Rule-of-law-when-it-suits-them: Trump order this for his pals to stretch their selfish greedy pockets even more while escalating pollution that’s already risking the lungs & lives of millions? Covid-19 can be brutal on healthy lungs, never mind lungs poisoned by fossil fuels.

Will Kopy Kat Kenney, Premier of Alberta, order AER to do the same, John Horgan, Premier of BC, order OGC, etc etc etc.?

Covid-19 deaths and new cases in USA as of 5:30pm, March 28, 2020:

… But current and former federal employees who work on environmental science and policy say their efforts to include these facts are a civic and professional duty, done to ensure that science informs policy outcomes and protects the public. Some are trying to preserve regulations they spent years of their lives writing.

“You work hard on stuff that is good for the world, for a long time, for years, and then it’s trashed, and you’re told you have to participate in trashing it,” said Kathy Kaufman, a clean air policy expert who retired from the E.P.A. in 2017 after 29 years. “You’re in a difficult position, and you know you have to figure out what to do.”

Examples of employees figuring out what to do were pointed out in interviews with over two dozen former and current employees.

Take fine soot. The current rules, written during the Obama administration, are now up for review, and Trump administration appointees do not want to further tighten controls on the industrial pollutant, which contributes to lung disease. But in a draft analysis of the soot regulations, scientists included data showing that by tightening the existing standard by 25 percent, as many as 12,150 lives could be saved a year. That data may be a powerful weapon for promised legal challenges to the stay-the-course soot rule.

Climate change is another case in point. In 2018, when the Environmental Protection Agency proposed reversing an Obama-era rule to limit climate-warming coal pollution, civil servants included analysis showing that by allowing more emissions, the new version of the rule would contribute to 1,400 premature deaths a year. Environmental lawyers plan to use that analysis to challenge the rule when the first court filings are due on April 3.

And this winter, as Trump administration officials worked on a rollback of Obama-era fuel economy standards, political appointees found themselves at odds with their career staff, combing through thousands of pages of analysis to find what Thomas J. Pyle, a Trump campaign adviser in 2016, called “trip wires that E.P.A. staffers were setting” in their work. There is no accusation, however, that any data was false or that E.P.A. employees were engaged in scientific misconduct.

To Trump allies like Mr. Pyle, environmental controls have long been at odds with commerce, and after eight years under President Barack Obama, the imbalance toward regulation was in need of a corrective. Civil servants are supposed to advance the policies of the elected officials that employ them, Mr. Pyle said, and “if you don’t like the person serving, then you should leave.”Science Under Attack: How Trump Is Sidelining Researchers and Their WorkDec. 28, 2019

But, just days after the 2016 election, Gina McCarthy, the outgoing head of the Environmental Protection Agency, gathered agency employees and implored, “Keep your asses in your seats.”

Steven J. Milloy, a member of Mr. Trump’s E.P.A. transition team, echoed Mr. Pyle. “It’s been obvious since the beginning of the Trump administration that the career staff is sabotaging the rulemakings, deliberately seeding them with numbers that can help the enviros sue.”

The incoming president had campaigned on a promise to dismantle their agency and reverse their highest profile regulations, and Ms. McCarthy, who now heads the Natural Resources Defense Council, said she understood “they would be asked to do things that they may not like.”

But, she told them, with “their understanding of the issues, the science, the law, if they put truth in there, it will matter.”

Civil servants who have served in the federal government for decades said that the efforts by the Trump Administration to roll back environmental regulations were sharply different from those of previous administrations.

“In previous administrations, we did not always agree with the policies, but when we did new rules, we spent years reviewing the data, the science, the economics, as the law says to do,” said Elizabeth Southerland, who joined the E.P.A. during the first George Bush administration and resigned in 2017 from her position as a senior official in the agency’s clean water program. “But what these guys have done is come in and repeal and replace, without relying on data and science and facts.”

Some E.P.A. career employees, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter, said they saw an opportunity last year to bring science to bear as they conducted a legally mandated review of the 2012 regulation of industrial fine soot emissions. Mr. Trump’s political appointees signaled they did not want to tighten the rule, which would require oil refineries and coal plants to install costly pollution controls or even shut down some operations.

But E.P.A. scientists who reviewed the health data concluded the current rule was still killing people and wanted their warnings made public.

So on Page 181 of a draft 457-page scientific risk assessment, they placed critical data points. The scientists estimated that the current standard, which allows for 12 micrograms of fine soot per cubic meter of air, is “associated with 45,000 deaths” annually. In a separate paragraph, the scientists wrote that if the rule were tightened to nine micrograms per cubic meter, annual deaths would fall by about 27 percent — or 12,150 people a year.

Those are stunning numbers,” said Patrick Parenteau, a professor of law with the Vermont Law School. “If the Trump administration rejects this and does not change the rule, I don’t know what the legal rationale could be.”

The department’s leaders rejected the staff’s finding. An unpublished draft of the E.P.A.’s upcoming soot rule, viewed by The New York Times, proposes leaving the current standard in place. The E.P.A. administrator, Andrew R. Wheeler, placed “little weight on quantitative estimates” of the mortality risk associated with fine soot pollution, the draft says.

final version of the report, published in January to preview the still-unpublished rule, does say the rule as it stands contributes to 45,000 deaths annually, but it also says only that tightening it would reduce “health risks,” not deaths.

An E.P.A. spokeswoman, Corry Schiermeyer, said the numbers inserted into the draft report should not be given much weight. “Draft documents of any kind are preliminary by their very nature, with the content subject to change based on internal reviews, scientific peer review, interagency review, and public notice and comment,” she said.

But lawyers say the data in the September draft may have proven useful for environmental lawyers.

“This document represents the best science and scientific judgment that these particles are deadly at the current level, so judges will give great weight to that science,” said John Walke, a lawyer with the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Mr. Walke said that he learned from E.P.A. employees that the scientists had made sure those numbers were published in the document. “People were stunned that this document was even allowed to come out,” he added.

Many federal employees who work on health, science and environmental policy, who spoke anonymously for this story, described using facts in the fight to keep their previous work alive.

Margo Oge, who resigned from the E.P.A. in 2012 after 32 years at the agency, most recently as the head of its office of vehicle emissions policy, said she has advised former colleagues who cannot leave their jobs, “hold your nose and do your best. There may be opportunities where you can impact some of the data that will be used in these rulemakings.”

Such advice guided dozens of scientists, lawyers and engineers who wrote President Barack Obama’s Clean Power Plan to cut planet-warming carbon dioxide emissions from power plants and give a boost to renewable energy. When the same civil servants were directed to undo it and create a more coal-friendly version, some of those who remained at the E.P.A. made sure the documents accompanying the proposed replacement included the fact that increased coal pollution would cause 1,400 new premature deaths a year.

The E.P.A. later deleted the number from the final rule, but Richard Revesz, an expert on environmental law at New York University, said it would still play a role in the legal fight against the rollback. “That number was a devastatingly bad conclusion for the administration,” he said.

A spokesman for the White House Office of Management and Budget, which reviewed the power plant rule, wrote in an email, “This administration relies on career scientific and technical experts to produce analysis of rule-making impacts,” and did so for that rule.

Dan Costa, a former E.P.A. scientist who joined during the Reagan administration and retired in 2018, said of the 1,400-deaths figure, “The career people put in what they could defend and ethically stand behind, and when these rules go to court, the people suing the administration will be able to say, ‘How can you defend the rules when your own documents, your own analysis, don’t back this up?’”

Such efforts have also been made on more routine regulatory efforts. One career federal employee said he had planned to retire soon after the 2016 election, after working for years on an Obama-era rule to reduce water pollution. Then he was directed to rewrite the same rule to allow more releases of the pollutants he had worked to regulate. He decided to stay.

That decision ensured that the technical documents accompanying the weakening of the water rule included scientific data demonstrating that the increased pollution harms human health.

Patrice Simms, a public health lawyer for the environmental group Earthjustice, said he saw similar legal ammunition in E.P.A.’s recent release of draft risk assessments for seven toxic chemicals that could have faced regulation for the first time. Those drafts concluded that health risks from chemicals such as the dry-cleaning solvent trichloroethylene, or TCE, which is linked to fetal heart damage, and methylene chloride, a paint solvent known to cause asphyxiation, would be mitigated by protective equipment, such as respirators and gloves.

However, in technical documents that accompanied those conclusions, E.P.A. staff members repeatedly noted that it is impossible to assume that workers and other people who come into contact with those chemicals will have or use such protective equipment. The documents include statements such as, “It cannot be assumed that employers have or will implement comprehensive respiratory protection programs for their employees” and “E.P.A. does not know the actual frequency, type, and effectiveness of glove use in specific workplaces.”

“This is what we’ll rely on to build cases,” Mr. Simms said.

The scientists have some legal protection. On climate change, the Global Change Research Act of 1990 legally mandates that 13 federal agencies work together to produce a comprehensive report every four years on the impact of planetary warming on the United States. After the 2018 assessment concluded that climate change could knock as much as 10 percent off U.S. economic production by the century’s endWhite House officials decided the law mandating the report made suppressing or altering it too legally risky.

Federal agencies also remain subject to a White House memorandum, written by Mr. Obama’s science adviser, John P. Holdren, that requires scientific integrity policies forbidding the alteration or suppression of research.

Mr. Milloy said such protections were having an impact. “I was hoping Trump would be able to fire these people, but you can’t, legally,” he said. “You can’t discipline them. The most you can do is give them another assignment.”

Mr. Holdren expressed pride in that.

“Your job as a public servant is to uphold the Constitution and support the missions of your department,” he said. “Of course you are required to support the missions of your president — so long as they are consistent with the Constitution.”

EPA suspends enforcement of environmental laws amid coronavirus by Rebecca Beitsch, Mar 26, 2020, The Hill

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a sweeping suspension of its enforcement of environmental laws Thursday, telling companies they would not need to meet environmental standards during the coronavirus outbreak.

The temporary policy, for which the EPA has set no end date, would allow any number of industries to skirt environmental laws, with the agency saying it will not “seek penalties for noncompliance with routine monitoring and reporting obligations.”

Cynthia Giles, who headed the EPA’s Office of Enforcement during the Obama administration, called it a moratorium on enforcing the nation’s environmental laws and an abdication of the agency’s duty.

“This EPA statement is essentially a nationwide waiver of environmental rules for the indefinite future. It tells companies across the country that they will not face enforcement even if they emit unlawful air and water pollution in violation of environmental laws, so long as they claim that those failures are in some way ’caused’ by the virus pandemic. And it allows them an out on monitoring too, so we may never know how bad the violating pollution was,” she wrote in a statement to The Hill.

The EPA has been under pressure from a number of industries, including the oil industry, to suspend enforcement of a number of environmental regulations due to the pandemic.

“EPA is committed Bullshit! to protecting human health and the environment, but recognizes challenges resulting from efforts to protect workers and the public from COVID-19 may directly impact the ability of regulated facilities to meet all federal regulatory requirements,” EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler said in a statement.

In a 10-page letter to the EPA earlier this week, the American Petroleum Institute (API) asked for a suspension of rules that require repairing leaky equipment as well as monitoring to make sure pollution doesn’t seep into nearby water.

Other industries had also asked to ignite the “force majeure” clauses of any legal settlements they had signed with the EPA, allowing for an extension on deadlines to meet various environmental goals in the face of unforeseen circumstances.

But Giles and others say the memo signed Thursday goes beyond that request, giving industries board authority to pollute with little oversight from the agency.

“Incredibly, the EPA statement does not even reserve EPA’s right to act in the event of an imminent threat to public health,” Giles said.

“Instead, EPA says it will defer to states, and ‘work with the facility’ to minimize or prevent the threat. EPA should never relinquish its right and its obligation to act immediately and decisively when there is threat to public health, no matter what the reason is. I am not aware of any instance when EPA ever relinquished this fundamental authority as it does in this memo.”

The memo says companies should try to minimize “the effects and duration of any noncompliance” with environmental laws and should also keep records of their own noncompliance, along with identifying how the coronavirus was a factor.

The EPA on Friday pushed back against characterization of the memo as a waiver of environmental rules.

“During this extraordinary time, EPA believes that it is more important for facilities to ensure that their pollution control equipment remains up and running and the facilities are operating safely, than to carry out routine sampling and reporting,” agency spokeswoman Andrea Woods told The Hill by email.

“If a facility has exceedances of limits on pollution the policy does not offer any no action assurance. We retain all our authorities and will exercise them appropriately. It is a temporary policy and will be terminated when this crisis is past.”

Critics say it’s not unreasonable to refrain from environmental enforcement on a case-by-case basis when companies are unable to comply with the letter of the law, but many were alarmed by the breadth of Thursdays memo.

“It is not clear why refineries, chemical plants, and other facilities that continue to operate and keep their employees on the production line will no longer have the staff or time they need to comply with environmental laws,” Eric Schaeffer, a former director of civil enforcement at the EPA who is now with the Environmental Integrity Project, wrote in a letter signed by a number of environmental groups in anticipation of the memo.

The letter writers also criticized the requests from the API, arguing nearby communities would face prolonged exposure to a number of air and water pollutants that might be expelled through oil production — something they say would have “a very specific impact on public health and safety.”

Slide from Diana Daunheimer presentations

The diminished compliance requirements for industry comes at a time when the EPA has refused to budge on deadlines for comments as they proceed with a number of deregulatory actions.

Environmental and public health groups had argued that those with science and health backgrounds who would normally weigh in on such regulations have been pulled into the coronavirus fight, leaving them unable to divert their attention.

“The Environmental Protection Agency has not shown the same concern for the impact the coronavirus has had on the ability of community and public interest groups to respond to various proposals to weaken environmental standards,” Schaeffer wrote in the letter.

But the EPA has argued exceptions were not needed.

“We’re open and continuing our [de]regulatory work business as usual,” an EPA spokesperson told The Hill in a statement. “As [de] is fully functioning, there is no barrier to the public providing comment during the established periods.”

EPA: COVID is reason not to protect public health from polluters, Statement by Earthworks’ Senior Policy Counsel Director Aaron Mintzes Press Release by Earthworks, March 27, 2020

After industries, including oil and gas industry trade association the American Petroleum Institute, petitioned the Trump Administration requesting waivers from compliance from various federal agencies’ oversight due to the COVID crisis, on March 26, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced it was not penalizing violations or requiring monitoring for the indefinite future. Given the same industries made similar requests of the Interior Department, we would be unsurprised if Interior made a similar announcement in the near future.

“If polluting industries can operate, they can comply with public health rules. And since the Department of Homeland Security declares extractive industry workers essential, so is compliance with public health and safety safeguards. That’s what the law means or used to before the Trump Administration.

Although the COVID crisis is new, there’s nothing new about extractive and other industries’ requests for weaker oversight.

What is new is the Environmental Protection Agency, created to protect human health and the environment, deciding a public health crisis is a reason not to protect health.

A government for the people should protect the people, not the polluters.” — Earthworks’ Senior Policy Counsel Aaron Mintzes


  • EPA OECA Guidance Memo
  • Department of Homeland Security guidance on the essential, critical infrastructure workforce
  • Environmental Integrity Project et al. letter to EPA OECA Chief Bodine, March 26, 2020.
  • Letter from American Petroleum Institute to President Trump requesting waivers on compliance from various federal agencies.
  • E&E News: “Interior under pressure to ease enforcement on public lands” (paywalled), March 26, 2020
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