June 27, 2014
In This Issue
Four former US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) administrators who served under Republican presidents testified before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee in support of the Obama administration’s proposed standards for greenhouse gases (GHG) emissions from existing fossil-fueled power plants.
The former EPA administrators served under Presidents Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush. In their testimony, the administrators reiterated the scientific consensus that human activity is contributing to global warming and affirmed the EPA’s authority to regulate GHG emissions as provided under the Clean Air Act. They also called on Congress to join President Obama and demonstrate global leadership to address the causes of climate change.
“We like to speak of American exceptionalism,” stated William Ruckelshaus, the first and fifth EPA Administrator (1970–1973, 1983–1985). “If we want to be truly exceptional then we should begin the difficult task of leading the world away from the unacceptable effects of our increasing appetites for fossil fuels before it is too late.”
“I must begin by expressing my frustration that the discussion about whether the Environmental Protection Agency has the legal authority to regulate carbon emissions is still taking place in some quarters,” stated former EPA Administrator Christine Todd Whitman (2001–2003). “The issue has been settled. EPA does have the authority. The law says so, and the [US] Supreme Court has said so twice. The matter should be put to rest.” Noting that humans are contributing to climate change, Whitman further added that “when one is contributing to a problem, one has an obligation to be part of the solution that problem. That is what EPA is trying to do.”
“As scientists have confirmed, there have been many such episodes in the past due to natural causes—changes in solar output, shifts in the earth’s orbit, meteor impacts, volcanic eruptions, and the like,” stated former EPA Administrator William Riley [1989–1992]. “But you would have to reject the greenhouse effect outright to conclude that human activities pumping millions of tons of CO2 and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere every year are having little or no impact on the earth’s climate. That is simply not a tenable position. For me, the real question is about the future well-being of our communities, our settlements, our economy—in short, how hospitable this earth remains for future generations and for civilization as we know it.”
“Whether it is the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, or the latest scientific valuation authorized by Congress—the National Climate Assessment, there is clear evidence regarding climate change and its anthropogenic foundation,” stated former EPA Administrator Lee Thomas (1985–1989).
“We know that carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere have increased by 40 percent since pre-industrial times,” Thomas continued. “We know that carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases are warming the atmosphere, contributing to a more than 1.5 degree [Fahrenheit] rise in global temperatures since 1880. We know global sea level has risen by an average of eight inches since 1870 primarily from thermal expansion caused by warmer oceans and the melting of glaciers and the Greenland and West Antarctic ice sheets. We know that ocean acidification is occurring, harming our coral reefs and marine ecosystems. Absorbing about a quarter of our emissions each year, the current rate of acidification is roughly 50 times faster than known historical change.”
Committee Republicans questioned whether EPA was overreaching in its authority to regulate GHG emissions from power plants and expressed concern over the regulation’s possible impact on job creation. They directed their questions mostly to the three witnesses critical of the EPA’s proposed carbon rule: climate skeptic Daniel Botkin, a biology professor with the University of California, Santa Barbara; Louisiana State University banking professor Joseph Mason; and, Alabama State Attorney General Luther Strange.
Under questioning from Senator Ed Markey (D-MA), Riley noted that the Clean Air Act rules enacted in 1990 proceeded a decade of robust gross domestic product growth, countering sentiments that addressing climate change would hurt job creation. Markey further added that as the son of a milkman, he understood how innovations can adversely affect jobs in the short-term. However, he noted how innovations such as the invention of refrigerators revolutionized the way the milk industry operated, arguing that Congress should embrace the potential innovations spurred by efforts limit global-warming gases.
View the full hearing by clicking this link.
This week the US Supreme Court validated the power of the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to regulate greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) in its ruling in the case of Utility Air Regulatory Group v. EPA. It was the third time the high court has upheld the use of the Clean Air Act to combat challenges posed by climate change.
In the majority opinion 5-4 decision, Justice Antonin Scalia ruled that emissions of greenhouse gases alone are not enough to trigger EPA enforcement under the program for smaller businesses, but that the “trigger” threshold is intended for major polluters. He said, “It bears mentioning that EPA is getting almost everything it wanted in this case,” Scalia said in the courtroom. “It sought to regulate sources that it said were responsible for 86 percent of all greenhouse gases emitted from stationary sources. Under our holdings, EPA will be able to regulate sources responsible for 83 percent of those emissions.”
However, in a separate part of the decision, the court ruled 7-2 to require new or rebuilt factories and power plants to use the “best available technology” to limit their emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. Because these “major polluters” are already required to obtain clean-air permits from the government, Scalia wrote the EPA is justified in adding GHG to the list of restricted pollutants. Justices Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas were the two dissenting justices who felt EPA regulatory authority should be restricted.
Business groups praised the ruling for preventing the agency in overreaching in its regulatory authority under the Clean Air Act while environmental groups largely praised the ruling for leaving the overwhelming majority of its regulatory authority intact. The ruling ultimately has no bearing on the proposed rule the agency unveiled earlier in June that seeks to cut carbon emissions from power plants by as much as 30 percent by 2030, compared with 2005 levels.
The four dissenting justices from the overall 5-4 ruling came from the court’s liberal wing who argued it limits the court’s 2007 ruling in Massachusetts v. EPA, which affirmed EPA’s authority to regulate greenhouse gases as an air pollutant under the Clean Air Act.
“The court’s decision to read greenhouse gases out of the Prevention of Significant Deterioration program drains the [Clean Air] Act of its flexibility and chips away at our decision in Massachusetts,” stated Justice Stephen Breyer, author of the dissenting opinion.
In a statement on the ruling, EPA asserted “Today is a good day for all supporters of clean air and public health and those concerned with creating a better environment for future generations.”
The full decision is available by clicking this link.
On June 19th, the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Energy and Power convened for a hearing on the US Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) proposed carbon emission rules for existing power plants, referred to as the “Clean Power Plan” proposal.
Republican committee members expressed concern over the potential detrimental effects the power plant rules would have on the coal industry as well as its effects on utility bills for consumers. Members also expressed skepticism regarding the level of flexibility EPA would grant the states in meeting the power plant requirements.
“In its rollout of this proposal, the EPA has repeatedly emphasized the rule’s ‘flexibility.’ What EPA describes as flexibility is really the agency giving itself arbitrary authority to regulate electricity generation and use as it sees fit,” asserted Energy and Power Subcommittee Chairman Ed Whitfield (R-KY). “We don’t know for certain what this proposal would require of Kentucky and other states, but we do know that EPA will make the final decisions in approving or denying each states implementation plans.”
Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI) sought to draw comparisons between the power plant rule and the Affordable Care Act, asserting “Once again, the preferences of consumers and job-creating businesses are taking a back seat to the dictates of NGOs and federal bureaucrats. And once again, the administration is making promises that costs won’t go up, choices won’t be reduced, rationing won’t be imposed, and jobs won’t be jeopardized.”
Committee Democrats took offense to accusations that the proposed rules would cost jobs. House Energy and Commerce Committee Ranking Member Henry Waxman (D-CA) published a minority-committee fact sheet outlining revenues generated by Clean Air Act enforcement efforts. He quoted coal-burning facility senior officials who assert that the president’s Clean Power Plan will have “a relatively minor” to “no immediate impact” on power plants.
“The fossil fuel industry and House Republicans have a credibility problem when it comes to claims about the economic impacts of the Clean Air Act,” stated Ranking Member Waxman. “I have been in Congress for 40 years. And for 40 years, industry has made doomsday claims that clean air regulations would shut down businesses, destroy jobs, drive prices skyward, and cripple economic growth. And they have been wrong every time.”
Representing the Obama administration at the hearing was Janet McCabe, acting assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation. In her testimony before the committee, McCabe explained how the plan benefits human health and the environment and noted that it was developed through continued engagement with state officials, utility companies and other affected stakeholders.
“Our plan is built on advice and information from states, cities, businesses, utilities, and thousands of people about the actions they are already taking to reduce carbon dioxide emissions,” stated McCabe.
“We know that coal and natural gas play a significant role in a diverse national energy mix,” McCabe continued. “This plan does not change that—it builds on action already underway to modernize aging plants, increase efficiency, and lower pollution, and paves a more certain path for conventional fuels in a clean energy economy.”
View the full hearing this link.
On June 24th the House Science, Space and Technology Committee approved H.R. 4012, the “Secret Science Reform Act,” legislation that intends to increase transparency of scientific processes at the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
The bill passed the committee by a vote of 17–13 along party lines. Republicans asserted the scientific data used by the EPA to formulate its clean air regulations should be public information. The EPA and committee Democrats argued that the agency is forthcoming in answering requests related to its scientific processes. The private-health data of individuals is used by EPA to determine clean air regulations and is protected from public disclosure to protect their privacy.
“The EPA’s regulatory process is both hidden and flawed. It hides the data and then handpicks scientists to review it,” asserted Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX). “The American people foot the bill for the EPA’s billion dollar regulations, and they have the right to see the underlying data. If the EPA has nothing to hide, and if their data really justifies their regulations, why not make the information public?”
“The majority has harassed the EPA for more than two years in an attempt to get access to the raw data used in those studies,” asserted Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX). “Since those studies involved hundreds-of-thousands of human volunteers who submitted sensitive personal health information to the researchers, the raw data is stringently protected from public disclosure. The EPA explained this to the Chairman, but he nonetheless issued a subpoena to the EPA Administrator to turn over data that the EPA had no legal right to access and for which there are strict legal prohibitions against public disclosure.”
Committee Republicans contended there are methods available to publicize the data without compromising personal health information. Environment Subcommittee Ranking Member Suzanne Bonamci (D-OR) offered a substitute amendment to the bill requiring EPA to publish agency-funded peer-reviewed articles, but not the underlying raw data. The amendment was voted down by a voice vote.
No date has been set for when the bill will be brought to the House floor.
View the full mark-up of the bill by clicking this link.
The United Nation’s Environmental Programme (UNEP) published its 2013 annual report, available online in the six official UNEP languages.
The report’s content focuses on international efforts to address various environmental issues including climate change, disasters and conflicts, ecosystem management, environmental governance, hazardous substances and resource efficiency.
The report highlights UNEP’s key achievements over the course of 2013: adoption of the Minamata Convention on Mercury; a global legally binding agreement to reduce mercury emissions; efforts to reduce lead in fuels in paint; and, UNEP’s work to address ozone-depleting substances including hydrochlorofluorocarbons. The opening of a Climate Technology Centre and Network was also mentioned as a milestone of the past year.
To view the full report, click this link.
On June 20th, the Obama administration announced $32 million in funding over the next ten years to protect a subpopulation of sage grouse only found along the state border between California and Southwest Nevada referred to as the “bi-state” or Mono Basin population.
The US Department of Agriculture will provide the majority of the funds with $25.5 million dedicated towards voluntary partnerships with ranchers in both states to conserve sage grouse habitat. The Bureau of Land Management is committing $6.5 million to implement a variety of conservation activities on federal lands.
In October 2013, the US Fish and Wildlife Service proposed a “threatened” listing for the sage grouse bi-state population under the Endangered Species Act due to threats posed by invasive plant species and wildfires that destroy its sagebrush habitat. However, due to a wide range of public comments on the proposal, FWS subsequently postponed making a final determination until April 2015.
Additional information on efforts to conserve the bi-state population is available following this link.
The National Science Foundation (NSF) released a new communications “toolkit” that includes videos, infographics, fact sheets and other materials detailing how agency-funded research contributes to advancing scientific discovery and innovation in the US.
The animated video in the kit details the agency’s merit review process. Other communication tools include charts that illustrate NSF’s role in fostering careers in science, driving research, innovation and facilitating interdisciplinary collaborations. They also issued new brochures that highlight each of its directorates’ roles in scientific breakthroughs such as self-driving cars, artificial retina, seismic wave modeling and improved GPS technology.
View the toolkit through this link.
Nashua River Wild and Scenic River Study Act – Introduced by Rep. Niki Tsongas (D-MA), the bill would designate certain segments of the Nashua River in Massachusetts for study as a potential addition to the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System. The bill passed the House June 23rd by voice vote and has been referred to the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.
H.R. 3301, the North American Energy Infrastructure Act – Introduced by House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI), the bill would eliminate the existing requirement for a presidential permit for a proposed oil or natural gas pipeline project or electric transmission lines that crosses the US border with Mexico or Canada. The bill would require only the cross-border portion of such a project to be subject to review under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). The bill also exempts any modifications or expansions of existing cross-state pipelines or transmission lines from federal approval of NEPA review requirements. The bill passed the House June 24th by a vote of 238–173. Seventeen Democrats joined all but one Republican in supporting the measure.
H.R. 6, the Domestic Prosperity and Global Freedom Act – Introduced by Rep. Cory Gardner (R-CO), the bill changes the US Department of Energy’s existing approval process for applications to export liquefied natural gas by requiring a final determination on pending applications in 30 days. This deadline would override any mandated NEPA environmental reviews. The bill passed the House June 25th by a vote of 266–150. Forty-six Democrats joined all but two Republicans in supporting the bill.
H.R. 4899, the Lowering Gasoline Prices to Fuel an America That Works Act of 2014 – Introduced by House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings (R-WA), the comprehensive bill encompasses multiple pieces of legislation that passed the House over the past year to expand oil and gas drilling. The bill’s provisions would expand oil and gas development off the coasts of California, South Carolina and Virginia; expedite action on drilling permits in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska by reducing the consideration period from 90 to 60 days; direct federal managers to make energy and mineral production the primary focus of land management activities; and prohibit the federal government from enforcing hydraulic fracturing regulations on tribal lands without the consent of the tribal government. The bill passed the House June 26 by a vote of 229-185. Ten Democrats joined all but six Republicans in supporting the bill.
Sources: National Science Foundation, United Nations Environmental Programme, US Department of Agriculture, House Space, Science and Technology Committee, Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, Energy and Environment Daily, E&E News PM, Greenwire, the Hill, POLITICO, the Washington Post