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EPA Will Entertain Full Climate Debate, Including Endangerment Finding

Environmental Protection Agency Scott Pruitt said that his agency will formulate the Clean Power Plan’s future in early 2018. And while Pruitt said that the agency would “replace” the proposal and not “repeal” it altogether, others are questioning his true intent.

That is because Pruitt also told lawmakers last week that he disagrees with the Endangerment Finding, which gets to the heart of EPA’s ability to regulate CO2 as an emission under the Clean Power Plan. The US Supreme Court has affirmed that right under the Endangerment Finding, although Pruitt said he intends to lead a national discussion on the data that the Obama EPA used to arrive at its conclusion that CO2 was a danger human health and the environment.

“They took work from the U.N. IPCC [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change] … and adopted that as the core of the finding,” Pruitt told the House Energy and Commerce Committe. That, he continued, was a “breach of process.”

“I think one of the most important things we can do for the American people is provide that discussion, and it hasn’t happened,” Pruitt added. “As I indicated, the agency borrowed the work product of a third party. We have to ensure that discussion occurs.”

Unless critics of the EPA are able to tear down the Endangerment Finding, they will have to try and replace it. To that end, the Obama administration tried to employ a wide variety of techniques to achieve carbon reductions — everything from implementing cap-and-trade to replacing carbon-heavy fuels with less pollutive ones to instituting energy efficiency standings. Those policies are “outside the fence,” meaning that they allow companies to work together to reduce their emissions.

Critics, however, say that such an approach is beyond EPA’s authority and thus, they say that the agency can only regulate emissions “inside the fence.” That simply means that EPA can only tell a specific power plant or industrial facility what it is allowed to emit.

Earlier this month at the current EPA’s only Clean Power Plan hearing to date in Charleston, WV, West Virginia’s Attorney General Patrick Morrisey told this writer that the Obama administration’s approach is unlawful because it amounts to federal confiscation of industrial assets by forcing the retirement of perfectly good coal plants. Others counter that, however, by saying that EPA has the right to force industry to reduce pollution levels and that allowing collective efforts such as cap-and-trade are in line with how sulfur dioxide is now regulated.

“EPA has all the signs of an agency captured by industry,” U.S. Representative Paul Tonko of New York, the top Democrat on the House energy panel, said at the hearing, in a Reuters story. 

Because environmental changes have — in recent years — been trapped inside congressional committees and are largely based on party lines, President Obama sought progress through his EPA. While proponents of this method say that the Obama administration had simply tried to carry out the Clean Air Act enacted by a bipartisan Congress in 1990, critics say that he overstepped his bounds. 

Critics continue that it is Congress that holds the cards, not unelected bureaucrats. The opposition has been largely centered on whether global warming is a manmade phenomenon. Their “denial” that it is leads “reasonable minds” to conclude that carbon regulations are unnecessary. 

That thinking has been underscored by EPA Administrator, Scott Pruitt, who told the CNBC Network: “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 (carbon) is a primary contributor to the global warming that we see.”

The comments, of course, set the environmental community and others afire, who not only point out that 98% of climate scientists disagree but also said that they will step up to defend the Clean Power Plan that requires 32% cuts in carbon emissions by 2030 using a variety of strategies. Key states will also use their heft, including New York and California that have been among the most vocal, vowing to pick up where Obama’s Justice Department had left off.

For now, the biggest trump card held by environmentalists and the supportive states is the 2009 Endangerment Finding. And while Obama’s EPA had to defend its research, Administrator Pruitt says that the country will entertain this discussion once again.  

“I think, as a matter of law, that carbon is a pollutant has been settled,” said Christine Todd Whitman, who served as EPA administrator under President George W. Bush, in an interview with E&E News “EPA has to act once you have that kind of a finding.”

While the electricity sector is responsible for 29% of the greenhouse gas emissions, there’s still the transportation, agricultural, industrial and commercial and residential sectors with which to contend. EPA says that the transport sector made up 27% of those emissions while heavy industry comprises 21%, all in 2015. Things could improve on those fronts as alternatively-fueled vehicles get a foothold and as industry incorporates more carbon controls.

Big business, meantime, is intent on moving forward regardless of what Congress or the EPA may do. Consider that Alcoa, American Express, Apple, AT&T, Bank of America, Berkshire Hathaway Energy, Best Buy, BioGen, Cargill, CA Technologies and Coca Cola have all signed pledges to reduce their carbon footprints. 

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