Scott Pruitt, the public has spoken – and it wants health protections, not rollbacks

By Martha Roberts

Wikimedia Commons

Earlier this year, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt announced an effort to seek public input on EPA safeguards that should be revoked or rolled back to “reduce regulatory burden.”

What was the overwhelming message he heard in response?

Let EPA do its job and protect Americans from dangerous pollution.

Numerous news articles have detailed the tens of thousands of responses EPA received from individual Americans decrying Pruitt’s biased, predetermined effort to gut important safeguards. These public comments are still being uploaded onto an official website — but already there are more than 183,000 of them, and the overwhelming majority are in favor of strong EPA safeguards.

As one comment reminded Pruitt:

Future generations are counting on us to leave an environment that supports good health, and a world worth living in. Don’t jeopardize the progress that has been made by rolling back regulations that are taking us in the right direction. Your job is to protect the environment for the benefit of all, not to squander progress for the financial gain of a few.

Another citizen noted during a listening session:

I actually enjoy breathing clean air and drinking clean water and would find it quite burdensome not to.

It’s well documented that EPA safeguards are an incredible American success story, saving countless lives and improving health across the country. We’ve made tremendous strides in improving air quality, reducing toxic lead and mercury pollution, addressing acid rain, and other remarkable achievements — all while the economy has grown and added jobs.

We still have more work to do though. According to the American Lung Association, more than 125 million Americans live in communities with unhealthy levels of air pollution.

Industry pushes for rollbacks

EPA senior officials are due to present a report to Pruitt today on their progress in identifying safeguards to repeal or roll back – not even two weeks after the rushed public comment period ended.

It’s hard to know if this report will be made public, but we are starting to get a glimpse of the input that Pruitt and his team are hearing from those who oppose vital safeguards.

For instance, the American Petroleum Institute’s (API) 25-page list of requests includes weakening protections against smog and undercutting common-sense standards to curb harmful methane and toxic air pollution from oil and gas production.

API’s list also complains that EPA’s Clean Air Scientific Advisory Panel is “biased” because “it can be difficult for industry representatives to be included on the committees.”

As we wrote about in an earlier post, these industry requests come on top of an earlier solicitation by the Trump Administration for industry proposals to roll back protections — one where trade associations brazenly asked for cuts to important health studies and safeguards.

Politicians target safeguards against mercury, smog, and other dangers

One remarkable letter to EPA came from eight state politicians. As has been well documented, while Scott Pruitt was Oklahoma’s Attorney General he spearheaded an intertwined alliance between state attorneys general and major fossil fuel industries — going so far as to submit industry requests to EPA on Oklahoma letterhead and later noting that’s “actually called representative government in my view of the world.”

In the new letter, Pruitt’s attorney general allies detail a list of twenty bedrock safeguards to weaken or eliminate. These include protections against mercury pollution, smog, soot, and many others.

These eight politicians even ask EPA to reject the agency’s science-based conclusion that greenhouse gases endanger human health and welfare — a conclusion based on an extensive, exhaustive record that was upheld by a federal court of appeals several years ago. Their letter makes no mention of the citizens who would be sickened and harmed by these roll backs.

The signatories are the attorneys general from Michigan, Oklahoma, Indiana, Alabama, Arkansas, West Virginia, Louisiana, and South Carolina.

Scott Pruitt: don’t put Americans’ health at risk

With EPA’s help, we’ve made remarkable progress in cleaning up our air and water. The American public just delivered a clear and overwhelming message to Scott Pruitt – don’t risk that tremendous progress, or the health of our families, by rolling back EPA safeguards.

Administrator Pruitt should listen.

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On methane regs, Canada must stand tall against industry

By Drew Nelson

In a sign of growing recognition of the global methane opportunity, the Government of Canada today proposed new regulations that aim to curb methane emissions across the Canadian oil and gas industry. This marks the first regulatory package to be introduced by the Trudeau administration for Canada to meet its overall climate goals. Now that the proposal is out, the draft federal methane rules will be open for public comment before they are finalized later this year. The new rules, if passed, will reduce waste, save money, create jobs, pollute less, and have Canada keep pace with jurisdictions across the globe that are addressing methane.

Methane is an extremely potent greenhouse gas with over 80 times the warming power of carbon dioxide for the first 20 years it’s in the atmosphere. A common byproduct of oil production, methane is also used widely in the form of natural gas. This means that there is an incentive for oil and gas companies to control these emissions and stop needless energy waste.

During the lead up to the release of the Canadian methane rules, however, the inverse proved true. The Canadian oil and gas lobby worked to weaken and delay implementation of the proposed regulations. Because of concessions that have already been made to appease industry, Canada now has ground to make up to retain its ability to deliver on its climate goals.

Here are four opportunities for Canada to do just that:

  1. Reset the Timeline

The most significant watering down of the regulations was the delayed implementation timetable by as much as three years. These delays will allow an estimated 55 million tons of additional greenhouse gas emissions. Trudeau needs to reset the timetable so the regulations begin in 2019 (not 2020) and full implementation occurs by 2022 (not 2023).

  1. Require Quarterly Leak Inspections

Leaks are one of the largest sources of methane emissions in Canada. A recent study from the David Suzuki Foundation found significantly more emissions were escaping from Canadian oil and gas operations, suggesting that there are actually more leaks than what is being reported. However, operators are not currently required to look for, let alone fix these leaks at most oil and gas facilities. This doesn’t pass the common sense test. After all, how can industry reduce these leaks if they don’t even have to look for them?

Methane is invisible and odorless, and many leaks are intermittent. So, if you’re not looking for leaks, you won’t find them. The scientific literature is clear that with more frequent monitoring, the more likely you are to catch and fix leaks. This is a central reason why quarterly leak detection and repair is required in some capacity by both federal and state regulations across the U.S.  Canada’s federal proposal calls for inspections only three times a year, but this should be improved by following best practices that have been proven in other jurisdictions.

  1. Tighten the “Potential to Emit” Threshold

“Potential-to-emit” (PTE) is a measurement of how much methane a facility could, in theory, emit. A recent study by Environmental Defence shows that oil facilities have higher methane emissions than gas facilities. This is problematic because many of these high-emitting oil facilities fall below the PTE threshold in the draft regulation. This is a serious gap; you don’t let a driver with a history of speeding have a higher speed limit, so why would you let the leakiest sites avoid having to reduce their emissions? As currently proposed, the regulations would apply to facilities with a PTE greater than 60,000 cubic meters per year, but lowering this threshold and requiring systematic would ensure that the leakiest sites are included.

  1. Demand Real Equivalency

Many provinces are expected to develop their own oil and gas methane regulations and petition the federal government to drop federal requirements in exchange for the provincial requirements.  They will maintain that these provincial regulations will achieve equivalent reductions to the federal proposal. Federal Environment and Climate Change Minister Catherine McKenna needs to ensure that what the provinces do are in fact equivalent in terms of reductions, and not just politically expedient. If they let provinces get by with weaker regulations than the federal proposal, then the federal government is explicitly allowing provinces to stymie Canada’s efforts to reach its climate goals.

Reducing methane emissions from the oil and gas industry reduces waste, creates jobs, pollutes less, and ensures Canada keeps pace with the rest of the world. Additionally, these reductions are one of the most effective and affordable ways for Canada to deliver on its climate commitments. For these promising regulations to make a meaningful impact, Canada’s leaders will have to resist the oil and gas lobby, and strengthen the rules before they’re adopted. EDF looks forward to working with the government and other concerned stakeholders to ensure this happens.

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Lawmakers take note: Pennsylvania’s methane emissions are way up

By Andrew Williams

The one fact that Pennsylvania lawmakers needed to hear today is this: Natural gas waste is up 28%.

And yet, the state senate held a hearing yesterday to discuss the impacts of natural gas development in the state, and not one environmental expert was on tap to speak. Consequently, senate leaders don’t have the full picture.

Here’s what state legislators need to know.

Industry-reported data made available this week by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection indicate that in the year ended 2015, emissions of methane – the main component of natural gas – were up over 28% although production grew by only 12%.

The amount of methane waste is even higher than what was found via a preliminary analysis of the data earlier this month. The simple truth is that while some companies are working to do the right thing and reduce emissions, the bulk of the oil and gas industry in Pennsylvania has a significant methane pollution problem.

Methane is the same product that these companies are aiming to sell. That means there is usable energy, and real dollars, literally going up into thin air. With emissions increasing nearly 30% without a congruent rise in production, it’s clear the industry isn’t doing an adequate job of controlling emissions and conserving Pennsylvania’s natural resources.

This is not only a problem for industry’s bottom line, it’s a problem that impacts millions of Pennsylvanians.

More than 1.5 million Pennsylvanians live within half a mile of an oil or gas facility, and methane isn’t the only emission that’s concerning. These facilities also emit other harmful pollutants that can trigger asthma attacks, increase smog, and exacerbate health problems.

The good news is that Pennsylvanians don’t have to choose between their environment and their economy. With the right policies in place, both can thrive. But that’s only possible if the state moves forward to address industry’s methane emissions.

Fortunately, technologies that can reduce nearly half of these emissions are some of the most affordable pollution controls in the energy industry. And many of the service and manufacturing companies that develop these technologies are headquartered in Pennsylvania, meaning there’s a huge opportunity for companies to affordably reduce their pollution as they grow good-paying jobs.

With emissions on a rapid rise, it’s clear that the state should step in and require pollution controls to be implemented statewide.

In January 2016, Governor Tom Wolf proposed a blueprint to reduce industry’s emissions. A year and a half later, there has been little action.

That’s due in no small part to a bill championed by many of the same senators in yesterday’s hearing that aims to prevent Pennsylvania from taking any action on methane that goes beyond federal efforts. That’s hugely problematic, and here’s why.

In April, the Environmental Protection Agency issued a 90-day stay on existing protections that would have cut methane pollution from new oil and gas facilities, and there is a possibility that the agency will rescind these protections altogether. This means that if Pennsylvania defers to the federal government for protections, well, they won’t be there. Tying Pennsylvania policies to whatever is happening in D.C. hardly serves the interest of Pennsylvania citizens and communities – instead, it’s a bouquet to industry.

Other major energy producing states, including: Colorado, Wyoming and Ohio, have been successful at crafting policies that require companies to use affordable and readily available technology to reduce emissions. And industry growth hasn’t been impacted – seven out of 10 gas companies surveyed in Colorado confirm that.

Since promising to reduce methane emissions, Pennsylvania has green-lighted nearly 2000 new drilling projects, yet zero new protections have been implemented.

With emissions increasing at an alarming rate, that has to change. We have to have a better balance. Pennsylvania’s elected leaders must be willing to put measures in place that can support Pennsylvania’s economy while protecting the health of our citizens and communities. The record clearly shows that both are possible.

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California carbon auction sells out after auctions upheld by appeals court, allowances sell above the floor

By Erica Morehouse

Tower Bridge in Sacramento. Photo: public domain via pixabay.

Auction results from the May California-Quebec carbon auction showed increased demand after a California Court of Appeal upheld the legality of California’s auction design last month.

These auction results should send a clear message to legislators that California has a strong carbon market design that can weather legal challenges and the inevitable bumps of the political process.

They also indicate it’s high time to extend, adapt, and strengthen the cap-and-trade program as the backbone of California’s effort to meet its ambitious 2030 target – something the California legislature has an opportunity to do by June 15 in concert with the governor’s budget.

Results from the May 16 auction

  • The auction offered more than 75 million current vintage allowances (available for 2017 or later compliance) and all of them sold at a price of $13.80, 23 cents above the minimum floor price. This is the first time the auction has cleared above the floor since November of 2015.
  • Allowances held by the utilities, Quebec, and ARB sold with over $500 million expected for California’s Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund (GGRF).
  • Almost 10 million future allowances were offered that will not be available for use until 2020 or later; a little over 2 million of those allowances sold. This is significantly higher than the 600,000 that sold in February but future allowances tend to have the most variability in demand.

Demand increased significantly from February, but why?

1. The market has clearly reacted positively by increasing demand in the wake of the Court of Appeals ruling. The appeal to the California Supreme Court and uncertainty about cap-and-trade’s future after 2020 may still be impacting market behavior, however.

2. Regulated businesses need a certain number of allowances to cover their emissions. Demand for allowances is in part driven by this simple reality, and since businesses have been laying low the last few auctions, it makes sense they would need to buy allowances this quarter. Economist Chris Busch describes why these “market fundamentals” led him to predict that at least 50-65 million allowances would be sold in this auction.

3. The stabilizing forces built into California’s program prevent big price swings when the market reacts to new developments. We can see this through California’s private secondary market, which shows daily allowance prices, and acts as a kind of barometer for how and whether the market is reacting to particular events. For example, after the California Court of Appeal on April 6 upheld the legality of California’s auction design, prices on the secondary market went up by 54 cents. When the California state senate on May 1 introduced SB 775, which would have overhauled the current cap-and-trade program and eliminated the auction allowances after 2020, the market dipped by roughly 20 cents – but recovered May 10 after the bill did not come up for a vote as anticipated. This means price shifts have been very small – mostly less than one dollar.

What will happen in the auctions if the legislature extends the cap-and-trade program?

An extension of the cap-and-trade program would lead to more robust demand for allowances — leading to a rising allowance price that better reflects the cost of a ton of carbon pollution reductions, taking into account the 2030 target that was put into law last year. With the price likely rising above the floor, we would expect to see future auctions being fully subscribed — translating into significantly more revenue for the GGRF to invest in projects that reduce carbon pollution.

Some observers have painted a dire picture of allowance prices spiking overnight. But that’s not how we’ve seen carbon markets behave in the past — and there’s no reason to think it will happen now. Instead, we’d expect a gradual strengthening of the allowance price over time, as compliance entities weighed the current price of allowances against the anticipated cost of reducing emissions in the future as the cap becomes more ambitious.

What’s more, the system already has a number of design features in place to protect against such a surge in prices, including offsets, the ability to draw on allowances “banked” from previous years, and a reserve pool of allowances (the “allowance price containment reserve”) that would be released into the market if prices rise high enough.

The governor is pushing hard for a deal on cap and trade by the budget deadline of June 15, so I’m hopeful the next auction will give us much to celebrate.

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Toxic secrets in our food? EDF joins in lawsuit aimed at protecting food safety

By Jack Pratt

Today, Environmental Defense Fund joined other groups in challenging a Food and Drug Administration (FDA) rule that allows chemical and food manufacturers to decide for themselves – in secret – what chemicals and food additives can be added to foods. The practice puts our health at risk and does not fulfill Congress’ requirement that FDA determine that chemical additives are safe before they can be used in food.

Americans would be shocked to learn that food companies routinely add novel chemicals to our food without first getting FDA approval. In doing so, the companies are exploiting a loophole exempting ingredients “Generally Recognized as Safe” (GRAS) from formal FDA review and approval.

Originally intended for ingredients like vinegar and olive oil, industry now abuses the GRAS loophole by bypassing FDA review and making safety determinations in secret. The alarming result: even FDA does not know what is in our food. In fact, FDA has no way to know what chemicals are actually being used in which food or in what quantities—even in baby food.

Last year, the FDA issued a final rule formalizing this outrageous practice. We described this decision as a lost opportunity for safer food additives when the decision was made. Today, EDF and our colleagues at the Center for Food Safety (CFS), Breast Cancer Prevention Partners, Center for Science in the Public Interest, and Environmental Working Group, represented by CFS and the environmental law firm Earthjustice, joined in filing suit against the FDA for unconstitutionally and illegally delegating that authority to self-interested food and chemical manufacturers.

It is disappointing that the groups were forced to take legal action. In addition to being a bad policy that doesn’t comply with law, or protect public health, the FDA is oddly out of touch with public sentiment. Just last week an industry funded survey showed overwhelming consumer concern about chemicals in food, including cancer causing chemicals, while showing diminished confidence in the food supply. This continues a trend that has been building for years. Food companies would be wise to take notice: adding secret chemicals without FDA scientific review to our food is no way to improve confidence in their products.

But with thousands of secret chemicals in our food, we can’t wait for industry or FDA to wise up. Today’s lawsuit seeks to force FDA to do what should be common sense—determine that food additives are safe before they can be added to our food.

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FDA is reevaluating its tolerances for lead in food, and food manufacturers should be prepared

By Tom Neltner

By Tom Neltner, J.D., EDF Chemicals Policy Director and Maricel Maffini, Ph.D., Consultant

Until recently, we have known very little about lead exposure from food. Shockingly, a recent report from the EPA found that two-thirds of one-year olds get most of their lead exposure from food. This and other developments in recent years have prompted FDA to reevaluate its procedures regarding lead levels in food. Leading companies should take notice.

We have written about the health risk of lead exposure from major sources such as paint and water and the well-known fact that there is no safe level of lead in the blood of children. We also wrote about what agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are doing to reduce or eliminate persistent sources of lead exposure as recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics.

In its recently released FAQs for lead in food, FDA describes what it has done, its current standards and its planned next steps. The agency makes no reference to EPA’s assessment and attributes all of the lead in food to contaminated soil. Because it assumes that the environment is the only source, contamination is unavoidable and lead cannot be removed from the food supply.

To limit lead in food to the greatest extent possible, FDA set the following tolerances:

  • Bottled water: 5 parts per billion (ppb);
  • Juices from berries and other small fruits, including grapes, and passion fruits: 50 ppb;
  • Other fruit juices and nectars, including apple: 30 ppb;
  • Candy likely to be consumed by small children: 100 ppb; and
  • Dried fruits, including raisins: 100 ppb.

Only the bottled water tolerance is established in regulations. For the rest, FDA provides only guidance.

How did FDA set the tolerances?

The 5 ppb limit in bottled water was established by FDA in 1995 based on the inability to reliably measure below that level and that only 2 of 48 (4%) samples collected by FDA exceeded those levels. For comparison, in 2016, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended lead levels in drinking water at schools be less than 1 ppb.

The fruit juice limits are based on international food standards set by the Codex Alimentarius Commission (Codex), an organization representing 188 countries and the European Union. Those standards were designed to ensure that only about 5% of the juice samples would exceed them. While Codex recognizes the risks posed by lead, its standard was not based on those risks.

For all other foods, FDA relies on a maximum daily intake level of 6 micrograms of lead per day (µg/day) for young children that it established in 1993 based on CDC’s Level of Concern of 10 micrograms of lead per deciliter of blood (µg/dL).

One million children exceed FDA’s current maximum daily intake level

In the FAQs, FDA affirmed that “there is no known identified safe blood lead level” and acknowledges that scientific information has become available in the last decade that indicates neurotoxic effects at low levels of exposure to lead. It notes that the evidence has prompted EPA to lower its air quality standard, CDC to strengthen its standards, and the Joint WHO and FAO Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA) to withdraw its limit for lead because it concluded there was no safe level in food. With this backdrop, FDA is reevaluating “its methods for determining when it should take action with respect to measured levels of lead in particular foods, including those consumed by infants and toddlers.”

At EDF, we are pleased to see FDA has undertaken this long overdue reevaluation. EPA’s draft report estimates that more than 5% of children between 2 and 7 years consume more than the 6 µg of lead/day FDA says is tolerable. This estimate excludes drinking water. With 20 million children in those age groups, that means 1 million children exceed the maximum daily intake level. And, by all accounts, this 1993 level does not reflect the mounting scientific evidence that has led other science-based organizations to reduce their standards. We are also encouraged to see that FDA is willing to be more protective of children’s health by conducting its own assessment rather than just following the Codex standards for fruit juices.

Food manufacturers and retailers can better earn consumer trust and avoid more costly reactions to regulations by updating their preventive controls and supply chain management programs now to reduce lead levels in food.

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What we know so far about Rick Perry’s power grid “study”

By Jim Marston

Among Rick Perry’s first acts as Secretary of Energy was calling for a 60-day “study” of whether any policies or regulations have led to the premature retirement of coal or nuclear plants. I – and many others in the clean energy industry – are concerned this so-called study will amount to little more than a pro-coal fluff piece.

To people familiar with energy policy and the coal industry’s rhetoric, Perry’s request is a transparent promotion of coal and a backdoor attack on clean energy resources, like solar, wind, and energy efficiency. Besides, 60 days is barely enough time to fill job vacancies in a new administration, much less conduct a thorough analysis of America’s complex energy policies.

But until the report is released, we can only look at what Perry and other Trump appointees have said and done about energy, generally, and coal, specifically, to predict what arguments Perry’s office will make.

Over the next few weeks, EDF will examine several of the administration’s pro-coal arguments and explain why:

What we know so far about Rick Perry’s power grid “study”
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  • Perry’s coal propaganda has nothing to do with reliability and everything to do with giving the pollution industry what it wants. The “grid reliability” angle is a ruse, and one Perry used a decade ago when he tried to fast track new coal plants in Texas. This issue has been studied relentlessly by grid operators and government agencies around the country, and the grid is handling coal’s decline just fine. The Trump administration is using the reliability argument as cover to distract the American people from their close ties with the coal industry. Just look at Perry’s staff at DOE – it’s a who’s who of the fossil fuel industry lobby. His Chief of Staff, who will manage the study, worked for the Edison Electric Institute – where he led its anti-solar campaign.
  • Perry’s (and Trump’s and Pruitt’s) flip-flop on states’ rights is hypocritical. EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt recently took time off from decimating our clean air and water protections to second Perry’s argument that some state policies that encourage fuels other than coal could be a national security risk and should be reversed. I must admit, suggesting that coal makes America safer is a clever tactic. But it’s not true, and I suspect this tack is little more than a way for Perry and Pruitt to counter all their vile attacks against the federal government when they were governor of Texas and attorney general of Oklahoma. Apparently, states’ rights are so 2016.
  • Coal is terrible for the economy, human health, and the environment. Propping up the ailing coal industry will hurt the economy and American jobs, serving as another broken promise from Trump. Market trends undeniably show that cleaner, smarter energy – like solar and wind – is creating more jobs than fossil fuel electricity. Furthermore, we know doubling down on dirty coal means more asthma attacks, more health problems for elderly Americans, and a more polluted future.

The Trump administration may look chaotic, but its actions suggest it is meticulously and unapologetically laying the groundwork for four years of pro-coal policy. This so-called study is just another step of the plan. See also Trump’s latest 2018 budget proposal – leaked last week – which aims to cut funding for DOE’s renewable and energy efficiency program by 70 percent.

So stay tuned. It’s going to be an interesting few weeks.

Photo credit: Gage Skidmore

This post originally appeared on our EDF Voices blog.

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