The Trump administration proposed relaxed rules for carbon emissions from coal-fired power plants that check a number of boxes off the wish list of conservatives.
The new rules grant significantly more authority to states to regulate power-plant pollution. They cast a lifeline to coal plants to make upgrades and run for years longer with less regulatory hassle.
But many of the conservatives who helped bring shape to President Trump's Environmental Protection Agency want officials to go even further.
Prominent right-leaning voices and institutions that dismiss the consensus among climate researchers that burning fossil fuels warms the planet renewed calls this week for the EPA to challenge its underlying authority to regulate carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in the first place.
Sen. James M. Inhofe (R-Okla.), who once brought a snowball to the Senate floor to prove climate change is false and whose former staffers populate EPA headquarters, said in a statement that “the best course of action remains to completely overturn" the scientific underpinning to the EPA's authority.
Myron Ebell, the former head of Trump’s EPA transition team, agreed.
“We're with Inhofe on this,” said Ebell, who directs energy and environmental policy at the libertarian Competitive Enterprise Institute.
“Once you get started down the road of regulating greenhouse gases,” he added, “there's no end to it.”
In 2009, Obama's EPA came to the scientific conclusion that the uptick in greenhouse gases in the atmosphere is a danger to human health. That so-called endangerment finding gave the agency the authority it needed to issue its Clean Power Plan, which aimed to curb carbon emissions from the nation's coal-fired power plants. Two years earlier, the Supreme Court had ruled that if EPA scientists determined carbon emissions were a threat, the agency had to regulate them.
Trump has repeatedly dismissed man-made climate change as a hoax. But that Supreme Court ruling still stands. So unless the EPA gets rid of the endangerment finding, it is compelled to come up with its own greenhouse gas regulations.
Under both acting EPA administrator Andrew Wheeler and former chief Scott Pruitt, the EPA has decided not to touch the endangerment finding — at least just yet.
“This is a regulation of greenhouse gases,” Bill Wehrum, who heads the EPA's air and radiation office, told reporters Tuesday. “We’re not proposing to rescind the endangerment finding.”
That leads some conservatives to worry that Trump's successor as president will try to do a Clean Power Plan 2.0.
“The endangerment finding creates a danger that this kind of grotesque overregulation could come back,” said Peter Ferrara, a senior fellow at the Heartland Institute who served as President George H.W. Bush's associate deputy attorney general.
“It just takes one more election,” he added. “That's why I want to take out the endangerment finding root and branch.”
But uprooting the finding may prove challenging when the courts have stalled many of the regulatory rollbacks the EPA has pursued.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, often considered the most powerful court in the United States after the Supreme Court, has upheld the endangerment finding. And even under Trump, scientists working for the federal government reaffirmed in an official report last year that it is “extremely likely that human influence has been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century.”
To boot, many of the electric utilities that applauded the Trump administration for relaxing the carbon rules are not champing at the bit to repeal the endangerment finding like think-tank conservatives are.
“We said, ‘Do have a replacement, don’t go after the endangerment finding,’” National Rural Electric Cooperative Association chief executive Jim Matheson told reporters Wednesday. “There was broad consensus on that.”
Republicans can try to strip the EPA's authority to curb carbon emissions in other ways — through either the reversal of the Supreme Court decision or the passage of a new law by Congress.
But to the Competitive Enterprise Institute's Ebell, “it seems like rescinding the endangerment finding is the easiest” of those options.
Ebell, whose think tank petitioned the agency to reconsider the endangerment finding to no avail, is not planning to let up on EPA officials. Especially if Trump wins a second term.
“People come and go,” he said.
Juliet Eilperin contributed to this report.
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— Watchdog agency has no beef with Pruitt ad: According to a report released Wednesday, the Government Accountability Office has determined the ex-EPA chief did not violate anti-lobbying law by appearing in a National Cattlemen’s Beef Association video. The group had incorporated an interview with Pruitt into one of its call-for-action videos, prompting congressional Democrats to call for an investigation.
— Change of plans: The EPA has canceled three public hearings that were scheduled to discuss the administration’s proposed vehicle emissions rule. The hearings were set to be held in Washington, D.C., Detroit and Los Angeles, but the changes noted in the Federal Register show the EPA and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration will instead hold two public hearings in Pittsburgh and Fresno, Calif. next month, The Hill reports.
— West Virginians already know coal is not coming back: In a dispatch from the president’s Tuesday rally in Charleston, W.Va., E&E News describes the perspective from the heart of coal country on the administration’s power plan. Even as Trump replaces the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan – “the coal industry’s biggest bugaboo” – the damage is already done, and people in the state know it. “It's not that they necessarily expect the White House to flip coal's fortunes — they just want to know he's giving it an honest effort."
— Harvey one year later: Recovery in some communities in Texas following Hurricane Harvey has been “monumentally slow,” The Post’s Emily Wax-Thibodeaux reports. That’s in part due to the extent of the storm that hit and in part because a majority of households did not have flood insurance. The result is that thousands remain "essentially homeless in their own homes" on the anniversary of the hurricane, she writes. "Some scrape by living in moldy half-built homes, others have fled to motels, others still rely on donations or relatives to house them."
By the numbers: A new Kaiser Family Foundation/Episcopal Health Foundation survey has found 42 percent of residents who experienced the hurricane say they’re not getting adequate help to rebuild their homes and 30 percent say their lives are still upended a year following the storm.
— Storm watch: The massive Category 4 Hurricane Lane is closing in on the Hawaiian islands, and conditions including heavy rains and winds and dangerous surf are expected starting Thursday and into the weekend, The Post’s Jason Samenow reports. The U.S. Navy is moving ships and submarines out of Hawaii as the storm nears while the Federal Emergency Management Agency is preparing food aide, the Associated Press reports.
— What air pollution does to your health: A new study published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology Letters found air pollution is reducing life expectancy, and depending on where people live, can cut lives short by more than a year. “The effect is much more pronounced in some countries: It cuts the average Egyptian’s life span by 1.9 years and the average Indian’s by 1.5 years," the New York Times reports. "In Russia, it’s around nine months. For the United States, it’s less, currently reducing the life expectancy of an American born today by a little more than four months on average.”
— Big Oil wants a big wall to protect from climate change: The petroleum industry is pushing for the construction of a massive coastal “spine,” 60 miles of concrete sea wall that will essentially protect the world’s largest concentration of petrochemical facilities from the effects of climate change. “Texas is seeking at least $12 billion for the full coastal spine, with nearly all of it coming from public funds,” the Associated Press reports. “But the idea of taxpayers around the country paying to protect refineries worth billions, and in a state where top politicians still dispute climate change’s validity, doesn’t sit well with some."
— Saudi Aramco IPO scrapped? Saudi Arabia has called off plans to do an initial public offering for its state-owned oil giant Saudi Aramco, which had been “billed as the biggest such deal in history,” Reuters reported. But Saudi Arabia’s energy minister denied the Reuters story. In a Thursday statement released via Saudi Press Agency, Energy Minister Khalid al-Falih said the “government remains committed to the initial public offering of Saudi Aramco, in accordance with the appropriate circumstances and appropriate time chosen by the Government,” per Reuters.
— New anti-protest laws restrict freedom of speech, advocates say: Dozens of bills that look to restrict high-profile protests, which are often aimed at the construction of oil and gas pipelines, have been introduced in at least 31 states since Trump was inaugurated. Activists and environmentalists are worried about how the laws restrict freedom of speech, InsideClimate News reports. “The pipeline bills may get their first test soon in Louisiana, where three activists were arrested this month on felony charges stemming from one of the new laws after they maneuvered kayaks on a bayou to block construction of an oil pipeline."
- The EPA holds a public meeting to receive feedback on the IRIS Assessment Plan for Naphthalene.
— A view of Hurricane Lane from space: