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FROM NEPA TO NOPE-A: President TrumpDonald TrumpJan. 6 panel plans to subpoena Trump lawyer who advised on how to overturn election Texans chairman apologizes for 'China virus' remark Biden invokes Trump in bid to boost McAuliffe ahead of Election Day MORE signed an executive order Thursday evening that would waive requirements under a suite of environmental laws, a move the administration says will boost the economy amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The new order expedites the permitting of construction projects and energy projects overseen by several federal agencies, using emergency authorities to skirt environmental regulations with little public notice.
“From the beginning of my Administration, I have focused on reforming and streamlining an outdated regulatory system that has held back our economy with needless paperwork and costly delays,” Trump wrote in the order. “The need for continued progress in this streamlining effort is all the more acute now, due to the ongoing economic crisis.”
The order would slash the requirements in a number of landmark environmental laws, including the Endangered Species Act, the Clean Water Act, and the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), which requires rigorous environmental review before building new infrastructure like highways or pipelines.
Environmental justice advocates who have fought against polluting projects for their proximity to minority communities slammed both the substance of the order and its timing, which comes amid nationwide protests over police brutality.
“This administration is removing phantom barriers that are at their essence protections for the very communities that are struggling most from the health impacts of air and water pollution,” Christy Goldfuss, who headed the White House Council on Environmental Quality under the Obama administration said in a statement.
“They’re trying to divert attention away from the crisis of racial injustice happening around the country, by giving agency leads the excuse to ram through polluting projects that will prop up the dying fossil fuel industry while destroying the very same communities that are dying at higher rates from COVID-19 and police violence, as well,” she added.
Trump’s order comes on the heels of an executive order signed last month that directs agency heads to “identify regulatory standards that may inhibit economic recovery,” prompting conservative groups to say the administration should further rollback NEPA.
The latest order goes further, directing agencies to use their own emergency authorities and the emergency provisions of environmental laws to skip over standard requirements.
Agencies will now have 30 days to report which projects will be expedited under the order, but there is no requirement for that list to be publicized.
Nada Culver, senior policy counsel with the National Audubon Society, said the rule mirrors similar legal maneuvers used by the Trump administration to push ahead with border wall construction.
“They’re trying to use the authority to say ‘We have an emergency and it will last until this administration feels like it, and that emergency is now defined so broadly as an economic issue that it will never end,’” she told The Hill.
“‘We’ll keep delaying any NEPA requirements and you’ll have to guess what we're approving and what we're doing.’”
NEPA has an emergency provision that allows speedy construction of projects, but the example given by the White House Council on Environmental Quality suggests it should be used to respond to natural disasters like flooding.
Lifting the requirements of the law means cutting out a number of steps.
“You’re not conducting adequate environmental review; you're not receiving public comments or responding to public comments. You’re not taking into account the value of birds, wildlife, tribal interests, community impacts. All of those things are considered a burden with this language,” Culver said.
Read more on the executive order here.
AIR QUOTES: The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on Thursday announced a proposal critics say not only restricts the Clean Air Act but will undermine future administrations seeking to reduce air pollution.
The proposal changes how the government justifies its own air pollution regulations, limiting how the EPA weighs carbon pollution that impacts climate change as well as the benefits of tackling multiple air pollutants at once.
The proposal dictates how the agency must compile its cost-benefit analysis for future air rules — a lengthy, technical pro-con list defending a rule that is most often scrutinized by staffers and those who plan to sue over their regulations.
The EPA said its latest measure would provide consistency and accused the Obama administration of faulty accounting that inflated benefits while underestimating costs.
“Today’s proposed action corrects another dishonest accounting method the previous administration used to justify costly, ineffective regulations,” EPA Administrator Andrew WheelerAndrew WheelerOvernight Energy & Environment — Presented by Climate Power — Emissions heading toward pre-pandemic levels Former EPA chief to chair pro-Trump think tank's environmental center Lobbying world MORE said in a statement.
Critics see it as a way to hamstring policy future administrations may want to implement.
“What they’ve done is essentially manipulate and rig the cost-benefit analysis so that when EPA in the future gets back to their mission of protecting the environment and fighting climate change it will be much harder to justify their rules,” said Amit Narang of Public Citizen, a left-leaning advocacy group.
“This is going to have to be one of the first things the next administration and EPA will have to get rid of to get back to doing their jobs,” Narang added.
The proposal impacts a law considered one of the most life-saving on the books. In 2011, the EPA estimated the Clean Air Act would prevent 230,000 early deaths by this year, when the law turns 30.
One of the targets of the rule are so-called co-benefits, like reducing additional pollutants beyond what the agency intended to target.
The EPA gave a preview of Thursday’s proposal when it rolled out its new mercury rule. That rule didn’t change standards power plants must meet for reducing mercury, but those pollution controls also reduce dangerous fine particulate matter like soot.
A rule that went from saving consumers $90 billion under the Obama administration would now cost them $4 million to $6 million under the Trump administration analysis, making it ripe for court challenge.
Indeed, a major coal company sued over the rule a little over a month later.
Cost-benefit analyses do typically include analysis of a wide range of impacts, which in the environmental arena can mean weighing lives saved from reduced air pollution while monetizing the benefits of fighting climate change globally as well as assessing regulatory impacts like job loss and increased costs.
Under the proposal, the EPA would not include co-benefits in the cost-benefit analysis, instead considering them in a separate document.
Wheeler said co-benefits “cannot be used to justify the rule, but I still think it will be important for those calculations to occur for people to look at, and to see.”
But critics say the EPA is acting hypocritically as many of its own rules wouldn’t appear beneficial without considering broader factors.
That includes recent regulations like the Affordable Clean Energy (ACE) rule, which does not impose emissions caps at coal-fired power plants, and the SAFE Vehicles rule, which rolls back Obama-era clear car standards.
“ACE would not have complied with this approach for monetizing co-benefits, nor would the car standards nor would their oil and gas methane standards. This is all about handcuffing the next administration if this administration is not reelected,” said John Walke, a Clean Air Act expert with the Natural Resources Defense Council.
“It’s ideological spite to be proceeding with this so late in the game and by relying on completely fabricated legal authority,” he said. “It’s an ideology they’ve carried but not wanted to constrain themselves with.”
Read more on the proposal here.
A QUESTION OF AMBITION: The Democratic National Committee (DNC) Climate Council — which formed to push the party on climate issues — on Thursday released a set of policy recommendations for a greater investment than presumptive nominee Joe BidenJoe BidenBiden invokes Trump in bid to boost McAuliffe ahead of Election Day Business lobby calls for administration to 'pump the brakes' on vaccine mandate Overnight Defense & National Security — Presented by Boeing — Afghanistan reckoning shows no signs of stopping MORE’s climate plan.
The climate group has endorsed spending between $10 trillion and $16 trillion in federal money over the next 10 years to address climate change whereas the former vice president's campaign calls for $1.7 trillion in federal spending over the same period.
The climate council formed last year and describes itself as a “permanent entity of the DNC.” The group is led by Michelle Deatrick, who has been a surrogate for progressive Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersOvernight On The Money — Senate Democrats lay out their tax plans Overnight Health Care — Presented by Altria — FDA advisers endorse Pfizer vaccine for kids Manchin: 'I think we'll get a framework' deal MORE (I-Vt.).
Deatrick said in a statement Thursday that the group’s proposed platform “provides a blueprint for ambitious action to fight the climate crisis and advance climate and environmental justice.”
“These policies center environmental justice for frontline and vulnerable communities, urgent climate action, and worker empowerment,” she added. “If adopted, these platform recommendations would be the most ambitious policies addressing the climate crisis ever adopted by the Democratic Party.”
Around the time that the group had formed, some advocates wanted the DNC to host a climate-specific debate for candidates running for its 2020 nomination, although that never materialized.
Centrist and leftist factions of the party have agreed that climate change is a major issue. More left-wing members have hoped Democrats would take a more aggressive stance.
The Biden campaign on Thursday declined to comment on the proposal, but the former vice president said in April that he would “meaningfully engage with more voices from the climate movement [and] collaborate on additional policies in areas ranging from environmental justice to new, concrete goals we can achieve within a decade, to more investments in a clean energy economy.”
Read more on the platform here.
OUTSIDE THE BELTWAY:
SF Court Overturns EPA Approval of Dicamba Herbicide Made by Monsanto, 2 Other Firms, NBC Bay Area reports
Atmospheric CO2 reaches peak level at NOAA observatory, we report
A New Weapon Against Climate Change May Float, The New York Times reports
N.J. schools will teach climate change education with new curriculum, NJ.com reports
ICYMI: Stories from Thursday…
Senate advances conservation fund bill, House introduces companion
Bill aims to help farmers sell carbon credits
DNC climate group calls for larger federal investment on climate than Biden's current plan
Atmospheric CO2 reaches peak level at NOAA observatory
New Trump air rule will limit future pollution regulations, critics say
Park Police asked to defend rationale behind clearing protesters
Former employees critique EPA under Trump in new report
Russia declares emergency after 20,000 tons of diesel leak near Arctic Circle
Trump signs order removing environmental reviews for major projects