Scott Pruitt Ensnares the Clean Power Plan in More Red Tape

March 1, 2018 | 1:14 pm
Gage Skidmore/Flickr
Julie McNamara
Senior Energy Analyst

For a man who swears to be laser-focused on ridding the world of regulatory red tape, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt sure has a funny way of showing it.

Indeed, Mr. Pruitt appears to be something of a red tape-generating savant.

On Monday, our organization responded to a request for information from the EPA about regulating carbon emissions from power plants. Which might sound familiar, because we’ve already done that. In fact, we and several million others have already done that multiple times over. What’s more, the agency itself has already gone down this road, from thinking about it, to issuing and responding to comments about it, to—you guessed it—even publishing a rule on this very topic just a few years ago.

Yet here we are again, answering questions the agency already knows the answer to, responding to challenges the agency has already resolved.

Surely there are better uses of taxpayer dollars and government time.

Surely, that is, except according to Scott Pruitt. That’s because although the EPA is statutorily required to act on climate, the man who made a career out of serving as an eager and willing mouthpiece for oil and gas corporations would really rather not. So what’s he do instead? Wield the rulemaking process as a red tape machine, churning out bright red bows for the fossil fuel industry while tangling up the legs of forward progress for all the rest.

No, no, you’re right—we’ve definitely done this before

Here’s the thing: the scientific and legal backing for the EPA’s regulation of carbon emissions from power plants is remarkably robust, and the record to support it lengthy:

  • In 2007, the Supreme Court ruled in Massachusetts v. EPA that the agency had the authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions.
  • In 2009, the EPA completed its Endangerment and Cause or Contribute Findings, which confirmed the agency’s obligation to act on greenhouse gas emissions from power plants.
  • In 2015, the EPA issued a final version of those required standards in the form of the Clean Power Plan, the product of a robust and years long rulemaking process.

But then came 2017, and Scott Pruitt appointed as EPA administrator. Though the facts haven’t changed, forward progress has been spinning its wheels ever since.

Unreasonably narrow, inappropriately weak

The Trump Administration cast a long shadow over the Clean Power Plan with its Executive Order on Energy Independence in March 2017, but the rule’s proposed repeal wasn’t actually issued until last October. The agency is still taking comment on that proposal, which, in addition to making a mockery of the value of human health and the environment, attempts to reinterpret the Clean Air Act as well as how the power system works in order to avoid the need for meaningful regulatory action.

At the same time, because the agency is statutorily required to act, the EPA followed up with an advance notice of proposed rulemaking (ANPR) in December 2017 to simply consider how it might go about regulating greenhouse gas emissions in line with this new interpretation. The result was a remarkably transparent attempt to waste time, ignore facts, and abdicate the agency’s foremost responsibility of protecting human health and the environment.

  • The ANPR gets off to a rocky start by prejudging the outcome of the ongoing—and ostensibly unbiased and objective—proposed repeal’s rulemaking process, limiting the agency’s interest in information to only that which conforms with an incredibly narrow interpretation of compliance.
  • The ANPR repeatedly solicits comment suggesting an overarching motivation that is not rooted in limiting power sector carbon emissions, but rather in finding ways to limit the agency’s own role and responsibilities on this front—up to and including whether the EPA should set limits at all.
  • The ANPR actively ignores the existence of our ever-improving understanding of the costs of climate impacts, as well as the ever-improving fundamentals of clean energy resources. Instead of looking for ways to weaken the Clean Power Plan, the EPA should—must—be doing everything it can to strengthen it, in turn delivering significant near and long-term health benefits to communities around the country while at the same time contributing to global efforts to limit climate change.

Ultimately, the ANPR does little more than crystallize just how much Scott Pruitt does not care about his charge as EPA Administrator, instead advancing cynical charades at the expense of the health and well-being of Americans, now and in the future.

Why we still fight

And yet, we still submitted comments on Monday.

Alongside 250,000 others.

We did this despite knowing that the EPA issued its request for comment with the sole purpose of delaying a statutory requirement to act. We did this despite recognizing that the EPA has shown no signs that it will truly consider our response.

We did this by the hundreds of thousands because respect for our institutions demands nothing less.

Scott Pruitt has made abundantly clear he holds no respect for the mission of the agency he has been appointed to direct, but the thing is, the rest of us still do. So when the agency asks us to write, we write. And when the time comes that the courts rule on the agency’s need to act, all of our many words will be there, waiting and ready to fight the good fight.