MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
As BuzzFlash has pointed out before, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt may be best known as an inveterate freeloader living the high life off of taxpayer dollars, but that narrative obscures the wrecking ball he is swinging through the environment. Pruitt is rolling back EPA regulations that are meant to reduce climate change (by decreasing standards on coal-fired power plant pollution, for instance) and proposing a decrease in goals for reducing car pollution.
As another example of the gutting of aggressive environmental enforcement, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) reports that criminal prosecution for violating EPA regulations is decreasing rapidly:
Belying Scott Pruitt’s claims to be a tough polluter prosecutor, criminal enforcement by his U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is in a freefall, according to figures posted today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The number of criminal investigators assigned to pollution cases continues to drop and virtually every measure of criminal enforcement under Pruitt is lower than it has been since the 1990s – and sinking.
At the same time, Pruitt has tripled the number of agents assigned to his 24/7 security detail, spending record amounts on travel and overtime. He also has this outsized escort run personal errands and turn on their sirens so he can cut through city traffic.
By contrast, the number of EPA criminal investigators as of April 2018 has dropped to 140.
So it should be no surprise that the EPA has submitted new guidelines that would lower the national requirements for automakers to reduce auto emissions. In May, The New York Times reported:
The Environmental Protection Agency on Thursday submitted its proposal to roll back climate change rules that required automakers to nearly double the fuel economy of passenger vehicles to an average of more than 50 miles per gallon by 2025. The rules, which would have significantly lowered the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions, were opposed by automakers who said they were overly burdensome....
Jahan Wilcox, a spokesman for the E.P.A., confirmed on Thursday that the agency had sent its proposed regulatory rollback to the White House Office of Management and Budget for review. Typically that is the final step before a proposed rule is published in the Federal Register....
While the administration had been expected to take the steps laid out on Thursday, the proposal is significant because it amounts to an official declaration of its intent.
However, Trump's attempt to have the more stringent auto emission reductions approved under the Obama administration decreased is meeting resistance from 14 states (plus the district of Columbia) that are going to follow more stringent standards. This past Tuesday, Colorado became the latest state to defy the new weakened regulations proposed by the EPA. Governor John Hickenlooper signed an executive order saying the state would follow the California vehicle emission standards.
California has an exemption to establish car pollution limits that exceed the national standard due to a provision in the Clean Air Act. Furthermore, other states are allowed under the act to adopt the California standards. The Desmog blog reported on June 19:
“Colorado has a choice,” [Colorado] Gov. Hickenlooper said in a statement. “This executive order calls for the state to adopt air quality standards that will protect our quality of life in Colorado. Low emissions vehicles are increasingly popular with consumers and are better for our air. Every move we make to safeguard our environment is a move in the right direction.”
“California will not weaken its nationally accepted clean car standards, and automakers will continue to meet those higher standards, bringing better gas mileage and less pollution for everyone,” Mary Nichols, chair of the California Air Resources Board, wrote in a statement emailed to reporters when Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt announced that his agency would revisit the Obama-era rules.
As to be expected, the EPA is not only trying to allow for a higher level of auto pollution, it is also considering trying to eliminate the exemption that allows California to set higher vehicle standards -- and for other states to adopt the vehicle regulations of the largest state in the US. Together, the states that have currently adopted the California auto emission regulations make up 1/3 of the autos sold in the US. The Trump administration does not want one group of states -- a group whose size is likely to grow -- with stronger auto pollution standards than the rest of the nation. Also, the Trump administration is responding to automakers who now fear that they will have to manufacture for two differently regulated markets in the United States.
In an April news release posted on the EPA website, Pruitt makes clear that he has the California exemption -- which has spread to other states such as Colorado -- in his sights:
Cooperative federalism doesn’t mean that one state can dictate standards for the rest of the country. EPA will set a national standard for greenhouse gas emissions that allows auto manufacturers to make cars that people both want and can afford — while still expanding environmental and safety benefits of newer cars. It is in America's best interest to have a national standard, and we look forward to partnering with all states, including California, as we work to finalize that standard.
To try and get a head start on fighting back against the EPA's rollback of auto pollution standards, 16 states and the District of Columbia filed a federal lawsuit in May seeking to prevent the EPA from moving backward on reducing carbon dioxide and other polluting emissions in cars.
This contretemps over automobile pollution reduction, which has significant implications for health and global warming, is an indicator that we have a lot more to worry about than Scott Pruitt's personal corruption. As BuzzFlash pointed out last week in response to Pruitt's loosening of requirements to test chemicals, he and his boss Trump are a threat to our health as individuals and to the future of the planet.