Former EPA administrator Scott Pruitt’s resignation was a significant news event when it erupted last Thursday. According to reports, President Trump pressured Scott Pruitt to resign, which ended Pruitt’s tenure at the EPA. It is significant for many reasons, as Pruitt was focused on overturning many of the Obama-era changes brought to the EPA.
It is assumed that Pruitt's resignation came about due to scandals ranging from exuberant costs brought to the EPA by Pruitt using government funds to support his vain habits, to conflicts between Pruitt and his staff. Below is a partial list of alleged scandals. This list includes accusations made against Pruitt that were never proven in a court of law, but are "out there" circulating in the "general media:
With these allegations and the resignation of Scott Pruitt, the EPA is no longer lead by a man driven to overturn President Obama’s vision for the EPA. Most likely, President Trump will replace Scott Pruitt with someone who shares Scott Pruitt’s vision at the for reversing Obama-era environmental initiatives.
During his campaign in the year 2000, then Texas governor George W. Bush received the republican nomination for president and was set to square off against Vice President Al Gore. During a debate, a moderator asked the candidates about opening up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, or the ANWR, for oil drilling. Citing environmental concerns, Vice President Gore rejected the notion of oil drilling in the ANWR. Governor Bush countered that the ANWR should be opened to oil drilling that is implemented in an environmentally friendly manner.
The debate is an example of tension between economic and environmental concerns surrounding any regulatory impact on drilling. While it is imperative to have environmental protections, it must be balanced against economic concerns that the regulations may hamper the oil and gas industry.
However, environmental regulations impact more than just drilling. These regulations also affect the U.S. auto industry. For example, President Obama introduced the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) to regulate fuel efficiency for American made cars. Under CAFE, automakers are to produce cars that attain an average of 54.5 miles per gallon, or mpg, by the year 2025. In response, car makers pushed back against this initiative, claiming that such a law would compel automakers to attempt to build cars that are financially out of reach for their clients. President Trump vowed to reverse CAFE, citing the auto industry's concern.
The idea of fuel efficiency via increased mpg allows for a better energy policy. In 1973, in the aftermath of the Yom Kippur war, Arab nations, angry at the United States for supporting Israel, introduced an oil embargo against the United States. This sent the price of gas soaring from 12 cents a gallon to 53 cents a gallon. The economy, as a whole, suffered from the surging oil prices.
At the time, the average car attained 6-8 mpg with highly-efficient cars attaining 17. Large trucks and the like would get 2 mpg. This meant that cars would have to fill up much more than they do today. As a result of the embargo, cars lined up around the block to get gas. Government regulations split odd and even days based on people’s license plate.
Since then, MPG improved. Today, cars are significantly more fuel efficient with cars averaging 35 mpg and one car claiming to be average 76 mpg.
In a speech before a group of auto workers in Detroit in March of 2017, president Trump declared that he would not let the CAFE rules harm the industry. He vowed to undo CAFE, thereby assuring that the EPA would review the CAFE rules. In fact, Ford CEO Mark Fields told President Trump that under the Obama standards the automotive industry would lose 1,000,000 jobs.
Fuel efficiency is very important, for both economic and environmental reasons. Economically, it makes fuel less of a factor because people do not need to fill up on gas as much. Less spending on gas means more spending in other sectors of the economy. Environmentally, reduced gas consumption means fewer toxins in the air. Clearly, we have come a long way since the 1970s when fuel efficiency was weak. While we need to develop technology that increases fuel efficiency standards, the question is where we strike the balance. President Trump believes that the Obama administration went too far. However, thus far Trump has offered few reassurances that he is willing to balance the industry's interests for profit with concern for the environment.
Starting in 1973 during the oil embargo, American presidential administrations have called for energy independence. While the Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush, Clinton, Bush, Obama, and Trump administrations all discussed energy independence, there has been a mixed response with respect to an actual move toward independence.
When President Trump ascended to the US presidency, he called for “energy dominance.” Whether it means energy independence in a creative way or is distinct from his predecessors, there is clearly a push toward developing an energy plan that is not reliant on Middle Eastern oil. Energy Secretary Rick Perry referred to President Obama’s efforts toward energy independence as “bureaucratic blockades” whereas the Trump administration’s efforts toward energy policy, according to Secretary Perry, is to achieve dominance.
Perhaps it is too soon to tell what exactly is meant by “energy dominance.” Nonetheless, there are signs that President Trump is succeeding in rolling back Obama-era restrictions. Only time will tell what this will mean for energy independence.
Whether Trump succeeds in making U.S. energy policy more "dominant" (whatever that means), this is a separate issue from how that policy is impacting the environment. While all sides of the debate appear to assert that the environment needs to be protected, words do not always meet the administration's actions. The question remains, where should the government strike the balance when regulating energy exploration? Does energy dominance mean forgoing a balance of interests in this regard? What type of regulation is necessary to achieve that balance? How important is the input of the energy sector in responding to this issue? How much influence is too much influence before the issue is foregone? These questions have long fueled debates and will likely continue for the foreseeable future. It remains very murky and unclear how the Trump administration intends to approach these questions except to say that the administration is clearly far more pro-industry than the Obama administration.
Under Obama’s EPA, there were significant regulations on drilling equipment to prevent and regulate leaks. The EPA under Obama named its policy openly and clearly: “Oil and Natural Gas Sector: Emission Standards for New, Reconstructed, and Modified Sources; Final Rule”, and was issued on June 3, 2016. The Obama administration claimed that these leaks released methane into the air, asserting that such leaks could lead to a buildup of greenhouse gases in Earth’s atmosphere.
Recently, EPA administrator Scott Pruitt announced a two-year halt on the rule to reconsider the matter. It seems that the Trump administration is questioning the Obama administration's assertion that methane leaking from drilling equipment could lead to a buildup of greenhouse gasses. Furthermore, the EPA wants to study whether there are alternative methods to halt emissions without burdensome regulations that harm the energy sector.
Comments and Criticism
Many construe this action by the EPA as Trump being aligned with Big Oil to the determinant of our environment. Many also view big oil and other large energy conglomerates as indifferent to environmental matters.
Regardless of whether such claims reflect the reality, the fact is that greater government regulation on oil companies hurts their bottom line. Government regulations increase corporate costs, thereby eating away at profits. To stay profitable, companies will then look to cut costs or increase prices. Any additional regulation upon oil companies will inevitably increase the costs that those companies will have to bear, which may be especially difficult for smaller companies. If alternative methods are available or if the harm is none or minimal, such legislation may be more political than practical. Nonetheless, whether a less costly alternative exists remains to be seen. Either way, Obama-era rules are clearly on their way out in the hands of this new administration.
Clean Water Rule
In 1972, the United States Congress passed the Clean Water Act, giving the United States government, through the EPA, environmental control over various waters in the United States. The law lacked clarity as to what is considered waters of the United States. In June of 2015, the Obama administration sought to clarify the meaning of waters of the United States by applying the Clean Water Act standards to all streams and wetlands that have a hydrological and ecological connection to interstate waterways, traditional navigable waterways, and international seas.
As a result, a significant number of wetlands and streams fell under the Clean Water Act. This was known as the Clean Water Rule. The rule was to include all navigable waters in the United States. This meant that small rivers, some streams, and other wetlands would fall under the aegis of the Clean Water Act.
The Obama administration claimed that this regulation was necessary to help ensure proper, clean drinking water for many. The EPA put that number at 117 million people. In addition, the EPA claimed that having the Clean Water Rule would help keep water clean for the fishing industry.
In response, a number of groups filed lawsuits to enjoin the implementation of this clean water rule, stating that the rule goes too far and infringes on personal liberty. Those opposing the Clean Water Rule were primarily right wing groups, though many Democratic lawmakers from states with large farming and energy industries were against the Obama Clean Water Rule. These groups claimed that it interferes with farmers by making unnecessary burdens when farming and hurts the energy industry, especially those states where they conduct fracking.
Blocking the Clean Water Rule
Hours before the Clean Water Rule was supposed to take effect in 2015, a federal judge in North Dakota issued an injunction against it. Among the objections was a claim of a violation of the Commerce Clause. Under the Commerce Clause, the Federal Government has the right to legislate items related to “intercourse between the states.” The Clean Water Rule, they claimed, reaches too far.
Trump Administration’s Response
President Donald Trump exercised his presidential power of issuing executive orders when he signed such an order directing the EPA to review the Clean Water Rule and possible repeal of such rule. When signing the executive order, President Trump stated: “The EPA’s so-called ‘Waters of the United States’ rule is one of the worst examples of federal regulation, and it has truly run amok, and is one of the rules most strongly opposed by farmers, ranchers, and agricultural workers all across our land. The EPA decided that navigable waters can mean nearly every puddle or every ditch on a farmer’s land or anyplace else that they decide.”
Because the Clean Water Rule has been tied up in courts for the last three years, any repeal of that rule is not going to have an impact on current practice. This is another example of President Trump chipping away at Obama era environmental legislation.
In early May of 2018, the price of oil surged to over $70 per barrel, marking the highest oil prices in four years. In turn, prices at the pump shot up to approximately $3 per gallon, per the national average. While the price of a barrel of oil is far from its highest, the price surge seems to go against the explosion of domestic energy production. The United States has become a world leader in oil production and has amassed great amounts of natural gas from areas in the Midwest and east coast.
Perhaps a factor in the high oil prices are from Obama-era restrictions on methane emissions for oil and gas production. In 2015, President Obama directed the EPA to restrict methane emissions. Methane is the primary component of natural gas. When there are leaks in natural gas, methane escapes. According to some, methane is the main cause of climate change. In fact, they point out, that from 2004-2012, there was a 3% increase in methane in the atmosphere. This contrasts with prior years when there was little or no increase in methane in the atmosphere.
According to the then-EPA administration, the emission of methane gas has 25 times greater effect on climate change than carbon dioxide.
Sources of Increased Methane
Some scientists point to the increase of the population as the trigger for an increase in methane. They point to more livestock, more rice fields, and more dead animals as a result of feeding a larger population of the planet. This, they claim, is the source for increasing atmospheric methane.
They also point to leaks in oil and gas production, as mentioned before, contributing to the methane problem. Specifically, they point to fracking as a significant cause of methane emissions. The amount of fracking, including the refracking of wells, has grown tremendously over the past several years.
Under President Trump, the EPA has taken a more anti-climate change stance and has sought to undo Obama-era methane restrictions. The EPA announced that it would be rolling back the methane restriction as too restrictive on oil and gas producers. EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt announced a 90-day moratorium on enforcement of methane restrictions. He later said that it would be extended for two years.
Specifically, Pruitt noted that the regulations were arbitrary and capricious.
DIOXIN: It’s cancerous, it’s in your food, and your children are probably being exposed at higher levels during breast feeding.
Since the 1960s, and for more than five decades thereafter, the Houston Ship Channel has been hiding a dark environmental reality: buried beneath its waters lies waste pits that are holding and releasing dioxins, a type of chemical known to cause cancer and birth defects. See Houston Chronicle. Also see TCEQ webpage.
What is Dioxin?
Dioxin is a term used to describe hundreds of chemicals that share a similar chemical structure. The shared chemical structure is marked by two benzene rings connected by a pair of oxygen atoms, otherwise known as “aromatic compounds.” These chemicals look like white crystalline needles under a microscope, and they are primarily produced as a byproduct of manufacturing chlorinated organic compounds, such as herbicides, and also from outdoor burning. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), there are three families of these aromatic compounds:
How is Dioxin toxic?
Dioxin is toxic to humans because of its ability to bind to particular receptors on the cells in our bodies, leading to the cell becoming inept at producing much needed proteins. Although dioxin was heavily manufactured in the United States for decades, by the 1980s cancer clusters appeared heavily in residential neighborhoods adjacent to areas known to have been contaminated by the improper disposal of dioxin waste. Finally, in 1997, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IRAC) came forward and decided to formally add Dioxin to its list of chemicals known to cause cancer in humans – a Group 1 carcinogen.
Risk of Exposure to Dioxin?
What makes Dioxin unique from many other chemicals is the fact that humans are likely exposed to it regularly through our food chain. This is particularly true for people consuming a western diet, which is heavier in meat and processed food consumption compared to non-industrialized countries. The fact remains that so much dioxin was poured into our environment in the 1950s, 60s, 70s, and 80s, that our fresh waters and food supplies have been heavily exposed to these substances. Dioxins are lipophilic – they are attracted to fats in water – so animals and humans absorb them faster and more readily compared to most other carcinogens, making the exposure highly toxic, as these substances bio-accumulate over a lifetime.
This is especially concerning given the fact that the environmental distribution of dioxin is global, regardless of its origin – where it is produced. So even though production in the U.S. is virtually nonexistent today, its production in countries like China exposes all of us through the food supply. In most instances today, Dioxin is being introduced to our animals through contaminated animal feed. Not all countries monitor their food supply chains, but for those that do, there have been many instances where dioxin contamination has been documented. For example, as noted by the World Health Organization, in late 2008 Ireland had to recall many tons of its pork meat due to testing that revealed levels of dioxin contamination at 200 plus times recommended health limits.
Dioxin Levels in Human Breast Milk
In 1987, the New York Times published an article that referenced a study of breast milk from 50 mothers throughout the United States which found higher than average levels of Dioxin. At the time the EPA was not surprised, since higher than average levels are expected in industrialized nations. In 2013, the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health published a paper titled, “A General Model of Dioxin Contamination in Breast Milk: Results from a Study of 94 Women from Caserta and Naples Areas in Italy.” See study. The study was significant because it demonstrated that the greatest indicator of high human levels of dioxin was age. The older women had the highest levels of dioxin in their breast milk, indicating bioaccumulation over time was the greatest indicator of toxicity.
Dioxin in Our Food Supply
It was not until 2001 that a comprehensive study was performed on levels of Dioxin in the U.S. food supply. The study, performed by scientists at the University of Texas Public School of Health, produced a shocking conclusion: “Americans are getting 22 times the maximum dioxin exposure suggested by the EPA.” The study went so far to conclude that “among U.S. nursing infants, that level is 35 to 65 times the recommended dosage.” See University of Texas study.
These conclusions were not surprising, considering a 1995 study by Dr. Arnold Schecter, Paul Cramer, Kathy Boggess, John Stanley, and James R. Olson. The study, “Levels of Dioxins, Dibenzofurans, PCB and DDE congeners in pooled food samples collected in 1995 supermarkets across the United States”, concluded that dibenzofuran and PCB cogeners “significantly contribute to the total TEQ value in the butter, beef, chicken, pork, hot dog, bologna, ocean fish, and cheese samples.” To measure risk of exposure by food, the study produced a chart, showing the highest levels of dioxin within the food supply coming from freshwater fish, followed by butter, and then hot dogs and oceanic fish. See Schecter study.
All studies are clear that there dioxin s bio-accumulating in our bodies over our lifetime. Where the exact source of this dioxin is remains unclear. However, as more comprehensive studies of dioxin levels to edit.
This blog was authored by Alexander Forrest on 5.6.2018
In 2015, then-President Barrack Obama created the Clean Power Plan, or CPP. The CPP sought to regulate emissions from fossil fuel-fired (coal) power plants.
Congress passed the Clean Air Act to help regulate clean air and tasked the EPA with carrying out this plan. The Obama administration applied this to power plants through the CPP. The CPP creates a system wherein regulations reduce carbon emissions emitted from these power plants. Under the CPP, the EPA tailored plans to different states so there would be, according to the EPA, a reduction in carbon emissions.
Purpose of the Plan
The purpose of the CPP, according to Obama administration officials, was to reduce carbon emissions that are linked to climate change. They claim that coal burning creates climate change.
Due to its link with climate change, it was a hot political issue. Many detractors claim that climate change is a myth and is based on junk science. Proponents argue that they have real evidence and it is therefore out obligation to protect the plant.
As a hot political item, the CPP became a target of the new Trump administration in 2017.
At the same time, the CPP called for the use of alternative energy sources that were not coal based, namely wind power. It had a push to create wind farms. Detractors disagreed with wind farms because, the claim was, wind farms are inefficient and not a good source of energy.
Repealing the Plan
Not surprisingly, many on the right saw the CPP as a vehicle to promote what they see as a non-existant, politically motivated, climate change agenda. They saw the CPP as a way to shut down power plants, which would put the US at a distinct disadvantage in the competitive world energy market.
Currently, US energy output is at an all-time high. Oil output is growing. New oil fields in the Bakken Shale Play in North Dakota and other oil fields contribute to the domestic output; the domestic natural gas industry is booming; new technologies are emerging. CPP, according to critics, is a plan to set the US energy production sector back.
According to statistics, plan opponents say, the CPP would cripple the energy economy by making regulations that are so draconian. They claim that it would cost the US energy sector 479,000 jobs by 2027. This compelled 27 states, notably energy producing states like West Virginia and North Carolina, to take their case to court.
Initially, opponents of CPP brought the case to the United States Supreme Court. The Supreme Court, in a 5-4 ruling, voted to stay implementation of the plan and requiring a review. As such, the CPP was never implemented.
With a new republican administration in the White House, the EPA moved quickly to repeal CPP. Citing its harmful economic effects and its draconian nature, EPA administrator Scott Pruitt started the repeal process. It seems that the CPP will not be initiated anytime soon.
The tug-of-war that is climate change was fought under the CPP banner. Time will tell where the next battleground takes place.
Over the past several years, government regulations have sought to limit gas emissions. Since the 1970s, the government has sought ways to reduce emissions from cars and trucks while increasing fuel efficiency. The Energy Crisis of 1973 emphasized this point.
This month, the Trump administration opened EPA emissions standards for comment. This signals that the Trump administration might consider the emissions standards to be too strenuous for the auto industry. The Trump administration, as previous administrations, finds it difficult to strike the balance between proper environmental protection and ensuring the automobile market remains viable.
Clean Air Act
Section 202(a) of the Clean Air Act mandates that the Administrator of the EPA conduct yearly reviews of emissions standards, in cooperation with the National Academy of Sciences, and report those findings to Congress. These findings are influential in forming energy policy.
The Energy Crisis
In the aftermath of the Yom Kippur War, in which the United States supported Israel, Arab oil-producing countries initiated an embargo against the US. This resulted in a limited oil/fuel supply despite a growing automobile market. Prices at the pump jumped from an average of 12 cents a gallon to 59 cents a gallon. The government regulated when people could fill their tanks based on their license plates. Lines for gas pumps often stretched for miles, with people waiting hours to fill up on gas.
The situation was a wakeup call to Americans and American automakers. At the time of the Energy Crisis, the average car’s fuel efficiency was six to eight miles per gallon, with the most efficient at 17 miles per gallon and large trucks often only getting two miles per gallon. Contrast these numbers with today’s fuel efficiency numbers, where on average cars get 33-35 miles per gallon with the most efficient claiming to get 76 and the least efficient trucks getting 17-19. Moreover, the use of natural gas in public buses and hybrid cars signals that Americans have moved forward to better fuel efficiency.
American Presidents showed their commitment to not overburdening the auto industry. During the Great Recession, the US government used TARP funds to bail out the auto industry. The government even provided funding for the GM and Chrysler bankruptcies. This demonstrates a willingness and resolve for the government to maintain the auto industry.
The EPA administrator provided a midterm report in 2017 regarding emission standards. Based on the Clean Air act of 2012, the EPA conducts yearly reviews to test environmental safety. The report stated that the auto industry was on target to hit goals set for 2022-2025 with respect to fuel efficiency. At the same time, automakers complained that these standards hampered their ability to be profitable. Instead, automakers stated that the open market should determine fuel efficiency, not standards that choke the auto industry. In fact, Honda and Toyota affirmed their commitment to building cars that are fuel efficient.
The Trump administration is currently reviewing the EPA report. It remains to be seen what direction the administration will go. Does this signal that the President is undermining the EPA? Or has the EPA been too hard on the auto industry? Time will tell.