Koch vs. California: These Groups Want Pruitt to Undo the State’s Right to Regulate Auto Emissions
By Ben Jervey
A coalition of conservative groups, many with close ties to the Koch brothers, is calling for U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt to strip California of its right to set stricter greenhouse gas limits for personal vehicles.
Not satisfied with Pruitt's decision to rewrite the Obama-era emissions standards—which had been written cooperatively with the automakers, state of California, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), and EPA—the American Consumer Institute (ACI) organized a letter to Pruitt calling "for the revocation of California's waiver from the Clean Air Act, which allows the state to decouple from federal policy and impose strict emission standards on automobiles."
When asked about this threat on the sidelines of the BNEF Future of Energy Summit, the chair of the California Air Resources Board, Mary Nichols, told Desmog, "I don't think they're going to do that."
Commenting on the conservative organizations requesting that Pruitt revoke the waiver, Nichols told Desmog, "They're the same groups that've been supporting Pruitt through all this other stuff."
In the weeks leading up to his announcement about the emissions standards, Pruitt had taken a more antagonistic tone towards California, signaling that he might attempt to revoke the waiver that was granted by the Obama administration, per legal mandate, in 2009.
"California is not the arbiter of these issues," Pruitt told Bloomberg News in March, adding that the state "shouldn't and can't dictate to the rest of the country what these levels are going to be."
Scott Pruitt: California Can’t 'Dictate' National Emissions Policy https://t.co/vKcFeRSPIZ @foe_us @greenpeaceusa— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1521165628.0
With the waiver in hand, California can continue to enforce current greenhouse gas emissions standards, despite whatever the EPA sets as the new national standards for model years 2022-2025. On top of that, any other state can choose to adopt California's standards, which 13 other states and the District of Columbia currently have.
Because these states represent roughly one-third of the country's personal vehicle market, automakers would have to decide whether to set up two different production lines for states following the California standards and the rest of the country, or whether to treat California's targets as a de facto national standard.
Predictably, the automakers, through the powerful Auto Alliance and Global Automakers trade groups, are calling for one national regime, which could result from a grand bargain like the one that Pruitt just scrapped, or could be delivered by Pruitt stripping California of its waiver.
Any attempt at such a repeal would be hugely controversial, and possibly illegal, due to many nuances in the Clean Air Act and the history of its application and enforcement. A waiver granted to California under the Clean Air Act has never been revoked, and has only been denied once.
Notably, that lone denial came in December 2007 when William (Bill) Wehrum, who ran the EPA's clean air division at the time, convinced then-EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson to reject the state's request to set its own greenhouse gas standards for vehicles, the very issue at hand today.
(California was later granted that same waiver in 2009 under the Obama administration, after the state sued the EPA, and after the Supreme Court had held in 2007 that the EPA was required to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. For a much more comprehensive background on California's waiver and Wehrum's opposition, see this recent Desmog article.)
Today, Wehrum is again the air chief at the EPA, and is again in a position to attempt to strip California of its unique authority to set its own air pollution limits. As Wehrum, Pruitt and EPA policymakers work to figure out the new national emissions standards for cars and light trucks, they are hearing from groups including the American Consumer Institute and its Koch-tied coalition on the importance of revoking the California waiver.
Who Are the Groups Fighting California's Clean Air Act Waiver?
The ACI letter to Pruitt, dated March 28, 2018, was signed by representatives from 11 groups, eight of which have known ties to the Koch network, and all of which are routine commenters on conservative issues.
The American Consumer Institute (ACI) is credited with organizing the coalition, and the letter is signed by its President Steve Pociask. The group is best known for opposing net neutrality efforts while being funded by a major Internet service provider lobby, as journalist Lee Fang detailed for VICE. More recently, Pociask has turned his attention to attacking electric vehicles, writing on Forbes that "the science on electric vehicles does not support continuing California's waiver."
Less Government is an "organization dedicated to reducing the power of government and protecting the First Amendment from governmental assault," which was founded and run by Seton Motley, who is also listed as a policy adviser to the climate science-denying Heartland Institute. Though Motley and his Less Government organization have their roots in telecom and media issues, he has in recent years engaged more on climate and energy issues, signing some anti-wind energy letters organized by the Koch-backed Americans for Prosperity and writing a bit on electric vehicles.
The Taxpayers Protection Alliance (TPA) is part of the network of front groups funded by the Koch brothers and their donor network through the Center to Protect Patient Rights (now called American Encore) and Freedom Partners. As the Energy and Policy Institute has described, "TPA essentially exists as a shell for its advocacy, based on its own IRS form 990s: 'The Taxpayers Protection Alliance has given control of the management duties and the daily activities of the organization to MLM Consulting, LLC (MLM). MLM will be responsible for managing the organization and work to support the exempt purposes of TPA. The President of TPA, David Williams, is the sole owner of MLM Consulting LLC.'" Williams signed the ACI letter to Pruitt. TPA has fought clean energy policy in the past using the website SolarSecrets.org and has published white papers arguing against solar energy tax credits.
Consumer Action for a Strong Economy is run by Matthew Kandrach, and has been linked to a number of coalition efforts stemming from the FreedomWorks organization, which was born of a merger between the Koch-founded Citizens for a Sound Economy (CSE) and Empower America.
American Commitment is run by Phil Kerpen, a former vice president of Americans for Prosperity. The organization was founded by Sean Noble, a right-wing operative with close ties to the Koch brothers who also runs the Center to Protect Patient Rights (American Encore), a major funnel for Koch donor network money to front groups.
FreedomWorks was, as mentioned above, born of a merger between the Koch-founded Citizens for a Sound Economy (CSE) and Empower America, though it has no known Koch ties at present day. The group was described in a 2012 article in Mother Jones as "one of the main political outfits of the conservative movement and an instrumental force within the tea party." It pushes free market policies and has questioned the well-established science linking human activity to a warming planet.
The Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) is a conservative advocacy group dedicated to "economic freedom" that has received funding from ExxonMobil, Texaco and the family foundations of the Koch brothers.
Americans for Tax Reform (ATR) is an anti-tax group that has received funding from the oil and gas lobbying group, the American Petroleum Institute, along with various groups in the Koch network such as the Claude R. Lambe Charitable Foundation and the Center to Protect Patient Rights, as well as DonorsTrust.
The 60 Plus Association describes itself as the conservative alternative to the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) and receives significant funding from groups connected to the Koch brothers. The group has also received funding from the American Petroleum Institute, and was created by Sean Noble (see American Commitment above). Noble was until recently a consultant for the Arizona Public Service utility company, and has led efforts in Arizona to kill solar-friendly legislation.
Frontiers of Freedom, run by George Landrith, has received significant funding from Exxon, the Koch brothers and dark money organizations like Donors Trust. In 2015, Landrith launched the Energy Equality Coalition to battle against the federal electric vehicle tax credit. The coalition also includes David Williams of the Taxpayer Protection Alliance and Horace Cooper, a senior fellow at the Heartland Institute. Landrith is also a director of the National Center for Public Policy Research (NCPPR).
The Center for Freedom and Prosperity was once funded by the Charles Koch Foundation and has actively lobbied for more liberalized tax laws, and for less scrutiny towards offshore tax havens.
Seven of the organizations that signed this letter to Pruitt—and five of the actual representatives who signed—also recently penned a letter to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration defending "electronic and heat-not-burn" tobacco products (or vaping products), indicating that this network is defending the tobacco industry as well as oil and gas companies.
California and Partner States Fight Back
Nichols has signaled that California will not be retreating from its strong standards.
"California will not weaken its nationally accepted clean car standards, and automakers will continue to meet those higher standards, bringing better gas mileage and less pollution for everyone," Nichols wrote in a statement emailed to reporters. "This decision takes the U.S. auto industry backward, and we will vigorously defend the existing clean vehicle standards and fight to preserve one national clean vehicle program."
California Attorney General Xavier Becerra has also said that California is prepared to sue if the EPA moves to weaken the vehicle emissions standards.
"We are going to do everything that can been done to defend these standards," Becerra told Reuters last week. "So far, when we have been challenged on environmental standards we have had a good record in court. We haven't lost a case."
Under the Clean Air Act, the EPA is required to grant California a waiver on air pollution emissions standards if the state has "compelling and extraordinary circumstances," which California argued a decade ago, and which the Obama administration agreed that it does. To revoke the waiver, the EPA would legally have to prove that those circumstances are no longer there. To satisfy the courts in California's inevitable legal challenge, this would require a comprehensive and scientifically rigorous analysis.
At the BNEF Future of Energy Summit on April 10, Nichols said, "The document that came out a week ago from the administrator did nothing to change the nature of the debate. It expressed Mr. Pruitt's view but there was absolutely nothing new in the way of data or analysis to support that view."
She did indicate that she would be willing to sit down with the EPA and automakers to look at some "minor adjustments" to the technical changes measuring how companies could comply, but not the targets themselves. She provided an example related to electric vehicles. "Under the 2012 rules [car companies are] responsible for upstream emissions of power plants for charging EVs [electric vehicles]. I don't think that's a great idea. I didn't think so at the time."
However, "if the whole system is up for reexamination," said Nichols, "then that's a whole different story … That's a different fight. And we would win it."
It's also clear that other states would have California's back and join a legal fight, or start their own. Attorneys general from 11 states said last week in a statement that they would defend California's right to set firm standards.
"By cooking the books on its review of national auto emissions standards, the Trump administration is putting special interests ahead of New Yorkers' health and wallets," said New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman. "We stand ready to take legal action to block the Trump administration's reckless and illegal efforts to reverse these critical standards and the gains we've made in ensuring cars are more fuel-efficient and less polluting."
Reposted with permission from our media associate DeSmogBlog.
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Tara Lohan
The conclusion to decades of work to remove a dam on the Middle Fork Nooksack River east of Bellingham, Washington began with a bang yesterday as crews breached the dam with a carefully planned detonation. This explosive denouement is also a beginning.
The History<p>The Middle Fork Nooksack drains glacier-fed headwater streams that run off the icy summit of 10,778-foot Mt. Baker. The Middle Fork joins the North Fork and then the mainstem of the Nooksack River, which travels to Bellingham Bay and Puget Sound. The entire Nooksack watershed stretches 830 square miles across Washington and into British Columbia.</p>
A Plan Comes Together<p>The Middle Fork dam is not a pool dam built for water storage. Much of the time, water flows over the top until dam operators drop a floodgate to divert water to new locations. That water travels about 14 miles through tunnel and pipeline to Mirror Lake, then Anderson Creek, and to Lake Whatcom before finally being delivered to residents' taps.</p><p>Before removing the dam, engineers had to move the water intake 700 feet upstream and situate it at an elevation that still enabled city water withdrawals throughout the year, regardless of flow conditions.</p><p>They also needed to make sure that the rushing water didn't sweep up fish and accidentally send them through the water-supply system.</p><p>"The solution required a fairly complex design in the intake structure, including a fish exit pipe out of that structure to put fish back into the river in a way that meets current environmental permit standards," explains LaCroix.</p>
Project layout for the removal of the Middle Fork Nooksack diversion dam and rebuilding of water intake. City of Bellingham<p>Despite the cost and the work, she says, being able to continue to meet their municipal water obligations while opening up habitat for threatened species has been a win-win.</p><p>"I think there's a lot of benefits to having a dam removal versus fish passage — the main one being that you get a free-flowing river that can be a dynamic ecosystem and change over time," she says. "A static fish ladder just can't provide that same level of ecosystem benefit."</p>
Restoration Success<p>Despite local authorities' championing dam removal on the Middle Fork, the project has largely flown under the radar, overshadowed in the Pacific Northwest by heated discussions about a much larger potential project — removing <a href="https://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/feds-reject-removal-of-4-snake-river-dams-in-key-report/" target="_blank">four federal hydroelectric dams on the lower Snake River</a>, a major tributary of the Columbia River.</p><p>Proponents of dam removal there see it as the best chance for recovering threatened salmon populations, including Chinook, which could help starving Southern Resident killer whales. Those dams also provide irrigation water, barge navigation and hydropower, so there's been more pushback against removal efforts.</p><p>Previous dam removals around the country, however, have proved successful at aiding fish recovery and river restoration.</p><p>Most notably the 1999 demolition of <a href="https://therevelator.org/edwards-dam-removal/" target="_blank">Edwards Dam on Maine's Kennebec River</a> restored the annual run of alewives, a type of herring essential to the food web. The fish run has gone from zero to 5 million in the two decades since dam removal. Blueback herring, striped bass, sturgeon and shad have also extended their reach. And the resurgence has brought back osprey, bald eagles and other wildlife, too.</p><p>The overwhelming success of river restoration on the Kennebec helped to spur a nationwide dam removal movement that's now seen 1,200 dams come down since 1999. Last year a record <a href="https://www.americanrivers.org/conservation-resource/a-record-26-states-removed-dams-in-2019/" target="_blank">90 dams</a> were removed in 26 states, including <a href="https://therevelator.org/cleveland-forest-dam-removal/" target="_blank">20 dams in California's Cleveland National Forest</a>.</p>
Spider excavators remove on dam on San Juan Creek in California's Cleveland National Forest. Julie Donnell, USFS<p>The results have been seen in the Pacific Northwest, as well, which boasts the largest dam removal thus far in the country. In 2011 and 2014, the demolition of <a href="https://therevelator.org/elwha-dam-removal/" target="_blank">two dams</a> on Elwha River, which runs through Washington's Olympic National Park, opened up 70 miles of habitat that had been blocked for a century. Scientists have started seeing all five species of salmon native to the river coming back, particularly Chinook and coho. Bull trout, they've observed, have increased in size since the dams were removal.</p>
Benefits on the Middle Fork Nooksack<p>McEwan hopes to see a similar outcome on the Middle Fork.</p><p>Like the Elwha the Middle Fork Nooksack is a relatively pristine river with little development, and dam removal is expected to provide a big boost to fish. The additional miles of spawning habitat are important, but so is the temperature of that water.</p><p>The dam removal will open access to cold upstream waters, which are ideal for salmon and getting harder to come by as climate change warms waters and reduces mountain runoff.</p><p>"This is really great for the climate change resiliency for these species," says McEwan.</p><p>Steelhead will get back 45% of their historic habitat in the river, and scientists expect Chinook populations to increase in abundance by 31%.</p><p>That <em>could</em> help Southern Resident killer whales.</p><p>"When you get to the ocean, it's a little bit of a black box in terms of what you can model and say definitively is going to help, but more fish is better for orcas," McEwan says.</p><p>Upstream habitat will see benefits, too.</p><p>Oceangoing fish like salmon enrich their bodies with carbon and nitrogen while at sea. When they return to their natal rivers to spawn and die, the marine-derived nutrients they carry back upriver become important food and fertilizer for both riverine and terrestrial ecosystems — aiding everything from trees to birds to bears.</p><p>"Once the fish start making their way back, it will start changing the whole ecological system," says Delgado.</p><p><span></span>But any ecological benefit from salmon restoration, either in the ocean or the upper watershed, won't be immediate.<br></p><p>"The population of salmon on the Middle Fork is so low that we expect it's going to take quite a while to rebound," she says. "But the big picture is that what's good for salmon is good for the region — our history and our destiny are intricately intertwined."</p><p>After decades of work, that process of restoration has finally begun.</p>
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It can grow to a maximum of six inches (16 centimeters), change color depending on mood and habitat, and, like all seahorses, the White's seahorse male gestates its young. But this tiny snouted fish is under threat.
Building an Ocean Seahorse Destination<p>Seahorses are found in tropical and temperate coastal water worldwide, but are most abundant around Australia, China and the Philippines. </p><p>Trade in the tiny creatures is strictly regulated because of their use in traditional medicine, aquariums and their sale as dried curios. But because they are poor swimmers and cannot easily move elsewhere, habitat loss is a particular threat for these curious animals. </p><p>Seahorses wrap their tails around seagrass and corals to avoid being carried away on currents. They use the habitat to spawn and hide from predators such as crabs, while also feeding on riches of plankton and small crustaceans living in the reef.</p><p><span></span>Where corals aren't available, <a href="https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/aqc.1217" target="_blank">scientists</a> found seahorses taking up residence in fishing nets and old crab traps abandoned at the bottom of the ocean. </p>
Mixing With the Locals<p>Baby seahorse mortality is high in the wild because they are easily caught, so those bred in the protected environment of the aquarium weren't ready to be released into the wild until early May.</p><p>The team released 90 new arrivals into Sydney Harbor, placing some directly into the purpose-built hotels, and others onto a net that wild seahorses had already settled on.</p><p>Before setting them free, the researchers marked each young seahorse with a fluorescent tag with unique IDs inserted just beneath the skin to track how they get on in the different environments. </p><p>"The most exciting part was being able to put these animals into the wild and then go back a month later and still see them surviving and growing," said McCracken. </p><p>The seahorses will be old enough to mate and reproduce around October or November 2020. And researchers hope that by then, they will be able to breed with the wild population. </p>
Building a Global Seahorse Hotel Chain<p>With seahorses everywhere facing the loss of their coral reef homes, similar projects have sprung up in places like Greece and South Africa, home to the world's most endangered seahorse, the Knysna seahorse. </p><p>"The endangered South African seahorse is benefiting from something quite similar, even though it wasn't intentional," said Peter Teske, professor at the Department of Zoology, University of Johannesburg.</p><p>In the South African <a href="https://www.researchgate.net/publication/322649251_An_endangered_seahorse_selectively_chooses_an_artificial_structure" target="_blank">case</a>, seahorses have bedded down in "Reno mattresses" — wire cages filled with rocks — that were used to build a new marina. Researchers from NGO Knysna Basin Project found the structures acted as a refuge for the animals.<span></span></p><p><span></span>While Teske describes the seahorse hotels as "a positive news story" and a great way to create public awareness of conservation, he added that establishing artificial habitats in some areas will only prevent the extinction of local populations.</p><p>"For a complete recovery, it is necessary to give the natural habitat a chance to regenerate," said the seahorse expert. </p>
Underwater Mascot<p>In Australia, the researchers hope the project could provide an opportunity to raise awareness not only of the plight of the Sydney seahorses but the other animals with which it shares its ocean habitat.</p><p>The waters around Sydney and the east coast are rich in biodiversity and include several threatened species like the weedy seadragon — a relative of the seahorse — and the grey nurse shark. Like the seahorse, they're also under pressure from pollution, ocean traffic and habitat loss through storms and coastal construction. </p><p>"It's a good thing to get people's support and interest. The seahorses are a useful vehicle to get people concerned if the harbor is in trouble," said David Booth, professor of marine ecology at the University of Technology Sydney who is also working on the project. </p><p>The hotels have become an attraction for divers hoping to catch a glimpse of these small but near mythical creatures. </p><p>"Everyone loves seahorses," added Booth, "they are so popular." </p>
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<div id="49bef" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="0518b468fbe1a1ca4e77ca17ad161d4d"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1283126654471155713" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Trump has been insistently announcing for weeks he wants to cover up the scale of the epidemic by slowing down test… https://t.co/J1toeskjmJ</div> — Chris Hayes (@Chris Hayes)<a href="https://twitter.com/chrislhayes/statuses/1283126654471155713">1594756208.0</a></blockquote></div>
<div id="58dc8" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="5721d4d13b5986e6d7d333de69ce31ab"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1283123929096368128" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">While many governments suppress the virus, the U.S. suppresses information about the virus. https://t.co/Ai6tyW8zIP</div> — James Hamblin (@James Hamblin)<a href="https://twitter.com/jameshamblin/statuses/1283123929096368128">1594755558.0</a></blockquote></div>
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