Retired EPA Senior Science Advisor Rita Schoeny attends a March for Science with some friends. Photo: Rita Schoeny

By Rita Schoeny
26 October 2017

(Save EPA) – Since January, we have seen a continual assault on our environmental protections. EPA has put a political operative with no scientific experience in charge of vetting EPA grants, and the agency is reconsidering an Obama-era regulation on coal ash. The well-established legal processes for promulgating environmental regulations, and—very pointedly—the science underlying environmental regulation are being jettisoned by the Trump administration. As scientists, we must stand up for science and ensure that it is not tossed aside in public policy and decision-making.

Rigorous science is the foundation of EPA

While at US EPA, I served as a senior scientist in human health risk assessment.  I was among the cadre of dedicated professionals who worked long, hard, and intelligently to provide the science supporting management of risks from exposure to environmental contaminants. Often, we engaged in the demanding practice of issuing regulation.

Regulations to limit human and environmental exposure are not developed overnight.  The laws that enable US EPA to issue regulations specify requirements and procedures for issuing rules; these can include notice of proposed rulemaking, multiple proposed rules, public comments on proposals, responses to comments, more proposals, more comments, review by other Federal bodies, review by States, review by Tribal governments—review, review, review. Often, the environmental laws also note requirements for the science leading to risk management choices. For example, the Safe Drinking Water Act of 1996 (SDWA) requires several judgments to be met affirmatively before any contaminant can be limited through regulation.

The US EPA Administrator must base his or her judgment, among other factors, on what SDWA calls the best available, peer-reviewed science.  This refers not only to experimental or epidemiologic studies, but also to the US EPA documents analyzing the risks and the best ways to mitigate them.

Requirements to regulate environmental contaminants in other media are no less rigorous.  To regulate emissions from coal- and oil-fired boilers used in electrical power generation, US EPA engaged in major scientific programs to understand the nature of these air pollutants (including toxic mercury), the risks they pose, and how best to deal with them. This began in 1993 and culminated in the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS) finalized in 2012. Building the scientific basis for the rule spanned several administrations and a few careers.  It was frustrating at times, and exhausting, but we kept our focus on the goal of doing the right thing to improve public health.

Regulation protects the public—and we’re watching it be undermined

The message here is that environmental regulation based on sound science is not a trivial exercise, nor should it be. Regulation can be costly, and sometimes may have societal impacts. But ask anyone who has lived in a society without sound environmental regulation, and she will tell you that legally enforceable limits on environmental contaminants are necessary. We estimated that each year the implemented MATS rule prevents 11,000 premature deaths and more than 100,000 heart and asthma attacks. And it greatly reduces release of mercury, which accumulates in fish and poses risk of neurotoxic effects to both developing children and adults.

The process that EPA follows to publish a regulation must also be used to reverse a regulatory action. Creating regulations is not a simple process—but undermining, overturning, and not enforcing regulations is easy and has major consequences for health and the environment. I fear that both the process and the science are being given short shrift as this administration acts to reverse sound regulatory decisions made by US EPA. This dismantling of environmental protection has begun in earnest, and I expect it will have severe, long-lasting effects.

Scientists must defend evidence-based regulation

There are ways to impede the regulatory roll-back. Writing, calling, emailing elected officials is one avenue. Another avenue is joining groups such as Save EPA, an organization of retired and former US EPA employees with expertise in environmental science, law, and policy. [Also: Defend the Clean Power Plan. –Des]

We are using our collective skills to educate the public about environmental science, environmental protections, and the current Administration’s assault on US EPA and our public health. You can help by reading our guide to resisting de-regulation; submitting public comments on rules being considered for rollback; and supporting our efforts to defend environmental regulations. As scientists, we must continue to insist on the validity and thoroughness of our discipline, and we must repeatedly communicate about this to decision-makers. In one of many hearings and reviews of mercury hazard, my late scientist friend and US EPA veteran Kathryn Mahaffey quoted John Adams: “Facts are stubborn things.” She was right.

I Am a 30-Year Veteran Scientist from US EPA; I Can’t Afford to Be Discouraged


Defend the Clean Power Plan

Deadline for Public Comment on Proposed Repeal is 15 December 2017

The Clean Power Plan

In August 2015, EPA issued the final Clean Power Plan (CPP) to reduce climate changing carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from existing coal- and gas-fired electric power plants.  CO2 is the most prevalent of the greenhouse gases that are the primary cause of climate change, threatening the lives, health, and well-being of Americans and people around the globe.

Greenhouse gases (GHGs) build up in the atmosphere and have wide-ranging impacts around the globe. Current and anticipated impacts include:

  • heat waves and record high temperatures along with an increased risk of heat-related illnesses and death especially among the poor and elderly;
  • greater risk of droughts, fire, more damaging storms, and floods that can cause deaths and injuries as well as damage to property and infrastructure;
  • increased spread of diseases, increases in health problems from ozone pollution in U.S. cities, and increases in allergens;
  • acidification of the oceans, extinction of species, damage to crops and fisheries, and potential increases in world hunger and other destabilizing changes that would reduce U.S. national security; and
  • possible rapid changes that could cause abrupt and serious impacts for people and ecosystems. (For more information and scientific report sources, click here.)

Climate change disproportionately threatens the health and welfare of vulnerable populations in the U.S. and around the world including children, the elderly and the poor including the health and welfare of indigenous people.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reports that between 1980 and October 6, 2017, U.S. billion-dollar extreme weather disasters had cost $1.3 trillion in inflation-adjusted damage and resulted in 9,905 deaths, not counting Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria.[1]  Climate change already has exacerbated extreme weather and can be expected to have even greater effects in the future.[2]

Coal and gas-fired power plants together emit more CO2 than any other category of emissions sources in the U.S.  By 2030, the CPP would reduce power plant CO2 emissions by 32% from 2005 levels.

The CPP sets emissions standards for fossil fuel-fired power plants and corresponding emissions goals for each state. The goals reflect the unique power system in each state.  Under the CPP, each state would develop and implement its own plan to reach its goal.   There is an array of policies that states can use to meet their goals and each state can choose policies that best fit their own power generating sector.  EPA has provided model plans that a state could adopt and implement if it did not want to write its own plan.  Or, if a state preferred, the state could choose to defer to a federal plan that EPA would implement.

The CPP was developed after years of extensive public engagement that explored how best to establish requirements under the Clean Air Act to limit climate pollution from the power sector.

EPA’s 2015 analysis shows that the benefits of the CPP are large, dwarfing the costs. Twenty billion dollars in climate-related benefits alone would occur in 2030.  Furthermore, the measures taken under the CPP to reduce CO2 emissions would cut emissions of other air pollutants as well – pollutants associated with increases in heart attacks, asthma attacks and deaths, producing health benefits of $14 to $34 billion.  In total, the net benefits of the CPP (the value of total health, environmental and other economic benefits, minus the cost to comply) were estimated to range from between $26 billion to $45 billion in 2030.

The economic incentives created by the CPP would spur investment in new clean technology such as wind and solar generated electricity.  Natural gas generation, which emits half as much CO2 as coal generation, also would increase.  Over time coal-fired generation would continue the decrease already in progress due to market forces, but coal would continue to play a major part in America’s energy mix even in 2030.  Investments in cleaner technologies would create jobs in those sectors.  EPA’s analysis showed that by 2030, more efficient use of electricity would result in the average family’s electric bill being $7 lower with the CPP than it would have been otherwise.

The Trump Administration Rollback Proposal

The CPP repeal proposal is a key action stemming from the President’s March 28 executive order, which calls review and potential suspension or repeal of CPP and multiple other Obama administration climate rules and policies.  The President and top administration officials have objected to economic impacts of the CPP and have repeatedly questioned the extent to which human-caused climate change is real or serious.  However, the notice proposing to repeal the CPP focuses on the contention that EPA lacked the legal authority to issue the rule.

The proposed CPP repeal notice also says that EPA is “considering whether it is appropriate” to propose a rule to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from existing power plants.  If it decides to do so, EPA will issue an advanced notice of proposed rulemaking in the “near future.”

The CPP is the subject of lawsuits pending in the federal courts, and the U.S. Supreme Court has placed the CPP on hold until those legal challenges are resolved.  This proposal would repeal the CPP without waiting for the courts to decide the CPP’s legality.

The Trump administration claims that only changes made at the fossil fuel plants themselves (inside the fence line) are consistent with the language of the Clean Air Act. Therefore, the Administration says that only “inside the fence line” actions should be used to set standards under the Clean Air Act even though, those changes are relatively expensive for the minimal amount of CO2 emissions they reduce.

EPA took a different view of the law in issuing the original CPP rule.  The agency recognized that the electric power generating system is interconnected.  So, EPA reasoned that the “best system of emission reduction” under the relevant part of the Clean Air Act would include both making individual plants more efficient, and substituting increased generation from lower-emitting or zero-emitting plants — such as natural-gas-fired plants and solar and wind generation — for some higher-emitting fossil-fuel-fired generation.  These emission reduction methods are reflected in the CPP’s power plant CO2 emission rates and corresponding state emission goals.

One problem for the repeal effort is that EPA’s 2015 CPP economic analysis shows large benefits that far exceed the costs.  So, the Trump administration has created a questionable analytic redo of the CPP economic analysis, making several changes that increase the estimated costs of CPP and reduce the estimated benefits in an apparent effort to show that repealing the CPP would not harm our country’s welfare.  The omission of some benefits and the use of inappropriate assumptions results in a series of cost-benefit comparisons that, in most cases, suggest that the costs saved from repeal are almost as great or slightly greater than the benefit of keeping the CPP in place.  The new analysis also treats energy efficiency savings as a benefit rather than a cost, which produces higher cost figures (without affecting the cost-benefit balance).[3] (For more information, see suggested talking points below on CPP benefits and costs.)

What to Say

First explain why you are commenting on this rule.  If you are a concerned citizen say why it matters to you.  If you have relevant expertise, say so.  If you or someone you are close to was impacted by a recent extreme weather or climate disaster, you might want to talk about that in your comments.

You don’t have to be an expert to make a valid and valuable comment. If you have information relevant to the CPP, or if you are seeing impacts of climate change in your community, talk about that in your comments.

Be constructive and civil.  Don’t write a lot if a little will do.

Talking Points — Why We Must Combat Climate Change

The continued emissions of carbon pollution and other greenhouse gases threaten the lives, health and well-being of Americans and people worldwide. These long-lived gases are building up in the atmosphere and causing far-reaching changes to our planet, according to the National Research Council (the operational arm of the National Academies), and other scientific authorities:

  • Heat waves and record high temperatures have increased across most regions of the world resulting in an increased risk of heat-related illnesses and deaths, especially among the poor and elderly.
  • Patterns of precipitation now are changing regionally, and over time are expected to make dry areas dryer and wet areas wetter. These increasing trends will bring more droughts, increase fire risks, and intensify severe storms, extreme weather and flooding — events that can cause deaths, and injuries, as well as billions of dollars of damage to property and the nation’s infrastructure (e.g., electric power grid, roads and transportation systems, water distribution systems, buildings, etc.)
  • This year we have witnessed the strongest hurricane season in history. We have seen the devastation that can be caused by such strong storms. The damage this year alone is estimated to be several hundred billion dollars, far in excess of the annual cost of the Clean Power Plan.
  • A myriad of other public health concerns are raised in the scientific literature include anticipated increases in ground-level ozone pollution, the potential for enhanced spread of some waterborne and pest-related diseases, and evidence for increased production or dispersion of airborne allergens.
  • Numerous species in the ocean and on land over time will be threatened with extinction. We are currently seeing the worst die-off of species since the loss of the dinosaurs and in fact scientists say that we may be experiencing the beginning of the sixth mass extinction. Unlike the preceding five mass extinctions, this one is human caused.[4]
  • Threats to the food chain are becoming evident and will continue to be more pronounced. Warmer waters can lead to a decline in oxygen causing dead zones threatening important U.S. fisheries. Increased CO2 in the oceans is causing them to become increasingly acidic, threatening many species including important food commodities. On land the changing climate over time is expected to damage staple crops, and global food security may be threatened.
  • The Department of Defense states, “Global climate change will aggravate problems such as poverty, social tensions, environmental degradation, ineffectual leadership and weak political institutions that threaten stability in a number of countries.”

Those most vulnerable to climate related health effects — such as children, the elderly, the poor, and future generations — face disproportionate risks.[5] Studies also find that climate change poses particular threats to the health, well-being, and ways of life of indigenous peoples in the United States.[6]

Several assessments state that we may be approaching critical, poorly understood thresholds that may lead to rapid and potentially permanent changes not predicted by climate models that could cause abrupt and serious impacts for society and ecosystems.

Talking Points — Why the Clean Power Plan (CPP) is a Sound Way to Cut Climate Pollution

Fossil fuel-fired power plants are the largest source of greenhouse gas pollution in the U.S., emitting 31 % of U.S. emissions.   Any credible effort to cut climate-changing emissions must substantially cut power plant emissions.

The CPP is an appropriate way to cut climate pollution under the Clean Air Act because it recognizes that electricity system is interconnected and reflects the way the power industry really works.  It is based on regulatory tools used to regulate power plant pollution for decades (e.g., trading mechanisms that allow for the greatest reduction at the lowest cost).  The repeal proposal single-plant approach reflects an archaic view of power generation before there was a grid.

The CPP is fair, flexible and designed to strengthen the advancement of America’s power grid toward cleaner fuels and newer technologies while keeping the supply of electric power affordable and reliable.

The CPP requires substantial reductions in CO2 emissions from power plants while allowing each state to design a program to achieve that objective is a manner consistent with its own policy preferences and the characteristics of the electric power industry operating in that state.

The CPP gives states flexibility to design pollution reduction plans that enable the power sector to maintain reliable and affordable electricity while cutting emissions.

Talking Points — CPP Benefits and Costs

Repeal would allow more pollution that harms the health and welfare of the American people.  EPA’s 2015 analysis estimates that the CPP’s benefits ($31 to $54 billion under various assumptions) would far exceed the costs ($5.1 to 8.4 billion) upon full implementation in 2030.

Reducing climate pollution will also reduce pollutants that form particle pollution (soot) and ozone smog.  EPA’s 2015 analysis shows that implementation of the CPP in 2030 would avoid 1,500 to 3,600 premature deaths, 90,000 asthma attacks in children, up to 1,700 heart attacks, 1,700 hospital admissions, and 300,000 missed workdays and missed school days. From the soot and smog reductions alone, for every dollar invested through the Clean Power Plan, American families would see up to $4 in health benefits.  Repeal means that these health benefits would be lost.

The Trump administration’s economic analysis for the repeal proposal appears designed to produce new numbers that provide arguments for repeal by emphasizing cost-benefit comparisons that only count a portion of the benefits or make assumptions not consistent with the best scientific and economic information.  Specifically:

  • The Trump administration analysis of repeal only counts the climate-related benefits that the Clean Power Plan would produce within the U.S., and ignores the large portion of benefits that would occur beyond U.S. borders. This alone dramatically reduces the calculated benefits.  In reality, each country’s greenhouse gas pollution causes harm worldwide.  It’s wrong to ignore the damage our pollution causes to people in other countries; it’s not consistent with our values.  Also, if we want other countries to account for the damage their pollution causes to our country, we must account for damage our pollution does abroad.  If other countries count only the domestic benefits of cutting climate-changing emissions, their leaders will likely decide to make only modest emission reductions, and all countries – including the U.S. — will suffer serious harm from climate change.  Finally, ignoring international impacts is wrong because the effects of climate change are potentially destabilizing, making the world more dangerous and harming U.S. national security.
  • The repeal analysis discounts the lives, health and welfare of future generations more severely than other recent federal analyses of environmental rules. This is extremely troubling and encourages policy decisions to make decisions that largely ignore the implications for future generations rather than decisions that protect our children and grandchildren.
  • The repeal analysis contains some cost-benefit comparisons that ignore or only partially count the benefits of other air pollution reductions that occur due to CO2 reduction strategies. Particle pollution is associated with increases in early deaths, heart attacks, hospital admissions for asthma attacks, acute bronchitis, and other serious health effects.[7]
  • For example, some cost-benefit comparisons count only the benefits of CO2 This ideological approach deviates from standard methodology for EPA analyses and fails to reflect the fact that multiple types of pollutant reductions will result from CO2 reduction strategies.
  • Other cost-benefit comparisons inappropriately assume that there is some threshold concentration below which particle pollution is not harmful. That assumption is contrary to the best science according to a 2009 EPA assessment that was peer-reviewed and approved by independent, congressionally mandated expert panels. (Source:  2012 EPA letter to Representative Fred Upton)

The CPP encourages investment in clean renewable technologies.  Investments in clean energy and energy efficiency already are creating jobs and increasing the energy efficiency of homes, buildings and equipment.[8]  Under the CPP, the average home owner’s monthly electricity bill would go down over time as the electricity system becomes cleaner and more efficient.

How to Submit Your Comments

EPA will accept written comments on the proposal until 11:59 p.m. Eastern time on December 15, 2017.  To submit on line, click on the following link:

https://www.regulations.gov/document?D=EPA-HQ-OAR-2017-0355

If you wish to submit comments by mail or by fax see directions here.  Comments should be identified by the following docket number: EPA-HQ-OAR-2017-0355.

If your comments include confidential business information, see here for further direction.

There Is More That You Can Do

It would be great if well-reasoned, fact-based comments were enough to win the day, but in today’s deregulatory environment, raising the political stakes of regulatory rollbacks is crucial to stopping or slowing them down.  Submitting comments is a good first step.  For rules that are particularly important to you, please consider taking one or more of the following steps, too.

  • Write to your members of Congress and other elected officials.  Let them know your concerns and ask them to weigh in on this rollback, and speak out publically in favor of the CPP. You can find contact information for your member of Congress and other elected officials at https://www.usa.gov/elected-officials.
  • Write letters to the editor and even op-eds in your local papers. Letters to the editor should be fairly brief.
  • Organize or participate in letter-writing campaigns.
  • Join or organize demonstrations.
  • Talk to your friends, colleagues and neighbors and encourage them to comment and otherwise join in this effort.  Voicing your concerns on social media can be a very effective way to spread the word.

Finally, and perhaps most important, one of the most effective things that you can do is to organize or joins efforts to encourage action on climate change by your state or city.  Many states and cities are taking a leadership position on climate change. Many are marshalling efforts to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases including emissions from power plants. Let officials in your area know that you support these efforts. Write to your elected leaders, get involved with local activists who are encouraging local or state action. Voice your concern and encouragement in the media, social media, at local meetings, and at every opportunity.  In the absence of federal leadership, it is vitally important that states and local governments fill the void. [more]

Defend the Clean Power Plan

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