious ethos. California’s emissions of carbon dioxide fell by 14 percent from 2004 to 2017, according to the most recent statistics available. In 2017, the state set a new goal to further reduce its emissions by 40 percent by 2030.

While the state commands one of the largest global economies, it boasts one of the lowest energy consumption levels in the U.S. because of its innovations and use of alternative energy, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

As the fastest growing energy source in the U.S., renewable energy is a burgeoning industry in the state, growing hundreds of new businesses. For example, California is among the nation’s biggest producers of hydro-electric power. California leads the solar market, and was the first state in the U.S. to get more than 5 percent of utility electricity from solar power. Coal represents only a small portion of its portfolio.

As the first state to set a goal to become carbon neutral, California is setting an example that other states are starting to follow through goal-setting and legislation.

However, California’s environmental policies to mitigate the impact of climate change are running up against its previous, seemingly successful efforts to expand development and further grow its economy. But California’s economy has been thriving in part because of a failure to address important environmental issues, such as curtailing expansion of the human habitat to forest and coastal areas; a lack of management of ground-level heat-sensitive vegetation; and a porous system for the transportation and distribution of water.

These and related economic policies and practices make California vulnerable to the extreme weather fluctuations of climate change. State policy will need to address these conditions in order to reap the benefits of its mitigation policies.

RESISTANCE RESOURCES

https://joebiden.com/climate-plan/#

Read about the candidate’s climate change plan in detail on his campaign website.

https://www.commondreams.org/newswire/2020/07/14/statement-sunrise-movement-co-founder-varshini-prakash-vice-president-bidens-new

The Sunrise Movement, a leading environmental activist group largely composed of young people, responds to the Biden climate change plan.

https://www.energy.gov/eere/electricvehicles/reducing-pollution-electric-vehicles

The U.S. Office of Energy Efficiency provides information on the electric vehicles and renewable energy.

https://www.seia.org/initiatives/about-solar-energy

The Solar Energy Industries Association offers comprehensive information on the alternative energy source.

https://solartribune.com/plenty-at-stake-for-solar-industry-in-2020-presidential-election/

The Solar Tribune, an industry publication, outlines the issues at stake for the solar industry and consumers in this presidential election.

The President moves to ban offshore drilling in parts of the Atlantic

The President moves to ban offshore drilling in parts of the Atlantic

Policy

Since 2016, President Donald Trump has made quite clear his intention to increase the amount of oil and gas drilling operations along the Atlantic and Arctic coastlines. He vowed upon his election to overturn the Obama era moratorium that has protected these waters and the tourism and fishing industries they support. In 2017, Trump ordered the Department of the Interior to lift restrictions the Obama administration had placed on drilling in the Atlantic and Arctic oceans, and to develop a plan to begin leasing out drilling rights in those waters to oil and gas companies. The following year, the Interior Department proposed a draft plan to begin selling offshore drilling leases in “90 percent of US coastal waterways.”

Several coastal states resisted the proposal, including Florida’s Governor at the time, republican Rick Scott. Later that year, in an unexpected change of heart, the Trump administration allowed Florida to opt out of the leasing plan, but none of the other states, which included New Jersey, Washington, and California (all considered Democratic strongholds). It is worth noting that this was a big win for Governor Scott who was running for a Senate seat that year against the Democratic incumbent, Bill Nelson; Scott narrowly defeated Nelson, landing another Republican in the Senate.

Earlier this month, on September 8, eight weeks before election day, President Donald Trump signed a memorandum to ban the sale of any new offshore drilling leases off the coasts of Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina. This memorandum expands the protections of the already existing Obama era moratorium on new drilling leases in the Gulf of Mexico and extends the protections for ten years — July 1, 2022, to June 20, 2032. Drilling off the Atlantic coast has been a significant political issue for several states in the region, who fear the negative impact on their tourism and fishing industries, as well as other environmental threats. The new moratorium does not protect the coastlines of Virginia and North Carolina, both of which contain significant oil deposits, and both of which have democratic governors. Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina all have republican governors. Florida and Georgia are both key swing states in this year’s general election. Republican Senator of South Carolina, Lindsey Graham is also up for reelection, and is said to have helped draft the new moratorium.

Analysis

The President has taken the opportunity to praise himself as an environmental steward, proclaiming the title “the great environmentalist.” He spoke at an event in Jupiter, Florida, telling the people, “This protects your beautiful gulf and your beautiful ocean, and it will for a long time to come.” Environmental groups, however, are skeptical. The League of Conservation Voters, an environmental advocacy group, said in a statement, “If this was more than an election year ploy for Trump, we’d have seen a permanent ban on offshore drilling in his first four years.” Jaclyn Lopez, Director for the Florida chapter of the Center for Biological Diversity Action Fund, wrote in a statement, “Voters shouldn’t be duped by this cheap, last-minute maneuver. It can’t even begin to make up for the aggressive efforts to expand dirty offshore drilling since Trump’s been in office.”

Since Trump took office in 2016, he has rolled back numerous regulations that have been protecting our environment for years. He has sought to weaken or eliminate laws that limit the amount of pollution automobiles, pipelines, and power plants release into the air and water. The Environmental Protection Agency, under Trump’s direction, has removed federal protections for millions of acres of streams and wetlands across the country. Trump has shortened the amount of time allowed for studying the potential environmental damage from new highway and pipeline construction projects and has opened lands and waters to drilling and commercial fishing, that have been considered too fragile and too critical to the survival of biodiversity on this planet to be disturbed. The President even withdrew the U.S. from the Paris Climate Accord, a global agreement to address the emission of heat-trapping greenhouse gases and strengthen the ability of countries to deal with the impacts of climate change.

Given Donald Trump’s track record on environment and climate policy, it is hard to believe that this is not a political move to appeal to swing voters in Florida and Georgia, and to boost Senator Lindsey Graham’s chances of reelection in November. The fact that only Republican-led states see any protections from this moratorium, further heightens this suspicion. Jamie Williams, President of the Wilderness Society, spoke of Donald Trump and his environmental stewardship, saying, “Trump is the worst President for the environment in our history. No amount of spin from this administration can hide its legacy of abuse, neglect and corruption that threatens our health and the health of our environment.”

Democratic Presidential Nominee Joe Biden has called out Trump for making an election-year flip-flop, writing, “Just months ago, Donald Trump was planning to allow oil and gas drilling off the coast of Florida. Now, with 56 days until the election, he conveniently says that he changed his mind. Unbelievable. You don’t have to guess where I stand: I oppose new offshore drilling.”

Resistance Resources

The Wilderness Society

  • an American non-profit land conservation organization that is dedicated to protecting natural areas and federal public lands in the United States. They advocate for the designation of federal wilderness areas and other protective designations, such as for national monuments. https://www.wilderness.org/#

League of Conservation Voters

  • Founded in 1970 by environmentalist Marion Edey (LCV) is an American environmental advocacy group that “advocates for sound environmental laws and policies, holds elected officials accountable for their votes and actions, and elects pro-environment candidates.” The organization pursues its goals through voter education, voter mobilization, and direct contributions to political candidates. https://www.lcv.org/

Center for Biological Diversity Action Fund

  • The Center for Biological Diversity Action Fund is an affiliated, but separate, organization from the Center for Biological Diversity, a 501(c)(3) non-profit charity. As a 501(c)(4) social welfare non-profit organization, the Action Fund engages in advocacy and political activities that the Center for Biological Diversity cannot participate in. https://centeractionfund.org/

Sources Cited

Miller, Z., & Superville, D., Associated Press. (2020, September 09). Trump expands ban on new offshore drilling sites in Atlantic. Retrieved September 17, 2020, from https://www.sfgate.com/news/article/Trump-claims-environmental-progress-but-he-s-15550171.php

Teirstein, Z. (2020, September 13). “No one knows where this came from”-Trump bans offshore drilling. Retrieved September 17, 2020, from https://www.motherjones.com/environment/2020/09/no-one-knows-where-this-came-from-trump-bans-offshore-drilling/

The Wilderness Society Blog. (2019, July 8). The facts on Trump’s terrible environmental record. Retrieved September 17, 2020, from https://www.wilderness.org/articles/blog/facts-trumps-terrible-environmental-record

Trump administration loosens limits on coal pollution

Trump administration loosens limits on coal pollution

Policy Summary

On Monday, August 31, the US EPA under the Trump administration announced that it has made revisions to a 2015 Obama era policy that places pollution restrictions on power plants that burn coal. The policy, known as the Effluent Limitations Guidelines (ELG) for coal-fired power plants, limits how much heavy metal toxins and other waterborne pollutants coal powered electric generation plants can release into local waters or wastewater facilities.

Explained very simply, a coal powered electric generation plant burns coal to heat water into steam, which in turn generates electricity. Two waste streams produced by this process are affected by the EPA’s revisions. The first pollution stream results from the toxic gases produced by the burning of coal, which are passed through treated water to remove the toxins and particulate matter before being released from the flue into the air. The water with the dissolved toxins and ash in it is known as Flue Gas Desulfurization (FGD) wastewater. The second waste stream affected by the EPA’s new revisions is known as Bottom Ash (BA) transport water, which is water used to carry away the toxic coal ash leftover in the bottom of the boiler tanks from the steaming process.

The pollution limits and guidelines for these two waste streams, as written by the Obama administration’s regulation in 2015, established the following:

  • Set the first ever limits on the amount of pollutants (arsenic, mercury, selenium, and nitrogen) power plants can dump into local water bodies via FGD wastewater. The policy set specific limits on how much of each toxin the FGD wastewater could contain before being released into the local water system. Power plants that needed to meet these compliance standards were required to adopt new best available technologies (BAT) to remove pollutants from the wastewater.
  • Required that all coal-fired power plants recycle 100% of their BA transport water (which contains coal ash and other suspended solids and toxic elements), instead of purging into local water bodies.
  • Required that compliance with the new guidelines and limitations be met by 2023.

*The Obama administration estimated $451-$566 million annually in monetary benefits to public health, environmental health, and economic health as a result of this regulation.

Today’s EPA under the Trump administration has revised these guidelines and limitations as follows:

  • The best available technologies required by the Obama administration’s 2015 guidelines for use in the removal of toxic pollutants from wastewater are no longer a requirement for coal-fired power plants. The EPA claims it has found “more affordable technologies that are capable of removing similar amounts of discharges.”
  • Coal-fired power plants are no longer required to recycle 100% of their BA transport water. Instead, the EPA has established a “pollutant discharge allowance,” where the amount of toxic water that a power plant can release into the local water system “will be determined on a case-by-case basis by the permitting authority, based on best professional judgement,” up to 10% of the plant’s daily BA wastewater.
  • Power plants that “cease coal combustion by 2028” may be exempt from the guidelines all together.
  • The case-by-case deadlines for complying with the regulations have been pushed back so that power plants that have failed to meet their already passed deadlines will not receive any penalty. The Obama guidelines required the necessary power plants to meet compliance by their next permit renewal, the earliest one being by November 1, 2018 and the last deadline being by January 2023. November 1, 2020 is now the earliest deadline for compliance — “in order to allow EPA time for reconsideration of the regulatory provisions.”

*The Trump administration estimates a $140 million annual cost reduction for power plants as a result of these revisions. 

The new guidelines set forth by the EPA essentially push back the deadline for coal-fired power plants to comply with reducing pollution; increases the amounts of pollutants allowed to be released by the power plants; allows the use of cheaper technologies that are less effective at removing pollutants from wastewater before it is released; and exempts some power plants all together from meeting compliance, as long as they plan to shut down or switch to natural gas by 2028.

Analysis

 EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler and the coal industry both had praise for the regulation’s revisions. Wheeler claims, “Newer, more affordable pollution control technologies and flexibility on the regulation’s phase-in will reduce pollution and save jobs at the same time.” President of the National Mining Association, Rich Nolan, said of the new regulation, “The coal industry wants to be able to compete while also safeguarding important environmental protections – this rule shows that balance is possible.” The EPA also claims the revisions will reduce “toxic pollution by nearly 1 million pounds per year greater than what the Obama-era controls would have.”

Environmental groups, however, say the revisions allow the industry to “use cheaper, less effective treatment methods on polluted wastewater that puts waterways at risk.” The treatment technologies allowed by the EPA’s revisions use a shorter biological treatment process which leaves the resulting wastewater with a higher concentration of selenium than the technologies required under the previous guidelines. The EPA’s revisions, “sets a daily maximum limit on selenium at 76 micrograms per liter, more than three times the Obama-era limit of 23 micrograms per liter.”

Frank Holleman, senior attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center wrote in an email to POWER Magazine, “With today’s rollback of clean water protections, the Trump EPA allows dirty coal-burning plants to dump more toxic substances into our rivers, lakes, and drinking reservoirs and exposes our communities to more cancer-causing pollution. The EPA itself has estimated that at least 30 percent of all toxic water pollution from all industries comes from these plants, and the technology to prevent and treat this pollution is widely available. The EPA is making it easier for the most polluting and worst run coal-fired plants to dump poisons into the waterways our communities depend upon.”

Thom Cmar, deputy managing attorney of the Earthjustice Coal Program, agrees. He says of the EPA’s revisions, “The Trump administration is once again jeopardizing people’s health to give coal power industry lobbyists what they want. This dangerous decision will have a big impact because dirty coal-fired power plants are by far the number one source of toxic chemicals in our water.” He argues, “The Trump administration’s rollback will be responsible for hundreds of thousands of pounds of pollutants contaminating sources of drinking water, lakes, rivers and streams every year. We will challenge this rule change in court.”

Resistance Resources

EarthJustice

  • Behind nearly every major environmental win, you will find EarthJustice. EarthJustice’s legal work has saved irreplaceable wildlands, cleaned up the air we breathe, and fueled the rise of 100% clean energy. It has protected countless species on the brink of extinction, and secured long-overdue, historic limits on our nation’s worst polluting industries. https://earthjustice.org/

Southern Environmental Law Center

Environmental Defense Fund

  • One of the world’s largest environmental organizations and a 501(c)(3) non-profit. Preserving the natural systems on which all life depends. https://www.edf.org/

Natural Resources Defense Council

  • Works to safeguard the earth – its people, its plants and animals, and the natural systems on which all life depends. Combining the power of more than three million members and online activists with the expertise of some 700 scientists, lawyers, and policy advocates across the globe to ensure the rights of all people to the air, the water, and the wild. https://www.nrdc.org/

Sources Cited

Automaker Giants rally against SAFE Fuel Economy Rollbacks

Automaker Giants rally against SAFE Fuel Economy Rollbacks

Policy

This past week automakers, Ford, Honda, Volkswagen, BMW and Volvo in conjunction with the California Air Resources Board (CARB), finalized a pact to strengthen emissions and improve fuel economy in California and 13 other states. The pact aims to improve fuel economy from 28 mpg to 51 mpg by the year 2026. The decision comes as automakers recognize the need for stringent environmental protections, whereas the current administration is inflexible, shifting away from environmental protections.

In 2018, there were 15 million vehicles registered in the golden state and 887,000 new vehicles sold. At this point, California still retained the authority via The Clean Air Act, to create their own emissions standards. When The Clean Air Act passed, California was already adopting its own set of innovative rules to combat air pollution. Congress acknowledged this, and made an exemption that allowed California to carve out their own rules, as long as the laws protected public health, and were stricter than federal law. In order to implement such laws, California would need to seek a waiver issued by the Environmental Protection Agency. The latest waiver was obtained in 2013, under the Obama Administration.

In 2019, President Trump revoked California’s authority to set their own standards, derailing years of progress centered around environmental clean-up. His reasoning for the revocation, was a uniformed set of national fuel economy standards. When the Safer Affordable Fuel-Efficient Vehicle Rule (SAFE) passed in March of this year, it rolled back the Obama era policy requiring automakers to improve fuel efficiency in new vehicle models by 5% every year and slash it to a mere 1.5%. The current administration was adamant that their new standard would create more jobs, allow automakers more flexibility, and make vehicles affordable for the masses. They failed to acknowledge that their new rule would allow 6 billion tons of carbon dioxide to be omitted into the air by 2026.

Analysis

The current administration continues to rollback environmental policies, broadcasting climate change a hoax. CARB has worked tirelessly alongside automakers, and have a common goal; protect Californian’s and their environment from raging wildfires, scorching temperatures, and unpredictable weather patterns attributed to climate change.

Their initiatives include cutting back on greenhouse gases, tailpipe pollutants, protecting public health, and lowering diseases attributed to climate change. Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington are expected to follow suit; recognizing eco- friendly responsibilities, while shaming the Trump Administration, for their ignorance when it comes to environmental issues.

Trump has already tried to dismantle this agreement, by launching an antitrust investigation in September of 2019. The Department of Justice investigated whether or not the pact violated antitrust laws when reaching a deal with California. Ultimately the investigation was inconclusive, leaving the President embarrassed once again by his outlandish assumptions.

Learn More

  • Cole, A. (2020, August 18). California regulators, automakers finalize pact for tougher emissions regulations. The Car Connection : https://www.thecarconnection.com/news/1129288_california-regulators-automakers-finalize-pact-for-tougher-emissions-regulations
  • Davenport, H. T. (2019, September 06). Justice Dept. Investigates California Emissions Pact That Embarrassed Trump. The New York Times : https://www.nytimes.com/2019/09/06/climate/automakers-california-emissions-antitrust.html
  • Shephardson, D. (2020, August 17). Defying Trump, California locks in vehicle emission deals with major automakers. Reuters: https://www.reuters.com/article/us-autos-emissions-california/defying-trump-california-locks-in-vehicle-emission-deals-with-major-automakers-idUSKCN25D2CH

Resistance Resources

  • (2020). Climate Group : https://www.theclimategroup.org/partner/state-california
  • (2020). California Air Resources Board : https://ww2.arb.ca.gov/
  • (2020). Coalation for Clean Air : https://www.ccair.org/
  • (2020). Environmental Defense Fund : https://www.edf.org/climate/california-leads-fight-curb-climate-change
Trump Orders Most Biodiverse Area of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge be Leased for Drilling

Trump Orders Most Biodiverse Area of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge be Leased for Drilling

Policy

The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) is a 19.3 million acre stretch of wilderness in northern Alaska, the largest in the United States, and has been protected from development for nearly six decades. It is home to 45 different species of mammals and 200 species of birds from 6 continents, making it one of, if not the most biodiverse areas in all the arctic. Environmentalists have considered it “one of the finest examples of wilderness left on earth.” Specifically, the coastal plain along the refuge’s northern edge, known as the 1002 Coastal Plain portion, is particularly diverse, containing the largest number of polar bear dens in Alaska, and provides habitat for muskoxen, Arctic wolves, foxes, hares, migrating waterfowl and herds of Porcupine caribou. This coastal plain portion is also believed to sit atop possibly the largest onshore oil reserves in North America that have yet to be tapped.

Most of the ANWR has been designated as “wilderness” since it first became a federally protected area in 1960, and so is off limits to development. However, when the ANWR was expanded in 1980, the 1002 Coastal Plain portion was recognized as “a promising area for energy development” (which was later supported by a seismic study in 1987), and essentially became bookmarked as an area with potential for oil extraction, but requiring Congressional authorization before any drilling. Based on the seismic data from the 1987 study and new well samples, a 1998 study of the area by USGS indicated the possibility of up to 11.8 billion barrels of oil. Interest in the area by the energy industry, however, has been up and down over the years for various reasons, such as fluctuating oil prices, political and legal challenges, and the discovery of other nearby oil deposits. It has remained largely untouched for nearly 60 years, within which Republicans in Congress have attempted nearly fifty times to allow drilling in the ANWR.

In 2017, the Republican-controlled Congress finally succeeded when it passed the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, which included a mandated time frame for the Department of the Interior (DOI) to begin leasing land for development on the coastal plain. Donald Trump signed the Act into law in December 2017, directing his administration to open the 1002 Coastal Plain area for development and to begin leasing the land. Political controversy and environmental assessment requirements have prevented the lease of any plots so far, but in September 2019, the DOI submitted a final environmental impact statement (EIS), recommending that the coastal plain be open for leasing and that although the DOI admits that “activities associated with oil and gas development — including new roads and truck traffic, as well as air, noise and water pollution — could potentially harm wildlife,” the statement claims that measures can be taken to minimize the disturbance to wildlife by heavy machinery, such as not operating in certain areas for a month out of the year, so as not to disturb calving caribou.

With a supporting environmental impact statement approved by the Trump-nominated Secretary of the Interior, David Bernhardt, the Trump administration, on August 17, 2020, released a Record of Decision, outlining a plan for where and under what terms and conditions leasing for the oil and gas development program will occur on the refuge’s coastal plain. Trump’s Record of Decision makes “the approximately 1,563,500 acres, or the entire Coastal Plain program area, available for oil and gas leasing, and consequently for potential future exploration, development and transportation.” The decision orders the Interior Secretary and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to make at least two area-wide lease sales of no less than 400,000 acres each, by December 22, 2024, with the first sale by December 22, 2021 (Even if Donald Trump does not win reelection in November, it could be quite difficult for his successor to reverse any lease rights that have already been auctioned off to energy companies). Trump’s Decision also states that the BLM is required to authorize “any rights-of-way or easements across the Coastal Plain for the exploration, development, production, or transportation necessary to carry out [the Coastal Plain Oil and Gas Program].” This means that the BLM has the ability to approve the building of any new road, pipeline, or other infrastructure for anyone, even if they don’t have a lease in the area, for any reason that might aid the gas and oil industry in the region.

Analysis

Republican Senator from Alaska, Dan Sullivan, supports the new Record of Decision, saying, “Thousands of Alaskans are employed in our oil industry, and their livelihoods depend on the good-paying jobs created by our state’s reserves. Today, we are one step closer to securing a bright future for these Alaskans and their families.” Local energy firms and some Alaska Native groups also support the Decision, believing it could provide jobs for a state that has seen a decline in oil production since the 1980’s.

Republican Senator, Lisa Murkowski and Republican Governor of Alaska, Michael J. Dunleavy both agree. Murkowski says, “New opportunity in the 1002 Area is needed both now, as Alaskans navigate incredibly challenging times, and well into the future as we seek a lasting economic foundation for our state.” Governor Dunleavy proclaims, “The Record of Decision is a definitive step in the right direction to developing this area’s energy potential – between 4.3 and 11.8 billion barrels of technically recoverable oil reserves.” Republican Congressman Don Young also praises the Decision, proclaiming, “In Alaska, we have proven that protecting the environment, honoring our history, and developing our natural resources can go hand-in-hand.”

Environmentalists, however, are not so convinced. Many criticize the DOI’s latest environmental impact statement, claiming that the review was rushed, insufficient, and “largely based on older research,” as well as “failed to address several concerns,” such as not providing an estimate of how many polar bears could potentially be killed or harmed by exploration in the coastal plain. Opponents to drilling in the area also say the Interior Department downplayed the climate change risks in its review. The agency’s impact statement claims the greenhouse gas emissions that would ultimately result from the drilling of 11 billion barrels of oil would be minimal, “since most of that oil would simply displace oil being produced elsewhere in the country.” Attorneys general from 15 different states have submitted comments to the Interior Department, calling this displacement theory “completely unsupported.”

Banks including Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan Chase say they will not directly finance any oil and gas drilling operations in the Arctic, because of pressure from environmental groups and the Gwich’in Alaska Native group. The caribou are a primary subsistence food for the Gwich’in, and they are fearful of the development’s potential negative impact on the Porcupine caribou herds that come to the area to calve. The Gwich’in believe the leasing of the land they refer to as “Iizhik Gwats’an Gwandaii Goodlit” or “The Sacred Place Where Life Begins,” is a violation of their human rights.

Exploring and drilling for oil in the Arctic is a costly operation, and it is unclear how interested the industry really is. For a large company with public name recognition, the project carries a lot of stigma and the possibility of “litigation, investor anger and a tarnished brand.” Robert Hayes, executive director of the State Energy and Environmental Impact Center at the New York University School of Law and former deputy interior secretary under President Barack Obama says of the program, “You’ve got a lot of tripwires ahead.  Anyone buying a lease is potentially buying years of litigation along with that lease.”

Critics of Trump’s move are also unsure about how profitable the lease sale program could even be for the Federal Government. Little is known about how much oil sits under the coastal plain. The last seismic studies to identify possible oil and gas reservoirs were performed back in the ‘80’s when the technology was far inferior to today’s, and according to the New York Times, evidence shows that “The only well ever drilled within the refuge’s boundaries was a disappointment.” Even Governor Dunleavey referred to the estimated oil reserves as only “technically recoverable.”

Opponents to the oil and gas program believe that opening the refuge’s coastal plain to fossil fuel energy development “would be a step backward” in an era when the majority of Americans believe we should be burning less fossil fuels and doing more to fight climate change. Environmental groups argue that drilling could harm the already vulnerable and struggling wildlife in the area and that concerns from the Gwich’in Tribal Council and Vuntut Gwich’in Government have been largely ignored.

Most analysts seem to agree that drilling for oil and gas in the 1002 Coastal Plain area of the ANWR comes with a lot of uncertainty and risk, and that the highly contested area “will have far more meaning and value as a wildlife refuge in a warming world that is starting to seriously move away from hydrocarbon energy.” Kristen Monsell, a senior attorney with the environmental group, the Center for Biological Diversity, makes a strong point when she says, “There’s no good time to open up America’s largest wildlife refuge to drilling and fracking, but it’s absolutely bonkers to endanger this beautiful place during a worldwide oil glut.”

Environmental groups like the Center for Biological Diversity, the Alaska Wilderness League, and some Alaska Native groups are expected to file lawsuits to try to block any lease sales of the coastal plain land. Adam Kolton, executive director of the Alaska Wilderness League wrote in a statement, “We will continue to fight this at every turn. Any oil company that would seek to drill in the Arctic Refuge will face enormous reputational, legal and financial risks.” The climate plan for Democratic presidential nominee Joseph R. Biden Jr. calls for permanent protection of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and the banning of new oil and gas permitting on public lands and waters.

Resistance Resources

  • Center for Biological Diversity Working to secure a future for all species, great and small, hovering on the brink of extinction. We do so through science, law and creative media, with a focus on protecting the lands, waters and climate that species need to survive. https://www.biologicaldiversity.org/
  • Alaska Wilderness League The Alaska Wilderness League (AWL) is a nonprofit organization that works to protect Alaska’s most significant wild lands from oil and gas drilling and from other industrial threats. The Alaska Wilderness League galvanizes support to secure vital policies that protect and defend America’s last great wild public lands and waters. https://www.alaskawild.org/
  • Gwich’in Alaska Native group Established in 1992, the Gwich’in Tribal Council (GTC) is an indigenous organization that represents Gwich’in Participants in the Mackenzie-Delta of the Northwest Territories and across Canada. The Gwich’in have traditionally used and occupied lands in the Northwest Territories and the Yukon from time immemorial. https://gwichintribal.ca/

Learn More

Interior Press. (2020, August 17). Secretary Bernhardt Signs Decision to Implement the Coastal Plain Oil and Gas Leasing Program in Alaska. Retrieved August 23, 2020, from https://www.doi.gov/pressreleases/secretary-bernhardt-signs-decision-implement-coastal-plain-oil-and-gas-leasing-program

Montgomery, S. L. (2020, August 21). Trump greenlights drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, but will oil companies show up? Retrieved August 23, 2020, from https://theconversation.com/trump-greenlights-drilling-in-the-arctic-national-wildlife-refuge-but-will-oil-companies-show-up-144715

Plumer, B., & Fountain, H. (2020, August 17). Trump Administration Finalizes Plan to Open Arctic Refuge to Drilling. Retrieved August 23, 2020, from https://www.nytimes.com/2020/08/17/climate/alaska-oil-drilling-anwr.html?name=styln-climate

U.S. Department of the Interior Bureau of Land Management. (2020, August 17). Coastal Plain Oil and Gas Leasing Program Record of Decision. Retrieved August 23, 2020, from https://eplanning.blm.gov/public_projects/102555/200241580/20024135/250030339/Coastal%20Plain%20Record%20of%20Decision.pdf

USGS. (1998). Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, 1002 Area, Petroleum … Retrieved August 23, 2020, from https://pubs.usgs.gov/fs/fs-0028-01/fs-0028-01.pdf

Vuntut Gwitchin Government and Gwich’in Tribal Council. (2020, August 18). VGG and GTC Joint Response to Record of Decision for the Coastal Plain Oil and Gas. Retrieved August 24, 2020, from https://gwichintribal.ca/about-gtc/news/vgg-and-gtc-joint-response-record-decision-coastal-plain-oil-and-gas

The E.P.A.’s playing politics with methane is bound to blow-up

The E.P.A.’s playing politics with methane is bound to blow-up

POLICY

Methane gas is 84 times more potent than carbon dioxide and is a main driver of climate change. From 2012 – 2016, the Obama administration put in place the New Source Performance Standards (NSPS) – these are regulations aimed at controlling carbon dioxide emissions from cars, coal-burning power plants, and methane emissions (leaks) from wells. The Trump administration – through the Environmental Protection Agency (E.P.A.) – has already taken action to rollback regulations on carbon dioxide and coal emissions and now wants to decrease controls for methane emissions from new and modified sources in the oil and gas industry, also known as the “Methane Rule.” Andrew Wheeler, the head of the E.P.A., said on August 13th that the proper legal process has been followed to remove these methane regulations. His position is that the “E.P.A. has been working hard to fulfill President Trump’s promise to cut burdensome and ineffective regulations for our domestic energy industry.” The compliance and regulatory cost burdens fall more heavily upon small and medium sized oil and natural gas producers.

The Trump administration has weakened more than 100 environmental rules and regulations since 2016.

According to the E.P.A., the oil and gas industry is responsible for almost 30% of the country’s methane emissions. Regulatory cost burdens amount to millions each year at a time when smaller producers are increasingly insolvent and in bankruptcy court. Financial pressures are driving lobbyists like the Independent Petroleum Association of America to make firms with low-production wells exempt from compliance.

Wheeler claims that methane leaks from domestic oil and gas wells have remained steady over the past decade, even as oil and gas production greatly expanded. The fossil fuel lobbyists cite data from the required use of high-bleed pneumatic controllers as an “excessive regulation” that does not produce the desired outcome. Among the major policy influencers are the American Petroleum Institute and the Western Energy Alliance. They assert that “Our industry continues to drive down methane emissions from operations while meeting America’s energy needs every day.” 

ANALYSIS

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Global Carbon Project, methane emissions from oil and natural gas extraction accounts for 20 percent of global total; methane from animal digestive tracts and landfills makes up 40 percent; the balance, and largest single contributor are wetlands. Methane’s heat-trapping capacity lasts for 20 years and it accounts for 10% of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. Over 25% of the hotter temperatures we now experience can be attributed to methane, and its presence is on track to exceed the Paris climate accord containment goal: an increase under 2 degrees Celsius.

Industry lobbyists for the smaller oil and gas producers make the following argument: the U.S. has about one million oil and natural gas wells in operation; three-quarters of these are of the “low-producing” variety and do not account for much methane release; about half of the higher producing wells came online after 2012 and had to conform to the Obama era 2012 NSPS regulations; in 2016, the E.P.A. added more stringent regulations which the industry claims were done with the intention of making production economically unfeasible for thousands of smaller producers.

Larger producers including Exxon, BP and Shell, do not support the E.P.A.’s rollback; they cite their own corporate pledges to curb methane leaks and the industry’s contribution to climate change. These big players have invested millions of dollars to promote natural gas as a cleaner option than coal because natural gas produces about half as much carbon dioxide when burned. They fear that unrestricted leaks of methane could undermine that marketing message and hurt demand.

Robert Howarth, earth systems scientist at Cornell University, contends that “80 percent of [research] papers show that methane from oil and gas leaks is two to three times higher than the E.P.A.’s estimates.” He counters industry arguments that methane emissions are stabilizing. “They’re certainly not going down,” he says. In contrast to Howarth, E.P.A. spokesman, James Hewitt, defends their numbers. “E.P.A.’s final methane rule is based on the most accurate and comprehensive accounting of our nation’s greenhouse gas emissions profile, which is performed by agency scientists based on data from a variety of sources.”

Under the new rule (rollback), the E.P.A. will still require leak monitoring, though not directly for methane gas. Oil and gas companies must continue to monitor and reduce smog-forming compounds at some well sites and during processing, but not pipelines.

A recent district court ruling struck down the Trump administration’s approach to the social cost of methane. And it is this social cost-benefit that will be the linchpin of the litigation that will follow this new ruling. David Hayes, a former Interior Department official who now leads New York University’s State Energy & Environmental Impact Center, predicts this new ruling will be overturned in the courts because assigning a dollar figure on damage caused by methane emissions vs. economic damage to the industry makes for a weak argument. Furthermore, Democratic nominee Joe Biden will likely decide to overturn the rule if elected.

Resistance Resources:

The Corruption of Andrew Wheeler

The Corruption of Andrew Wheeler

USRN Corruption Blog Post 

The Corruption Blog  digs into the details of the all-encompassing corruption of the Trump administration. 

Post # 19 The Corruption of Andrew Wheeler 

By Sean Gray

July 27, 2020

The Environmental Protection Agency has a wide range or responsibilities related to human health and conservation. With limited time remaining to avert the worst consequences of climate change, its mission has never been more crucial. Donald Trump and many of his allies have long been skeptical of the scientific consensus that the planet is warming at an untenable rate, primarily as a result of human activity. Andrew Wheeler, the former coal lobbyist, is the EPA’s  current administrator. He serves at the pleasure of the president, and is tasked with ensuring safe land, air, and water in the US. In more than two years on the job, his fealty to the president has influenced a rash of policies that run counter to his department’s stated goals.

Wheeler’s credentials make him a questionable choice for his position. He did work for the EPA in the early 1990’s. Since then his career trajectory has taken a hard left turn. Wheeler was Chief Counsel to Oklahoma Senator Jim Inhofe, the most ardent and outspoken opponent of climate change science in Congress; the senator once brought a snowball on the Senate floor to disprove global warming. Wheeler would later serve the same role for the Senate’s Committee on Environment and Public works. Most of his time was spent reducing regulations on pollutant industries. More recently, Wheeler served as a lobbyist for Murray Energy, the fourth largest coal producer in the country. When he was confirmed as deputy director of the EPA, Wheeler was asked whether or not he accepted the scientific consensus on climate change. He acknowledged that human beings have an impact on the environment, but what impact was unclear. A simple ‘’no’’ would have been briefer while expressing the same sentiment. He was confirmed by a 52-47 vote, mostly along party lines.

Rather than focus his  agency’s urgent environmental protection agenda, Wheeler has made it his mission to save the coal industry and increase pollution. Upon Trump’s election, Wheeler was present at a closed door meeting attended by his former boss, Bob Murray, of Murray Energy. The eponymous CEO brought with him drafts of six executive orders that amounted to a wish list beneficial to him and his industry. Among them were a repeal of the EPA’s finding that greenhouses gases cause environmental harm and a revocation of tax credits on wind and solar energy. Trump’s signature never found its way onto any of the drafted executive orders, but the meeting, and Wheeler’s attendance are demonstrative of the influences guiding his decision making process.

As one could envisage, given his track record, Wheeler has taken a combative stance towards pollution-reducing regulation. His environmental assaults are too numerous to list, but some of the highlights include:

  • Proposing to eliminate an Obama-era rule which restricts the emission of mercury from coal and oil fire power plants. Using cost-benefit analysis the previous administration determined reducing the amount of particulates in the air would prevent 11,000 premature deaths and represent $80 billion in public health benefits. Trump’s EPA distorted the numbers by magnitudes to reach a finding in the opposite direction. 20 states are currently suing to keep the rule in place.
  • The Trump administration is in the final stages of weakening emissions standards in the auto industry. The SAFE rule will increase carbon emission standards in the transportation sector by 1.5% annually rather than 5% annually under the previous guidelines. Wheeler said in a statement the move strikes the correct regulatory balance between protecting the environment and setting attainable goals for car manufacturers. The administration’s stance is that the deregulation will result in cheaper vehicles for American consumer. Not only is this unsupported by data (fuel-efficient cars are cheaper over time), but the change is expected to add one billion metric tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. As he has been for most of his tenure, Wheeler is in lock step with his boss and out of touch with relevant scientific data.
  • Wheeler has seized on the Covid-19 pandemic to further denigrate the EPA’s work. In March, as he announced the indefinite suspension of all inspections and enforcement related to environmental laws. he informed companies that not only needn’t they meet environmental standards during the pandemic, but that the agency would not seek retroactive penalties for noncompliance.

Under the guise of increased transparency, Wheeler has sought to undermine the efficacy and reliability of his own agency’s data. By law, the EPA is required to use the best available science to inform policy decisions. Wheeler’s paradoxically named ‘’Strengthening Transparency in Regulatory Science’’ proposal directly conflicts with the law. The rule change would ban the use of all science in which the underlying raw data is not made publicly available. On the surface it seems benign. However much of the information gathered to inform policy, specifically relating to human health, is acquired under strict confidentiality agreements. Precluding data gathered in such fashion would do little to increase meaningful transparency. Worse, it would hinder government scientists by allowing bureaucrats to determine what information influences their policy recommendations. The rule was proposed in April of 2018 and was recently shot down in a vote by the House Appropriations Committee. An amendment banning its passage is included in an upcoming spending bill heading to the Senate. While it appears unlikely to become law, the regressive proposal is antithetical to the work of the Environmental Protection Agency.

At a 2019 rally, Trump bragged that the US had the cleanest air and water anywhere on Earth. He was apparently oblivious to a federal report released earlier in the same day showing an increas in polluted air days over the previous two years, versus the two years prior to his election. According to the State of the Air report, issued by the American Lung Association, nearly half the country’s population live in counties with unhealthy ozone or particle pollution. Neither Wheeler or Trump is solely responsible for these conditions, but their agenda has undoubtedly exacerbated the issue and will continue to do so.

Scott Pruitt, another former coal lobbyist, proceeded Andrew Wheeler as head of the EPA. He resigned amid 14 individual conflict-if-interest  investigations by the Government Accountability Office. Wheeler may lack ethics violations typical of a corrupt public official, but the damage he’s wrought is more significant than a few military charters on the taxpayer’s dime. Like climate change itself, the only part of Wheeler’s job performance up for debate is how bad the damage will be.

Trump Administration Erodes US Environmental Protection Act Designed to Protect At-Risk Communities

Trump Administration Erodes US Environmental Protection Act Designed to Protect At-Risk Communities

Environmental Policy

July 22,2020

Trump Administration Erodes US Environmental Protection Act Designed to Protect At-Risk Communities

By Jacob Morton

Summary

Donald Trump has finalized a rollback of the nation’s “Magna Carta” of environmental protection policy, the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA). NEPA, signed into law 50 years ago by President Richard Nixon, requires government agencies to provide an environmental impact statement (EIS) for any proposed federal infrastructure project, such as building a pipeline or highway. The law requires full disclosure of the extent to which any project would impact the local environment, such as potential wildlife habitat disturbance, pollution of nearby water bodies, greenhouse gas emissions, and impacts on local communities. The law also plays an important role in allowing ample time for members of the public to provide input on how a federal infrastructure project will affect the health and safety of their community. Essentially, NEPA is the environmental law that requires an analysis of how any federal project will impact the environment and allows local citizens to express their concerns.

The Trump administration’s new version of the law is designed to speed up the permitting process for federal infrastructure projects. The new rule now requires a hard deadline of only “two years or less” for any environmental impact statement, shortening the review and public comment process by anywhere from 1-3 years. On average, federal environmental impact statements take 4.5 years to complete. Other revisions to the law now give federal agencies the ability to create their own categories of projects that they feel do not require an environmental impact review at all. On top of that, Trump’s new rule declares that environmental impact statements no longer need to consider a project’s “cumulative effects on climate change,” and instead, require only an analysis of any “reasonably foreseeable” impacts. This means federal projects no longer need to analyze and disclose how residual or secondary impacts resulting from the proposed project, will affect the regional environment or climate change over time.

Analysis

The oil and gas industry, along with many republican officials, have argued for years about the burdensome approval process required for federal development permits, and complain about the hurdles and delays that routinely result from pushback by environmental groups who claim violations of the NEPA law. Donald Trump himself has complained of his own frustrations as a real estate developer, having to comply with the law, which he calls a “ridiculous process” and “the single biggest obstacle to infrastructure projects.” White House officials say, “The new regulations will modernize, simplify and accelerate the environmental review process necessary to build a wide range of projects in the United States, including roads, bridges and highways.”

Despite the White House’s optimism, others view this to be an extremely dangerous, corrupt, and unethical move. Many consider the new rule to be anything but modern, rather a step backwards. Critics of the law’s revisions say, “it could sideline the concerns of poor and minority communities impacted by those projects and discount their impact on climate change.” Sharon Buccino, a senior attorney at the Natural Resources Defense Council, says that NEPA was designed to give communities that are disproportionately affected by pollution from federal projects, such as highways, pipelines and chemical plants, an opportunity to voice their concerns and have a say in the health and future of their communities. “NEPA gives poor and communities of color a say in the projects that will define their communities for decades to come. Rather than listen, the Trump administration’s plan aims to silence such voices,” says Buccino.

An important part of the public comment process is the opportunity for communities to suggest alternatives to the proposed project, such as a wind or solar system instead of an oil or gas pipeline. However, Trump’s new version of the law allows developers of these projects, who are applying for the necessary permits, “to limit the range of alternatives that can be considered, while communities seeking to challenge a project will now need to offer far more onerous critiques.” Kym Hunter, a senior attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center, describes how the new rule makes it harder for local communities to challenge these federal projects. She explains, “It requires comments to be really specific, to cite page numbers and be really technical in ways that can be really challenging for communities. They may need to hire people to write their letters, if they can afford to do that.”

Opponents to the new rule view its elimination of the requirement to consider the cumulative effects of a project, to be particularly dangerous. “Cumulative effects” largely equates to how a project will contribute to climate change over time. For instance, the cumulative effects of building a new highway would include not just the environmental damage from the road itself, but also the impact from all the greenhouse gas emitting vehicles that will drive on it, and how this added pollution will compound upon the pollution already occurring from the existing roadways in the area. “This idea of cumulative impacts is really core to the way NEPA works,” says President Obama’s former head of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, Christy Goldfuss … “and arguably there is no greater environmental crisis that is tied to cumulative impacts than climate change. Because it’s really about greenhouse gases on top of greenhouse gases and other pollution adding up to this global disaster that we’re all experiencing.”

According to Trump’s new rule, only the damage caused by the road itself is required to be considered and disclosed. Not accounting for the cumulative effects of these projects greatly endangers the “poor communities and communities of color that are disproportionately selected as the site for polluting industries and projects.” Gina McCarthy, president and CEO of the Natural Resources Defense Council, argues “People have a right to weigh in before a highway project tears up their neighborhood or a pipeline goes through their backyard. Steamrolling their concerns will mean more polluted air, more contaminated water, more health threats and more environmental destruction.” McCarthy says, “Now more than ever our leaders should be helping people breathe easier, not handing out favors to oil drillers, pipeline developers and other polluters.” Brett Hartl of the Center for Biological Diversity says of the new rule, “This may be the single biggest giveaway to polluters in the past 40 years,” and Greenpeace USA calls it “a blatant attempt to silence the working-class communities of color [who were] resisting the expansion of fossil fuel infrastructure.”

Hartl expresses the fears many have of the new rule when he says, “NEPA’s dismantling is a win for corruption, a win for polluters, and a win for those that profit off the destruction of our planet. Everyone else loses.” Belinda Archibong, an assistant professor of economics at Barnard College of Columbia University also argues that the Trump administration is doing the opposite of what it should if it really wants to improve the economy. Considering that air pollution makes whole communities more susceptible to the coronavirus, the President should be imposing more environmental restrictions, not less. She says, “Saying ‘We’re going to pull back on regulation’ does not mean that firms are going to start hiring more people. That’s complete nonsense. All that’s going to happen is it’s going to lead to more pollution, period.” Rep. Nanette Diaz Barragán (D-Calif.) says, “With today’s Trump administration rule, fossil fuel corporations will be able to ram harmful projects through without considering the pollution dangers to people in nearby neighborhoods. NEPA gives our very vulnerable communities across the country an opportunity to make our voices heard and stop pollution in our own backyards. President Trump is trying to rob us of our voice. We will not be silenced.” Environmental groups plan to challenge the administration’s revisions in court and presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden has vowed to reverse such rollbacks if he is elected.

Resistance Resources

  • Documented is a watchdog group that investigates how corporations manipulate public policy, harming our environment, communities, and democracy. https://documented.net/

Natural Resources Defense Council

  • Works to safeguard the earth – its people, its plants and animals, and the natural systems on which all life depends. Combining the power of more than three million members and online activists with the expertise of some 700 scientists, lawyers, and policy advocates across the globe to ensure the rights of all people to the air, the water, and the wild. https://www.nrdc.org/

Greenpeace USA

  • Greenpeace is a global, independent campaigning organization that uses peaceful protest and creative communication to expose global environmental problems and promote solutions that are essential to a green and peaceful future. https://www.greenpeace.org/usa/

Center for Biological Diversity

  • At the Center for Biological Diversity, we believe that the welfare of human beings is deeply linked to nature — to the existence in our world of a vast diversity of wild animals and plants. Because diversity has intrinsic value, and because its loss impoverishes society, we work to secure a future for all species, great and small, hovering on the brink of extinction. We do so through science, law, and creative media, with a focus on protecting the lands, waters and climate that species need to survive. https://www.biologicaldiversity.org/

Learn More

Environmental Justice Stops Fossil Fuel Pipelines in Their Tracks

Environmental Justice Stops Fossil Fuel Pipelines in Their Tracks

Policy

Two major victories for environmental justice have been served this past week. The Atlantic Coast Natural Gas Pipeline project was officially cancelled as of Sunday, July 5 due to mounting costs and permitting uncertainty. The following day, Monday July 6, the Dakota Access Oil Pipeline, three years into its operation, was ordered to shut down by August 5, due to a federal judge’s ruling that the environmental assessment was inadequate and the risk too high to continue operating the pipeline. Both victories are results of grassroots movements opposing the large fossil fuel pipeline projects and fighting for the protection of sensitive natural resources and the rights of the communities adjacent to them.

The Atlantic Coast Pipeline was a proposed 42-inch-wide underground pipeline intended to carry natural gas 600 miles from the West Virginia mountains to the North Carolina coast. Owners and developers of the pipeline, Dominion Energy Company and Duke Energy Company, had hoped to increase the amount of natural gas they could provide to their customers in Virginia and North Carolina, at a cheaper price. The pipeline would have had to traverse a unique landscape, requiring the removal of trees and “blasting and leveling some ridgetops,” clearing a path which would have “crossed mountains, hundreds of water bodies and other sensitive terrain and burrowed underneath the Appalachian Trail.” Multiple compressor stations would also have been built in various communities along the pipeline’s route (typically, compressor stations are built every 40 – 100 miles along a pipeline).

Compressor stations compress the gas to a specified pressure that maintains the flow of the gas to its destination. Each compressor station has diesel, natural gas, or electric powered engines that compress the gas. New stations can have up to six or more engines running, each with its own smokestack. Air sampling around these stations has shown elevated levels of carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxides, particulate matter, and other volatile organic compounds, hazardous air pollutants and greenhouse gasses. Because these stations utilize engines, they inherently pollute whenever they run, and during scheduled or accidental “blowdown” events, “particularly intense” pollution occurs “when pressure builds to the point where gas is vented directly into the air in order to prevent explosions.”

The project was first proposed in 2014 and has faced opposition from environmental groups and local communities who fear its detrimental human health and environmental impacts and effects on endangered species in the area, as well as on the marginalized communities along the pipeline’s route. Those who opposed the development project included “small farmers whose lands were subject to eminent domain, Native Americans, about 30,000, who live within a mile of the pipeline’s proposed route in North Carolina, and residents in Northampton County, North Carolina, where another compressor station for the project was being constructed in a census block where 79 percent of the population is Black.” Activist groups fought in court to halt or slow the release of land development permits for various sites along the proposed pipeline’s path.

Six years later the fight paid off. Investors in the project said, “the project’s estimated cost had risen to $8 billion from the original estimate of $4.5 to $5 billion … owing primarily to legal expenses.” The near doubling in cost and the uncertain delays associated with “other recent court decisions,” presented “new and serious challenges” to the project.

The Dakota Access Pipeline is a $3.8 billion pipeline, carrying almost 600,000 barrels of Bakken crude oil a day 1,172 miles out of the Bakken shale formation of North Dakota, across South Dakota and Iowa, to a shipping station in Illinois. The pipeline passes beneath the Missouri River which lies just north of and supplies drinking water to the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation that sits along the border of North Dakota and South Dakota. Permits for development of the proposed pipeline were originally denied by the Obama administration in December 2016. A full environmental review by the Army Corps of Engineers was ordered to analyze the potential for alternative routes for the pipeline and its impacts on the rights of the people of the Sioux Reservation as set forth in their treaty. However, in February 2017, soon after being sworn in, President Donald Trump signed an executive order to expedite the construction of the new pipeline. With that, the Army Corps of Engineers dropped the environmental assessment for the project, granted the necessary permits, and the pipeline was built.

The Sioux Tribe and activist groups continued to challenge the permits that provided the legality for the pipeline, and in June 2017 succeeded in convincing U.S. District Judge James Boasberg that a deeper assessment of the project’s impacts was necessary. Judge Boasberg allowed operation of the pipeline to continue, but ordered further review, stating that the Army Corps of Engineers “did not adequately consider how an oil spill under the Missouri River might affect the Standing Rock Sioux tribe’s fishing and hunting rights, or whether it might disproportionately affect the tribal community.” This kind of consideration is the concept of environmental justice; written policy that “aims to ensure development projects aren’t built in areas where minority populations might not have the resources to defend their rights.  

The Army Corps of Engineers conducted another environmental review which was completed in 2018, and again, stated that the new study “substantiated its earlier determination that the pipeline poses no significant environmental threats” and declared that their previous analysis was sufficient and no changes need be made. Environmental activist group Earthjustice and the Sioux Tribe again challenged the permits in court, arguing that the tribe was effectively shut out of the latest environmental review process and the evidence of potential environmental impact presented by their scientists and representatives was ignored. In March of this year, Judge Boasberg struck down the federal permits that had allowed for the building of the pipeline, stating that the Army Corps’ issuing of those permits was in violation of the National Environmental Policy Act, specifically in regards to “unresolved concerns about the potential impacts of oil spills and the likelihood that one could take place.” The Army Corps of Engineers was criticized by the Federal Court for “failing to address the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s expert criticism of its analysis, citing issues like potential worst case discharge, the difficulty of detecting slow leaks, and responding to spills in winter.” The Court also noted that the Dakota Access Pipeline’s parent company’s “abysmal safety record … does not inspire confidence,” and that that fact should have been taken into greater consideration from the start. With the ruling, the Court also asked supporters of the pipeline and its opposers to each “submit briefs on whether the pipeline should continue operating during the new environmental review.”

On Monday July 6, 2020, Judge Boasberg sided with the pipeline’s opposers, and ordered the Dakota Access Pipeline be shut down and emptied within 30 days so as to minimize potential risk while the Army Corps re-performs its environmental assessment per the required guidelines. In the 24-page memorandum put forth by the District Court of Columbia, referencing the question of draining the pipeline or not during the Army Corps’ new environmental impact assessment, the Court stated, “Although mindful of the disruption such a shutdown will cause, the Court now concludes that the answer is yes. Clear precedent favoring vacatur (the setting aside of previous decisions) during such a remand coupled with the seriousness of the Corps’ deficiencies outweighs the negative effects of halting the oil flow for the thirteen months that the Corps believes the creation of an EIS will take.” Essentially, the Court decided the severity of the potential dangers that the Army Corps’ assessment failed to address would be more costly than the estimated impact of draining the pipeline for thirteen months to up to “several years.” Thus, it is not worth it to continue operating the pipeline until those potential dangers have been adequately addressed.

Energy Transfer, the owner and operator of the Dakota Access Pipeline, however, has yet to halt the flow of oil, arguing, “We don’t believe he [Judge Boasberg] has the authority to do this.” The company claims, “it would take three months to empty the pipe of oil and complete steps to preserve it for future use.” On Thursday July 9, Judge Boasberg denied the request from Energy Transfer to halt the closing of the pipeline during the environmental review, and the case is now going to a panel of judges in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

Analysis

Despite the outpouring of opposition to the two pipeline projects, and the ensuing protest movements that developed, many supporters of the pipelines still argue for their benefits. Supporters of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline argue that the new pipeline would have promoted a cleaner alternative to coal and oil energy sources, as well as reduced fuel costs for consumers while creating thousands of construction jobs and generating new tax revenue for the region. According to the U.S. Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette, “The well-funded, obstructionist environmental lobby has successfully killed the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, which would have lowered energy costs for consumers.” He continued, “The Trump Administration wants to bring the benefits of reliable and affordable energy of all kinds to all Americans. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for the activists who killed this project.”

Though lower natural gas prices and increased tax revenue may have been realized by the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, Lindsey Gilpin, founder and editor in chief of Southerly, a media organization covering ecology, justice, and culture in the South, said the increased jobs claim may not have proven so fruitful. She claims that in an interview with Dominion Energy Company, she was told that the new pipeline “would create a couple dozen permanent jobs.” That is only 24 permanent jobs. And of the thousands of construction jobs to be created, Gilpin says, “A lot of the construction jobs are very specialized. So many people in places I traveled through were saying these aren’t local jobs. They’re bringing in people from companies outside the region who know how to build pipelines, welders or people of a higher level of education or training. So locals weren’t actually getting those jobs that they were promised.” Environmental groups and many of the public are also aware that despite any economic benefits these fossil fuel infrastructure projects might provide, “it still holds back investment in other renewable energies.”

Proponents of the Dakota Access Pipeline also touted the creation of jobs, increased tax revenue, and cited the pipeline’s ability to “meet growing demand for oil shipments from North Dakota without the need for additional pipelines or rail shipments.” The decreased demand by the oil industry on the local rail systems as means of transport for the oil, would also, in theory, reduce shipping costs for farmers. However, it seems more people in these regions fear fossil fuel development projects more than they value them. “They’ve seen how the coal industry has decimated [other] communities, how it’s made a ton of wealth off Appalachian communities and then left them high and dry, with high unemployment rates. They left people sick and dying from pollution and black lung disease.” The public’s distrust in the fossil fuel industry, whether it be coal, gas, or oil, has begun to boil over. Gilpin reminds us that these lands that major pipeline projects cut through, have been in the families of these communities for generations. This is their home. “It might just seem like somebody’s backyard to a pipeline company. But to the people, it’s everything.”

The recent decisions to halt these two major pipeline projects is a testament to the power of environmental and cultural activist groups and grassroots movements. With the public’s increased awareness of climate change and the negative impacts that the fossil fuel industry and its infrastructure have on the planet and marginalized communities, “environmentalists and Native American activists, who routinely oppose fossil fuel pipelines because of potential spills and their contribution to climate change” are beginning to feel more “emboldened.” Montana farmer and Keystone Pipeline opponent Dena Hoff, remembers when in 2015 a pipeline next to her farm, running under the Yellowstone River broke, spilling 31,000 gallons of crude oil and spoiling the water supply for 6,000 people downstream. Hoff points out that “the years of protests against Keystone and other lines have made the public listen,” and that “There’s more to this argument than jobs and tax dollars.”

The closure of these two major pipelines illustrates a shifting landscape in regard to large fossil fuel energy projects in the United States. In a joint statement released by the Dominion and Duke energy companies, announcing the cancelation of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline project, they wrote, “This announcement reflects the increasing legal uncertainty that overhangs large-scale energy and industrial infrastructure development in the United States.” Furthermore, Dominion Energy Company coupled its decision to abandon the pipeline project, with the announcement that it will be selling most of its gas pipeline business to Berkshire Hathaway Inc. Even Rich Redash, head of global gas planning at S&P Global Platts said of the fossil fuel industry, “It’s going to be more challenging to expand, particularly if you’re in an area where the opposition is organized, better funded and supported by state and local elected officials.” Likewise, Jason Bordoff, founding director at Columbia University’s Center on Global Energy Policy says, “Courtroom fights and protests against pipelines have only gotten more intense. As that opposition gets more sophisticated, it will mean more delays and higher costs for projects that rely on federal permits.” According to Kelly Sheehan Martin, Director of the Beyond Dirty Fuels Campaign at the Sierra Club, “The writing’s been on the wall for a little while now … It’s a new era for how hard it is to build new massive fossil fuel infrastructure projects that would lock us in for decades.”

The cancelation of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline and the ruling to close the Dakota Access Pipeline, together, mark a progressive movement of environmental justice concepts into mainstream policy. Ryan Emanuel, North Carolina State University professor and citizen of the Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina, said of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline cancelation, “This is a really encouraging outcome for the marginalized communities along the pipeline route.” Emanuel remarks, “this apparent victory comes at an auspicious time in the United States for racial justice and conversations about the disproportionate affect policies can have on communities of color.” Even still, Emanuel believes that legislation “similar to the Clean Water Act of 1972, which set national water quality standards, is necessary to prevent the effects of environmental racism.” He continues, “Environmental justice, for better or worse, is kind of a buzzword in popular culture and we can construe it in different ways. Until we tighten up what we mean in ensuring environmental justice and preventing the impact of structural racism on marginalized communities in terms of what infrastructure we build and where, justice won’t be for all.”

Resources

Earthjustice

  • Earthjustice is the premier nonprofit public interest environmental law organization. We wield the power of law and the strength of partnership to protect people’s health, to preserve magnificent places and wildlife, to advance clean energy, and to combat climate change. (The environmental group representing the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe). https://earthjustice.org/

Friends of Buckingham Virginia

  • The mission of the Friends of Buckingham is to preserve the natural resources and cultural heritage of Buckingham County. We are a group of Buckingham County citizens united to work with our county leaders to attract economic investment opportunities that benefit all our residents, and that contribute to a sustainable healthy environment. We are dedicated to celebrating our county’s diverse cultural heritage, our rural lifestyle, and to protecting our natural resources and last, remaining, wild places. Towards that end, we are committed to protecting our health and environment from any outside interests that seek to exploit our natural resources, such as the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline. http://www.friendsofbuckinghamva.org/friends/

Natural Resources Defense Council

  • works to safeguard the earth – its people, its plants and animals, and the natural systems on which all life depends. combining the power of more than three million members and online activists with the expertise of some 700 scientists, lawyers, and policy advocates across the globe to ensure the rights of all people to the air, the water, and the wild. https://www.nrdc.org/

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