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Trump Administration joins fossil fuel companies in fight against climate science and human health
by NYT, AP, Inside Climate News
7 June 2018
The Chemical Industry scores a Big Win at the E.P.A. (NYT)
The Trump administration, after heavy lobbying by the chemical industry, is scaling back the way the federal government determines health and safety risks associated with the most dangerous chemicals on the market, documents from the Environmental Protection Agency show.
Under a law passed by Congress during the final year of the Obama administration, the E.P.A. was required for the first time to evaluate hundreds of potentially toxic chemicals and determine if they should face new restrictions, or even be removed from the market. The chemicals include many in everyday use, such as dry-cleaning solvents, paint strippers and substances used in health and beauty products like shampoos and cosmetics.
But as it moves forward reviewing the first batch of 10 chemicals, the E.P.A. has in most cases decided to exclude from its calculations any potential exposure caused by the substances’ presence in the air, the ground or water, according to more than 1,500 pages of documents released last week by the agency.
Instead, the agency will focus on possible harm caused by direct contact with a chemical in the workplace or elsewhere. The approach means that the improper disposal of chemicals — leading to the contamination of drinking water, for instance — will often not be a factor in deciding whether to restrict or ban them.
The approach is a big victory for the chemical industry, which has repeatedly pressed the E.P.A. to narrow the scope of its risk evaluations. Nancy B. Beck, the Trump administration’s appointee to help oversee the E.P.A.’s toxic chemical unit, previously worked as an executive at the American Chemistry Council, one of the industry’s main lobbying groups.
A spokesman for the E.P.A. claimed that the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act and other laws already provided the agency with the authority to regulate chemicals found in the air, rivers and drinking water, so there was no need to revisit them under the 2016 law, which updated the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976.
But three former agency officials, including a former supervisor of the toxic chemical program, said that the E.P.A.’s approach would result in a flawed analysis of the threat presented by chemicals.
“It is ridiculous,” said Wendy Cleland-Hamnett, who retired last year after nearly four decades at the E.P.A., where she ran the toxic chemical unit during her last year. “You can’t determine if there is an unreasonable risk without doing a comprehensive risk evaluation.”
Senator Tom Udall, Democrat of New Mexico, and Representative Frank Pallone Jr., Democrat of New Jersey, who played leading roles in passing the 2016 law, said the E.P.A. was ignoring its directive for a comprehensive analysis of risks.
“Congress worked hard in bipartisan fashion to reform our nation’s broken chemical safety laws, but Pruitt’s E.P.A. is failing to put the new law to use as intended,” Mr. Udall said in a statement referring to Scott Pruitt, the E.P.A. administrator.
Cumulatively, the approach being taken for the 10 chemicals means the E.P.A.’s risk analysis will not take into account an estimated 68 million pounds a year of emissions, according to an analysis by the Environmental Defense Fund, based on agency data.
Dr. Beck declined requests for comment. She had pushed the E.P.A. during the Obama administration to narrow the scope of the risk evaluations, in a fashion similar to the approach under her watch.
Also helping oversee the risk evaluation effort is Erik Baptist, a former senior lawyer at the American Petroleum Institute, another big player in the chemical industry.
The American Chemistry Council said in a statement last week that the E.P.A.’s approach met “the requirements of the law,” adding that it wanted the risk assessments to be “protective and practical.”
Under the approach, the E.P.A. will examine what harm can be caused, for example, to anyone directly exposed to perchloroethylene — a dry-cleaning solvent and metal degreaser designated by the E.P.A. as a likely carcinogen — during manufacturing or when using it in dry cleaning, carpet cleaning or handling certain ink-removal products.
But the agency will not focus on exposures that occur from traces of the chemical found in drinking water in 44 states as a result of improper disposal over decades, the E.P.A. documents say. The decision conflicts with a risk assessment plan detailed by the agency a year ago, which included drinking water. And the change came after the American Chemistry Council argued in February last year that “the E.P.A. has discretion to select the conditions of use that it will consider.”
The agency will also not consider the hazards of perchloroethylene discharged into streams or lakes, landfills or the air from dry-cleaning stores or manufacturing or processing plants, the documents say.
The documents contain similar conclusions about nine of the 10 chemicals under review. One of these is 1,4-dioxane, which can be found in small amounts in antifreeze, deodorants, shampoos and cosmetics and is considered “likely to be carcinogenic to humans.” Another is trichloroethylene, which is used to make a refrigerant chemical and remove grease from metal parts and is associated with cancers of the liver, kidneys and blood.
Other changes identified in the E.P.A. documents narrow the definitions of certain chemicals, including asbestos. Some asbestos-like fibers will not be included in the risk assessments, one agency staff member said, nor will the 8.8 million pounds a year of asbestos deposited in hazardous landfills or the 13.1 million pounds discarded in routine dump sites.
The most likely outcome of the changes will be that the agency finds lower levels of risks associated with many chemicals, and as a result, imposes fewer new restrictions or prohibitions, several current and former agency officials said.
“They don’t want to look comprehensively at the risk, as it may prove to be significant and then they have to deal with it,” said Robert M. Sussman, a former chemical industry lawyer and E.P.A. official who now works as a consultant to Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families, an advocacy group.
A collection of more than a dozen groups — representing environmental, public-health and labor organizations — are suing the E.P.A. to challenge earlier changes in the toxic chemical evaluation program. The case is before the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in San Francisco.
May 23, 2018
Members of the EPA Science Advisory Board are raising concerns about EPA’s regulatory rollback for lacking adequate scientific basis, writes Marianne Lavelle for Inside Climate News.
Scott Pruitt, the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, faces a broadening challenge to his efforts to roll back greenhouse gas regulations, as agency science advisers expand the list of policies they want to vet at an upcoming meeting.
A work group of the EPA''s Science Advisory Board, in a May 18 memo, has added three more of his actions to a list they want reviewed by the full board: the weakening of auto efficiency and emissions standards, Pruitt''s elimination of a rule to curb truck pollution, and the cost-benefit analysis underpinning the Clean Power Plan, which the Trump administration is trying to undo. In an April 30 memo, the work group called for the full board to review Pruitt''s repealing of the Clean Power Plan.
The main purpose of the board is to review the quality and relevance of scientific research used by the EPA to draft regulations.
The group''s actions signal that the full board''s May 30 meeting will be partly devoted to the scientific community''s harshest critiques of President Donald Trump''s deregulatory agenda.
The same 10-member work group, which includes four of Pruitt''s own appointees, already had called for a full board review of his effort to restrict the agency''s use of scientific studies.
In the new memo, the agency science advisers—all outside academics and consultants with expertise in the science and technology related to the proposed EPA actions—picked apart the Pruitt proposals.
In every case, they noted that the assertions Pruitt''s EPA made to support its regulatory rollbacks lacked peer review or independent evaluation. They also noted the agency''s failure to take into account the impact of its actions on future greenhouse gas emissions, public health and safety due to climate change, or the indirect impact due to an increase of other pollutants.
"These would seem to be logical and necessary areas for scientific and technical assessment," the work group said. "Such information must be transparent, accessible to the public, and appropriately peer-reviewed."
As for one of the more arcane actions they challenged—a recalibration of what economists call the "social cost of carbon," a calculation of the future damages of climate change expressed in today''s dollars—they warned that he was writing off the costs that global warming would inflict on "future generations which will be most impacted."
The work group pointed to holes in Pruitt''s evidence for his "final determination" that President Obama''s vehicle fuel efficiency plan for the 2022-2025 model years went too far and should be revised.
The work group members also questioned Pruitt''s purported concern about the impact on the poor.
"The EPA did not express concern regarding the disproportionate impact on low income households from GHG emissions insofar as those households are less able to adapt to climate change than high-income households," the work group said.
The work group also challenged Pruitt''s plan to repeal the emissions standards for so-called "glider" trucks—trucks. These have been found to be 40 to 55 times more polluting than new trucks. And although they constitute only 5 percent of heavy-duty vehicles on U.S. roads, if not regulated they would generate a third of the U.S. truck fleet''s emissions of smog-forming nitrogen oxides, according to the Obama administration''s analysis.
EPA''s science advisers noted that the agency itself said that "there is uncertainty about what scientific work, if any, would support" the decision to rescind the regulation on glider trucks.
Jettisoning the Social Cost of Carbon
The work group also urged the Science Advisory Board to review the cost-benefit analysis that underpinned the decision to repeal the Clean Power Plan.
That document, is known as the "regulatory impact analysis," and the Pruitt team manipulated several of its core calculations to justify jettisoning the Obama regulation.
The social cost of carbon was one of the cost-benefit estimates that Pruitt''s team radically revised. For example, they skewed the discount rate—the economic formula at the heart of converting future costs to current terms—in a way that converts huge expenses in the distant future to mere pennies on the dollar. That makes it seem as if today''s adults should be willing to pay only trivial amounts to head off catastrophic harm to their grandchildren.
This "essentially drives assumed benefits towards zero for the future generations which will be most heavily impacted by current GHG emissions," the work group said. It noted that the National Research Council, in comprehensive reviews of the matter, concluded that such discounting would lead to "much weaker policy than would otherwise be the case."
The Trump administration''s reckoning of the social cost of carbon, the work group noted, is 87 percent to 97 percent below previously accepted estimates, "which had been developed and revised over many years by a multi-agency work group of scientists and economists, and was recently subject to extensive reviews by the National Research Council."
The change made by Pruitt''s EPA "is not consistent with the NRC recommendations," the group said.
The work group said EPA''s new approach of considering only benefits to the United States, and not the world, in its cost-benefit analysis, was a flawed method of analyzing the cost of regulation. "If each country considered only local climate-related benefits of reducing its local GHG emissions, none would act," the work group wrote.
The call to review the science behind Pruitt''s attempt to repeal the Clean Power Plan addressed actions on his regulatory agenda early last year.
The work group complained that they had been given "limited information" on a replacement for the regulation, and challenged the EPA''s contention that it was "too early in the process" to examine the science behind a draft regulation that is at the White House for review.
The scientific rationale for his changes to regulations on methane, a potent greenhouse gas, also needed to be reviewed, this memo said, because EPA had previously presented scientific findings in support of stricter regulations. http://bit.ly/2xiYbIf
21 May 2018
Trump Administration joins Fossil Fuel Companies in Climate Fight against Cities, by David Hasemyer.
Just before a critical hearing to determine the fate of a pair of climate lawsuits in California, the United States government has weighed in as a heavyweight ally on the side of the fossil fuel companies.
Lawyers from the Justice Department''s Environment and Natural Resources Division filed a friend of the court brief last week in support of five of the world''s largest oil and gas companies, which are seeking to have lawsuits by the cities of San Francisco and Oakland dismissed.
U.S. District Court Judge William Alsup is scheduled to hear arguments on Thursday on a motion by the companies to throw out the cases.
Federal lawyers argue in their brief that if the two lawsuits succeed, it could stymie domestic and international energy production.
"The United States has strong economic and national security interests in promoting the development of fossil fuels, among other energy resources," according to the 24-page brief filed May 10.
The brief cites President Trump''s March 2017 Presidential Executive Order on Promoting Energy Independence and Economic Growth, suggesting the fight being waged by the two cities against the companies runs counter to the administration''s support of unrestricted fossil fuel development.
"It''s hardly surprising that Donald Trump''s Justice Department is cozying up to Big Oil," said John Coté, a spokesman for the San Francisco City Attorney''s Office. "But this a legal matter, not a political one."
The sister cities filed suit last year against ExxonMobil, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, Royal Dutch Shell and BP, blaming them for the effects of climate change. The parallel lawsuits seek billions of dollars to build sea walls and other coastal infrastructure to protect neighborhoods and property from sea level rise.
The lawsuits claim the companies produced fossil fuels in disregard of their own understanding of the consequences of global warming.
"This egregious state of affairs is no accident," according to the San Francisco lawsuit. "Defendants have produced massive amounts of fossil fuels for many years. And recent disclosures of internal industry documents demonstrate that they have done so despite knowing since at least the late 1970s and early 1980s if not earlier that massive fossil fuel usage would cause dangerous global warming."
The lawsuits are part of a trend across the country in which cities and counties are turning to the courts to hold fossil fuel companies responsible for damages associated with climate change. More than a dozen similar lawsuits are now on the books from Washington State to New York. http://bit.ly/2JdUKaH
Emails show cooperation among EPA, climate-change deniers. (Associated Press)
Newly released emails show senior Environmental Protection Agency officials working closely with conservative groups that dismisses climate change to rally like-minded people for public hearings on science and global warming, to counter negative news coverage and tout Administrator Scott Pruitt’s stewardship of the agency.
John Konkus, EPA’s deputy associate administrator for public affairs, repeatedly reached out to senior staffers at the Heartland Institute, according to the emails.
“If you send a list, we will make sure an invitation is sent,” Konkus wrote to then-Heartland president Joseph Bast in May 2017, seeking suggestions on scientists and economists the EPA could invite to an annual EPA public hearing on the agency’s science standards.
Follow-up emails show the Heartland Institute mustering scores of potential invitees known for rejecting scientific warnings of man-made climate-change.
The emails underscore how Pruitt and senior agency officials have sought to surround themselves with people who share their vision of curbing environmental regulation and enforcement, leading to complaints from environmentalists that he is ignoring the conclusions of the majority of scientists in and out of his agency especially when it comes to climate-changing carbon emissions.
They findings were obtained by the Environmental Defense Fund and the Southern Environmental Law Center, which sued to enforce a Freedom of Information request and provided them to The Associated Press.
The Heartland Institute calls itself a leading free-market think-tank. It rejects decades of science saying fossil-fuel emissions are altering the climate.
“Of course The Heartland Institute has been working with EPA on policy and personnel decisions,” Tim Huelskamp, a former Kansas Republican congressman who now leads the group, said in a statement to the AP.
“They recognize us as an organization opposing the radical climate alarmism agenda”, Huelskamp wrote. He said Heartland would continue to help Pruitt and his staff.
Mr. Pruitt and his top officials have also met with other groups known for their campaigns against climate-changing emissions and pollutants from fossil fuels.
But Ben Levitan of the Environmental Defense Fund said mainstream climate-change groups have received nothing like the outreach and invitations that conservative climate change denial groups have been getting. http://bit.ly/2GTsipr
Mar 22, 2018
How Pruitt''s EPA is Delaying, Weakening and Repealing Clean Air Rules, by Marianne Lavelle.
In speech after speech, Scott Pruitt, the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, has vowed to double down on a pledge to improve America''s air and water. He''s promised to do so by working with states and following the "rule of law."
"Let''s get back to the fundamentals of what we should be about as an agency," he declared to supporters at this year''s Conservative Political Action Conference.
Pruitt has repeated the promise even as the EPA has been leading a unprecedented unraveling of not just climate regulation, but of the agency''s basic clean air and water mandates. Under Pruitt, the EPA has ignored or denied pleas from several states to address ground-level ozone, or smog, a pollutant at the core of the agency''s work since its inception 48 years ago.
Days before Pruitt''s CPAC speech, the EPA rejected a petition from Connecticut to cut smog pollution from a coal-fired power plant in Pennsylvania that''s been one of the largest sources of East Coast smog. It was the seventh time Pruitt denied or missed a deadline to act on state petitions over smog from coal-fired plants.
"EPA should be in favor of those things we''re asking here in Connecticut, which is to protect the health of our most vulnerable populations—the sick, elderly, and children," said Robert Klee, commissioner of the state''s Department of Energy and Environment. "We''re trying all the legal means that we have at our disposal, and we keep getting the door slammed in our face."
Over the past 13 months, Pruitt''s EPA has taken at least 15 major actions on air pollution—all to delay, weaken or repeal protections, and all opposed by the American Lung Association and other health groups—according to an analysis by the office of Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.). The list includes the Clean Power Plan, the Obama administration''s signature initiative to address climate change, which also would dramatically reduce smog, particulate matter, mercury and other dangerous air pollutants by slashing the amount of coal the country burns.
Eliminating or diluting clean-air protections has been a target of fossil fuel companies and their allies, despite numerous analyses showing that the Clean Air Act has provided trillions of dollars in health and economic benefits that far exceeded the cost of regulation—including averting tens of thousands of premature deaths. The White House''s own draft analysis of clean air regulations enacted between 2006-2016 found that their benefits to human health have outstripped the costs by at least 4-to-1.
"They are in such a mad rush to suspend regulations that are in effect, or to delay implementation of regulations that were duly promulgated that they don''t like—which I would characterize as anything protective of environment and public health—that they just go ahead and do it," said Mitch Bernard, chief counsel for the Natural Resources Defense Council. "They suspend, rescind and delay, even though the law doesn''t permit it."
Even if the courts were to halt Pruitt''s actions—as some already have—new limits to the agency''s regulatory powers are likely to outlast this administration: Some 700 employees have left the agency, part of budget cuts that go hand-in-hand with its deregulatory push. Another 2,000 positions may be eliminated. That would shrink staffing levels to those of the Reagan administration, before Congress expanded EPA''s responsibilities under the 1990 Clean Air Act and other laws.
The EPA''s retreat is being facilitated by lawyers, lobbyists and others with deep connections to oil, gas and coal companies who''ve won appointments to key agency posts. An AP analysis found that one-third of the 59 new EPA hires it tracked had been registered lobbyists or lawyers for fossil fuel producers, chemical manufacturers or other corporate clients. http://bit.ly/2pwu89G http://bit.ly/2JmQ4eU
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Transforming lives in local communities with cooperation and solidarity
by TNI, Open Democracy
What do Barcelona, Cádiz, Cochabamba, Dar-es-Salaam, Grenoble, Lagos, Port Louis, Solapur and Richmond have in common? These nine cities have helped to transform the lives of their city-dwellers in some way - and form part of the the Transformative Cities Initiative 2018.
Transformative Cities features stories of change and transformation realized through the actions of local communities around the world.
Communities in Lagos, Grenoble and Cochabamba have waged their own water wars to guarantee access to this basic human right; Richmond, Cádiz and Port Louis have each seen their own energy revolution of late; Dar-es-Salaam, Solapur and Barcelona have applied transformative approaches to achieve affordable housing for some of their communities.
Transformative Cities highlights the projects of progressive local governments, municipalist coalitions, social movements and civil society organizations working to tackle and find solutions to pressing systemic economic, social, political and ecological challenges. Transformation in one area such as water management does not necessarily mean transformative practice elsewhere in the city.
Nevertheless, the atlas showcases inspiring stories of communities challenging entrenched power and boldly developing alternatives. These range from small villages in Bolivia to international cities like Paris.
The cases highlight how public solutions based on principles of cooperation and solidarity rather than competition and private profit have been successful in meeting people’s basic needs – and perhaps just as importantly in creating a spirit of confidence and empowerment that strengthen communities for many other challenges.
"Utopia lies at the horizon. When I draw nearer by two steps, it retreats two steps. If I proceed ten steps forward, it swiftly slips ten steps ahead. No matter how far I go, I can never reach it. What, then, is the purpose of utopia? It is to cause us to advance." – Eduardo Galeano
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