Tag: EPA

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Today is the 51st anniversary of Earth Day, a major national event prompted by the late Gaylord Nelson, a Democratic US Senator from Wisconsin. Some say it is inspired by this oil spill off the coast of Santa Barbara, California. About 22 million people – at the time, about 10 percent of the total US population – […]

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An Overambitious Climate Plan for Biden


President-elect Joe Biden’s transition team has made it clear that climate change will be a top policy priority for his incoming administration. In crafting its policies, the Biden administration may heavily rely upon a blueprint already created by former Obama administration officials and environmental experts. Known as the Climate 21 Project, the exhaustive transition memo seeks “to hit the ground running and effectively prioritize [Biden’s] climate response from Day One,” after which it hopes to implement major institutional changes within the first hundred days of the Biden presidency. The project’s recommendations involve eleven executive branch agencies, including the Departments of Energy, Interior, and Transportation, as well as the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration, all of which are now actively involved in environmental policy. But the breadth of the Project 21 initiative is evident by its inclusion of State, Treasury, and Justice, too.

The project makes a grim assessment of the (unnamed) Trump administration. In speaking of the Environmental Protection Agency, it notes, without identifying any particulars, that it “has experienced a prolonged, systematic assault to disable effective capacities, demoralize its highly expert and dedicated staff, undercut its own legal authorities, and betray the EPA’s core mission to protect human health and the environment.” To reverse these trends, the Climate 21 Project is determined to shift the EPA’s focus “to climate change and clean energy,” an effort centered “around a deep decarbonization strategy.” The memo adds that the Interior Department must directly seize on “climate mitigation opportunities . . . in reducing greenhouse gas emissions from fossil resources owned by the public and tribes, boosting renewable energy production on public lands and waters, [and] enhancing carbon sequestration on public lands.”

The project’s seventeen-person steering committee consists of many Obama administration officials and environmental activists. Its co-chairs are Christy Goldfuss, formerly a managing director at the White House Council of Environmental Quality and now the head of Energy and Environmental Policy at the Center for American Progress, and Tim Profeta, Director of Duke University’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions. The committee contains no mainstream Republicans or market-oriented economists. Its orientation is captured by the repeated use of the words “crisis” or crises,” which appear fifteen times in its report’s summary alone, usually joined with the word “climate.”

The NEPA Stranglehold


This month marks the 50-year anniversary of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), which, when passed, was hailed as one of the key building blocks of the modern environmental movement. When speaking about NEPA recently, President Donald Trump denounced the law. Because of NEPA, many of “America’s most critical infrastructure projects have been tied up and bogged down by an outrageously slow and burdensome federal approval process.” The “endless delays” generated by this ongoing “regulatory nightmare,” he went on, snatch jobs from “our nation’s incredible workers,” who are unable “to build new roads, bridges, tunnels [and] highways bigger, better [and] faster.” He then offered a suite of regulatory reforms for NEPA that “will reduce traffic in our cities, connect our rural communities, and get Americans where they need to go more quickly and more safely.”

His Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) just published in the Federal Register a detailed and lengthy report that proposes a mix of substantive and procedural reforms to break the logjam. What is most notable about Trump’s proposed reforms is that they are all incremental. They try to tweak through regulation a broken statute instead of working to replace it with a sounder remedial structure, which is the only way to fix the current unsatisfactory status quo.

The key substantive changes are found in obscurely worded provisions designed to streamline the regulatory process in cases where an agency must consider the potential impact on global warming—virtually always overstated, especially for pipelines—of a new project in conjunction with similar projects undertaken elsewhere. For example, the potential emission of greenhouse gases from one pipeline has to be considered together with the potential emissions from another. The procedural reforms stress expedited deadlines and the selection of a single program manager to guide the approval process in order to avoid duplication and confusion.

Environmental Law Without Property Rights


The new term of the United States Supreme Court got off to an inauspicious start in the important case of Weyerhaeuser v. United States Fish and Wildlife Service. At issue in the case is the Endangered Species Act of 1973 (ESA), which allows the government to take steps to protect endangered and threatened species from destruction. Weyerhaeuser involved the preservation of potential habitat for the dusky gopher frog, whose lifestyle requires living underground in areas covered by open-canopied pine forests, from which the frogs migrate to isolated, ephemeral ponds for breeding before returning home. These exacting conditions are not easily found, and the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) spent an inordinate amount of time, effort, and careful study to locate such a habitat. In this case, the FWS acted only after it conducted, as the majority in the Fifth Circuit noted, an exhaustive “economic analysis, two rounds of notice and comment, a scientific peer-review process including responses from six experts, and a public hearing.”

After its investigation concluded, FWS designated as critical habitat some 1,544 acres of privately-owned land in Louisiana. That land had been slated for timber harvesting, followed by residential and commercial development. The FWS made its designation even though only one such frog was found on these lands back in 1965. The ESA’s instruction to the FWS was to make sure that the site designated as critical habitat contains “those physical or biological features . . . essential to the conservation of the species.” The FWS read the term “essential” broadly to cover the proposed site, subject to two huge caveats. First, the designated space could not support the dusky gopher program in its current condition. Extensive site modification was required to make the area habitable for the frog. Second, FWS had no current plans for the needed site modification, and it had set aside no funds for its improvement. As a result, the site was in limbo. The Fifth Circuit majority protested that such critical habitat designations “do not transform private land into wildlife refuges” because they neither authorize the government to enter the land nor require the private owner to modify the property to populate it with members of the endangered species. But that sentence tells only half the story: the designation does put the land into legal limbo because its owners can no longer use it for its intended purposes unless they first obtain a permit under the Clean Water Act to alter the site, which can only happen if FWS approves of the change in use under the ESA. The plaintiffs alleged “that the resulting lost development opportunities could cost the landowners $34 million.” Those are social as well as private losses.

On this record, the Supreme Court had to decide whether to affirm the FWS’s designation. The oral argument before the Supreme Court on October 1, 2018, was dominated by dueling hypotheticals. Justice Kagan wanted to know from the landowners whether the designation of critical habitat could be accurately attached to a site as yet unused that might be rendered fit by a few “slight improvements,” such as digging holes in appropriate places. At the opposite pole, Chief Justice Roberts asked the government whether the term “critical habitat” was expansive enough to “build a giant greenhouse and plant the longleaf pines” for the frog to live in, say, Alaska.

Jim Geraghty of National Review and Greg Corombos of Radio America applaud the Trump administration for rolling back the burdensome EPA clean power plant regulations and giving the states more flexibility in how they deal with emissions.  They also unload on CNN and other media outlets for reporting on tearful reunions among family members living in North and South Korea after nearly 70 years, blaming the separation on the Korean War rather than a brutally repressive communist regime in North Korea.  And they shake their heads as President Trump takes to Twitter and muses about pulling security clearances based on what former national security officials say about him on cable television.

Environmental Protectionism Run Amok


The House Natural Resources Committee is conducting an ongoing examination of the National Environmental Policy Act of 1970 (NEPA). President Richard Nixon signed NEPA, often hailed as the Magna Carta of environmental law, to great fanfare in 1970. The legislation contains two key provisions. Section 101 sets out in broad terms Congress’s “continuing policy” to require federal, state, and local governments “to create and maintain conditions under which man and nature can exist in productive harmony” for the benefit of “present and future generations.” The law envisions the government acting as a “trustee of the environment,” charged with ensuring that the environment is used “without degradation, risk to health or safety, or other undesirable and unintended consequences.”

Next, section 102 specifies a set of procedures by which all government agencies must prepare statements to accompany “proposals for legislation or other major Federal actions significantly affecting the quality of the human environment.” These statements must include a general assessment of the project’s environmental effect, coupled with an analysis of “adverse environmental impacts which cannot be avoided should the proposal be implemented.” NEPA contains no substantive requirements, but it does force government agencies to ensure that the proposed project meets the substantive standards of statutes such as the Clean Water Act. The agency must, therefore, point out any “irreversible and irretrievable commitments of resources” on program implementation, with a view to examining alternative plans that meet these standards.

Under current law, the government agency must decide whether it should file an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). In doubtful cases, the agency prepares an abbreviated Environmental Assessment (EA). If that EA makes a finding of no significant impact, or FONSI, then no further steps need to be taken. But if it finds that there is a significant impact, then the agency has to prepare a detailed EIS to establish that the proposed project meets the applicable substantive standards.

“Making America toxic again,” as one publication suggested, or a public servant dedicated to paring honest science and environmental stewardship? Scott Pruitt, Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, stops by to explain how the Trump Administration has reoriented the EPA, its highlights and priorities, and how a former college baseball player deals with political hardball in the nation’s capital.

Richard Epstein analyzes a lawsuit several major cities are bringing against oil companies over climate change, explains the economic and scientific considerations necessary to seriously grapple with the issue, and describes the libertarian approach to environmental harms.

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Its Christmas time and the Trump administration gifts just keep on giving.  I refer of course to the departures of many of the EPA weenies who have been terrorizing Americans and American businesses for so many years. James Delingpole reports from Breitbart. I don’t remember exactly how it came up. But at a nonpolitical convention, […]

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Junk Obama’s Clean Power Plan


In 2015, the Obama administration’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued its Clean Power Plan (CPP) that prescribed detailed regulations for the control of carbon dioxide emissions from existing coal-powered power plants as part of its effort to control climate change. Earlier this month, the Trump EPA under Scott Pruitt issued its own proposed rule to undo the Obama administration’s guidelines without a commitment to replace them with a substitute set of rules dedicated to the same end. In response to Pruitt’s major shift in policy direction, states like Massachusetts and New York are suing to prevent the new legal regime from going into effect.

Pruitt’s reversal in environmental policy raises two issues—one scientific and one legal. The scientific issue revolves around the 2009 endangerment findings from an Obama administration study, which determined that carbon dioxide emissions are a pollutant whose emissions levels must be regulated under the Clean Air Act (CAA) because “greenhouse gases in the atmosphere may reasonably be anticipated both to endanger public health and to endanger public welfare.” Other chemicals on the list of six designated pollutants—like methane and nitrous oxide, with known toxicities—surely deserve that designation, but the Obama report overstates the risks of carbon dioxide to the environment.

Although that report acknowledges that the relevant science is evolving, it does not recognize that new information about climate change could weaken the case for regulating carbon dioxide. For example, the 2009 report assumes that modest increases in temperature are likely to create dangers to crops by shortening the growing season. But more careful studies since that time have shown that the increase in carbon dioxide has resulted, as Matt Ridley reports, in a dramatic increase in the greenery on the earth’s surface of about 14 percent over the last 30 years. This far outpaces any supposed harm that might come, as the EPA report suggests, from “weed and pest growth,” which are best controlled by specific technologies and not by top-down policies addressing climate change generally.

EPA Scientists Banned from Speaking at Climate Conference


The EPA administration is fighting back against the climate change ideologues. The agency has cancelled the speaking appearances of three scientists who were scheduled to speak at a non-EPA conference on subjects related to climate change.

These scientists contributed to a 400-plus-page report to be issued today on the status of the Narragansett Bay Estuary Program and its challenges, and there are fears that scientists are being silenced from speaking on this controversial subject. It’s widely known that the head of the EPA, Scott Pruitt, questions whether human activity is a major contributor to climate change.

John King, a professor of oceanography at the University of Rhode Island, chairs the science advisory committee of the Narragansett Bay Estuary Program (which is sponsoring the conference), and stated the following:

EPA’s Pruitt Asks for TV Climate Debate


The science may not be settled, but EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt wants it televised. He raised the idea of a TV climate change debate in an interview with Reuters:

“There are lots of questions that have not been asked and answered (about climate change),” EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt told Reuters in an interview late on Monday.

“Who better to do that than a group of scientists … getting together and having a robust discussion for all the world to see,” he added without explaining how the scientists would be chosen.

Gas Can Follies


I have a little can for gasoline. I use it to fuel my lawnmower. Recently the spout broke. I fixed it with duct tape, of course. And, of course, the duct tape only held up for a few months. The can itself is over 30 years old, and I have the idea that, since plastic deteriorates over time, it probably will need replacing within the next decade or two. I also thought that a cheap plastic gas can with a nice pouring spout would not cost very much more than a purchase of a replacement spout. So while I was out on Saturday morning I stopped by Autozone to pick up a new gas can. And, modern American life being what it is, I now have a story to post at Ricochet.

First, while my old can holds 2.5 gallons, the cans on the shelf all came only in two or five gallon size, so if I keep a little can it will mean more trips to refill the can. I don’t want to fool with the larger can, so I picked up one of the two-gallon cans and carried it to the counter. While waiting for the cashier to fire up his cash register (he had been in the back and so had to log in), I took a look at the new can. I unscrewed the cap and pulled out the pour spout, and started to install it for immediate use. The pour spout looked funny, and the cashier saw me giving it a close inspection. He said “You haven’t seen one of those before.”

“Nope.” Said I. “It looks like a new and improved safety pour.”

Trump Dismantles Obama Regs on Energy, Environment


President Trump issued a sweeping executive order Tuesday to unravel several Obama-era environmental and energy regulations. Signed at the EPA headquarters, the order calls for an immediate review of Obama’s Clean Power Plan, which restricted greenhouse gas emissions at coal-fired plants.

“We’re going to have safety, we’re going to have clean water, we’re going to have clean air,” Trump said, “but so many [regulations] are unnecessary, so many are job-killing.” He added, “Together we are going to start a new energy revolution.”

Fox News provided more detail on the executive order:

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President Trump, with Secretary Scott Pruitt at his shoulder, signed an executive order “directing the EPA to take action paving the way for the elimination of this very destructive and horrible rule.” WOTUS, the rule in question, is the power grab by the EPA to expand the “navigable rivers” aspect of the Clean Water Act […]

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Scott Pruitt and the Environment


Scott Pruitt, Donald Trump’s nominee to lead the Environmental Protection Agency, has raised more hackles among progressive Democrats than any other Trump cabinet nominee. Typical of the ferocious opposition to his candidacy is the screed prepared by the Sierra Club that deems him a mortal threat to the safety of the planet because, as Attorney General in Oklahoma, he has “spent his time in office working to allow big polluters to do whatever they want, rather than protecting the health, clean air and water of his constituents.” Democrats like Senator Brian Schatz of Hawaii have insisted that his nomination is “a four-alarm fire” because Pruitt is a pawn of fossil fuel companies whose cardinal sin is denying the conclusion of “climate scientists” that human emission of carbon dioxide is creating a global warming crisis.

The defenders of Pruitt have been equally vocal. President Trump, no man to mince words, has railed against the EPA for spending “taxpayer dollars on an out-of-control anti-energy agenda that has destroyed millions of jobs, while also undermining our incredible farmers and many other businesses and industries at every turn.” In his view, Pruitt is needed to restore some sense of balance to the entire enterprise.

So the big question is who is right and why. In order to cut through the strong rhetoric on both sides, it is important to return to first principles to see how the regulation of pollution and jobs fit together. To start, neither the environmentalists nor Pruitt hold the untenable view that pollution is a good thing. But they profoundly disagree on two key second-order questions—the correct definition of pollution and the right remedial structure to deal with its occurrence.

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“It is not half so important to know as it is to feel.” -Rachael Carson. For those of you who are trying to put a face to the name, Rachael Carson wrote the book Silent Spring, about the dangers of DDT. The subsequent DDT ban prevented malaria from being eradicated elsewhere in the globe like […]

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The Obama Administration’s EPA moved today to seal the fate of automotive manufactures by sticking firm with CAFE fuel mileage standards. Corporate Average Fuel Economy or CAFE, requires the average to be 51.4 mpg by 2025, 8 years from now. The 2015 requirement is 33.2 mpg. Auto companies have lobbied for years that the standard […]

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