CPP: Lawmakers urge caution after damaging study

Source: Arianna Skibell, E&E News reporter • Posted: Thursday, February 8, 2018

A group of Democratic lawmakers is urging U.S. EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt to contemplate the possible health impacts associated with rewriting the Clean Power Plan, former President Obama’s signature climate mandate, after a study found the type of rule the agency is rumored to be considering could cause more deaths per year than no rule at all.

“We find your Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPRM) for a replacement for the Clean Power Plan deeply concerning,” they wrote to Pruitt, “as it signals that [EPA] may seek to replace the Clean Power Plan with a rule that could provide far fewer carbon reductions and cause greater harm from other pollutants.”

The letter was signed by members of the Sustainable Energy and Environment Coalition, including Reps. Nanette Barragán of California, Bonnie Watson Coleman of New Jersey, Doris Matsui of California, Gerald Connolly of Virginia, Matt Cartwright of Pennsylvania, Chellie Pingree of Maine, Alan Lowenthal of California, Jared Polis of Colorado and Mike Quigley of Illinois. More are expected to join the missive.

Researchers from Harvard, Boston University and Syracuse University conducted the research in question. At a briefing with congressional staff yesterday, they explained the study’s implications for a replacement climate rule.

Pruitt formally initiated repeal plans last year and has begun the process for issuing a replacement. While there has been debate about what the nature of a new rule would be, the Trump administration is believed to be looking for an “inside the fence line” action.

Such a step would target specific plants rather than states or regions and is supported by business groups critical of the Clean Power Plan but opposed to the absence of a climate standard.

‘American lives in danger’

The researchers found that under the “inside the fence line” approach, smog would go down significantly in 2 states and soot would drop significantly in no states.

The rule would prevent 15 hospitalizations each year but would prevent negative 11 deaths and negative three heart attacks each year. In other words, the absence of the Clean Power Plan would mean more deaths and more heart attacks.

In comparison, the study found that a rule similar to Obama’s design, known as a “beyond the fence approach,” 3,500 lives would be saved each year and 1,000 hospitalizations and 220 heart attacks would be prevented. It would significantly decrease smog in 45 states and reduce soot in 26.

Study presenters included Kathy Fallon Lambert, director of science policy exchange at Harvard; Charles Driscoll, distinguished professor at Syracuse; Jonathan Buonocore, program leader for the center for health and the global environment at Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health; and Dallas Burtraw, senior fellow at the think tank Resources for the Future.

The researchers said the major takeaway from their study is that a beyond-the-fence approach to regulating carbon emissions can produce widespread air quality, ecosystem and health benefits.

Critics of such an approach say the benefits are not worth the cost to the economy. They also say the Obama team overstepped current law by going outside the fence.

Still, the researchers said a valuable subset of estimated health benefits exceed estimated cost. They noted there are numerous health positives they did not incorporate into their calculations.

“Given that an inside the fence line approach to controlling carbon pollution from existing power plants could put more American lives in danger, we are opposed to its application,” the lawmakers wrote.

“We instead encourage you to return to the basics of the Clean Power Plan, which encourages incorporation of cleaner energy sources and gives states needed flexibility to significantly reduce carbon pollution and improve public health,” they said.

Endangerment finding

Separately, 50 lawmakers are calling on Pruitt to clarify where he stands on the endangerment finding, EPA’s 2009 determination that certain greenhouse gas emissions threaten public health. It serves as the basis for regulating those emissions.

During a recent Senate Environment and Public Works Committee hearing, Pruitt said “there has been no decision or determination” regarding whether or not he would attempt to undo the bedrock protection.

In a letter sent yesterday, the lawmakers urged Pruitt to maintain the finding. Rep. Donald McEachin (D-Va.), who spearheaded the missive, said greenhouse gas emissions cause climate change, which threatens the public’s health and well-being.

“Over time, the problems climate change is already causing — such as rising sea levels and recurrent flooding, worse and more severe droughts and storms, and a worsening of respiratory diseases like asthma — will get worse. The only way to prevent disastrous outcomes in the future is to aggressively curb emissions today — and the endangerment finding is crucial to our ability to do that,” he said in a statement.

“That is why my colleagues and I want Mr. Pruitt to clarify now whether or not the Trump Administration will once again abandon thoughtfully researched and well-crafted regulations that protect public health for the benefit of the businesses that pollute our environment,” McEachin said.

In the letter, the lawmakers note that NOAA determined that major weather events linked to climate change cost the country more than $306 billion in 2017, the most expensive year on record. This is not an anomaly, they wrote, but part of an accelerating trend.

“Unchecked, these trends will only worsen — with potentially catastrophic consequences,” they wrote.