In an effort to “redress inequities in [Federal] policies and programs that serve as barriers to equal opportunity,” the Biden administration has set forth an agenda to identify areas of improvement and advance equity across the Federal Government. On January 20, President Biden issued Executive Order 13985 which requires agencies to produce “Equity Action Plans” that are agency sponsored reports to assess whether underserved communities face systemic barriers in accessing benefits and opportunities available based on an agency’s policies and programs.… More
Category Archives: Environmental Justice
There’s No Doubt What EPA Staff Thinks Should Be the Result of EPA’s Reconsideration of the PM2.5 NAAQS
Late last week, EPA released an external review draft of the “Supplement to the 2019 Integrated Science Assessment for Particulate Matter.” For those of you who don’t recall, the original Integrated Science Assessment was the report by EPA scientists that very clearly called for a decrease in the National Ambient Air Quality Standard for PM2.5. It was criticized by the Chair of the Clean Air Act Science Advisory Committee and ignored by Administrator Wheeler,… More
Environmental justice is clearly an idea whose time has – finally – come. The need to find the intersection between the search for racial justice and efforts to save the planet is undeniable. If we get it right, we’ll be at least partially solving two problems at once. First, mobilizing underserved communities in the fight against climate change and other environmental problems increases the number of voices arguing for aggressive action,… More
Most people other than Andrew Wheeler and the Trump Administration Clean Air Science Advisory Committee know that exposure even to low levels of PM2.5 causes increased morbidity and mortality. And now comes evidence that exposure to PM2.5 may adversely impact cognitive capacity as well. If the evidence is correct, then the externalities created by activities that release PM2.5 are likely much more significant than we had realized,… More
On August 3, the District of Columbia Court of Appeals held that FERC could not avoid use of the social cost of carbon in assessing the impacts of natural gas projects by arguing that “there is no universally accepted methodology.” Given the growing recognition of the significant role FERC is going to have in combatting climate change, it’s an important decision.
FERC acknowledged that construction and operation of the projects under review would “contribute incrementally to future climate change impacts.” However,… More
Earlier this month, EPA circulated a memorandum on “Strengthening Environmental Justice Through Cleanup Enforcement Actions.” It could significantly increase the volume of CERCLA enforcement actions. More importantly, if implemented appropriately, it could help reduce the risks posed by Superfund sites in overburdened EJ communities.
The trick of course will indeed be how it’s implemented. If this becomes just another in a long line of screeds on the subject that all Superfund cleanups take too long,… More
EPA announced yesterday that it will “reconsider” the Trump EPA’s decision not to change the PM2.5 National Ambient Air Quality Standard. I’ve blogged numerous times about the growing body of evidence that exposure to concentrations of PM2.5 below the current NAAQS causes significant additional mortality and morbidity. The evidence is clear.
I certainly agree that climate change is an existential threat and that’s where our emphasis needs to be. … More
I’ve frequently discussed in recent years the mounting evidence for the need to lower the National Ambient Air Quality Standard for PM2.5. There is also substantial evidence that PM exposure is an environmental justice issue. In this context, electrification of our transportation system is seen as having a substantial co-benefit in the reduction of vehicle-related PM emissions, particularly in EJ communities.
Two recent stories both confirmed the validity of these issues and made manifest the complexity of the problems we are trying to solve. … More
It’s not always the case, but my speculation about the Massachusetts climate bill was correct. On Friday, Governor Baker signed it into law. If I haven’t succeeded in making this clear previously, I want to emphasize that this is a really far-reaching piece of legislation. It commits Massachusetts to a very aggressive timetable for reducing GHG emissions. It species a number of specific policies,… More
In January, when Governor Baker vetoed the Legislature’s effort to go big on climate, my colleague Zach Gerson made clear that the bill was not even “mostly dead.” I am pleased to say that Zach’s diagnosis was correct. The climate bill is very much alive.
Yesterday, President Biden signed an Executive Order on Tackling the Climate Crisis at Home and Abroad. It’s even more comprehensive than last week’s order. Indeed, my main reaction to the order isn’t to any of the specific provisions. It’s one simple realization – he really means it. And I think that’s the point. There is no question at this point that President Joseph Robinette Biden,… More
Among the important provisions of President Biden’s Executive Order on Protecting Public Health and the Environment and Restoring Science to Tackle the Climate Crisis is the requirement to review and revise estimates of the social cost of carbon (and nitrous oxide and methane). The order establishes a working group, co-chaired by the Chair of the Council of Economic Advisers, the Director of OMB, and the Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy. … More
Last month, I posted that EPA’s decision to retain the current PM2.5 NAAQS of 12 ug/m3 was the single worst decision by Trump’s EPA. Since then, I have not received any comments suggesting that my ranking was incorrect. In case anyone was still in doubt, Environmental Research recently released an on-line Pre-proof of A National Difference in Differences Analysis of the Effect of PM2.5 on Annual Death Rates. … More
Yesterday, Massachusetts released its “2050 Decarbonization Roadmap.” I’m tempted to call it a tour de force. At the very least, it’s jam-packed with important issues. One of the most valuable aspects of the Roadmap is its discussion of the potential tradeoffs among the different paths towards a decarbonized economy. Acknowledging that the Roadmap contains much more good stuff than can be summarized in a single post,… More
Last week, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals vacated a $20M penalty imposed on ExxonMobil for Clean Air Act violations at its Baytown facility, remanding the case for a more particularized review by the District Court regarding whether the plaintiffs have demonstrated that they have standing with respect to all of the violations committed by ExxonMobil. The Court held that it is not enough to show that each of the claims in the complaint are traceable to ExxonMobil’s conduct. … More
CEQ has finalized revisions to the NEPA regulations. I don’t have too much to add to my post on the proposed rule back in January. NEPA needs reform. These regulations, however, are not the reform NEPA needs.
The rule largely tracks the proposed rule. It is worth noting, however, that, contrary to this administration’s frequently cavalier attitude toward judicial review, they have made a few tweaks to increase the likelihood that the rule will survive review. … More
Last week, Susan Bodine, EPA Assistant Administrator for Enforcement and Compliance Assurance, issued a memorandum stating that EPA would exercise its enforcement discretion and not take enforcement action against entities that cannot comply with obligations to EPA due to issues arising from COVID-19. At a certain level, this is understandable. The world has been turned upside down and no one quite knows what is feasible in the current circumstances and what it not.… More
The public-private partnership Louisiana Strategies for Future Environments just released a report so stark in its conclusions that, were it not for all of the maps and figures its contains, one would have assumed that it had to be written in a blue state such as Massachusetts or California, rather than deep red Louisiana. It’s sad that we’ve come to this point, but it does appear that Louisiana at least is taking the fact of climate change seriously. … More
When EPA assesses the costs and benefits of environmental regulations, it typically looks at direct health impacts resulting from exposure to pollutants. According to a recent National Bureau of Economic Research working paper by Evan Herrnstadt and Erich Muehlegger, EPA may need to start assessing the costs of another set of pollution impacts – violent crime. In Air Pollution and Criminal Activity: Evidence From Chicago Microdata,… More
I have previously noted that EPA, perhaps recognizing that an unfriendly Congress will lead to budgetary constraints on government enforcement, has been trying to facilitate citizen enforcement efforts. EPA’s latest move on this front was the recent release of “EJSCREEN: Environmental Justice Screening and Mapping Tool.”
Putting aside the definitional concerns that many people have concerning environmental justice, there is no doubt that tools such as EJSCREEN can provide powerful assistance to groups who think that they may have suffered disparate environmental impacts. … More
This year, EPA has proposed a rule to regulate GHG emissions from existing sources, the legality of which turns, in significant part, on the meaning of a “source” under section 111(d) of the Clean Air Act. It has also proposed a rule clarifying the definition of “waters of the United States” under the Clean Water Act. Having dealt with gases and liquids, EPA has turned to solids (it’s a metaphor,… More
The last frontier of citizen climate litigation has been state-based litigation alleging that states have a public trust obligation to mitigate climate change. As I have previously noted, I’m skeptical that these cases are viable. A decision last month by the Supreme Court of Alaska suggests that such skepticism is well-founded.
In two related decisions last week, the Supreme Judicial Court issued three important rulings, and handed the Brockton Power Company one major problem in its long-running effort to build a combined-cycle gas plant in Brockton.
First, in City of Brockton v. EFSB, the SJC rejected all of the challenges by the City of Brockton and certain citizens to the Energy Facilities Siting Board approval of the Brockton Power project.… More
It has not been a good run for plaintiffs in private climate change litigation. As we noted last week, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed dismissal in Comer v. Murphy Oil. Now, on Monday, the Supreme Court denied certiorari in Native Village of Kivalina v. Exxon Mobil. Kivalina ended more with a whimper than a bang,… More
The Council on Environmental Quality has released it guidance on “Improving the Process for Preparing Efficient and Timely Environmental Reviews under the National Environmental Policy Act.” As far as I can tell, the guidance provides literally nothing on improving the process. It is instead a compendium of how wonderful the process already is in allowing and encouraging appropriate flexibility in complying with NEPA. I’m not sold.
In fairness,… More
Last year, I compared EPA’s Interim Guidance on Considering Environmental Justice During the Development of an Action to Rube Goldberg – and that was only EJ Guidance on Rulemaking. Now EPA has issued its comprehensive Plan EJ 2014. I still find the resources devoted to this subject by EPA and the convolutions it is going through to analyze the issue to be stunning.
I also still think that my simple analysis from last year is not too simplistic. … More
No Irony Intended, I’m Sure: EPA Must Focus Systematically on Environmental Justice in Order to Encourage Economic Development
Daily Environmental Report noted earlier this week that Bob Perciasepe, EPA Depute Administrator, has told the National Environmental Justice Advisory Council that environmental justice is the “largest remaining challenge” that EPA must address systematically. This is not particularly surprising, since Lisa Jackson has made EJ a priority.
However, I was left nearly speechless by the statement in Daily Environment Report that Perciasepe indicated that
Polluted communities are also not likely to be targeted for business investment,… More
Stop the presses: According to the Daily Environment Report, EPA’s director of the Office of Federal Activities, Susan Bromm, has acknowledged that concerns about climate change and environmental justice are “contributing to the size, cost, and time-consuming nature of environmental impact statements….” Nonetheless, Ms. Bromm apparently asserted that these "analyses do not have to be overwhelming,” and she blamed, at least in part, agencies which “overreact to the fear of litigation.”… More
Rube Goldberg Had Nothing on EPA: The Agency Releases Its Interim Guidance on Considering Environmental Justice During the Development of an Action
EPA has just released its Interim Guidance on Considering Environmental Justice During the Development of an Action. I can’t say I’m excited. The broad issue is probably too complex for a blog post, but the simple version is as follows:
- Congress passes environmental protection laws for EPA to implement.
- Those statutes generally provide for EPA to set standards with something like “an adequate margin of safety.”
- EPA does its job.…
Last week, EPA’s Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response announced release of its Community Engagement Implementation Plan. Who could be against community engagement? It’s as American as apple pie. It’s environmental justice. It’s community input into decisions that affect the community. It’s transparency and open decision-making.
Call me a curmudgeon, but I’m against it. Study after study shows that, in terms of the actual risks posed by Superfund sites, we devote too many of our environmental protection dollars to Superfund sites,… More
As I have previously noted, Cass Sunstein, now head of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs at OMB under Obama, has called the precautionary principle “deeply incoherent.” Why? Because, as Sunstein notes, “costly precautions inevitably create risks.”