Business, Environmentalist, Green

EPA Boots Scientists Off Scientific Review Board

At least five scientists have been removed from the EPA's Board of Science Counselors.
At least five scientists have been removed from the EPA’s Board of Science Counselors. Photo: bakdc / Shutterstock.com

At least five academic scientists have been dismissed from a major review board, according to the New York Times.

J.P. Freire, a spokesman for EPA administrator Scott Pruitt, said Pruitt would consider replacing the academic scientists with representatives from industries that are supposed to be regulated by the EPA. “The administrator believes we should have people on this board who understand the impact of regulations on the regulated community,” Freire said.

This isn’t a surprising move, given that Pruitt is a former oil company executive who has questioned human-caused climate change—something that has been agreed on by at least 97 percent of the scientific community—and has been tasked by President Trump to roll back Obama-era regulations on clean water protection and climate change.

The scientists were dismissed from the 18-member Board of Scientific Counselors, which reviews and evaluates the research conducted by the EPA’s scientists.

“We want to expand the pool of applicants” for the scientific board, Freire said, “to as broad a range as possible, to include universities that aren’t typically represented and issues that aren’t typically represented.”

Ken Kimmell, president of the Union of Concerned Scientists, said, “This is completely part of a multifaceted effort to get science out of the way of a deregulation agenda.”

“I see the dismissal of the scientists from the Board of Scientific Counselors as a test balloon,” said Joseph Arvai of the University of Michigan, a member of the Scientific Advisory Board (SAB), a 47-member commission that advises the EPA on areas on where it should conduct research and evaluates the scientific integrity of EPA regulations. “This is clearly very political, and we should be very concerned if it goes further.”

On the other hand, Texas Republican Representative Lamar Smith, chairman of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology, said the SAB had become nothing but a rubber-stamp organization that approves all of the EPA’s regulations. He wrote a bill designed to restock that board with more members from the business world.

“The EPA routinely stacks this board with friendly scientists who receive millions of dollars in grants from the federal government,” Smith said. “The conflict of interest here is clear.”

“Today I was Trumped,” Robert Richardson, an environmental economist wrote on Twitter. “I have had the pleasure of serving on the EPA Board of Scientific Counselors, and my appointment was terminated today.”

“I believe this is political,” said Dr. Courtney Flint, a professor of natural resource sociology at Utah State University, said of the dismissals from the Board of Science Counselors. “It’s unexpected. It’s a red flag.”

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Environmental Hazards, Environmentalist, Science

National Academy of Sciences Says EPA Pollutant Studies Are Necessary

EPA employees protest job cuts, March 2, 2017
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) workers and supporters protest job cuts during rally in Chicago, Illinois, March 2, 2017. Photo: John Gress Media Inc / Shutterstock.com

The EPA periodically performs controlled human inhalation exposure (CHIE) studies, in which people are exposed to air pollutants in order to study their short-term effects. The concentration and duration of such exposure is minimal, intended to not have any lasting harm on participants, and of 845 such participants in eight studies between 2009 and 2016, only one person had an unexpected complication.

But that does mean that there is some potential risk to participants who, while they are provided with information about the potential risks of such studies, are given that information through highly technical consent forms. The National Academy of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine recently finished a study that found that the value of the CHIE studies outweighs their risk, with some caveats.

Primarily, they suggest that the EPA develop clearer language for participant consent forms, in order to prevent further dangers. “While communicating with potential participants, it’s particularly important to appropriately characterize the risks,” said Robert Hiatt, professor of epidemiology and biostatistics at the University of California, San Francisco. “EPA needs to make every effort to ensure that these descriptions are accurate, scientifically grounded, and comprehensible to people.”

But overall, the studies have been found to benefit society far more than they endanger participants, which is exactly what one might want from such studies. By looking at how pollutants interact with human biology on their own, we can learn more about those pollutants in particular, which informs laws about air quality. It also helps us to determine what might be to blame when pollutants mix in the atmosphere and cause otherwise unforeseen problems.

The findings by the National Academy come at a time when the EPA is under considerable scrutiny by Congress and the President. Anything that can help the EPA prove that they’re helping the American people will be welcome in keeping that agency funded and active, which is necessary if we’re to do anything about climate change and other human activities which damage the planet.

Business, Eco-friendly, Environmentalist

Environmentalists: It’s Time to Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is

With the repeal of environmental regulations, environmentalists are going to need to do their own green investing to ensure the future of sustainable energy.

On Tuesday, March 28, President Trump signed an executive order that rescinded Obama’s Clean Power Plan. The president lifted carbon emissions regulations in order to resume coal-mining operations.

“My administration is putting an end to the war on coal,” Trump asserted. “I am taking historic steps to lift the restrictions on American energy to reverse government intrusions and to cancel job killing regulations.”

Environmentalists saw this coming from a mile away. They tried to voice their concerns in the form of protests, but their collective cries fell on deaf ears. That’s because money appears to be the only language that the current administration understands. In other words, the time for talking about sustainability is over. It’s time to take action by investing in clean energy alternatives.

Some companies, such as private equity firm KKR, are already leading the way in this regard. KKR has invested an astounding $5 billion into ESG (environment, social, and governance) driven companies.

“Investors can play a central role in resolving some of the global challenges in a way that civil society or government organizations cannot do alone,” writes Ken Mehlman, Member and Global Head of Public Affairs at KKR. “Our portfolio company Afriflora is a good example. Located in Ethiopia, Afriflora cultivates and produces Fair Trade Certified, sustainably-grown roses.”

It’s like the old saying goes: money talks. And while the average citizen certainly can’t afford to shell out the kind of dough that KKR does, they can still make an impact by purchasing small shares of green companies.

So which companies should environmentalists invest in? According to Investopedia, the top four alternative energy stocks for 2017 are:

  • NRG Yield Inc.
  • MagneGas Corp.
  • Atlantica Yield PLC
  • Covanta Holding Corp.

If there’s anything that the current administration has taught us, it’s that climate change facts and statistics aren’t enough. Environmentalists will have to reach deep into their pockets if they want to influence the future of energy.

Climate Change, Environmental Hazards, EPA, Health

EPA’s Air Pollution Proposal Meets With Opposition

Smoggy LA skyline
The EPA’s proposal would see smog reduced, but at what cost?
Image: Shutterstock

On Wednesday the Environmental Protection Agency proposed a significant change to the air quality standard for ground level ozone, leading to an outcry amongst industry lobbyists.

The EPA’s proposal would see the existing standard of 75 parts per billion lowered to a range of 65 to 70 ppb–closer to what EPA scientists have said is optimal for health, but still not in the range environmentalists would like to see:  they estimate that there’s no definite protection of human health until 60 ppb.

A similar proposal from the EPA was shot down previously by the Obama administration, which was facing a reelection campaign.  Now, however, with Obama at the end of his second term and wanting to secure his environmental legacy, the EPA and other activists are hoping for a more favorable outcome.

Senate Republicans and industry groups have expressed concern that such a proposal would be prohibitively expensive.  In a letter sent to the Office of Management and Budget, Senators David Vitter and Jim Inhofe called the proposal “one of the most devastating regulations in a series of over-reaching regulatory actions” and called for a cost-benefit analysis.  This is despite preliminary cost evaluations conducted by the EPA suggesting that meeting a lower ppb standard would actually be cheaper in the long run.

Obama, for his part, has already shown interest in creating a far-reaching environmental legacy during the rest of his time in office.  He has not created any new legislation, but has instead focused on reworking the Clean Air Act of 1970 to promote changes in regulations on air pollution, from soot and smog to mercury and carbon dioxide.  His work has led to the first American national policy to combat global warming and the reshaping of manufacturing and electric utilities to promote more environmentally friendly products.  Obama has worked “to push forward in a way that no president ever has,” said Jody Freeman, director of Harvard University’s environmental law program and a former counselor to the president.

However, opposition from Republicans over threats to jobs could prevent proposed policies from being enacted.  In particular, Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell, likely to take control as majority leader in the next Congressional term, has vowed to block or delay any attempt by the Obama administration to put forward new environmental policies.  McConnell’s home state of Kentucky, perhaps not incidentally, is a major producer of coal.

The time of Republican leaders passing environmental legislation, such as Nixon signing the 1970 Clean Air Act into law and George Bush updating the act in 1990, appear to be past, at least until the question of definite financial burden is answered.

Climate Change, Conservation, Eco-friendly, Environmental Hazards, EPA

GOP Launches Investigation into EPA Carbon Emission Rule

The GOP vs. the EPA on carbon emissions
The GOP wants more information on the EPA’s carbon emission rule.
Image: Shutterstock

Earlier this week, House Republicans launched an investigation into what they are deeming “improper influence” by a national environmental group in the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) creation of a federal rule to reduce carbon emissions from power plants.

Members of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee and the Senate Environmental and Public Works Committee are working together on the investigation. According to The Blaze, the groups sent letters cooperatively to the EPA and Natural Resources Defense Council earlier this week to ask for more documents from 2009 and concerning the Natural Resources Defense Council’s (NRDC) involvement in the design of the carbon rule.

“According to recent news reports, it appears that NRDC played an outsized role in drafting the EPA’s proposed regulations for carbon emissions from existing power plants,” one of the letters charged. “Such collusive activities provide the NRDC and their financial backers with an inappropriate opportunity to wield the broad powers of the executive branch.  Such unprecedented access also violates the due process principles found in the Administrative Powers Act.”

Supposedly, the investigation was sparked after a New York Times report was published that stated the NRDC provided blueprints used for the rules and “heavily influenced the President’s proposal.”

House Oversight Chairman Darrell Issa, a Republican from California, and Louisiana Senator David Vitter are requesting that the EPA and the NRDC hand over documents and communications that relate to the carbon pollution rule on existing power plants from 2009 to the present. “Sen. Vitter, Rep. Issa, and their colleagues are acting as if fighting for public health were an un-American activity,” said Ed Chen, of NRDC. “Democratic and Republican presidents dating back to Dwight Eisenhower have worked to curb pollution and protect our natural resources.”

Republicans have asked for all documents regarding the federal carbon emission rule to be provided by September 16.

Climate Change, EPA, Green, Health

How Obama Made Climate Change History this Week

Barack Obama with "change we need" poster.
Obama’s drastic climate changes are exactly what we need.
Action Sports Photography / Shutterstock.com

Early this week, the Obama administration unveiled historic environmental rules to cut carbon pollution from power plants by 30% by 2030. The rules, announced formally by the Environmental Protection Agency, are the first time any president has moved to regulate carbon pollution from power plants – the largest single source of carbon dioxide emissions that cause climate change.

“For the sake of our families’ health and our kids’ future, we have a moral obligation to act on climate,” EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy said. “When we do, we’ll turn risks on climate into business opportunity. We’ll spur innovation and investment, and we’ll build a world-leading clean energy economy.”

The proposed rules also would result in reductions in particle pollutions, nitrogen oxides and sulfur dioxide by more than 25 percent, which EPA officials say would prevent in 6,600 premature deaths and 150,000 asthma attacks in children per year once fully implemented. The health improvements also would result in the avoidance of 490,000 missed work or school days, which the EPA says equals savings of $93 billion a year.

Four power plants emitting pollution
Obama’s new environmental policy requires a 30% cut in power plant carbon emissions by 2030.
Image: Shutterstock

The proposal, although promoted fully by the president and Democratic leadership in Congress, ran into immediate opposition from business lobbies, Republicans in Congress and some Democrats facing tough election battles. The coal industry – which will be hit hardest by the new rules – said the regulations would hurt the economy and lead to power outages.

“If these rules are allowed to go into effect, the administration, for all intents and purposes, is creating America’s next energy crisis,” the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity said.

The problem is, the climate crisis will wipe us all out if we don’t do something big about it. What sort of world do we want our children to live in, or their children, or their children’s children? And for that matter, when does our planet just become completely unlivable? Will people believe that the time is right for a change then? No one ever said tackling a problem like climate change was going to be easy–it’s going to cost us a lot of money, effort, and yes, in some cases maybe even jobs (in many cases, it will actually create new jobs). But if we ignore it, or if we don’t do enough to combat it, the problem will only get worse. Isn’t the health of our planet more important than money? Than jobs? If we don’t figure something out, then someday money and jobs won’t matter anymore–because we’ll have completely destroyed our home, the place that allows us to live at all. It’s about time the U.S. got on board with climate change reform–especially since we’re one of the largest offenders. So bravo, Mr. Obama. Let’s just hope it’s not too late to make a difference.

Business, Climate Change, Environmental Hazards, EPA

EPA Finds Car Emissions Below GHG Cap

car-emissions
The EPA reported that the automobile industry is “off to a good start” for meeting greenhouse gas emissions standards.
Image: Shutterstock

The EPA released a Manufacturers Performance Report that assesses the automobile industry’s progress toward meeting greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions standards. The automobile industry is “off to a good start,” the EPA reported, in meeting those standards for cars and light trucks based on the data in the 2012 model year, the first year of the 14-year program.

The final 2012 standard was 296 grams of greenhouse gas/mile. Automakers’ overall GHG performance was, on average, 286 grams of GHG/mile, which is 9.8 grams of GHG/mile below what the 2012 standards required. The EPA projects the GHG emission standards will cut 6 billion metric tons of greenhouse gases over the lifetimes of vehicles sold in model years 2012-2025.

The data from the report shows that in a model year 2012, the industry reduced tailpipe carbon dioxide emissions, and also used the optional flexibilities built into the standards. The report also shows that consumers bought cleaner vehicles in the first year of the program than the 2012 GHG standard required.

The program has a multi-year structure, so the EPA will not make formal compliance determinations for the 2012 model year until 2015. The agency says it will closely track progress towards greenhouse gas emissions compliance and intends to issue annual manufacturers performance reports on the program.

It’s so good to see progress, even if just a tiny bit at a time. If we can continue, and speed up, this progress, we might even save the earth from ourselves. Wouldn’t that be nice?