Court Rules Pruitt Broke the Law for Smog Rule Delay
Judge Haywood Gilliam of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California said Pruitt violated the Clean Air Act for failing to announce by Oct. 1, 2017 which areas in the country have unhealthy levels of smog, a rule set by the 2015 ozone standard.
According to The Hill, Pruitt only announced findings for areas that complied with the Obama-era rule, but not for areas out of compliance. The EPA boss initially tried to stall the Oct. 1 deadline by a year but reversed course.
"There is no dispute as to liability: Defendants admit that the administrator violated his nondiscretionary duty under the Clean Air Act to promulgate by October 1, 2017, initial area air quality designations," Gilliam wrote, citing a Justice Department court filing in January that acknowledged the EPA failed to meet the deadline.
Gilliam ordered the EPA to finish the process for the entire country by April 30, with the exemption of areas in San Antonio, Texas, which the agency must comply with shortly thereafter.
In 2015, the Obama administration strengthened standards for ground-level ozone to 70 parts per billion based on extensive scientific evidence about the effect of smog on public health and welfare. Smog can exacerbate asthma attacks for children and vulnerable populations.
Sixteen state attorneys general as well as a broad coalition of health and environmental organizations—including the American Lung Association, American Public Health Association, Center for Biological Diversity, Natural Resources Defense Council and Sierra Club—sued Pruitt in December for failing to meet the deadline for designating areas.
California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, who led the litigation, celebrated Monday's decision.
"The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency admitted in this case that it failed to do its job and meet its deadline under the Clean Air Act," he said. "The stakes are high. The smog-reducing requirements at issue will save hundreds of lives and prevent 230,000 asthma attacks among children. That's worth fighting for."
New York Attorney General Schneiderman, one of the AGs who sued the administration, added: "We'll keep a close eye on the EPA's compliance with today's order, and our coalition stands ready to act to protect our residents and our states from Washington's toxic policies."
Environmental groups also celebrated the ruling.
"Everyone deserves to breathe clean air. And because of the Clean Air Act, we're legally entitled to it. The court got it right when it ordered the EPA to finish making ozone designations sooner than the agency requested," said attorney Seth Johnson, who represented Earthjustice, which filed the lawsuit on behalf of the groups. "Cleaning up ozone air pollution is especially important for kids, seniors, and people with asthma. Many of our largest metropolitan areas have unhealthy smog levels. These include New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Cleveland, Denver, Philadelphia, Phoenix, and San Antonio. The court's decision will help save hundreds of lives by getting the cleanup process going."
Mary Anne Hitt, the director of Sierra Club's Beyond Coal campaign, had a similar sentiment. "This is a victory for everyone who breathes, and is clear evidence that Scott Pruitt's frequent attempts to delay and obstruct federal clean air safeguards is against the law. The severity of Pruitt's attempts [is] a matter of life and death. Delaying the implementation of these life saving smog standards puts the health of thousands of kids at risk."
EPA spokeswoman Liz Bowman told Reuters, "We look forward to working with co-regulators to continue the designations process for the 2015 standards for ground-level ozone; we are evaluating the information provided by governors in February 2018 as part of that process."
Scott Pruitt Just Hung Up a List of His Top ‘Environmental Achievements’ at EPA https://t.co/6fdqBUAvNV… https://t.co/lHSE6rwlgW— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1516982656.0
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By D. André Green II
One of nature's epic events is underway: Monarch butterflies' fall migration. Departing from all across the United States and Canada, the butterflies travel up to 2,500 miles to cluster at the same locations in Mexico or along the Pacific Coast where their great-grandparents spent the previous winter.
Millions of People Care About Monarchs<p>I will never forget the sights and sounds the first time I visited monarchs' overwintering sites in Mexico. Our guide pointed in the distance to what looked like hanging branches covered with dead leaves. But then I saw the leaves flash orange every so often, revealing what were actually thousands of tightly packed butterflies. The monarchs made their most striking sounds in the Sun, when they burst from the trees in massive fluttering plumes or landed on the ground in the tussle of mating.</p><p>Decades of educational outreach by teachers, researchers and hobbyists has cultivated a generation of monarch admirers who want to help preserve this phenomenon. This global network has helped restore not only monarchs' summer breeding habitat by planting milkweed, but also general pollinator habitat by planting nectaring flowers across North America.</p><p>Scientists have calculated that restoring the monarch population to a stable level of about 120 million butterflies will require <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/icad.12198" target="_blank">planting 1.6 billion new milkweed stems</a>. And they need them fast. This is too large a target to achieve through grassroots efforts alone. A <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/CCAA.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">new plan</a>, announced in the spring of 2020, is designed to help fill the gap.</p>
Pros and Cons of Regulation<p>The top-down strategy for saving monarchs gained energy in 2014, when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service <a href="https://www.fws.gov/southeast/pdf/petition/monarch.pdf" target="_blank">proposed</a> listing them as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. A decision is expected in December 2020.</p><p>Listing a species as endangered or threatened <a href="https://www.fws.gov/endangered/esa-library/pdf/listing.pdf" target="_blank">triggers restrictions</a> on "taking" (hunting, collecting or killing), transporting or selling it, and on activities that negatively affect its habitat. Listing monarchs would impose restrictions on landowners in areas where monarchs are found, over vast swaths of land in the U.S.</p><p>In my opinion, this is not a reason to avoid a listing. However, a "threatened" listing might inadvertently threaten one of the best conservation tools that we have: public education.</p><p>It would severely restrict common practices, such as rearing monarchs in classrooms and back yards, as well as scientific research. Anyone who wants to take monarchs and milkweed for these purposes would have to apply for special permits. But these efforts have had a multigenerational educational impact, and they should be protected. Few public campaigns have been more successful at raising awareness of conservation issues.</p>
<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="91165203d4ec0efc30e4632a00fdf57d"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/KilPRvjbMrA?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
The Rescue Attempt<p>To preempt the need for this kind of regulation, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service approved a <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/pdfs/Monarch%20CCAA-CCA%20Public%20Comment%20Documents/Monarch-Nationwide_CCAA-CCA_Draft.pdf" target="_blank">Nationwide Candidate Conservation Agreement for Monarch Butterflies</a>. Under this plan, "rights-of-way" landowners – energy and transportation companies and private owners – commit to restoring and creating millions of acres of pollinator habitat that have been decimated by land development and herbicide use in the past half-century.</p><p>The agreement was spearheaded by the <a href="http://rightofway.erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank">Rights-of-Way Habitat Working Group</a>, a collaboration between the University of Illinois Chicago's <a href="https://erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Energy Resources Center</a>, the Fish and Wildlife Service and over 40 organizations from the energy and transportation sectors. These sectors control "rights-of-way" corridors such as lands near power lines, oil pipelines, railroad tracks and interstates, all valuable to monarch habitat restoration.</p><p>Under the plan, partners voluntarily agree to commit a percentage of their land to host protected monarch habitat. In exchange, general operations on their land that might directly harm monarchs or destroy milkweed will not be subject to the enhanced regulation of the Endangered Species Act – protection that would last for 25 years if monarchs are listed as threatened. The agreement is expected to create up to 2.3 million acres of new protected habitat, which ideally would avoid the need for a "threatened" listing.</p>
A Model for Collaboration<p>This agreement could be one of the few specific interventions that is big enough to allow researchers to quantify its impact on the size of the monarch population. Even if the agreement produces only 20% of its 2.3 million acre goal, this would still yield nearly half a million acres of new protected habitat. This would provide a powerful test of the role of declining breeding and nectaring habitat compared to other challenges to monarchs, such as climate change or pollution.</p><p>Scientists hope that data from this agreement will be made publicly available, like projects in the <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/MCD.html" target="_blank">Monarch Conservation Database</a>, which has tracked smaller on-the-ground conservation efforts since 2014. With this information we can continue to develop powerful new models with better accuracy for determining how different habitat factors, such as the number of milkweed stems or nectaring flowers on a landscape scale, affect the monarch population.</p><p>North America's monarch butterfly migration is one of the most awe-inspiring feats in the natural world. If this rescue plan succeeds, it could become a model for bridging different interests to achieve a common conservation goal.</p>
The annual Ig Nobel prizes were awarded Thursday by the science humor magazine Annals of Improbable Research for scientific experiments that seem somewhat absurd, but are also thought-provoking. This was the 30th year the awards have been presented, but the first time they were not presented at Harvard University. Instead, they were delivered in a 75-minute pre-recorded ceremony.