Regulations 'will help projects get built faster,' says head of environmental agency that can't finish its own projects on time
The White House on Tuesday restored environmental regulations on infrastructure construction that the Trump administration struck down in the name of cutting bureaucratic red tape. The Biden administration said reimposing the stringent review process will speed up the construction of infrastructure projects.
The rule change will require federal agencies to assess the “direct,” “indirect,” and “cumulative” climate and environmental effects of infrastructure projects before approving the projects. Former president Donald Trump in 2020 made certain projects, such as pipelines and highways, exempt from those regulations in an effort to clear up “mountains and mountains of bureaucratic red tape in Washington, D.C.”
Chairwoman Brenda Mallory of the White House’s Council on Environmental Quality, which issued the rule change, said in a statement that the restoration of red tape will actually expedite the construction of infrastructure.
“Restoring these basic community safeguards will provide regulatory certainty, reduce conflict, and help ensure that projects get built right the first time,” Mallory said. “Patching these holes in the environmental review process will help projects get built faster, be more resilient, and provide greater benefits to people who live nearby.”
When the White House last year proposed reimposing the regulations, though, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce opposed it, saying the rule change would bog down infrastructure projects.
“By rolling back some of the most important updates to our antiquated permitting process, the Biden administration’s new proposed [National Environmental Policy Act] rule will only serve to slow down building the infrastructure of the future,” Chad Whiteman, the Chamber of Commerce’s vice president for environment and regulatory affairs, said in October. “Important projects … are languishing due to continued delays and that must change.”
On Monday, the day before the Council on Environmental Quality argued its policy changes would speed up the construction of federal projects, Politico subsidiary E&E News revealed that the agency has failed to complete its own projects on time. The agency was tasked with achieving a number of the Biden administration’s climate priorities, including tracking the White House’s “climate-related investments to disadvantaged communities” with a scorecard.
The Council on Environmental Quality “has already fallen behind on multiple key goals, including the scorecard, which was supposed to be released two months ago, and the climate and economic screening tool, which was released in February in draft form after a six-month delay,” E&E News reported.
By The Hill•
Imagine what it must feel like to have a government agent show up at your door, accuse you of violating some rule you’ve never heard of, and threaten you with massive fines and imprisonment if you don’t do what he says.
Wyoming’s Andy Johnson doesn’t have to imagine; he lived it. His alleged offense: he built a pond on his private property without begging D.C. bureaucrats’ permission first. Thankfully, two executive orders issued by President Trump last week aim to make this experience less common.
The focus of these executive orders is agency “guidance” — informal rules that regulate all of us without going through the normal rulemaking process. Before issuing a regulation, agencies are supposed to propose them publicly, explain their reasons, accept public comments and respond to those comments. Although no substitute for democratic accountability, this process at least ensures that Americans have an opportunity to learn about the rules being imposed on them and weigh in against the worst of them.
Unfortunately, agencies often circumvent this process, issuing rules through informal means such as internal memoranda or letters to selected constituents. This means that most of us cannot possibly know the rules that govern our lives, even though we face ruinous punishments should we unknowingly violate one of them.
As Andy Johnson’s experience shows, this results in unfair surprise. Johnson had no reason to expect that building a pond to provide water to his daughter’s horses would turn his life upside down. He got the required state permit and worked with state engineers to maximize the pond’s environmental benefits. The pond, which he built himself, achieved all of them: It restored wetlands in an area sorely lacking them, created habitat for fish and wildlife, and filtered the water that passed through it by allowing sediment and other pollutants to filter to the bottom.
As Johnson was wrapping up this work, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) showed up. It demanded Johnson rip out the pond or face $37,500 per day in fines. The potential fines would accrue at a rate of about $1 million per month, an incomprehensible sum for Johnson — and most Americans.
He tried to reason with the agency, asking for some explanation of how he could be threatened in this way and what could be done. But the explanation would not be forthcoming. Nor would evidence that Johnson had done nothing wrong make a difference. An expert’s report documenting the pond’s numerous environmental benefits and exemptions from federal regulation fell on deaf ears.
Every month the agency dragged its feet, the fines grew. Two years later, when the potential fines reached $16 million, Pacific Legal Foundation filed a lawsuit on Johnson’s behalf. This forced the agency to finally put its cards on the table, revealing its evidence and explaining how that evidence showed a violation.
EPA asserted the small stream crossing Johnson’s property was a federal waterway, even though it was hundreds of miles from the nearest navigable river. The agency based this claim on a guidance document that purported to stretch the agency’s authority as far as it thought the Supreme Court might let it get away with.
The EPA also pointed to a guidance document to avoid the inconvenient fact that Congress had explicitly exempted the “construction and maintenance of farm or stock ponds” from federal regulation. This guidance interpreted that limit on the agency’s power as narrowly as possible. (If you haven’t noticed, there’s a theme here. Guidance almost always expands agency power and minimizes anything that might get in the agency’s way.)
EPA’s evidence fared even worse. Although it was supposed to show that Johnson’s pond significantly affects a downstream navigable water, the agency’s record showed that no one had ever checked where the water flowed. In fact, the water flows into an irrigation canal and never reaches any navigable water. If EPA had bothered to check, the whole ordeal could have been avoided.
Going forward, President Trump’s executive order will require agencies to review their guidance, revoke much of it, and publicize the rest so that Americans have a fair chance to know the rules that apply to them. The orders will also require agencies to give property owners an explanation of the agency’s allegations and an opportunity to contest them before threats can issue.
Although these orders are a welcome improvement, much work remains if we’re going to hold agencies truly accountable and restore power to the people we elect to wield it. Under our Constitution, only Congress can write laws, not unelected bureaucrats. It’s about time that we return to the Constitution’s design.
By Peter Roff • MY Journal Courier
Last month, the Environmental Protection Agency proposed new regulations that could dramatically ramp up the use of ethanol, a corn-based bio-fuel that can be blended into gasoline. That news was music to the ears of Iowa corn farmers.
But the rest of the country isn’t so pleased. A recent poll finds that more than 80 percent of voters are concerned the new policy will raise prices at the pump. And more than two-thirds think the ethanol expansion will harm their engines.
Americans are right to be alarmed. Ethanol is an expensive, environmentally hazardous fuel. The EPA’s new policy is a flagrant attempt by the Trump administration to buy the support of farmers — at huge expense to American consumers.
The EPA’s plan would lift restrictions on gasoline containing 15 percent ethanol, a blend known as E15. At the moment, the sale of E15 is banned during the summer because the fuel generates more ozone than is permitted by the Clean Air Act.
But recently, President Trump instructed the Environmental Protection Agency to begin the process of legalizing year-round E15 sales.
The president found an E15 ally in Iowa senator Chuck Grassley, chairman of the powerful Senate Finance Committee.
In many cases, E15 is dangerous. Roughly three-quarters of the cars on the road today weren’t built to use E15, and could be seriously damaged if forced to run on the fuel.
E15 might even harm engines that have just rolled off the line. Many prominent automotive brands — including BMW, Mercedes, Mitsubishi, Mazda and Volvo — have model-year 2018 cars that aren’t equipped to handle the fuel. Some automakers have warned drivers that filling up with E15 could be grounds for voiding their vehicles’ warranties.
The fuel is also useless for motorcycles and boats, as well as lawnmowers and other outdoor equipment.
Pushing more E15 into the market will inevitably lead to costly engine damage for Americans who mistakenly assume that this government-mandated fuel is actually safe to use.
This isn’t the only way in which E15 is a bad deal for consumers. Since ethanol contains only a third of the energy of gasoline, motorists who fill up with E15 can expect to get far fewer miles to the gallon — forcing them to fill up more often.
Ethanol was developed to be a clean-burning alternative to other fossil fuels. But ironically, it actually poses a grave threat to the environment. Over a 30-year period, the net emissions from ethanol are 28 percent higher than emissions from gasoline, according to the Clean Air Task Force. One Princeton University researcher warns ethanol’s true emissions are even higher. He estimates bio-fuels emit twice as much carbon dioxide into the atmosphere as gasoline over three decades.
Ethanol proponents often argue the bio-fuel is necessary for America’s energy independence. But today, Americans already have an abundant supply of domestic, clean, low-cost fuel. Thanks to improved drilling techniques such as fracking, the country is producing historic levels of both oil and natural gas. Natural gas in particular burns far cleaner than coal, propane or gasoline. Major automakers are already designing vehicles to run on the fuel.
The president seems intent on forcing consumers to buy a costly, inefficient, environmentally damaging fuel unsuitable for most vehicles. It’s no wonder that the policy has raised a red flag with so many voters. Their concerns are more than justified. Americans deserve an energy policy that serves the country’s needs — and not the narrow interests of corn-growers.
Peter Roff is a senior fellow at Frontiers of Freedom. He wrote this for InsideSources.com.
EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt is shaking things up at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). And in a good way! During the Obama years, the EPA was used to pursue radical environmental policies that could not pass Congress, even when the Democrats controlled the House and had a mega-majority in the Senate.
The EPA became synonymous with constitutional end runs, legal chicanery, and subterfuge. EPA’s solutions were reflexively federal government centric, and were increasingly designed to achieve political outcomes rather than desirable environmental results. Pruitt is simply saying enough is enough.
That’s good news for those who want a clean environment, hope to have a strong economy, and who believe that state agencies are often more responsive than federal bureaucracies. Continue reading
By Elizabeth Harrington • Washington Free Beacon
The Environmental Protection Agency spent nearly $700,000 for parking spots that no one used during the final two years of the Obama administration.
The office of inspector general released an audit Wednesday finding the agency wasted taxpayer dollars on subsidized parking for employees at its Washington, D.C., headquarters.
“Only EPA headquarters (based in Washington, D.C.) and Region 4 (based in Atlanta, Georgia) subsidized employee parking,” the inspector general said. “These offices paid over $840,000 to subsidize employee parking from January 1, 2015, through December 31, 2016.” Continue reading
By Julie Kelly • National Review
Scott Pruitt, Trump’s EPA administrator, is the top target of the anti-Trump lynch mob. He’s enduring daily attack pieces in the media and threats of violence against him and his family. It’s hard to think of any cabinet member — current or former — who has been subjected to more vitriol and vilification than Pruitt, and he’s been on the job for less than a year. Suddenly, everything from overlooked Superfund sites to the Flint water crisis to “toxic” pesticides are Pruitt’s fault, which of course means he is poisoning children and destroying the planet.
According to the EPA inspector general’s office, Pruitt has received “four to five times the number of threats” that his predecessor, Gina McCarthy, did. The level of concern for Pruitt’s safety is so deep that agents are being added to his round-the-clock security detail. In a recent Bloomberg News interview, Pruitt said, “The quantity and the volume — as well as the type — of threats are different. What’s really disappointing to me as it’s not just me — it’s family.” Continue reading
By Michael Bastasch • The Daily Caller
One of the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) longest and most successful air pollution standards is based on a taxpayer-funded study plagued by “data fabrication and falsification,” according to a veteran toxicologist.
Toxicologist Albert Donnay says he’s found evidence a 1989 study commissioned by EPA on the health effects of carbon monoxide, which, if true, could call into question 25 years of regulations and billions of dollars on catalytic converters for automobiles.
“They claimed to find an effect when there wasn’t one,” Donnay told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “They even fabricated the methods they used to get their results.” Continue reading
by Julie Kelly • National Review
A new study by Environmental Progress (EP) warns that toxic waste from used solar panels now poses a global environmental threat. The Berkeley-based group found that solar panels create 300 times more toxic waste per unit of energy than nuclear power plants. Discarded solar panels, which contain dangerous elements such as lead, chromium, and cadmium, are piling up around the world, and there’s been little done to mitigate their potential danger to the environment.
“We talk a lot about the dangers of nuclear waste, but that waste is carefully monitored, regulated, and disposed of,” says Michael Shellenberger, founder of Environmental Progress, a nonprofit that advocates for the use of nuclear energy. “But we had no idea there would be so many panels — an enormous amount — that could cause this much ecological damage.”
Solar panels are considered a form of toxic, hazardous electronic or “e-waste,” and according to EP researchers Jemin Desai and Mark Nelson, scavengers in developing countries like India and China often “burn the e-waste in order to salvage the valuable copper wires for resale. Since this process requires burning off plastic, the resulting smoke contains toxic fumes that are carcinogenic and teratogenic (birth defect-causing) when inhaled.” Continue reading
My parents were hippies, so protestors occupy a soft spot in my heart. There’s something uplifting about people so committed to a cause they’re will to march around holding signs, let themselves be chained to a tree, or even get locked into some kind of weird device that looks like it belongs in a horror film.
Politicians aren’t quite as dramatic which I suppose makes them more dangerous. It certainly makes them less endearing than the Birkenstock-wearing crowd while advancing legislative proposals that are more about fearmongering than facts.
Either way, tugging at heartstrings is a good way to get in the press, especially where the more than 1,000 Superfund sites across the United States are concerned. These are places where toxic materials were buried – either illegally or because no one at the time knew better – and have to be cleaned up under authority of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. In the case of West Lake Landfill, a Superfund site just outside St. Louis, Missouri, a curious thing has occurred. The political left – which would usually move heaven and earth in favor of site clean-up issues – is actually keeping this one site from being remediated.
This is not fake news. Environmentalists are actually preventing the West Lake site from being cleaned-up because the government won’t do it their way.
Having land you own under the supervision of the EPA is usually a nightmare for business. It costs time and money and sometimes people end up going to court. In this case things haven’t been so bad. The soil in and around the landfill has been studied, the dangers from the radiological materials buried there have been evaluated, and plans have been discussed.
Admittedly the whole process has taken far too long – about 30 years — but just when it looked like the EPA was on the right track and was ready to start on a plan that would secure the site for the long-term, isolate the contaminants, and have it all paid for by the company that owns the property the environmental groups began raising objections. They’ve been putting roadblock after roadblock in front of the process. They have drafted politicians to their cause, they’ve enlisted the support of unions, they’ve even called on the United Nations to intervene — all the while using the tactics of community organizers like Saul Alinksy to spread fear, distrust, and junk science throughout the the community of people living nearby.
The latest development is a proposal that would literally offer a buyout to nearly ever homeowner living near the site.
When I first heard about this piece of legislation I hoped it was merely a messaging bill – a public relations ploy to raise awareness of the need for a clean-up. Except it passed the Missouri Senate by a vote of 30 to 3, hopefully because those voting “aye” didn’t understand what they were voting for. The science doesn’t back up their reasoning; if it did it could lead, eventually, to an argument for a bailout of tens of thousands of Missouri homeowners living near sites that one environmental group or another declares to be toxic.
That would be a pretty hefty Show Me State price tag.
Despite the fear, the science says the neighboring community is safe, According to a recent article from the local CBS affiliate:
The Environmental Protection Agency has previously said that despite radioactive waste and an underground fire at the (nearby) Bridgeton Landfill, there’s no increased risk for neighboring residents. The agency also hasn’t found evidence that radioactive material has migrated beyond the landfill.
We don’t have to take the EPA’s word for it. Science, good science, backs them up. Most of the soil sampled around the landfill is less radioactivethan anywhere in Missouri, and by a considerable factor. When I say “most,” every sample showed merely 25 percent of the contamination any Missouri resident would expect find in their front yard. There’s only one exception, and that one was just 6 percent higher. On this data alone Missouri Senators have voted to spend up to $12.5 million to buy the houses of people living in just one development near West Lake landfill. .
Last year, at the urging of the left, who insisted science is more like a data lottery, the EPA announced even more community testing. The results have not yet been announced but there is little reason to believe they will show anything different than previous federal or state studies have shown.
Why did the Senate need to rush through a vote before the data they knew was coming was in? Almost none of the politics around West Lake Landfill makes sense. The facts are easy – waste from the Manhattan Project was illegally dumped there decades ago. The waste was found, and the site was deemed a Superfund Site. Years later the EPA finally figured out a plan. But, the facts and the actions don’t match in this case. When the left didn’t like the EPA’s plan – it didn’t require the use of Union labor is one my guesses – they started doing everything that they can to delay, impede, and throw temper tantrums.
If the left just wanted to have a drum circle and sing some songs – I am game. My goodness, nowadays they protest so much I mark the days when they aren’t protesting. But, when the left wants to impede the progress of cleaning up and securing a toxic waste site as well as spending money that could be used to build infrastructure or educate children based on nothing, then count me out. It’s not groovy.
By Elizabeth Harrington • Washington Free Beacon
The Environmental Protection Agency has been riddled with employee misconduct, including workers who drink, smoke marijuana, and watch porn on the job.
Inspector general reports over the past few years detailing employee misbehavior could serve as ammunition for EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, who is seeking to eliminate 25 percent of the 15,000 employees at the agency.
Only 6.5 percent of EPA employees are “essential,” according to the government’s own calculations when it faced a shutdown in 2013. At the time, just 1,069 employees were deemed necessary to continue working during the 16 days the government closed. Continue reading
By Jeremy Carl • National Review
As one would expect from a president who is a master of political theater, the backdrop for this week’s announcement of his executive order “Promoting Energy Independence and Economic Growth” was dramatic: President Trump, with twelve all-American-looking coal-miners flanking him, announced that he was undoing a number of President Obama’s climate policies, while announcing a number of pro-energy-development ones. As is typical with this president, though, the media were so wrapped up in the theater that the substance of the order was almost entirely buried in many stories.
But while the green lobby was rending its garments and proclaiming the end of the world, more astute observers noticed what Trump’s executive order didn’t do — which was arguably more important than what it did.
Notably, the president did not (1) withdraw the U.S. from the Paris Climate Agreement or (2) start a process to repeal the EPA’s endangerment finding on carbon emissions, which underlies the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan. Continue reading
By Robert Tracinski • The Federalist
For pro-free-marketers, the big bright spot of the Trump administration is the hatchet he’s taking to the Environmental Protection Agency: doing things like packing the agency with global warming skeptics and rolling back absurd new automobile mileage mandates.
The man in charge of this is new EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, who up to now has been cautious about saying anything that would express his skepticism that human emissions of carbon dioxide are causing global warming.
Except now he’s done it. In a CNBC interview, the host asked, “Do you believe that it’s been proven that CO2 is the primary control knob for climate?” Pruitt answered: “No, I think that measuring with precision human activity on the climate is something very challenging to do, and there’s tremendous disagreement about the degree of impact. So no, I would not agree that it’s a primary contributor to the global warming that we see. But we don’t know that yet. We need to continue the debate and continue the review and the analysis.” Continue reading
by Charlie Hoffmann • Washington Free Beacon
A Friday opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal has conservatives on Capitol Hill intrigued about the possibility of being able to roll back a plethora of regulations introduced during the Obama administration.
Kimberley Strassel’s column, “A GOP Regulatory Game Changer,” argues that the Congressional Review Act of 1996, or CRA, would grant congressional Republicans the ability to repeal onerous regulations passed by the Obama administration.
The accepted wisdom in Washington is that the CRA can be used only against new regulations, those finalized in the past 60 legislative days. That gets Republicans back to June, teeing up 180 rules or so for override. Included are biggies like the Interior Department’s “streams” rule, the Labor Department’s overtime-pay rule, and the Environmental Protection Agency’s methane rule. Continue reading
The EPA announced that it will disregard the current law and rush new mandates into place before Obama leaves office.
In 2012, the Obama Administration pushed through a dramatic increase in Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards — jumping the fleet average mileage mandates to 54.5 miles per gallon by 2015. At the time, it was agreed there would be a mid-term review before 2018 to determine if the new CAFE standards were feasibly possibly in the time frame required. However, now the Obama Administration and the EPA just announced that there will be no midterm review and that intends to impose the 54.5 miles per gallon mandate regardless of the feasibility or impact. Continue reading
By Daily Caller•
Attorneys general from a dozen Republican-led states say the Environmental Protection Agency has been dragging its feet since February on their fee waiver requests, adding to a pattern of the agency making it harder for conservatives to obtain government records.
Twelve states with Republican administrations sent a Freedom of Information Act request for records regarding EPA “sue and settle” negotiations with outside environmental groups in lawsuits. These suits led to the agency entering into consent decrees that forced more federal intervention into state environmental plans.
“Oklahoma and other states seek this information out of substantial concern with EPA’s practice because it directly results in minimizing the substantive role of the States in energy, land use and environmental regulatory programs in a manner that is contrary to the cooperative federalism structure set forth in federal law and the United States Constitution,” wrote Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt on behalf of the twelves states. “The EPA must be transparent about its actions.”
The EPA denied fee waiver requests to the twelve attorneys general and the decision was appealed by the states in March. However, the EPA has been dragging its feet, twice asking for more time to consider their appeal.
The states are especially concerned given reports that the EPA has been routinely denying fee waiver requests to conservative groups seeking government records, while granting them to environmental groups that seek to push more federal involvement in state environmental rules.
The free-market Competitive Enterprise Institute obtained documents showing that since January 2012, the EPA granted fee waivers for 92 percent of FOIA requests from major environmental groups, while the agency rejected or ignored 81 percent fee waiver requests from conservative groups.
According to the states’ February FOIA request, the EPA has entered into at least 45 settlements with environmental groups under the Clean Air Act in the last three years, forcing the agency to engage in rulemaking. When this happens, the states — which have to implement the new rules — are kept out of the process.
“Not only does EPA’s action harm and jeopardize the States’ role as a partner with EPA, but it harms the interests of the citizens of the Requesting States,” reads the FOIA request sent by Pruitt and the states in February. The EPA has also disclosed nearly $1 million in attorneys’ fees to these groups.
Earlier this year, seventeen states, including Oklahoma, pushed back against the EPA’s new proposal that would revoke existing state implementation plans that grant exemption to fines for power plants and other emitters that exceed emissions limits during times of startup, shutdown, and malfunction (SSM). The new EPA rule was the result of a legal settlement with the Sierra Club.
If the rule becomes final, emitting facilities could be fined if they have excess emissions during times currently under SSM protection.
“The startling disparity in treatment strongly suggests EPA’s actions are possibly part of a broader effort to collude with groups that share the agency’s political agenda and discriminate against states and conservative organizations,” wrote Republicans including Rep. Darrell Issa and Sens. David Vitter, Chuck Grassley and Jim Inhofe in a letter to the EPA.
“EPA is instead making environmental policy on its own and with special interest groups and then forcing the states to comply with these new policies. This is far from what Congress had in mind,” a conservative environmental lawyer close to the issue told The Daily Caller News Foundation.
In February, twelve states — Oklahoma, Alabama, Arizona, Georgia, Kansas, Michigan, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Carolina, Texas, Utah, Wyoming — requested records pertaining to settlements the EPA entered into with environmental groups over state Regional Haze implementation plans.
The agency denied their request, arguing that the states did not express specific intent to disseminate the information to the public. However, the states did mention in their FOIA request that the information would be disseminated to the public. The states appealed, and the EPA has twice asked for more time to review the appeal.
If the agency doesn’t grant Oklahoma and the other eleven states’ fee waiver request by May 31, the states will act to “compel EPA’s compliance with applicable law.”
Republican senators pressed President Obama’s EPA nominee Gina McCarthy on the issue in the wake of her hearings.
“EPA can only approve State implementation plans that are consistent with the Clean Air Act and our regulations. I am committed to working with States so that more of these plans can be approved and litigation can be avoided,” McCarthy responded to a question regarding states challenging the EPA’s actions on state Regional Haze plans.
The EPA did not respond to The Daily Caller News Foundation’s request for comment.