(de)regulation nation: the emission permission agency

"Liberation is contagious, as an idea and as a process."

Welcome to (de)regulation nation, the newsletter tracking bad, better, good, and great environmental news in the Trump era.

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I can't downplay Republican leadership on climate change inaction. That would be journalistic malpractice, the sort of false balance in news that has helped to distort and delay rational climate and energy policies for decades.

Most of the “bad” environmental news I amplify is the result of Republican policies. But it doesn’t follow that Democrats are always civic heroes by comparison.

Sure, in an alternate reality, President Hillary Clinton has not slashed the boundaries of national monuments at the behest of uranium miners and gas drillers. She (probably) hasn’t opened the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil exploration. Her Department of Interior has strengthened the Endangered Species Act rather than trying to gut it. Her EPA still listens to its scientific advisors on air pollution; it does not undercut their work and sidestep their findings.

But in that reality and this one, having political principles and living up to them are still different things. As Will Rogers famously quipped, “Party politics is the most narrow-minded occupation in the world.” That’s what we saw last week with the DNC’s decision not to hold a climate-focused presidential debate.

What political calculus informed that decision, given that — as The Hill reported — 82 percent of the Democratic base named climate change a “top priority” in the race, and want candidates to focus on it?

Maybe it was the same math that, as The New Yorker reported in 2010, divided the Obama White House from a bipartisan Senate coalition trying to transform energy and climate policy.

Democrats these days are more likely to be involved in better, good, and great environmental news than Republicans. But that doesn’t mean reporters should give them a pass when their own biases and internal power struggles drive them to make bad choices.


bad: pollution trumps protection at the EPA

  • The Environmental Protection Agency is rushing through an update of its 166-page guidelines for assessing the potential of environmental contaminants (think pesticides, industrial emissions, etc.) to cause cancer and other illnesses, reports E&E News.

  • Finalizing such a complex review “in a matter of months” may be part of former coal lobbyist, now-EPA chief Andrew Wheeler’s ongoing push to weaken the scientific foundations that the agency uses for regulating pollution.

  • These guidelines were reportedly among the matters Wheeler brought to the first 2019 meeting of EPA’s Science Advisory Board, held last week.

  • (It’s supposed to meet six to eight times a year.)

  • While Wheeler told the board that the agency would “do better” in utilizing their expertise, reports InsideClimate News, some members responded by noting that under Trump, the agency has failed to consult them at all on major rollbacks harmful to the climate and public health, such as the federal rule limiting methane leaks from oil and gas operations.

  • Some also criticized EPA’s so-called “transparency in regulatory science” proposal, which would bar decades of crucial pollution-and-health research from being used in pollution rule-making.

  • “But several of the board members who were appointed by Wheeler and by his predecessor, former EPA administrator Scott Pruitt, praised the agency for its effort,” and Wheeler told the board that he intends to finalize the policy this year.

also bad at EPA

States have the right under the Clean Water Act to block federal permitting for projects that may harm air or water quality. But the agency last week issued a non-binding “guidance” to states warning them off such moves, reports E&E News, apparently in response to recent rejections of gas pipelines and coal terminals by New York and Washington, respectively.

The leading industry association for oil refineries has sued EPA to stop it from lifting an Obama-era summertime ban on selling gasoline that is blended to contain 15 percent ethanol (called E15). Trump lifted the ban to help corn farmers wilting under his trade war with China, as Reuters reports. Burning high-ethanol E15 in the hottest months can increase smog, while creating the blends increases refiners’ costs.

According to Green Car Reports, 17 automakers have asked EPA and the Department of Transportation to negotiate with California on the administration’s proposed rollback of Obama-era fuel efficiency standards, and its vow to rescind California’s decades-long right to set its own standards.

  • These moves, as the automakers and many other observers besides have noted, will divide the U.S. auto market and bring on years of of litigation, creating a great deal of instability for the auto industry.

  • Responding to a request for comment from NPR, a White House spokesperson said, in so many words, that the administration is committed to both the rollback and eliminating California’s auto emissions power.

better: small-d democracy lives within the Democratic Party

good: New Jersey is clearing itself a cleaner energy pathway

  • New Jersey has released a draft roadmap to break free of fossil-fuel-generated energy 100 percent by 2050.

  • The new “energy master plan” includes electrifying the state’s consumer vehicle fleet, expanding offshore wind, and increasing solar capacity “especially in underserved areas such as low-income communities,” according to Grist.

  • Gov. Phil Murphy, a Democrat, called out the plan’s potential to create thousands of new energy, building, and transportation jobs, while “reducing the effects of climate change and securing our state’s clean energy future.”

  • The plan projects continued use of nuclear energy in the state as a “carbon neutral” power source, NorthJersey.com reports, adding that it’s no surprise given that Murphy “approved a controversial $300 million annual subsidy paid through residents' electric bills to keep open Public Service Enterprise Group's three nuclear reactors in Salem County.”

  • The plan abandons the “Trumpian” (per HuffPost Politics) course on climate set by his predecessor, Republican and one-time presidential hopeful Chris Christie.

  • New Jersey is in 16th place for CO2 emissions among the 50 U.S. states.

great: two big states take bigs steps towards slashing carbon pollution

  • Meanwhile in Colorado, Utility Dive reports that Gov. Jared Polis just signed seven climate and energy bills and four electric vehicle bills into law this month, including a legally binding mandate to slash state emissions of heat-trapping pollution 90 percent below 2005 levels by mid-century.

  • Renewable energy boosters were the clear winners in the 2019 legislative session, UD notes, “though there has been some tension between industry groups and environmentalists over how strict the regulatory process should be.”

  • Colorado was the first state to limit methane leaks from oil and gas operations. Operators have found and repaired around 73,000 methane leaks since 2015, according to Colorado Public Radio, cutting statewide emissions of this powerfully heat-trapping gas, which is also a very bad substance to breathe in, by over 50 percent.

  • Utility Dive also reports that this week in Michigan, regulators have approved a major utility’s long-term plan to end use of coal-fired plants within 5 years and triple renewable energy in just over 10 years.

  • Consumers Energy will use “a barrage of grid modernization tools, and plans to use demand response and efficiency to reduce demand more than 20 percent, while also adding 5 GW of renewables,” towards slashing heat-trapping pollution 80 percent by 2040.

    Thanks for reading (de)regulation nation, a production of Brooklyn Radio Telegraph LLC.

    This newsletter is written by me, Emily J Gertz. I’m a veteran environmental journalist. Check out my website for links to my past reporting and more biographical goodness.

    Send tips and suggestions to: emily@deregnation.com

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    This week’s quote is by Rebecca Solnit, from her recent essay in The Guardian on the new era of global protest against reactionary policies as well as the world’s overall failure to combat climate change. “It has been, and will be, a conflict of the apparently powerless against the apparently powerful.”