The Environmental Protection Agency will no longer have inspectors drop by power plants and other potential illegal polluters without giving states notice, a move Trump administration critics say will limit the agency's ability to enforce environmental laws.
A July 11 memo from Susan Bodine, the EPA's top enforcement official, to regional administrators spelled out the agency's new “no surprises” policy as an effort to better cooperate with state and local regulators.
“With increased EPA cooperation and transparency, the EPA expects the states to respond in kind,” Bodine writes.
The memo is the latest move by President Trump's environmental deputies to vest more power in the states when it comes to ensuring companies are following the nation's clean air and water laws. But the administration's critics say the EPA is helping polluters by deferring to state regulators, who often tread more lightly when dealing with local employers.
Under the new policy, the agency will provide states “with advance notice of inspections” and “will generally defer to a state as the primary implementer of inspections and enforcement.” Bodine also asked regional offices to avoid inspections that overlap with ones states have already conducted within a 12-month time period, though the EPA said in an emailed statement that multiple inspections during that timeframe are not entirely prohibited.
“Taking the element of surprise away from inspections decreases their effectiveness, for obvious reasons,” Tim Whitehouse, executive director of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility and a former EPA enforcement attorney, said in a statement. “I fear that EPA’s 'no surprises' posture masks a ‘see no evil’ approach to corporate polluters.”
The new policy, however, does not close the door on whether inspections will be a surprise for the companies themselves. But Whitehouse worries state regulators could tip off companies about ones that are coming.
“Some states are more cooperative with industry, do not conduct or want surprise inspections in their states, or have used EPA' s possible surprise inspections as a hammer,” Whitehouse said. “Some states do discourage EPA inspections and the possibility that facilities will be notified is a real concern.”
In an emailed statement, however, the EPA countered that it anticipated "any disagreements with respect to giving advance notice to a facility would be worked out" between federal and state regulators.
Trump officials have defended the agency's approach to law enforcement even as its enforcement numbers have dropped since the president took office. The number of civil cases started and completed in 2018 hit a 10-year low while the amount of money sought through civil penalties plummeted to the lowest average level since 1994 during the past fiscal year.
Testifying before a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee in February, Bodine said the agency has reduced the need for as many annual inspections by becoming better at finding instances of noncompliance.
“Some are judging our work on a narrow set of parameters and then drawing the conclusion that EPA is somehow soft on environmental violators, that the EPA doesn’t care about compliance with the law,” Bodine told lawmakers. “I’m here to tell you that is absolutely not true."
— EPA won’t ban use of a controversial pesticide: The agency dismissed a petition by environmental and public health groups to prohibit chlorpyrifos, a pesticide that has been linked to neurological damage in children. The agency questioned data pointing to health problems in children and said the Obama-era ban was based on “epidemiological studies rather than direct tests on animals, which have historically been used by the EPA to determine a pesticide’s safety,” The Post’s Juliet Eilperin and Brady Dennis report.
“This is the entry ticket into the actual main event”: “Still, the decision to deny the petition could bring the country closer to final resolution of a decades-long battle over a pesticide used on fruits, vegetables and cereals that Americans eat every day. Kevin Minoli, a partner at the Alston & Bird law firm, said agency critics can now challenge the EPA’s conclusion that the pesticide is safe.”
— Big climate moves in New York: Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) has signed the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act, an ambitious climate plan mandating that the state eliminate net greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. “To deny climate change is to deny reality,” Cuomo said before signing the bill, the Democrat & Chronicle reports. “All credible scientists agree.” In a statement, NY Renews, the coalition of environmental, justice, faith, labor and community groups that backed the measure, called it a “nation-leading law, but we can and must do more to decarbonize our economy, make sure green jobs are good jobs, and invest in communities on the frontlines of the climate crisis. The fight for true climate justice demands transformative change, and we will bring that fight until we build a just, renewable economy that works for all.”
Winding up: The state said it has reached an agreement to award two contracts for wind farm projects off the cost of Long Island that are set to be the largest in the country. It’s part of the state’s aim to reach 70 percent renewable energy in just over a decade. “They will have the capacity to produce 1,700 megawatts of electricity and will account for about 20 percent of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s overall goal for offshore wind, an energy source that has been slow to take off in the United States,” the New York Times reports. In a statement, the Democratic governor said the projects will help New York “lead the way in developing the largest source of offshore wind power in the nation.”
— Rob Bishop now says he may not retire: The Utah congressman and top Republican on the House Natural Resources Committee signaled he’s reconsidering his decision to retire, but won’t announce a decision until the end of the month. “The surprise reconsideration comes after Bishop said he was approached by a number of people to stay on, with reasons he said made sense,” the Deseret News reports. “Internally, I want to do what I think is the right thing for the state of Utah. I don’t want people to think I am reconsidering because I have an ego and I think I am indispensable,” he said.
— “This is the brain drain we all feared, possibly a destruction of the agencies”: That’s what Jack Payne, the University of Florida’s vice president for agriculture and natural resources, told The Post’s Ben Guarino could be the upshot from the exodus of employees from two research agencies at the Agriculture Department. Rather than accept the transfer from Washington to Kansas City, about two-thirds of USDA's workforce decided to forfeit their jobs. Gale Buchanan, who was the department’s chief scientist and undersecretary for research, education and economics during the George W. Bush administration, told Ben the agencies’ employees face “an almost impossible task” with the dwindling numbers.
What lawmakers are saying: During a hearing before the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee, Democratic lawmakers challenged the USDA over the relocation. “It is still unclear to me what problem the USDA is trying to solve with this move,” said Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), the committee’s top Democrat, according to The Hill. Some Republican lawmakers, meanwhile, praised the decision. “It makes sense to be in the middle of where the breadbasket is. And when it comes to the talent pool I’ve got to believe there is more of it in the universities that specialize in ag in that area as well,” Sen. Mike Braun (R-Ind.) said.
— Another coal plant shutters: A federal judge has signed off on the closure of one of two units at the Rockport coal plant in southern Indiana. American Electric Power agreed to close the unit by 2028, a move that “represents another significant step in AEP's ongoing shift away from coal-fired power. The utility, which serves 5.4 million people in 11 states, will have retired more than 9,700 MW of coal-fueled generation between 2011 and the end of 2020,” E&E News reports.
The reaction: The Sierra Club welcomed the closure, which it hailed as the “single largest power plant closure since the group launched its Beyond Coal campaign to force the shutdown of coal-fired power plants.” Meanwhile, the EPA sent out a press release making clear it "did not seek retirement of any of AEP’s facilities."
— Man, it’s a hot one: The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration confirmed that last month saw an average temperature of 60.6 degrees, reaching the planet’s hottest June on record, the Associated Press reports: “Europe shattered June temperature records by far, while other records were set in Russia, Africa, Asia and South America. France had its hottest month in history, which is unusual because July is traditionally hotter than June. The Lower 48 states in America were near normal.” “Earth is running a fever that won’t break thanks to climate change,” North Carolina state climatologist Kathie Dello told the AP. “This won’t be the last record warm summer month that we will see.”
— There’s been an unusual spike in Arctic blazes: A fire was detected in the Sisimiut community in southwest Greenland, and may have ended between Sunday and Wednesday, The Post’s Andrew Freedman reports. “It comes amid an unusually warm and dry stretch in the area, with melting on the vast Greenland ice sheet commencing a month earlier than average,” he adds. While there’s no reliable long-term data on Greenland wildfires, in part because satellite detection is a recent development, Freedman adds the blaze “fits a broader pattern that is raising alarms in the climate science community. According to the Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service (CAMS), the European science organization tracked more than 100 ‘intense and long-lived wildfires’ above the Arctic Circle since June. Calculations show these fires emitted enough carbon dioxide to be the equivalent of Sweden’s total annual emissions.”
- The House Small Business Committee holds a hearing on " Vanishing Environmental Reviews and the SBA’s Disaster Loan Program."
— The weather forecast that saved Apollo 11: The mission was nearly foiled but for the work of two meteorologists and a top-secret weather satellite. “Weather was a big factor in this effort,” Jeremy Deaton writes for The Post. “Intelligence officials did not want to waste valuable film taking pictures of clouds, nor did they want the canisters to parachute into the middle of a storm. So they deployed sophisticated weather satellites to make sure that did not happen.”