Tag Archives: pruitt

Trump administration to replace Clean Power Plan with ‘dirty power plan’

This story was originally published by Mother Jones and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

President Donald Trump claimed in September that he did away with the Clean Power Plan, one of the Obama administration’s most ambitious efforts for tackling climate change. The plan was the first to set a limit on carbon pollution from existing power plants. Dispensing with the regulation, Trump told a rally in Alabama, was simple as, “boom, gone.”

Of course the reality is more complicated. Because the Clean Power Plan is a finalized regulation from the EPA, the agency also has to put forward its justification for repealing it. During an appearance on Monday at the coal-mining town of Hazard, Kentucky, administrator Scott Pruitt announced his plans to sign the draft proposal to repeal the 2015 climate rule.

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“The war on coal is over,” Pruitt said. “Tomorrow in Washington, D.C., I will be signing a proposed rule to roll back the Clean Power Plan. No better place to make that announcement than Hazard, Kentucky.”

The Clean Power Plan was crafted to cut carbon pollution from existing power plants 32 percent by 2030, by having states devise their own proposals for creating a pollution-cutting mix of renewables, gas, nuclear, and energy efficiency. But the Supreme Court stayed the rule in 2015, so its implementation stalled while the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit heard the case brought by 26 states and coal companies like Murray Energy, which is owned by Trump donor Bob Murray. So far, the court hasn’t ruled, waiting to see what the Trump administration does next.

Another wrinkle is that the Trump administration eventually has to do something because it technically can’t ignore the EPA’s determination that greenhouse gases endanger public health, a finding compelled by a landmark Supreme Court decision in 2007. If they do nothing, they still risk lawsuits for not enforcing the Clean Air Act.

As I reported in August:

Whatever the administration decides, it will need to publish a written justification, which will be scrutinized by environmental groups in a likely lawsuit on the decision. The administration faces a similar quandary that plagued the GOP during the health care fight: Repeal the Clean Power Plan outright, or replace it with a shell of a rule?

According to a leaked draft of the EPA’s proposal, the Trump administration is choosing the first option — but with a twist. The 43-page document lays out the reasoning for repealing the rule by stressing the costs of implementation without factoring in the benefits from air pollution reduction and its contribution to combating climate change. The public is also invited to comment on alternatives for replacing it, without the EPA proposing any replacement of its own.

Janet McCabe, former head of the EPA office of air and radiation, explained that seeking input before even proposing a replacement “is not a legally necessary step.” Agencies use this step “sometimes to seek broad input before they put their own thoughts down into a proposal, which necessarily signals a particular policy and legal direction.”

A former EPA attorney that helped craft the Clean Power Plan told Mother Jones that the agency’s invitation to the public to comment is actually its own stalling tactic. The extra step pushes back the EPA’s regulatory timeline for nine months, at least. The reason the status quo appeals to the administration’s coal allies is that the implementation of the Clean Power Plan was delayed by the Supreme Court while current legal challenges played out. The coal industry only gains by the EPA delaying a replacement climate regulation, because the longer it’s put off, the longer it can pollute without limit. By stalling, Pruitt kicks the can down the road, by betting that the status quo of no rule in place is better than a replacement.

“Pruitt doesn’t believe in this stuff, so he’s actually in a paradoxical position,” says Joe Goffman, the former EPA attorney who is now at Harvard Law School’s environmental program. “If they do propose a replacement for the Clean Power Plan, what he’ll be doing is putting his signature on the proposal which will require to some extent power plants to address their carbon emissions.”

Nothing Pruitt is proposing now changes the underlying legal and scientific reasoning for why the EPA needs to do something on carbon emissions from the coal sector. Natural Resource Defense Council’s Climate and Clean Air Director David Doniger says the administration’s strategy is basically “replacing the Clean Power Plan with a dirty power plan.”

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Trump administration to replace Clean Power Plan with ‘dirty power plan’

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Trump wants to ignore the effects of climate change when permitting infrastructure projects.

The state’s attorney general, Xavier Becerra, filed a lawsuit on Friday to get the agency to say how it plans to handle Administrator Scott Pruitt’s potential conflicts of interest. Pruitt is now in charge of enforcing rules that he tried to unravel with numerous lawsuits as Oklahoma’s attorney general.

“Administrator Pruitt’s ability to serve as an impartial decision maker merits close examination,” Becerra said in a statement.

In April, Becerra filed a broad Freedom of Information Act request for documents tied to Pruitt’s potential conflicts of interest and efforts to follow federal ethics laws. Generally, agencies must respond to a FOIA request within 20 business days, though they have some wiggle room. But four months later, the EPA has yet to turn over anything.

Liz Bowman, an EPA spokesperson, told the Los Angeles Times that the agency had twice told Becerra’s office they were working on assembling the documents. She said the lawsuit was “draining resources that could be better spent protecting human health and the environment.”

The suit from the Golden State is just part of the legal backlash Pruitt’s staring down: He’s already been sued over ozone regulations and the suspension of methane restrictions for new oil and gas wells.

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Trump wants to ignore the effects of climate change when permitting infrastructure projects.

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Your previously worthless tweets could be used for science.

The state’s attorney general, Xavier Becerra, filed a lawsuit on Friday to get the agency to say how it plans to handle Administrator Scott Pruitt’s potential conflicts of interest. Pruitt is now in charge of enforcing rules that he tried to unravel with numerous lawsuits as Oklahoma’s attorney general.

“Administrator Pruitt’s ability to serve as an impartial decision maker merits close examination,” Becerra said in a statement.

In April, Becerra filed a broad Freedom of Information Act request for documents tied to Pruitt’s potential conflicts of interest and efforts to follow federal ethics laws. Generally, agencies must respond to a FOIA request within 20 business days, though they have some wiggle room. But four months later, the EPA has yet to turn over anything.

Liz Bowman, an EPA spokesperson, told the Los Angeles Times that the agency had twice told Becerra’s office they were working on assembling the documents. She said the lawsuit was “draining resources that could be better spent protecting human health and the environment.”

The suit from the Golden State is just part of the legal backlash Pruitt’s staring down: He’s already been sued over ozone regulations and the suspension of methane restrictions for new oil and gas wells.

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Your previously worthless tweets could be used for science.

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Glacier National Park is overcrowded. Thanks, climate change.

During a Thursday interview on a Texas radio show the EPA administrator said his agency wants objective science to buttress its mission. Sounds like something Pruitt and scientists can agree on, right?

Not exactly. Right after endorsing peer-reviewed science Pruitt dropped this: “Science should not be something that’s just thrown about to try to dictate policy in Washington, D.C.”

Experts at NOAA, the Department of the Interior, and Pruitt’s own agency have said they think science is exactly what policy should be based on.

On air, Pruitt touched on his usual topics: Superfund, how the Paris Agreement is a bad deal for the U.S., and, of course, CO2. The radio station’s meteorologist asked Pruitt why the country has such a preoccupation with the greenhouse gas. “It serves political ends,” Pruitt said. “The past administration used it as a wedge issue.”

Besides the conflicting statements on science, it was a pretty classic Pruitt interview. But we can finally put one burning question to rest about our newish EPA administrator: Does he separate his trash into the proper bins? “I have,” Pruitt said coyly. “I have recycled.”

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Glacier National Park is overcrowded. Thanks, climate change.

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Look at All the Ways Trump’s Staff Is Avoiding Answering This Basic Question

Mother Jones

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Nobody at the White House seems to have asked President Donald Trump about his position on climate change. For years, Trump has been calling global warming a hoax, sometimes alleging that it was invented by China.

So why not just confirm that this is still his opinion? Especially when, after withdrawing the United States from the most important climate deal in history, aides might want to use the opportunity to show that the president understands the basic science.

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt and White House press secretary Sean Spicer had several opportunities to share the president’s current thinking on the issue. At Friday’s press briefing, four different reporters asked Pruitt four variations on this basic question from ABC’s Mary Bruce: “Yes or no, does the president believe that climate change is real and a threat to the United States?”

And four different times, Pruitt basically gave this response: “All the discussions we had over the last several weeks was focused on one singular issue: Is Paris good or not for this country?”

But Pruitt isn’t alone. Over the last several days, many of his closest advisers have revealed they spend no time discussing global warming with the president.

At Tuesday’s press briefing, when a reporter asked if Trump believes that human activity contributes to global warming, Spicer replied, “Honestly, I haven’t asked him. I can get back to you.” When he appeared at the podium again on Friday, Spicer still didn’t have an answer.

On Thursday, after the Paris decision was announced, CNN asked Gary Cohn, Trump’s top economic adviser, whether or not the president believes climate change is real. “You are going to have to ask him,” Cohn responded.

During a press briefing following the Paris announcement, a reporter asked about Trump’s beliefs on climate change. “I have not talked to the president about his personal views on climate change,” a White House official said.

Earlier on Friday, Trump’s adviser Kellyanne Conway also refused to answer if Trump thinks global warming is a hoax. When pressed by news anchor George Stephanopolous on Good Morning America, she assured him “The president believes in clean environment, clean air, clean water.”

Many of his advisers may not broach climate change with Trump, but recently, K.T. McFarland, his deputy national security adviser, slipped him two Time cover magazine stories about global warming to get the president riled up.

The only problem? One of the stories turned out to be an internet hoax.

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Look at All the Ways Trump’s Staff Is Avoiding Answering This Basic Question

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Unrecorded diesel emissions kill 38,000 people a year.

In early May, laborers harvesting cabbage in a field near Bakersfield, California, caught a whiff of an odor. Some suddenly felt nauseated.

A local news station reported that winds blew the pesticide Vulcan — which was being sprayed on a mandarin orchard owned by the produce company Sun Pacific — into Dan Andrews Farms’ cabbage patch.

Vulcan’s active ingredient, chlorpyrifos, has been banned for residential use for more than 15 years. It was scheduled to be off-limits to agriculture this year — until the EPA gave it a reprieve in March. Kern County officials are still confirming whether Sun Pacific’s insecticide contained chlorpyrifos.

More than 50 farmworkers were exposed, and 12 reported symptoms, including vomiting and fainting. One was hospitalized. “Whether it’s nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, seek medical attention immediately,” a Kern County Public Health official warned.

If chlorpyrifos’ presence is confirmed, the EPA may have some explaining to do. The Dow Chemical compound is a known neurotoxin, and several studies connect exposure to it with lower IQ in children and other neurological deficits.

The Scott Pruitt–led agency, however, decided that — and stop me if you’ve heard this one before — the science wasn’t conclusive.

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Unrecorded diesel emissions kill 38,000 people a year.

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This Lead-Poisoned City Could Be Trump’s Flint

Mother Jones

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In East Chicago, Indiana, where 90 percent of this population of 29,000 are people of color and one-third live below the poverty line, a lead crisis is unfolding and residents are concerned that the Environmental Protection Agency under Scott Pruitt is unlikely to respond.

For decades, industrial plants polluted the air and soil with lead and arsenic in East Chicago neighborhoods that included a public housing complex and an elementary school. In 2014, the EPA declared the lead plant in the area a Superfund site and began the cleanup, but a Reuters investigation in 2016 found that children living near the Superfund site still had elevated levels of lead in their blood. The EPA subsequently tested the water and found that not only did the homes in the vicinity have elevated levels of lead in their drinking water, but so did the entire city—much as Flint did during its 2014 water crisis. The EPA estimated that up to 90 percent of East Chicago homes received water through lead service lines.

In December 2016, before the EPA’s findings were made public, Mayor Anthony Copeland sent a letter to then-Gov. Mike Pence, the vice president-elect, asking him to declare a state of emergency in the city so communities could acquire financial assistance for residents being forced to relocate because of the lead contamination at the Superfund site. Pence denied the request, but it was subsequently approved by his successor, Eric Holcomb.

This month, a coalition of East Chicago residents sent a petition to the EPA renewing their request for help and asking for water filters, expanded blood level testing for children, and assurance that those affected had access to Medicaid. The petition charges that neither the city nor the state provided an adequate response to the discovery of lead in the drinking water and that the EPA has the authority to act, just as it did in Flint.

But the EPA that the community petitioned has radically changed. The appointment of Administrator Scott Pruitt, who often “disagrees” with scientific fact and was determined to gut the agency, set the stage for cutting programs that deter pollution and rolling back regulations that keep air and drinking water safe. Leaked versions of the EPA budget showed plans to slash funds for lead pollution cleanup efforts and environmental justice programs, both of which could assist the residents of East Chicago. The head of the EPA’s justice office resigned after more than two decades of service, saying the proposed cuts are a signal “that communities with environmental justice concerns may not get the attention they deserve.”

“East Chicago is precisely the kind of community to be affected by cuts,” says Anjali Waikar, an attorney from the Natural Resources Defense Council. “This is the heart of what environmental justice is. This is an opportunity for the federal government to exercise muscle and avoid another Flint disaster.”

But will it?

The EPA’s Office of Environmental Justice manages several programs aimed at protecting the human health and environment in communities overburdened by environmental pollution. The Environmental Justice Small Grants Program awards funding to community-based organizations that work with communities facing such issues. With the support of such a grant, a 2013 project funded an education campaign on childhood lead poisoning in Baltimore that helped nearly 16,000 residents.

The EPA’s slow response was widely criticized in the aftermath of the Flint disaster. When he made a campaign stop in Flint, Donald Trump pledged to fix the city’s water problems if he won. “It used to be that cars were made in Flint and you couldn’t drink the water in Mexico,” he said. “And now the cars are made in Mexico and you can’t drink the water in Flint. It’s terrible.” During his confirmation hearings, Pruitt attributed the crisis to EPA’s failure to act quickly. “There should have been a more rapid response,” he said.

Shortly after the EPA received the petition from East Chicago, a spokesperson for the agency told Indiana Public Broadcasting that the agency “will review the petition and will continue to work with the city and state to protect the health of East Chicago residents.”

But East Chicago and Flint are likely not anomalies. A 2016 NRDC report found that 18 million Americans got their water from sources that had lead violations the previous year. The violations ranged from failure to treat water to reduce lead levels to failure to report lead results to the government or public.

“The states have shown that if there’s not a strong federal minimum of water standards, it will fall below that,” says Jennifer Chavez of Earthjustice. She notes that the Trump administration’s aggressive approach to cutting regulations “is just ignoring history and evidence of what happens when regulations aren’t in place.”

Early in his campaign, Trump was clear about his dislike of environmental regulations. “Environmental Protection, what they do is a disgrace,” he told Fox News Sunday‘s Chris Wallace. “Every week they come out with new regulations.” Historically, poor communities and communities of color have been especially vulnerable to pollution and environmental waste. With abundant cheap land, poor neighborhoods are regular dumping grounds for industrial pollutants. And long-term neglect means cities with lead pipes often are ignored.

“The legacy of racial discrimination and marginalization that leaves them with fewer resources also leaves them underinvested,” says Khalil Shahyd, an environmental justice expert at the Natural Resources Defense Council. Communities with few resources are usually unable to fight back as effectively as wealthier ones. For example, the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline was originally slated to go through Bismarck, North Dakota. Residents there fought back and the route was reworked and is now slated to pass through tribal land belonging to the Standing Rock Sioux tribe. In the past, environmental justice activists have sued the EPA and various entities over environmental violations and in some cases have won.

For instance, the city of Tyler, Texas, is predominantly black and poor and was accused of violating the Clean Water Act for pumping raw sewage into the city’s water supply. A few days before Trump’s inauguration, the city settled with the EPA and the Department of Justice and agreed to pay a fine and upgrade the sanitary sewer system.

But for residents of East Chicago, the restructuring of the EPA could hinder their efforts to provide safe drinking water, and time is running out. “The disastrous effects of lead in our soil have already taken a toll on our community,” said East Chicago resident Sherry Hunter in an NRDC press release. “But lead coming through our taps takes this mess to a whole new, unacceptably horrible level.”

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This Lead-Poisoned City Could Be Trump’s Flint

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Climate activists carved a clever message into a Trump golf course.

During a Wednesday visit to Michigan, President Trump will announce that efficiency standards established by the Obama administration will undergo further review, according to a senior White House official.

The Obama standards for vehicles manufactured between 2022 and 2025 were originally adopted in 2012 with a promise to automakers that a review before April 2018 would assess whether they could realistically meet the goal. Days ahead of Trump’s inauguration, Obama EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy announced the review was complete. The standards — requiring new cars and light trucks to get an average of 36 miles per gallon, up from 26 today — would remain unchanged.

The auto industry was incensed, claiming there hadn’t been proper consultation or data collection. In February, automakers reached out to new EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt and asked him to reconsider. Now, they’re getting a second chance at relaxed guidelines.

Another review of the standards could take years. To stand up to legal challenge, the government will have to prove the data undergirding the EPA’s original review was inadequate.

But the Trump administration contends the new review is no big deal. “I don’t think we’re saying we’re going to pull [regulations] back,” said the White House official. “We’re just doing the review that was originally agreed to.”

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Climate activists carved a clever message into a Trump golf course.

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The EPA Used to Tweet About the Environment. Now It Just Tweets About Scott Pruitt

Mother Jones

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One of the first actions the Trump administration took when it entered office was to crack down on the Environmental Protection Agency, starting with its social media feeds and website.

The agency’s work on climate and energy policy has slowed to a crawl, but it has been replaced with a different focus: The promotion of the new EPA administrator, Scott Pruitt. With one exception, all of the EPA’s tweets and Facebook posts since Pruitt’s confirmation have been about his various appearances or sharing quotes from the EPA chief or President Donald Trump. The only time EPA tweeted about an environmental issue, it was to promote Trump’s executive order attempting to roll back a Clean Water Act rule. (On Monday, outside of the three-week period we used for this analysis, the EPA finally tweeted about a local grant.)

This is unusual. During the Obama administration, the EPA Twitter account certainly publicized and promoted Administrator Gina McCarthy, but it was a far smaller portion of its work. Here’s a comparison of Tweets over a three-week period:

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Social media was then used as a tool for educating the public about public health problems and environmental initiatives, but under Pruitt, public education work is at a standstill.

“We tried to provide regular updates on the wide range of actions we were taking to protect people’s health and the environment all across the country,” Liz Purchia, a communications official for Obama’s EPA, said in an email. “People want to know that they are being heard; and social media is an essential tool for doing that. Right now what we’re seeing is a bunch of posts being thrown at us by Trump’s EPA without any effort to engage with the American people. All you have to do is take a look at EPA’s social media channels since Trump’s team took over and you can visually see the stark shift in control.”

Trump’s team froze all social media accounts and public communications when the new administration took office. The agency is posting updates again now that Pruitt is in charge, but its work on clean air, science, and climate change is far from the focus. The flurry of Twitter activity welcoming Pruitt after he was sworn in has since slowed mostly to promoting his speaking engagements. On Monday, which was out of the range for this comparison, the EPA had one additional tweet about policy, but kept up its Pruitt-focused ratio with one quote and retweet from Pruitt.

Under McCarthy, the EPA feeds were mostly run by career officials in coordination with the administrator’s political staff. The EPA then took a different tack. Over a similar time period when Gina McCarthy took over as administrator in 2013, the main house account tweeted 16 times about McCarthy herself and retweeted her nine times—most of which were during a public Q&A she conducted on Twitter. The overwhelming number of tweets was about the agency’s work. Here is a sampling:

All this suggests Pruitt and Trump’s team are carefully monitoring the public-facing side of the agency. An EPA career staffer, who requested anonymity, told Mother Jones that edits to the website must be approved first, and the website is “more tightly controlled” than it was before January.

There are a handful of exceptions: Regional offices in particular, where the Trump administration has not yet installed political appointees, are occasionally promoting local grants and cleanup projects.

Of course, the EPA is far more than its social media feeds. Its 15,000 employees are in charge of distributing grants, conducting scientific research, and enforcing the law. But social media is also a rough approximation of the priorities the agency wants to share with the public. The change of EPA’s emphasis on social media has also been more pronounced than that in other branches of the federal government, even ones focused on similar work. The Interior Department, for instance, is still sharing images of the nation’s national parks, and NOAA is still tweeting climate stats. The EPA hasn’t mentioned climate change once since Trump became president.

Some of the EPA’s followers on Facebook and Twitter have noticed the abrupt shift:

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The EPA Used to Tweet About the Environment. Now It Just Tweets About Scott Pruitt

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Watch Stephen Colbert take a swipe at EPA chief Scott Pruitt.

Mustafa Ali helped to start the EPA’s environmental justice office and its environmental equity office in the 1990s. For nearly 25 years, he advocated for poor and minority neighborhoods stricken by pollution. As a senior adviser and assistant associate administrator, Ali served under both Democratic and Republican presidents — but not under President Donald Trump.

His departure comes amid news that the Trump administration plans to scrap the agency’s environmental justice work. The administration’s proposed federal budget would slash the EPA’s $8 billion budget by a quarter and eliminate numerous programs, including Ali’s office.

The Office of Environmental Justice gives small grants to disadvantaged communities, a life-saving program that Trump’s budget proposal could soon make disappear.

Ali played a role in President Obama’s last major EPA initiative, the EJ 2020 action agenda, a four-year plan to tackle lead poisoning, air pollution, and other problems. He now joins Hip Hop Caucus, a civil rights nonprofit that nurtures grassroots activism through hip-hop music, as a senior vice president.

In his letter of resignation, Ali asked the agency’s new administrator, Scott Pruitt, to listen to poor and non-white people and “value their lives.” Let’s see if Pruitt listens.

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Watch Stephen Colbert take a swipe at EPA chief Scott Pruitt.

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