Pruitt: Courts didn’t give EPA ‘tools’ for carbon

Source: Niina Heikkinen, E&E News reporter • Posted: Thursday, June 29, 2017

Scott Pruitt says the federal government’s process for regulating carbon dioxide is not yet settled by the courts.

The U.S. EPA administrator told the Senate Interior, Environment and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee yesterday that EPA’s endangerment finding, which established that carbon emissions were harmful to human health, did not end the debate about how the agency should regulate greenhouse gases.

Massachusetts v. EPA simply said to the EPA that it had to make a decision on whether it had to regulate, whether it posed a risk to health, and there was an endangerment finding that followed that in 2009. It did not address whether the tools were in the toolbox,” Pruitt said.

He noted that when Congress amended the Clean Air Act in 1990, there was a “great question” over whether greenhouse gases should be regulated. The overhaul of the landmark 1970 environmental legislation focused on reducing urban smog, acid rain, toxic air pollutants and depletion of the ozone layer. The amendments also established stricter standards for vehicle emissions.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), who chairs the panel, asked Pruitt how EPA could continue to have a positive impact on climate even as the agency shifts its focus to Pruitt’s “Back-to-Basics” agenda.

Pruitt touted EPA’s corporate average fuel economy standards regulating vehicle emissions, saying they represent the “greatest progress” the United States had made toward controlling greenhouse gas emissions. He also credited technological innovations such as horizontal drilling and clean coal technology for voluntary reductions in the nation’s CO2 levels.

“I think what’s important is that we are responding to the CO2 issue through the regulation of mobile sources, we’re also evaluating the steps or the tools we have in the toolbox with respect to stationary sources, and that’s our focus,” he said.

John Walke, clean air director at the Natural Resources Defense Council, challenged Pruitt’s assertion that the Clean Air Act did not give EPA clear authority to regulate carbon emissions. He pointed to the Supreme Court cases American Electric Power Co. v. Connecticut and Utility Air Regulatory Group v. EPA, both of which affirmed that EPA could regulate greenhouse gases from stationary sources under the Clean Air Act.

“The thing is, it’s not his job to determine whether the legal authorities are ideal, his job is to enforce the laws of the United States. The Supreme Court has said that it’s a pollutant,” Walke said.

He questioned whether Pruitt may have another motivation for challenging the process of regulating greenhouse gas emissions at stationary sources, like power plants.

“I think someone should see his testimony as flirtation with notions that could lead him to try, and fail, to reverse the endangerment finding. Otherwise, his wrongheaded musings are nonsense that flies in the face of two Supreme Court decisions,” Walke said.

Pruitt faced a number of questions from senators over how the agency would address climate change under President Trump. The agency has begun to roll back the Clean Power Plan and halted the implementation of regulations to limit methane emissions from new and modified sources.

Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) called the administration’s overall budgetary approach anti-science and “Know Nothingism.”

“You are at the heart of our nation’s abandonment of the role as the global leader addressing the adverse effects of climate change,” said Leahy. “As an American, I liked the fact that America was the world leader in the environment and climate change. We just gave it away. We gave it away.”

Sen. Tom Udall of New Mexico, the top Democrat on the panel, called out Pruitt for announcing plans to halt the implementation of New Source Performance Standards for regulating methane emissions from new and modified sources in the oil and gas industry.

“EPA acknowledges that children are disproportionately susceptible to air quality pollution and that they will continue to be exposed to harmful emissions for two years during this delay,” Udall said.

The administrator stated that the agency “absolutely had a role” in regulating methane. The stay was meant to clear up concerns about how the rule would be implemented and did not signal that the agency planned to either rewrite regulations or that EPA was planning to rescind the rule. That decision hadn’t yet been determined, he said.

Udall repeatedly pressed Pruitt on the administration’s position on climate change. Pruitt would not answer directly and instead pivoted to EPA’s legal obligations.

“The agency that I lead is responsible for responding to the endangerment finding,” he replied.

As for his own views on climate change, Pruitt said he had been consistent in his responses since his confirmation hearing.

“Global warming and CO2 is impacting the climate, that CO2 contributes to it in some measure. Measuring that with precision is very difficult,” he said.