The Biden administration's Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is currently seeking public input on its efforts to revamp an important Clean Air Act program called the Risk Management Plan (RMP) rule for facilities that produce, store, or use large amounts of dangerous chemicals. It is meant to prevent catastrophes — like the 2017 Arkema explosion in Crosby, Texas — which not only put human lives and health in danger (especially for the communities of color that are disproportionately overrepresented in the shadows of these facilities), but also cause costly disruption for local economies.
My CPR colleagues contributed to a timely new policy brief explaining how the EPA must be particularly attentive to the new and unique threats posed by climate change as it goes about revamping its RMP rule to prevent "double disasters" that will become increasingly common unless chemical facilities are forced to take preventative action. They presented the findings of the brief at a recent listening session that the EPA conducted as part of its input-gathering efforts, and they also submitted the document in response to the agency's call for written comments.
I joined them by submitting a second set of written comments that provided specific feedback for how the EPA …
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Michael Regan recently announced that $50 million from the American Rescue Plan will go toward environmental justice programs at the agency. This award will be accompanied by another $50 million to enhance air quality monitoring to target health disparities. This funding will double the amount of grant dollars for EPA’s environmental justice programs by adding $16.7 million in grants and funding for other programs such as school bus electrification, expanded environmental enforcement, and drinking water safety improvements.
Increased funding for environmental justice programs will foster stronger environmental protections for communities — often low-income communities and communities of color — that are forced to combat a disproportionate share of pollution, toxic exposures, and related health and economic consequences. Investment in these communities seeks to reconcile the gap left by environmental racism and a lack of opportunities to meaningfully engage in zoning …
To read the policy brief related to this post, click here.
Four years ago, Hurricane Harvey slammed into the coast of Texas, causing severe flooding in the Houston area and leading to a loss of electrical power throughout the region. During the blackout, a local chemical plant lost its ability to keep volatile chemicals stored onsite cool, and a secondary disaster ensued: A series of explosions endangered the lives of workers and first responders and spurred mass evacuations of nearby residents.
This infamous incident was a classic "double disaster" — a natural disaster, like a storm or earthquake, followed by a technical disaster, like a chemical release or explosion.
Also known as "natech" disasters, these events pose a severe and growing threat to public and environmental health — and to workers …
This is the first of of a two-part post. Part II is available here.
Last week, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced that the regulations defining “waters of the United States” under the Federal Water Pollution Control Act (better known as the Clean Water Act) are once again going to change.
The importance of that announcement is best demonstrated through a quick recap of the chaos that has dominated this element of Clean Water Act jurisdiction. In the 1980s, the EPA and Army Corps finally agreed on a regulatory definition of “waters of the United States,” a phrase that Congress had used in its 1972 overhaul of the Federal Water Pollution Control Act to define “navigable waters.” The phrase is also one of the key jurisdictional terms defining the waters to which the restructured law applies.
“Waters of …
This is the second of of a two-part post. Part I is available here.
In the first part of this post, I briefly touched on the chaotic history of the EPA and Army Corps' definition and regulation of "waters of the United States" under the Clean Water Act. I also pointed out that this definition and its varying interpretations across courts and administrations can have significant impacts on water pollution prevention and the protection of our nation's waterways. With the Biden administration tackling a redo of the "waters of the United States" rule, court challenges are sure to follow. In this post, I'll explore three approaches to the rule that might help it survive judicial review.
In addition to cleaning up our environment, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) must also clean up the mess the Trump administration left behind.
The Biden EPA recently took an important step in this direction by finalizing its plan to rescind a Trump-era rule that would drastically overhaul how it analyzes the rules it develops to implement the Clean Air Act. If implemented, Trump's "benefits-busting" rule would have sabotaged the effective and timely implementation of this popular and essential law, which protects the public from dangerous pollution that worsens asthma and causes other diseases. The rescission is slated to take effect next week.
On June 9, the EPA held a public hearing to gather feedback on rescinding the rule, which CPR has been tracking for several years. CPR Member Scholars Rebecca Bratspies and Amy Sinden joined me in testifying in support.
A New and Better Approach …
Lead can cause neurological damage to young children and developing fetuses. The only really safe level is zero. Because poor children are the most likely to be exposed to this hazard, this is also a major environmental justice issue.
The Trump EPA took the position that it could set a hazard level higher than zero because of the cost of reaching a lower threshold. In a split decision, the Ninth Circuit reversed. The statutory issues are complicated, and a dissent raised some reasonable arguments. Ultimately, though, it's hard to believe Congress wanted EPA to misrepresent that a certain level of lead is safe for children when it really isn't.
The case involved several types of regulations, but the most important dealt with levels of lead dust. The main way children are exposed to lead is by …
This post was originally published on Legal Planet. Republished with permission.
In its closing days, the Trump administration issued a rule designed to tilt EPA's cost-benefit analysis of air pollution regulations in favor of industry. Recently, the agency rescinded the rule. The rescission was no surprise, given that the criticisms of the Trump rule by economists as well as environmentalists. EPA's explanation for the rescission was illuminating, however. It sheds some important light on how the agency views the role of cost-benefit analysis in its decisions.
The Trump rule contained an industry wish list of provisions, all of them designed to make regulation more difficult. At the time, the provision that got the most attention related to co-benefits. Co-benefits are the beneficial side effects of a regulation. For example, a regulation designed to reduce mercury emissions from power plants also cut emissions of fine particulates, thereby saving …
Since President Joe Biden assumed office, environmental justice has been at the front and center of his administration. One key initiative: developing better mapping tools to identify communities that may bear a disproportionate burden of toxic pollution and climate change impacts. Biden’s environmental justice (EJ) plan emphasizes the value of these tools and the need to improve them.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) current tool — known as EJSCREEN — dates to 1994, when President Bill Clinton issued an executive order instructing federal agencies to collect, maintain, and analyze information on environmental and human health risks borne by low-income communities and people of color.
The EPA published EJSCREEN in 2015. It integrates demographic data (such as percent low-income, under the age five, over age 65, etc.) and environmental pollution measures at the block group or census tract level nationwide. The mapped data provide a visual …
Coal- and gas-fired power plants are a major source of U.S. carbon emissions. The Obama administration devised a perfectly sensible, moderate policy to cut those emissions. The Trump administration replaced it with a ridiculous token policy. The D.C. Circuit appeals court tossed that out. Now what?
It wouldn't be hard to redo the Obama policy based on all the changes in the power industry since he left office, which would result in much more rigorous emissions controls. The problem is that the ultra-conservative majority on the U.S. Supreme Court is likely to be very skeptical of the legal basis of any plan that, like Obama's, requires states to expand use of renewable energy.
Opponents of Obama's plan made two legal arguments, which both came up again in the litigation over the Trump rule …