bad: the EPA plans to end community pollution permit appeals
"Fear is in the house. But Fear doesn't get the master bedroom."
|Emily J Gertz||Jul 18, 2019|| 2|
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Lots of important environmental news to excavate from this terrible week in U.S. history. Let’s get right to it.
bad: new EPA plan will gut pollution permit appeals …for the public. Not for industry.
The Environmental Protection Agency sets legal limits, called permits, on how much a particular power plant or factory can pollute.
When a person or community wants to challenge that permit for being too spew-friendly, they can appeal it to the EPA’s “Environmental Appeals Board.”
The permit holders, meaning the operators of factories or power plants, can also appeal to increase the legally allowed pollution limit.
Under a plan being developed by the Trump EPA, exactly half of this process would change:
The public would lose the ability to challenge a pollution permit.
Permit-holders would still be able to appeal to increase pollution.
“Three people familiar with the plan” leaked it to The New York Times, which notes that it would be finalized following President Trump’s speech last week “in which he sought to frame himself as a conservationist and protector of public land.”
As I wrote last week, Trump’s pushing this particular Big Lie to try and blunt Republican voter discontent with his actual record of giving polluting industries, including petroleum, coal, minerals mining, chemical, and energy companies, the keys to the agencies that regulate them.
Environmental law experts tell the Times that “the propose rule change would not only grant industry a broader role in influencing the EPA to issue more lenient pollution permits, but could disproportionately harm poor and minority communities, which are statistically more likely to be located near polluting sites.”
The plan is just about ready to be released, and EPA must by law allow the public to comment on it before it’s finalized.
So far this administration seldom halts or changes an environmental rollback in response to public opposition.
Read all about it in The New York Times, where veteran environmental reporter Coral Davenport broke this story last week.
better: a new House bill would guarantee reporter access to federal scientists
Restrictions on government scientists talking to reporters are not a new thing.
To change that, some House Democrats have introduced a bill called the Scientific Integrity Act.
It would “allow reporters to directly reach out to agency researchers for insight on agency science and technical information. If scientists are not available, agencies would need to make a knowledgeable public affairs official available,” reports E&E News.
Over 190 House members, all Democrats, have signed on to the legislation at this writing.
"At the local level in western Colorado, I never used to have any issues accessing public land experts at any level locally, or even at the state level” during the George W. Bush era, Bloomberg Environment reporter Bobby Magill tells E&E. "That started to ratchet down during the Obama administration."
(Full disclosure: Bobby Magill and I are fellow board members of the Society of Environmental Journalists.)
(The Bush administration did try to muzzle James Hansen, then a top NASA climate scientist, after he spoke publicly on the need to drastically reduce climate-heating carbon pollution. Hanson took his story to The New York Times in 2006.)
Under Trump, “the restrictions have taken on added significance…as outside experts have challenged the research and methodology federal regulators have used to justify undoing Obama-era regulations,” E&E notes.
In one example, “last year, the Los Angeles Times reported that researchers at the U.S. Geological Survey would now have to get permission from Interior before speaking with the press under a new protocol.”
good: a lot of renewable energy news
The Ute Mountain Ute tribe of southwest Colorado “has begun transitioning to 100 percent renewable power — a movement towards energy sovereignty they have been forging for almost a decade,” reports High Country News.
A federal judge has approved a plan to shutter a 1,300 megawatt coal-fired power plant in Rockport, Indiana by 2028. The utility is already at work shifting its generation off coal, to wind, solar, and batteries. “The Sierra Club hailed it as the single largest power plant closure since the group launched its Beyond Coal campaign to force the shutdown of coal-fired power plants,” reports E&E News.
New York State today announced agreements for two major offshore wind projects off Long Island’s southern shoreline, saying they will both begin operating within the next five years. Their combined capacity will be 1,700 megawatts, which the state is touting as the largest in nation, reports The New York Times.
New Jersey may try to claim bragging rights, however:
NYT Metro @NYTMetroNew York State said it would soon have the country’s largest offshore wind farm project https://t.co/v97cZw6hli
According to a New England advocacy group, New Hampshire is on the way to passing legislation that would enable “municipal electricity aggregation, also referred to as community choice power,” a tool that lets municipalities purchase renewable energy in bulk, which saves local ratepayers money.
great: sometimes one election is all it takes
So far, it’s a simple fact that Democrat-controlled states are way ahead of Republican-controlled in committing to carbon-free energy and getting it online, as Bloomberg Environment reports.
Hitting renewable targets is challenging, no matter which way a state capitol leans. Indiana, which saw Democrats win both state houses and the governorship in 2018, “is far from meeting annual interim goals meant to keep it on track for 25% renewable electricity by 2025,” reports Midwest Energy News.
Still, a single transformational statewide election can quickly reverse years of bad policy. Take Maine, for instance.
Since January, when Democrat Janet Mills replaced Republican Paul LePage in the governor’s seat, it’s been “the most productive session for the environment and clean energy in my 23 years,” a green advocate tells The Christian Science Monitor, adding, “Not just 23 years. Ever.”
Two-termer LePage “slapped a moratorium on wind turbines and viewed renewable energy, as one critic put it, as ‘an existential threat’ to the state’…promoted fossil fuels, vetoed clean energy bills, tried to tear up environmental regulations, was alone among Atlantic coast governors to court offshore drilling, refused to issue voter-approved conservation bonds, and sought to tax vast protected forestland or open it to development,” the Monitor reports.
Since Mills took office in January, and with Democrats controlling both houses of the state legislature, Maine has enacted laws “to nearly eliminate carbon dioxide emissions by 2050, expand solar and offshore wind, promote electric vehicles, and distribute 100,000 heat pumps. It became the first state to ban foam food containers and the third to ban single-use plastic bags. It also prohibited offshore oil and gas drilling, stiffened river and lake water protections, threw out Mr. LePage’s appointees, and established a new office to help plan for climate change,” reports the Monitor.
Maine was one of 7 states where Democrats pried governor’s seats from Republicans in the 2018 election, out of 13 where Republicans were considered vulnerable, and lost none, as CNN reported last fall. Republicans picked up one seat, Alaska, that had been held by an independent.
“Before the election, just [just??] 42 percent of Americans were represented by Democratic governors,” CNN noted. In January, that rose to 53 percent.
Thanks for reading (de)regulation nation, a production of Brooklyn Radio Telegraph LLC.
I’m Emily J Gertz, a veteran environmental journalist. I founded (de)regulation nation in March 2018, during my Tow-Knight Center for Entrepreneurial Journalism fellowship. Find links to my other work and more biographical goodness at my website.
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This week’s quote is by Lin Manuel Miranda. Here’s the whole thing: