Federal Roundup: Recent Executive and Legislative Actions

Federal Roundup: Recent Executive and Legislative Actions

It’s been a few weeks since I updated everyone on executive and legislative actions. Sadly, this is not because there has been nothing to update; so this will be a long one! However, one reason this update is delayed is because I attended an inspiring conference two weeks ago that replenished my “hope budget” and gave me new energy to tackle the many and ever-growing attacks on clean air. Since I blogged last month, several new developments have cropped up and we have new updates:

New Developments

  • March 6, 2017: White House Announces Plan to “Close Out” Energy Star program: A spending blueprint would slash Energy Star and related programs, leaving $5 million “for the closeout or transfer of all the climate protection voluntary partnership programs.” According to our friends at ACEEE, Energy Star spend about $50 million through EPA and $7 million through the Department of Energy. According to the Obama administration, the Energy Star program saved consumers $34 billion in electricity costs and prevented more than 300 million metric tons of GHGs in one year while improving ambient air quality.
  • March 8: The HONEST Act (H.R. 1430): This proposed bill is sponsored by Lamar Smith, R-TX. The bill works “[t]o prohibit the Environmental Protection Agency from proposing, finalizing, or disseminating regulations or assessments based upon science that is not transparent or reproducible.” This bill is an attempt to revise the EPA’s scientific review process that guides their rulemaking. The bill was introduced on March 8, 2017 and passed by recorded vote in the House (228 – 194) on March 29, 2017.
  • March 13: Executive Order on a Comprehensive Plan for Reorganizing the Executive Branch: President Trump signed this Executive Order, where the stated purpose is “intended to improve the efficiency, effectiveness, and accountability of the executive branch by directing the Director of the Office of Management and Budget (Director) to propose a plan to reorganize governmental functions and eliminate unnecessary agencies (as defined in section 551(1) of title 5, United States Code), components of agencies, and agency programs.”
  • March 15: Republicans Joint Resolution on Climate Change: A group of 17 Republican members of Congress signed a resolution vowing to seek “economically viable” ways to combat global warming. It pledges to “study and address the causes and effects of measured changes to our global and regional climates” and seek ways to “balance human activities” that contribute.
  • March 17: Ozone Standards Implementation Act of 2016 (H.R. 4775). This proposed bill, sponsored by Pete Olson, R-TX, was reintroduced and aims to update to the national ozone standards, with various provisions that would change the way the Environmental Protection Agency reviews standards for particulate matter, lead and other air pollutants. The same bill failed last year and we blogged about its potential disastrous effects on air quality and public health.
  • March 21: President Trump is Not Considering a Carbon Tax: despite a meeting between Republican elder statesmen and Trump Administration officials, President Trump announced he is not considering a carbon tax.
  • March 28: Presidential Executive Order on Promoting Energy Independence and Economic Growth: President Trump signed this Executive Order. The goal is to halt the United States’ government’s attempts to curb carbon dioxide emissions with the goal of encouraging American business. We borrowed the words of our friends at NAACP on this day to express our extreme disappointment with this negligent and potentially disastrous change in course for addressing the impacts of climate change.
  • April 5: Congressional hearing on the RECLAIM Act of 2017 (H.R. 1731): At the hearing, ranking member Alan Lowenthal, D-CA, stated “[t]he idea behind the RECLAIM Act is to take part of the large unexpended balance in the [AML Fund] and devote it to projects where cleaning up mines leads to economic and community benefits. This is, quite frankly, a win-win.” There was testimony from the bill’s lead sponsor, Hal Rogers, R-KY, and three witnesses. The hearing itself was a major milestone for the RECLAIM Act.

FOLLOW UP ON ACTIONS PREVIOUSLY COVERED

  • Congressional Review Act put into play by U.S. Congress: The CRA allows senators and representatives who disapprove of a regulation to enter a resolution eliminating it. The resolutions require the signature of the president. So far this year, the following rules protecting the environment and human health have been targeted under the CRA:
  1. The Department of Interior’s Stream Protection Rule: Update: On February 16, 2017, President Donald Trump signed the repeal of the Stream Protection Rule.
  2. Department of the Interior Methane Flaring Rule: The House voted on February 3, 2017 with no action so far from the Senate as of the date of this post. Update: on March 21, 2017, some Republican lawmakers came out against using the CRA to repeal this rule. Specifically, Sen. Lindsey Graham said he believed the rule could be subject to improvement, not just cancellation. “I think we can replace it with a better reg, rather than a CRA.”
  3. Drilling and Mining on Public Lands: On January 31, 2017, the House introduced a joint resolution that would repeal the rules that allow the National Park Service to manage private drilling and mining in 40 parks across the country.

Status of Bills in U.S. Congress covered in previous posts:

Bill NumberSponsorDescriptionStatus
HR 998Jason Smith, R-MOEstablishes a commission to identify obsolete and unnecessarily burdensome regulations to be repealed. It also sets goals for the commission to reduce costs by 15 percent and to prioritize major rules that are more than 15 years old and rules that can be eliminated without diminishing effectiveness.No action since the bill passed the House on 3/1/2017.
HR 1009Paul Mitchell, R-MIRequires independent agencies to submit rules to the Office of Management and Budget before they are published—essentially giving the president tight control of the rule-making processNo action since the bill passed the House on 3/1/2017.
HR 1004Tim Walberg, R-MIWould require agencies to publish more detail of forthcoming rules and regulationsNo action since the bill passed the House on 3/2/2017.
HR 637Gary Palmer, R-ALBlocks the EPA’s ability to address climate changeNo actions taken since the bill was introduced. You can read our analysis of the bill here.
HR 861Matt Gaetz, R-FLWould abolish the EPA effective December 31, 2018No actions taken since the bill was introduced.
HR 958Sam Johnson, R-TXWould leave EPA with a budget of less than $1 billion. This bill would eliminate EPA climate change programs and would also close all of the EPA’s regional offices, halt new regulations on ground-level ozone pollution and require the agency to lease unused propertyNo actions taken since the bill was introduced.
  • February 21, 2017: Letter sent from automobile manufacturers to Scott Pruitt asking him to relax emissions requirements: The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers sent a letter to Scott Pruitt (EPA Administrator) asking him to withdraw the Final Determination on Appropriateness of the Model Year 2022-2025 Light-Duty Vehicle Greenhouse Gas Emissions Standards under the Midterm Evaluation. Update: on March 15, 2017, President Trump announced plans to re-examine the CAFE (Corporate Average Fuel Economy) standards, taking a step back from Obama-era environmental regulations.
  • OMB Proposed Budget Cuts to EPA and NOAA: The proposed budget cuts would reduce EPA’s staff by one fifth in the first year and eliminate dozens of programs. Specifically, EPA’s staff would be slashed from 15,000 to 12,000. The proposed budget would also cut EPA’s grants to states, including air and water programs, by 30 percent and eliminate 38 separate programs in their entirety. Media outlets also discovered a four page budget memo that would slash NOAA’s budget by 17 percent, delivering steep cuts to research funding and satellite programs. Any such cuts would have to be codified through the congressional appropriations process. Update: U.S. Congress is currently in recess for the Easter holiday but are expected to consider OMB’s budget proposal upon their return.

Make sure you’re signed up to receive our e-newsletters. We send updates and action alerts about issues that could threaten air quality, public health, and the environment. We will also always provide ways for you to act on any development, whether it’s positive or negative.

Alabama is the 3rd Most Expensive State for Electricity Bills

Alabama is the 3rd Most Expensive State for Electricity Bills

Here we go again. Alabama has been named one of the most energy-expensive states according to WalletHub, a website that provides consumers with free financial information and analysis.

Source: WalletHub

We fared better overall in this year’s report than we did in 2014. Alabama now ranks 13th most expensive, compared to sixth two years ago. While that is an improvement, electricity bills continue to be the main driver.

Related: Read our statement on Climate Change & Energy Policy

Alabama ranked 3rd most expensive for monthly electricity bills behind Hawaii and South Carolina Alabama and just ahead of Mississippi. The state ranks 14th for motor-fuel costs; 39th for home heating-oil costs; and 40th for natural gas costs. Below are some tips, which I’ve semi-plagiarized from my last post on this topic, on how to reduce electricity consumption.

Unplug.

airplane plugAn easy way to reduce the amount of energy you’re using and lower your electricity bill is to unplug appliances and other electronics that aren’t being used. If you have a spare refrigerator in the garage that you never utilize, pull the plug! That TV in the spare bedroom? Disconnect that bad boy. For appliances that you use on an irregular basis, such as a home theatre system, use a power strip and flip the switch when you want to use it.

Turn Down the Thermostat.

dog-ac

It’s summertime in Alabama. I get it. But one of the easiest ways to reduce your electricity bill a little bit is to set your thermostat a couple degrees higher. Increasing the temperature from 72 degrees to 76 degrees can save a couple bucks each billing cycle — and that adds up! The inverse goes for winter months (e.g., set the thermostat to 67 degrees or so). If you’re going to be out of town for a few days, you can be even more extreme. Adjusting your thermostat with the seasons also critically reduces the amount of electricity you’re using. Less power means less pollution.

Turn Out the Lights.

cat turning off light

This is one of the oldest energy saving tips in the book, but it’s always worth the reminder. When you’re not home or if you leave a room, just flip that switch to “off.” It only takes a second, but it’s one of the most common wastes of energy that we’re all guilty of from time to time.

Invest in Home Improvement.

home improvement opening

No, we’re not talking about the popular 90s sitcom. Investing in upgrades in your home is the best long-term solution to reducing your energy output. Home improvement encompasses a broad array of upgrades: better insulation, energy efficient appliances, compact fluorescent lightbulbs, new windows. Look for the Energy Star® label when you’re ready to make an investment. The label is on everything from microwave, washers, dryers, dishwashers, and even windows.

WalletHub Artwork: Most and Least Expensive States

Source: WalletHub

EPA Proposes First-Ever Rules to Reduce Methane Emissions

EPA Proposes First-Ever Rules to Reduce Methane Emissions

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is continuing the streak of important air pollution prevention regulations. Last week, the EPA proposed the nation’s first-ever rules for methane emissions from oil and natural gas drilling. Methane is the primary component of natural gas. The agency hopes to bring methane pollution down 40 to 45 percent from 2012 levels by 2025.

Methane (CH4) is a potent greenhouse gas, second only to CO2 in prevalence from human activities. It is emitted from oil and gas operations, agricultural activities, and waste management — as well as from natural sources like wetlands, termites, oceans and volcanoes.

The EPA explains why regulating methane gas is so important:

Methane’s lifetime in the atmosphere is much shorter than carbon dioxide, but CH4 is more efficient at trapping radiation than CO2. Pound for pound, the comparative impact of CH4 on climate change is 25 times greater than CO2 over a 100-year period.

Think Progress, the media arm of the Washington, D.C., think tank Center for American Progress, takes issue with the EPA’s numbers, citing short- and medium-term global warming potential of methane (compared to the longer-term measure of 100 years). As fellow Joe Romm explains, “The bottom line is that methane is a superpotent greenhouse gas — especially over the medium-term, a timeframe of growing concern to scientists.”

Some environmental groups have said that the proposed rule isn’t strong enough because it’s voluntary for existing oil and gas operations and mandatory only for new or modified facilities, while others point out that oil and gas producers have a vested interest in reducing emissions — leaked methane is lost product and revenue.

Mark Brownstein, vice president of the Environmental Defense Fund’s climate and energy program, told InsideClimate News, “It is naive to think that all [oil and gas producers] are simply going to sign up to do what’s right absent some prodding from federal and state regulation.”

Gasp commends the EPA for taking this important first step to reduce methane pollution. Greenhouse gases threaten public health by contributing to human-generated climate change. Inaction is unacceptable, and we urge companies to do the right thing and comply with these standards once they are finalized.

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