‘I never imagined this would happen’ — ex-EPA staffer

Source: Niina Heikkinen, E&E News reporter • Posted: Thursday, February 22, 2018

Former U.S. EPA staff members who worked on the Clean Power Plan are urging the Trump administration to back off its plans to kill the rule.

In public comments submitted yesterday, a volunteer group of retired and former agency staff called Save EPA said it should be up to a federal appeals court — not the Trump administration — to decide whether the Obama administration’s signature climate regulation should proceed as originally written. The group includes ex-EPA staffers who helped craft that rule.

EPA is currently seeking comments on its proposed repeal of the Clean Power Plan. The agency is also in the process of developing a plan for a rule replacement.

Save EPA billed the repeal process as “an enormous waste of time,” given that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit has already been fully briefed and heard legal arguments on the case in September 2016. The case has been on ice since, at the request of EPA, to allow the agency the opportunity to review the rule.

Save EPA’s comments come as the agency prepares to host its second listening session today on repealing the rule. Today’s session is slated for Kansas City, Mo., and another is planned for next Wednesday in San Francisco.

“We urge the EPA to halt this repeal action, to obtain a court decision in the CPP litigation and if the rule is upheld based on the strong legal arguments presented in court, to implement the CPP without further delay,” the commenters wrote.

The Obama administration’s rule faced fierce legal pushback for setting systemwide rather than facility-level regulations on carbon emissions. The current EPA administrator, Scott Pruitt, was among a cadre of state attorneys general to file lawsuits against implementation of the rule. The agency under Pruitt’s leadership is widely expected to rewrite the regulations to focus on controlling emissions at the power plant level.

Today’s listening session will focus on the prospect of repealing the rule and will mainly feature speakers from environmental and public health groups such as the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Sierra Club, GreenLatinos, Citizens’ Climate Lobby, the American Lung Association and Moms Clean Air Force. Save EPA is planning on sending a representative to the fourth and final listening session in Gillette, Wyo., next month.

The Federal Register currently has over 17,000 public comments on the proposal, many of them also critical of a repeal.

Save EPA members slammed EPA for not adequately taking into account the impacts of climate change on the American public. They argue the Clean Power Plan as it was first written was an “appropriate way” to limit carbon emissions, considering the interconnectedness of the country’s electricity system. They noted the agency’s revised cost-benefit analysis significantly underestimated the costs associated with a warming planet. According to the agency’s 2015 analysis, the rule would yield between $31 billion and $54 billion in benefits, and $5.1 billion to $8.4 billion in costs once the rule was fully implemented in 2030.

“They are taking away tools the EPA administrator would have to reduce emissions substantially. The tack they are taking legally means it will be possible only to get a small fraction of the emissions reductions from a new replacement rule than could be gotten from the CPP. That’s not the kind of position I’d hope an EPA administrator would take,” said Jim Ketcham-Colwill, former EPA air policy analyst who helped to write the Clean Power Plan.

While Save EPA has focused on the negative impacts of allowing greater carbon emissions, other critics of the Clean Power Plan repeal have focused on how the rule could have helped to create renewable energy jobs if states chose to reduce their carbon emissions under the plan by turning to other energy sources.

Ashok Gupta, the senior energy economist at NRDC, wrote in a recent blog post that Midwest utilities are increasingly interested in cheap wind energy.

“In the Midwest, the trend is clear; the transition to clean energy is underway and will only intensify in the future. Having a strong national strategy to cut carbon pollution that provides states the flexibility to implement their own plans based on their resources is our best chance at fighting climate change and creating a path towards cleaner, cheaper and more reliable energy,” Gupta wrote.

Ketcham-Colwill noted EPA had given a wide range of groups, including state energy regulatory agencies and governors’ offices, ample opportunity to offer input on the climate rule.

“The agency got all kinds of plaudits that this was the most extensive stakeholder outreach process that the agency has perhaps ever done,” said Ketcham-Colwill.

Ellen Kurlansky, another former air policy analyst at EPA who helped develop the Obama-era rule, said that in addition to public hearing and comments, a range of groups were involved in developing the rule from the very early stages until it was being finalized.

“People often want to talk to us and tell us what they think. We really had an open door,” she said.

Kurlansky warned that delaying carbon emission reductions from power plants could have serious implications for rural and low-income Americans most impacted by climate change. For example, changing weather patterns, temperatures and season length can affect which crops are viable in specific parts of the country. Isolated communities could have a hard time getting aid in the event of climate-driven severe weather.

Meanwhile, low-income communities are often least able to financially prepare for or recover from environmental disasters. Many live in closer proximity to power plants and bear a higher brunt of the public health impacts. Indigenous communities also suffer from the loss of traditional cultural practices.

Kurlansky said she had not considered the prospect of a future administration seeking to undo the rule while she was working on it.

“I never imagined this would happen, it’s really sad to see,” she said.