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.

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EPA Issues Final Cross State Air Pollution Rule

EPA Issues Final Cross State Air Pollution Rule

On September 7, 2016, The EPA finalized Federal Implementation Plans (FIPs) in the Cross State Air Pollution Rule (CSAPR) Update to address air quality impacts of the interstate transport of ozone air pollution in the eastern United States.

CSAPR addresses summertime (May through September) transport of ozone pollution in the Eastern U.S. that crosses state lines. CSAPR aims to cut emissions of nitrogen oxides from power plants in 22 states, including Alabama, that contribute to downwind ozone problems.

The final version will not take effect until May of 2017. However, the updated CSAPR helps downwind states meet the old 75 parts per billion standard instead of the 70 parts per billion standard that became final in October of 2015.

EPA estimates that CSAPR will cut NOx releases next year by about 80,000 tons in the affected states, constituting about a 20 percent drop from last year’s levels. EPA estimates the benefits will amount to about $880 million per year, including prevention of harmful health effects such as:

  • Over 67,000 asthma attacks;
  • Almost 56,000 days of missed work and school;
  • Over 240 hospital and ER visits; and
  • Up to 60 premature deaths.

The budget emissions for Alabama in the Final CSAPR update are:

  • 2015 Emissions: 20,369
  • Proposed 2017 Update CSAPR Update Budget: 9,979
  • Final 2017 CSAPR Update Budget: 13,211

Ozone exposure leads to premature death, coughing, sore throats, damage to the lungs, exacerbation of respiratory conditions such as asthma, emphysema and chronic bronchitis. This dangerous ozone is known as ground-level ozone, which forms when nitrogen oxides react with volatile organic compounds.

Coal-fired power plants, large industrial facilities, vehicles and gasoline vapors all contribute to ozone pollution. Transient weather events and weather conditions play a crucial role in ground-level ozone concentrations. Summers with hotter temperatures and dryer conditions yield higher ozone days than wetter and cooler summers. From May through June of 2014, temperatures in Alabama were below average while precipitation was above average.

The CSAPR update is welcome news from the EPA, where Jefferson County experienced two “orange,” ozone days (unhealthy for sensitive groups) this week. Metro Birmingham so far this year has had a significant number of ozone days:

May 2016 table
June 2016
July 2016 Table

Our mission is to reduce the burden of air pollution on people who live, work, and learn in Alabama through education and advocacy. To support this vital work, become a member today!

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Stronger Air Pollution Standards Could Save Lives

Stronger Air Pollution Standards Could Save Lives

“Meeting tighter pollution standards could prevent 63 avoidable deaths, 117 serious illnesses, and 88,414 adverse impact days in Birmingham alone.”

A report released this week by the American Thoracic Society and the Marron Institute of Urban Management at New York University shows the toll air pollution takes on public health. In “Estimated Excess Morbidity and Mortality Caused by Air Pollution above ATS Recommended Standards, 2011-2013,”  researchers calculated the health benefits of stricter air pollution standards.

The interactive Health of the Air website, which complements the report, lets users enter their ZIP code to see the possible effect of reducing ozone and fine particle pollution (PM2.5) in terms of avoidable deaths, serious illnesses, and adverse impact days (e.g., missed days of school and work). Ozone and PM2.5 are both criteria air pollutants.

The standards that ATS recommends are consistent with what Gasp has recommended. They advocate 60 parts per billion (ppb) 8-hour standard for ozone (compared with the EPA’s standard of 70 ppb). They suggest a standard of 11 micrograms per cubic meter (µg/m3) annually for PM2.5, rather than the EPA’s 12 µg/m3 annual standard.

Nationwide design values for fine particulate matter (PM2.5) by county

Nationwide design values for fine particulate matter (PM2.5) by county. Click to enlarge.

Nationwide design values for ozone (O3) by county

Nationwide design values for ozone (O3) by county. Click to enlarge.

The findings show that meeting tighter pollution standards could prevent 63 avoidable deaths, 117 serious illnesses, and 88,414 adverse impact days in Birmingham alone. Alabama as a whole could potentially avoid 91 deaths, 179 serious illnesses, and 145,126 adverse impact days.

The report finds that across the United States, adhering to these stronger pollution standards could:

  • Save 9,320 lives;
  • Reduce serious health events (morbidities), such as heart attacks, hospital admissions and emergency room visits, by 21,400; and
  • Decrease “adverse impact days,” during which people may not be able to work, go to school or otherwise be physically active because of severe breathing problems, by 19,300,000 days.

Harold P. Wimmer, National President and CEO of the American Lung Association, said in a statement:

“This research underscores the need for strong clean air protections, especially for the most vulnerable, including children, older adults and those in low-income communities, where air pollution takes a greater toll on health…Reducing ozone and particle pollution is essential to achieving the promise of the Clean Air Act: healthy air for all to breathe.”

We couldn’t agree more. This important report clearly demonstrates the urgent need to reduce ozone and particle pollution in order to protect those who live, work, and learn in Birmingham and indeed all of Alabama. We have urged and will continue to urge regulators and lawmakers alike to pass more protective air quality standards for all Alabamians. Everyone deserves to breathe clean air.

We’re dedicated to increasing awareness of the health effects of air pollution, increasing scientific literacy, and advocating for policies that will improve air quality for every Alabamian. Consider becoming a member to support this vital work.

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New Ozone Standards Will Protect Children, Elderly

New Ozone Standards Will Protect Children, Elderly

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency today released a long-awaited new air quality health standard for ground-level ozone, or smog. This announcement is welcome news for thousands of Alabamians young and old who want to live a healthy life.

The EPA set the new threshold at 70 parts per billion, down from the previous level of 75 ppb set in 2008. Regulated under the Clean Air Act, ground-level ozone is a harmful air pollutant that forms when sunlight mixes with emissions from cars, power plants, and factories. The EPA’s Scientific Advisory Panel had recommended a stronger standard of 60 parts per billion. Gasp submitted comments to the EPA in support of the panel’s suggestion.

While we are encouraged by the new ozone standards, the fact of the matter is that better is not good enough. Scientists believe there are still health risks at 70 ppb, especially for vulnerable populations: children, pregnant women, senior adults, people who exercise outdoors, and folks with lung and heart disease.

ozone asthma

Ozone can trigger asthma attacks that send kids to the hospital. For people living with heart and lung disease, exposure to ozone can be deadly. Ozone every year accounts for thousands of emergency room visits and sick days at work and in the classroom — costing millions of dollars in medical bills and lost productivity.

RELATED: Jenny Wilson, a Voice for Clean Air, discusses living an active life with chronic asthma

Who’s at risk in Jefferson County?

  • 18,230 kids with asthma
  • 43,172 adults with asthma
  • 51,777 people living with COPD
  • 62,145 people living with heart disease
  • 68,350 people with diabetes

Last year, the American Lung Association found that four out of 10 people in the U.S. live in counties that received “F”s in its annual State of the Air report. In Alabama, Jefferson County, home to nearly 700,000 people, continues to receive a failing grade. Under the new standards, Jefferson and Shelby counties would fail to adequately protect public health.

Everyone deserves a chance to live a healthy life and enjoy the economic benefits of clean air. Until the air we breathe is safe for every Alabamian, we still have work to do.

ozone action

Take action today! Send a message to your lawmakers urging them to “come out” in support of the EPA’s important new protections for public health.

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