Bush Administration Rushing Through Lame-Duck Energy And Environment Actions

Posted by Brad Johnson Fri, 31 Oct 2008 21:02:00 GMT

The House Committee on Global Warming and Energy Independence has issued a report, Past is Prologue, listing many of the energy and environmental regulations, rulemakings, and notices the Bush administration is expected to issue (or in some cases, illegally avoid issuing) in its final months in office. As R. Jeffrey Smith writes in the Washington Post, “The new rules would be among the most controversial deregulatory steps of the Bush era and could be difficult for his successor to undo.” Here’s a partial list:
  • The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) plans to finalize an NSR rule before the end of the administration that would essentially exempt all existing power plants from having to install new pollution control technology when these plants are updated.
  • In a separate NSR rule, EPA plans to exempt so-called “fugitive” emissions – meaning emissions that don’t come out of the end of a stack such as volatile organic compounds emitted from leaking pipes and fittings at petroleum refineries – from consideration in determining whether NSR is triggered.
  • EPA is also set to finalize a third rule weakening the NSR program, by allowing so-called “batch process facilities” – like oil refineries and chemical plants – to artificially ignore certain emissions when determining when NSR is triggered.
  • EPA is also working towards weakening air pollution regulations on power plants and other emissions sources adjacent to national parks and other pristine, so-called “Class I” areas. By changing the modeling of new power plants’ impact on air quality in national parks – using annual emissions averages as opposed to shorter daily or monthly periods – the EPA rule will make it easier for such plants to be built close to parks.
  • The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) issued proposed regulations to implement the EISA fuel economy standards (increase by the maximum feasible amount each year, such that it reaches at least 35 miles per gallon by 2020) in April 2008, and final regulations are expected soon. If NHTSA used EIA’s higher gasoline price scenario—a range of $3.14/gallon in 2016 to $3.74/gallon in 2030—the technology is available to cost-effectively achieve a much higher fleet wide fuel economy of nearly 35 mpg in 2015 – instead of the 31.6 mpg in 2015 under the lower gas prices used in NHTSA’s proposed rule.
  • EPA is expected to issue proposed regulations soon on the renewable fuels provisions passed in EISA that required America’s fuel supply to include 36 billion gallons of renewable fuels by 2022 – together with more specific volumetric requirements and lifecycle greenhouse gas benchmarks for “advanced” renewable fuels, cellulosic ethanol, and biodiesel.
  • The Department of the Interior (DOI) has already telegraphed its intention to gut the Endangered Species Act by rushing through 300,000 comments on proposed rules in 32 hours, then providing a mere 10-day public comment period on the Environmental Assessment of the proposed rules change. The proposed rules would take expert scientific review out of many Endangered Species Act (ESA) processes, and could exempt the effects of global warming pollution on threatened or endangered species.
  • DOI intends to finalize new regulations governing commercial development of oil shale on more than 2 million acres of public lands in the West.
  • DOI’s Office of Surface Mining is expected before the end of the administration to issue a final rule that would extend the current rule (which requires a 100-foot buffer zone around streams to protect them from mining practices) so that it also applies to all other bodies of water, such as lakes, ponds and wetlands. But the rule would also exempt many harmful practices – such as permanent coal waste disposal facilities – and could even allow for changing a waterway’s flow.
  • EPA has already missed several deadlines to finalize a rule addressing whether concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) are required to obtain permits under the Clean Water Act.
  • EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers may issue a revised guidance memo on how to interpret the phrase “waters of the United States” in the Clean Water Act, which determines what water bodies are subject to regulation under the Act.
  • Under the Omnibus appropriations bill for FY 2008, EPA was directed to establish a mandatory reporting rule for greenhouse gas emissions, using its existing authority under the Clean Air Act, by September 2008. EPA has been working on a proposed rule, which may or may not be issued before the end of the Bush administration. EPA will not issue a final rule before the end of the administration.

Major Court Ruling Against NHTSA on SUV CAFE Standards

Posted by Brad Johnson Tue, 20 Nov 2007 19:39:00 GMT

Last week the 9th Court of Appeals issued a 90-page decision in Center for Biological Diversity v. National Highway Transportation Safety Administration/California v. NHTSA in favor of the plaintiffs. The suit was brought against NHTSA’s corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) standards for light trucks – i.e., SUVs – issued in April 2006, in part for NHTSA claiming that the value of reduced greenhouse gases would be zero. NRDC, ED, Sierra Club, Public Citizen, and 11 states and the District of the Columbia joined as plaintiffs.

The NHTSA is tasked by the Energy Policy and Conservation Act (EPCA) to set CAFE standards. Its April 2006 ruling raised the light truck standard from 22 to 23.5 miles per gallon by 2010.

The court agreed with the states that NHTSA must take into account greenhouse gases, as required by the National Environment Protection Act (NEPA) following the Massachusetts v EPA Supreme Court decision: “There is no evidence to support NHTSA’s conclusion that the apppropriate course was not to monetize or quantify the value of carbon emissions reduction at all.”

In addition to agreeing that the agency conducted an inadequate environmental assessment under NEPA, the court found that NHTSA’s regulations violated EPCA in four key areas, including the “SUV loophole” (“failure to revise the passenger automobile/light truck classifications”):
NHTSA’s failure to monetize the value of carbon emissions in its determination of the MY 2008-2011 light truck CAFE standards, failure to set a backstop, failure to revise the passenger automobile/light truck classifications, and failure to set fuel economy standards for all vehicles in the 8,500 to 10,000 lb. GWR class, was arbitrary and capricious and contrary to the EPCA. We therefore remand to NHTSA to promulgate new standards consistent with this opinion as expeditiously as possible and for the earliest model year practicable.
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