EPA, states continue to combat climate change despite SCOTUS ruling


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Grace Smith | July 15, 2022

The U.S. Supreme Court curbed the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) authority to restrict pollution coming from greenhouse gases. But, not all its power was stripped. The EPA and the Biden Administration have new plans in place to reach President Biden’s goal of cutting emissions in half by 2030. 

Joseph Goffman, Biden’s nominee for EPA’s air chief, told the New York Times the ruling against the EPA didn’t alter any current plans that the agency has. Next year, the agency plans to implement more restraints on greenhouse gas emissions from coal-powered plants. The EPA also plans to propose a regulation that cuts emissions from new gas-powered plants.

Now that the Supreme Court created a setback for action against climate change, the role of state and local level efforts increases. Colorado has passed about 50 climate laws over the last four years and is working to reduce emissions by 80 percent by 2030, as well as New York. 

Although the state of Iowa doesn’t have a statewide climate plan, an Iowa City plan, which has about 35 actions, includes decreasing greenhouse gases in the community by 80 percent by 2050. In addition, Cedar Rapids’ plan to combat climate change seeks zero net carbon emissions by 2050.

Supreme Court narrows EPA’s power to regulate greenhouse gas emissions


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Grace Smith | July 1, 2022

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in a 6-3 decision that the Environmental Protection Agency (E.P.A.) does not have the authority to administer expansive regulations on pollution from power plants. The ruling in West Virginia v. Environmental Protection Agency puts a strain on President Joe Biden’s efforts to manage climate change. 

The Clean Air Act of 1970, a plan put in place to govern greenhouse gas emissions from power plants, was brought up in the case. But, because of lawsuits and other issues, the program stalled in 2016. So, the Biden Administration attempted to dismiss the case because there were no plans in place from the E.P.A. that would govern the power plant, but the argument didn’t work. 

The U.S. is the second world’s largest greenhouse gas emitter as of 2021, accounting for around 11 percent of the world’s total emissions. In 2020, the electricity sector, or the energy industry, was the second-largest source of greenhouse gas emissions, accounting for 25%, in the U.S., behind transportation. 

The E.P.A. doesn’t have the power it would have held, but not all their leadership is stripped. The E.P.A. can still regulate power plants, but it can’t do the necessary amount of cutting and shutting down to reduce the critical amount of greenhouse gas emissions.

Because of the new ruling, Biden’s promise to the world that the U.S. would cut greenhouse gas emissions in half from 2005 levels by 2030 has become a more challenging goal to achieve. Coral Davenport, a New York Times energy and environmental policy reporter, said for Biden to achieve this, new legislation and stricter regulations on all sectors of pollution need to be put in place.

New study shows air pollution across U.S. reflects racist policies


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Eleanor Hildebrandt | March 23, 2022

New data shows discriminatory housing practices in the 1930s led to disparities in the health of residents as a result of air pollution in various California neighborhoods in 2022.

The study, entitled “Historical redlining is associated with present-day air pollution disparities in U.S. cities,” analyzed California and the impacts housing policies from the 1930s had on air pollution. It focused on 202 cities and their exposure to nitrogen dioxide, a gas associated with vehicle exhaust and industrial facilities, and microscopic particles known as PM 2.5. When looking at Berkeley and Oakland, the two communities were redlined and saw higher levels of nitrogen dioxide that were twice as high as was safe in the 1930s. According to The New York Times, the two neighborhoods are lower-lying land that are closer to industrial businesses and major highways, increasing pollution.

Redlining is racial discrimination in any kind of housing, specifically regarding governmental maps that outline areas where Black residents lived in communities, deeming those areas as risky investments. The cities analyzed in the study were listed as “D” neighborhoods in the 1930s, designating them as the least desirable places to live because of air pollution exposure. The result of redlining in Oakland and Berkeley included many children having asthma related to the traffic and industrial pollution.

The study overall found well-documented health disparities between redlined and better-rated districts in terms of air pollution. It furthers a 2019 study that found there were twice as many residents visiting emergency rooms for asthma in eight California redlined cities. The study was partially funded by the Environmental Protection Agency.

Superfund sites to see cleanup with funds from infrastructure bill


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Eleanor Hildebrandt | December 17, 2021

49 Superfund sites across the U.S. will see clean-up efforts after the passing of a $1 billion bipartisan infrastructure law.

Superfund sites are polluted areas with hazardous waste all over the country. The locations are designated under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act. There are sites in 24 states and Puerto Rico. The Environmental Protection Agency announced it would start clearing out a backlog of the contaminated sides after the passing of the infrastructure plan. The bill set aside $3.5 billion for environmental cleanup according to NBC News. This round is only the first installation of funds to clean up the sites, beginning with $1 billion.

The sites are disproportionately found in lower income communities where people of color live. EPA Administrator Michael Regan said one in four Black and Hispanic Americans live within three miles of a site. According to The Hill, this funding will go to almost 50 different sites in the U.S. to begin projects to better understand and clean up the hazardous waste. The project will only begin to chip away at the long backlog of Superfund sites that need cleaned up.

EPA to set new standards for water pollutants from coal power plants


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Eleanor Hildebrandt | July 30, 2021

The Environmental Protection Agency is imposing new, more stringent standards on water pollution specifically from coal power plants.

The new standards are reinstating previous regulations that Former President Donald Trump’s administration rolled back. The agency announced the reinstatement on Monday, but it hopes the new rules will be finalized in 2023. Until then, coal power plants that are close to waterways still risk polluting them.

The EPA announced its intent to initiate the beginning of the new standard making process when it signed a Federal Register Notice. Public comment on the proposed rule changes will occur in fall 2022. The EPA first set federal limits on the levels of toxic metals discharged from power plants that entered waterways in 2015.

Some environmentalists are still disappointed that President Joe Biden’s administration is not taking quicker, immediate actions to prevent pollutants in waterways. The standards could take longer to enact even if they are finalized in 2023. Government Affairs Director for the Center for Biological Diversity, Brett Hartl told CNN earlier this week that new rules may not see implementation until 2026. He said waiting so long for implementation is not sufficient.

EPA increases funding for air quality, environmental justice initiatives


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Eleanor Hildebrandt | July 8, 2021

The Environmental Protection Agency is increasing its funding to monitor air pollution and improve air quality in low-income communities and communities of color.

On June 25, the agency announced an additional $50 million will be set aside for the department’s environmental justice initiatives. The funding comes from the American Rescue Plan, which was signed by President Joe Biden in March. The funding will be split between several projects, including environmental justice grants, expanding civil and criminal enforcement through monitoring, community assistance programs, and advancing environmental data analytics work.

Environmental justice—the promise of the same degree of protection from environmental and health hazards and equal access to the decision-making process to have a healthy environment—is a major focus for the Biden administration. People of color are more likely to die of environmental causes due to a variety of factors, including an increased likelihood of living in proximity to hazardous waste. According to a 2020 Princeton University study, low-income and African American communities are more likely to be affected by air pollution in the United States. The governmental response to air quality concerns is also disproportionate based on race, said the study, with white citizens’ complaints receiving more action and attention than people of color’s.

The funding will go to monitoring air in low-income communities, specifically looking for particles that have been linked to harmful illnesses. The agency hopes to ensure it is “adequately protecting all communities” regardless of who lives there, according to CNN.

Iowa representatives criticize EPA’s biofuel waivers


Tyler Chalfant | August 21st, 2019

On Friday, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency granted waivers from federal biofuel law to 31 small oil refineries. Members of Congress from Iowa on both sides of the aisle have criticized this move for hurting the state’s renewable fuel industry. 

Under the Renewable Fuel Standard, refineries are normally required to blend biofuels like ethanol into their gasoline, or to purchase credits from those that do so. However, exemptions are available for small refineries that can prove that compliance with the rule would cause significant financial strife.

From 2013 to 2015, the EPA granted no more than eight waivers per year, but since Trump took office, the number of waivers has quadrupled. This latest round brings the total to 85 since 2016, and includes refineries owned by ExxonMobil and Chevron.

13 ethanol plants have recently shut down, three of them permanently, in part due to the loss in demand caused by these waivers. The country’s largest ethanol producer POET blamed the EPA as it was forced to close an Indiana plant on Tuesday.

Senator Chuck Grassley accused the government of not keeping its word and “screwing the farmer when we already have low prices for grain.” Iowa is the leading producer of corn and ethanol production in the U.S., and the industry supports nearly 43,000 jobs in the state.

EPA cuts back fuel efficiency standards


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Despite claims from the EPA that sales of electric vehicles have gone down since 2013, research shows that sales of plug-in hybrid, battery electric and fuel-cell vehicles have increased since that year. (Roadside pictures/flickr)

Jenna Ladd | April 4, 2018

The Environmental Protection Agency announced Monday that it is rolling back Obama-era automobile fuel efficiency standards.

The previously instated greenhouse gas emission standards required that passenger vehicles get 54 miles per gallon by 2025. Automobiles have surpassed energy plants and become the U.S.’s leading source of greenhouse gases.

The EPA’s announcement cited automobile industry arguments against the standards like significantly more expensive vehicles and driver safety. These claims were supported by industry-funded research. The EPA cited one study, for example, which estimated that the price of each vehicle would increase by $6,000 if the current regulations stayed in place. However, many other research groups found the study to be flawed and maintain that increased fuel efficiency standards will actually raise the cost of automobiles by about $2,000.

Dave Cooke, of the Union of Concerned Scientists, wrote a blogpost in response. He said,

“Rather than pointing to the fact that these standards are cost-effective for consumers, that we have the technology to meet and exceed these standards by 2025, and that these standards have tremendous positive impacts on the economy, the ideologues currently at the EPA have decided to ignore this evidence and misconstrue how the standards work.”

According to its press announcement, the EPA has begun working with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to lower corporate average fuel economy (CAFE). Scientists suggest that the slashed regulation would have been akin to closing down 140 coal plants for a year, offsetting 570 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions by 2030.

Climate change deniers considered for EPA science advisory board


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EPA administrator Scott Pruitt is charged with making the final decision on new Science Advisory Board members. (Gage Skidmore/flickr)

Jenna Ladd| September 19, 2017

Climate change skeptics are among those listed as possible candidates for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Science Advisory Board.

The board’s objective is “to provide independent advice and peer review on the scientific and technical aspects of environmental issues to the EPA’s Administrator.” At present, 47 members sit on the board, but service terms will end for 15 members in September. The EPA has published a list of 132 possible candidates to fill these positions, about a dozen of whom have openly rejected widely accepted climate science. One candidate published a report in 2013 outlining the “monetary benefits of rising atmospheric CO2.”

Anyone can nominate anyone else as a candidate for the Science Advisory Board, and the list of nominees has not yet been thinned down by the agency. Staff members at the EPA are responsible fo eliminating a number of the nominees, while ensuring that the remaining candidates have expertise in a wide range of areas (i.e. hydrology, geology, statistics, biology, etc.). However, the final selection of new advisory board members is up to Administrator Scott Pruitt, according to anonymous EPA official.

In a 2016 piece for the National Review, Pruitt wrote that the debate on climate change was “far from settled,” despite more than 97 percent of active scientists agreeing that Earth’s climate is warming due to human activity.

The public is welcome to comment on the list of EPA Science Advisory Board nominees through September 28.

EPA air pollution standards may not be sufficient, study finds


A study found that current EPA air quality standards are still deadly. (flickr/Francesco Falciani)

Air pollution levels previously deemed “safe” may be deadly, a new study shows.

Harvard University researchers found that long-term exposure to ozone and fine particulate matter leads to premature death, even at levels below the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s National Ambient Air Quality Standards. The study examined data for over 60 million Medicare patients from 2000 to 2012, and found that 12,000 lives could be saved annually by reducing levels of fine particulate matter by 1 microgram per cubic meter below EPA standards.

“It’s very strong, compelling evidence that currently, the safety standards are not safe enough,” lead researcher Francesca Dominici said to NPR.

The study also found that African Americans, men, and poor people are at greater risk for death due to exposure to fine particulate matter, though did not examine why. Exposure can also cause heart attacks, asthma, and decreased lung function.

In an editorial response to the study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, four doctors (Rebecca E. Berger, M.D., Ramya Ramaswami, M.B., Caren Solomon, M.D., and Jeffrey Drazen, M.D.) urged the Trump administration to tighten regulations of air pollutant levels. Trump has signed an executive order dismantling guidelines to reduce emissions from coal-fired power plants, and opted to withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement.

“Although these actions were primarily intended to undo efforts made by the Obama administration to address climate change, the potentially dire consequences also include increasing people’s exposure to particulate matter,” the editorial said.