The EPA recently announced its decision to rescind a provision of the Clean Air Act that requires industries deemed “major sources” of pollution to always be classified as “major sources” and to be regulated as such.
The move has been criticized by environmental advocates like John Walke, of the Natural Resources Defense Council, who said, “This move drastically weakens protective limits on air pollutants like arsenic, lead, mercury and other toxins that cause cancer, brain damage, infertility, developmental problems and even death.” The EPA’s decision comes amidst a ceaseless salvo by the Trump administration against the regulatory framework meant to hold fossil fuel industries accountable for air, water and soil pollution.
In a press release, Bill Wehrum, an assistant administrator at the EPA, spoke about the agency’s repeal of the “once-in always-in” policy passed in 1995: “It will reduce regulatory burden for industries and the states, while continuing to ensure stringent and effective controls on hazardous air pollutants.”
According to the press release, the repeal emerged directly out of President Trump’s Executive Order 13777, which set up a Regulatory Reform Task Force at each agency in order to oversee the administration’s project of rescinding all regulations deemed “outdated, unnecessary, or ineffective.” The EPA asserted that the “major source” provision has put a stranglehold on businesses that allegedly have been disincentivized to pursue innovative solutions to the problem of pollution.
According to this logic, regulations prevent fossil fuel industries from adequately protecting the environment. Without regulations, “states, state organizations and industries” are properly incentivized to pursue “[Hazardous air pollutant] reduction activities and technologies.”
The term, “major source” refers to any business emitting at least 10 tons of pollution every year, or 25 tons of a combination of pollutants in a single year. Under the now-repealed 1995 provision, even if a company falls below those limits, it is still regulated as a “major source.”
To effectuate the rescission, the agency distributed a memorandum guidance, according to which, the agency has “no statutory authority” to impose the “once-in always-in” policy. Thus, the guidance goes on, when a business takes the appropriate measures to adequately lower its pollution output, it should no longer be classified as a “major source.” The business “will not be subject thereafter to those requirements applicable to the source as a major source under CAA section 112.”
According to the EPA, the memo posits a particular interpretation of the statute. The agency intends to release a federal registrar notice in order to begin the process of taking comments, so that, eventually, the EPA can formalize the memo’s interpretation in regulatory language.
This recent repeal is only one part of an all-out assault on environmental regulations and the funding structure designed to support environmental initiatives. A recently leaked budget proposal – intercepted by The Washington Post – revealed that the administration would like to slash funding for renewable energy projects by 72 percent. That means the budget would decrease from $2.04 billion to $575.5 million, if accepted by Congress, which will likely reject such a proposal. What’s more, the administration wishes to remove hundreds of staffers (from 680 to 450).
Advisory Board Resigns in Protest
The administration’s stubborn refusal to listen to concerned parties has resulted in the frustration of at least a few scientific advisors, tasked with consulting the government on issues pertaining to the environment and land-use. Specifically, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s refusal to meet with the National Park System Advisory Board led to the resignation of 10 out of 12 board members in a retaliatory effort to communicate their utter frustration. According to Tony Knowles, former chairman of the board, “We understand the complexity of transition but our requests to engage have been ignored and the matters on which we wanted to brief the new Department team are clearly not part of its agenda.”
Another board member, Carol Finney, expressed the gravity of Zinke’s behavior: “When you slam the door in the face of me and the board, you’re also slamming the door on a whole lot of other people.” Finney’s comment may not be far off, considering the closeness between people like Scott Pruitt and the fossil fuel community – the same community Pruitt is supposed to regulate. The administration appears to value the needs of major companies over those of the “little guy.”