United States Environmental Protection Agency

Supreme Court Hampers EPA on Greenhouse Gases But It Could Have Been Worse

Photograph by Joseph E.B. Elliot/Library of Congress
Today, the Supreme Court failed to release almost all of the term's outstanding opinions for another day (or two, or three.) But it did issue an opinion dealing with the authority of the Environmental Protection Agency to deal with one the most pressing problems facing the world: climate change. Justice Scalia's opinion unnecessarily restricts the EPA's ability to regulate greenhouse gases, but the opinion could have been much worse. Utility Air Regulatory Group v. Environmental Protection Agency does deal with a real issue in the Clean Air Act. The act calls for the EPA to require permits from stationary sources that emitted between 100 and 250 tons or more per year of a pollutant covered by the act. In the context of carbon emissions, however, the quantities produced are much greater than for the typical pollutant, which would turn a statutory provision intended to exclude minor sources of pollution into a requirement to regulate these relatively small sources. Sensibly, the EPA...

The Year in Preview: The EPA Levels Up

Press Association via AP Images
AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite Protesters ask President Obama to deny granting permission for TransCanada to build the 1,700-mile long pipeline gathered at the White House in August. P roposals that make it as far in Washington as cap-and-trade did rarely die cleanly; they suffer and bleed and seed the ground with a new generation of mutant offspring. Some of the planted ideas aren’t strong enough to thrive in the harsh conditions of politics; others turn out to be surprising hardy. Building a campaign around the Keystone XL pipeline was one of the latter type. Born out of cap-and-trade's failures, it thrived, fed by two theories—that you can’t trust D.C. politicos to react responsibly to climate change and that victory in the next legislative bout would require gathering power outside the capital. As as issue, Keystone XL has grown so big that, whatever decision the Obama administration finally makes about it in 2014, it will be brandished as an omen of this country's future (and,...

The Danger in Our Water Supply

A dairy farm with 2,500 cows produces as much waste as Miami. FairWarning investigates how that puts our water supply in danger.

Rex Images via AP Photo
Kate Golden, Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism This investigation was conducted by FairWarning ( www.fairwarning.org ) a Los Angeles-based nonprofit investigative news organization focused on public health and safety issues. A s factory farms take over more and more of the nation’s livestock production, a major environmental threat has emerged: Pollution from the waste produced by the immense crush of animals. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that America’s livestock create three times as much excreta as the human population. By the agency’s reckoning , a dairy farm with 2,500 cows—which is large, but not exceptional—can generate as much waste as the people in a city the size of Miami. Yet unlike human waste, which often receives sophisticated treatment, animal waste commonly goes untreated. It is typically held in underground pits or vast manure lagoons, and then spread on cropland as fertilizer. It’s been this way for decades, but worries have grown along...

Judges Take On Climate Skeptics

(Flickr / freefotouk)
Three of the D.C. Court of Appeals’ judges delivered climate-regulation opponents what can only be termed a righteous smackdown last week. Their opinion on the Environmental Protection Agency’s work to regulate greenhouse gases is, as much as any legal opinion can be, a delight to read. From the barely tempered exasperation in the court’s opening salvo—“We begin with a brief primer on greenhouse gases”—to the impatience with the lines of reasoning called upon by industry and its allies in state government—“This argument is little more than a semantic trick”—this legal document is a salve for anyone sick of the protestations against taking any action, ever, to tackle the looming disaster that is climate change. The case at hand combined a mountain of complaints about almost every action the EPA has taken to regulate carbon. The agency began the process in 2007 in response to the Supreme Court’s requirement that it consider whether the Clean Air Act covered greenhouse-gas emissions. In...

Yes, America, Global Warming Does Exist

The D.C. Circuit Court says so, despite convoluted industry arguments to the contrary.

AP Images
“Freedom is the freedom to say that two plus two make zero,” Winston Smith, the hero of George Orwell’s Nineteen Eight-Four, writes in his secret journal. “If that is granted, all else follows.” Or to paraphrase for the modern era, “EPA is not required to re-prove the existence of the atom every time it approaches a scientific question.” The second line is from the per curiam opinion of the Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit announced Tuesday in Coalition for Responsible Regulation v. Environmental Protection Agency . This decision is a massive win for science generally, and climate science in particular, against powerful forces that have spent a decade insisting that two plus two equals four. To understand the background of the case, you must recall that in the 2007 case of Massachusetts v. EPA , the Supreme Court rejected the Bush administration’s argument that the EPA had no jurisdiction over greenhouse gases. Carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases, the administration...

Running Out the Clock on Government Regulations

House bill could hamstring important protections

Tuesday, the U.S. House Committee on the Judiciary passed, on a party-line vote, one of the most sweeping attacks in decades on government protections. The Rules from the Executive in Need of Scrutiny (REINS) bill would require that any major rule issued by a federal agency be affirmed by a majority vote in both the House and Senate. The vote would have to take place within 70 days. Proponents of the legislation claim that it would lead to improved regulations, but its real effect would be to hamstring government agencies so that rules that do not pass muster with the radical Republicans in the House—say, regulations from the Environmental Protection Agency or the Securities and Exchange Commission—would never be adopted. Leaving aside outright opposition to specific rules, many new regulations would fail simply because of time constraints. Over the past decade, under both Republican and Democratic presidents, the federal government has never issued fewer than 50 major rules in a...

Conservative Journalism, Raising the Bar

I'm a longtime critic of the idea that "objectivity" is the true and only path to journalistic truth, and I believe that here at the Prospect, we prove it every day. It's perfectly possible to have a point of view and still produce journalism that is accurate and fair. The temptation to seize on the things that will make your opponents look bad is always there, but if you're mindful of it, you can retain your integrity. Not everybody is so capable, however. Check out what happened when a reporter at the conservative website The Daily Caller got a hold of what he thought was gold, from a court filing by the Environmental Protection Agency. It's a story too good to be true for the anti-Obama and anti-regulation crowd: The hated Environmental Protection Agency is looking to spend $21 billion per year to hire an additional 230,000 people to enforce greenhouse gas regulations. One problem: It's not true Patient zero for this story is The Daily Caller , which on Monday wrote that the EPA is...

0713_laskow

As a whole, the GOP doesn't like environmental regulation. In the past few years, though, Republicans in Washington have had little time to act on that animosity: They've spent their energy insisting that climate change does not exist, that if it does exist, it's not humanity's fault or that if it is humanity's fault, dealing with the consequences will cost too much. That was when Democrats had control of both houses of Congress and were pushing to pass legislation to address climate change. After having disarmed the cap-and-trade bill, which passed the House but failed in the Senate, and gained a majority in the House, Republicans are going even further. Not only are they going after the Environmental Protection Agency, its budget, and its regulatory power but they are also going after the most basic laws governing the health of the country's environment and of the people who live in it. Over the past few months, House Republicans have advanced legislation in both appropriating and...

Standing Up to Republicans on Environmental Protection

I feel a little bad for Mike Pool, the deputy director of the Bureau of Land Management. He's [a career BLM employee]( http://www.blm.gov/ca/st/en/info/newsroom/2009/february/SO0903_Pool_acti... ) who worked his way up through the agency. And this month he's doing his duty by dealing with the House Natural Resources Committee and its push to open up as much federal land as possible to drilling and other energy development. Earlier in the month, he [fielded questions]( http://naturalresources.house.gov/Calendar/EventSingle.aspx?EventID=245405 ) about speeding drilling in Alaska, and this morning [he's testifying about Interior's position]( http://naturalresources.house.gov/Calendar/EventSingle.aspx?EventID=246984 ) on a suite of bills that would speed development of renewable projects on federal land. [As I said before]( http://prospect.org/csnc/blogs/tapped_archive?month=06&year=2011&base_na... ), I'm not convinced that renewable projects need to go on public land. But Natural...

What the Clean Air Act Has in Common With Preventative Medicine

The Clean Air Act, which has been taking a beating lately, falls under the EPA's jurisdiction, but in some ways, it's really a law about public health. Its goal is not to keep the air clean solely for the sake of atmospheric purity: polluted air exacerbates conditions like bronchitis, asthma, and heart disease. One of the law's earliest iterations, in 1963, established an air pollution program under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Public Health Service. The Clean Air Act works on the same principle that visiting a primary care doctor is meant to: it helps prevent people from getting sick to begin with. Much of the law's recent trouble has grown from its new application to carbon pollution, as opposed to more obviously dangerous pollutants, like lead and sulfur dioxide. And the connection between soot and poor health is clearer than the connection between carbon pollution and health problems. But it's going to get up to 101 degrees today in places on the East Coast. Maybe higher. As...

The Environment of the States

This weekend, The New York Times ran a piece rounding up the regressive actions Tea Party governors and their friends are taking at the state level across the country. From ending certain state regulations to defunding the state environmental departments to hamper enforcement, these governors are making sure that their actions complement any anti-environment actions at the federal level. [E]fforts to make historically large cuts to environmental programs are also in play at the state level as legislatures and governors take aim at conservation and regulations they see as too burdensome to business interests. Governor [Paul] LePage [of Maine] summed up the animus while defending his program in a radio address. 'Maine’s working families and small businesses are endangered,' he said. 'It is time we start defending the interests of those who want to work and invest in Maine with the same vigor that we defend tree frogs and Canadian lynx.' That's a shame, because during the inaction of the...

The Consequences of Obama's Punt on Climate Change

Today might be the day that the Senate votes on stripping the Environmental Protection Agency of its power to regulate carbon. Yesterday, the Office of Management and Budget released a statement that criticized the House version of this legislation and promised, "If the President is presented with this legislation … his senior advisors would recommend that he veto the bill."

Carbon Bills

The Hill's E2 Wire is reporting that a Senate vote on EPA carbon regulations won't happen until next week. Although the White House handed out some tepid reassurance that it would not sell the EPA down the river, it doesn't sound like the administration will jump to the agency's defense. At the base of this conflict is the EPA program -- the last-ditch option for dealing with greenhouse gasses -- that tells carbon-spewing companies that they have to do something about it. The Pew Center on Global Climate Change has a very straightforward and useful FAQ sheet on this stuff. It's helpful to know, for instance, that the regulation is happening in stages: In the first stage, only projects that are spewing very large amounts of carbon and already require air pollution permits have to deal with their carbon problem. In the second stage, which doesn't start for a few months yet, projects that create carbon pollution but not other types of air pollution will have to start going through the...

Getting Cozy with Big Coal

Whenever I read a bit of news like this one -- that Rep. Nick Rahall, a Democrat from West Virginia, is co-sponsoring a bill that would keep the EPA from regulating greenhouse gas emissions -- my first instinct is to look at who's been funding the offending politician. Since Rahall is from West Virginia, I expected to find a pile of money from Big Coal behind him. But that turned out not to be the case, exactly. Over the course of his long career, the largest chunks of Rahall's campaign money have come from transportation, industrial, and public sector unions, according to the Center for Responsive Politics . Among his top five contributors are companies like UPS and Fedex. These numbers line up, to a certain extent, with the picture of his political career that Rahall wants to paint for himself: his official bio highlights his "dedicated efforts to promote the diversification of the economic base of southern West Virginia through his "three Ts" agenda (transportation, technology and...

Regulations Make Business Sad.

Early last month, Rep. Darrell Issa solicited businesses and trade groups for suggestions on which regulations to target as chairman of the Oversight Committee. This was the result: The Post reviewed more than 200 letters and reports that businesses sent to Issa targeting regulations across the federal government. The rules under scrutiny include familiar issues such as greenhouse gas emissions, health-care reform and the landmark Wall Street overhaul. But the committee also will examine more obscure regulations. For instance, makers of some cleaning products that remove mold and mildew have asked the committee to reconsider rules that require their products to be registered as pesticides under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act. Among other things, this stands out: Murray Energy, a coal-mining company in Alledonia, Ohio, that employs 3,000 people, told Issa that the Environmental Protection Agency's greenhouse gas and clean air rules, those existing and those...

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