Courts put the brakes on the administration’s rollbacks while the House heads home with nothing to brag about.
Zavalnyuk Sergey/Alamy Stock Photo
These days, the Trump administration may be feeling like the singers in the old pop song, “I fought the law, and the law won.”
That’s because Trump’s pro-polluter rollbacks of our health and environmental safeguards are hitting choppy judicial waters.
On August 4, the Natural Resources Defense Council and partners asked the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit to overturn Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt’s suspension of standards curbing methane and other harmful emissions from the nation’s landfills.
“Scott Pruitt’s suspension of EPA’s landfill pollution standards is a carbon copy of his illegal attempt to block methane standards for the oil and gas industry,” reasons David Doniger, director of NRDC’s Climate and Clean Air program. “The court threw out Pruitt’s illegal stay of the methane rules last month, and we’re asking it to do the same here.”
Indeed, on July 3, the appeals court overturned Pruitt’s effort to stay separate methane oil and gas standards, and on July 31 the full court ordered them into effect by a 9-2 vote.
Pruitt backs down
Pruitt lost another fight with the law this week. Under pressure from lawsuits brought by NRDC, its partners, and 16 states, Pruitt on August 2 abruptly reversed field on ozone standards, dropping a one-year delay he’d announced in June. That means the standards cutting emissions of smog-causing air pollutants will stay on track for their implementation date of October 1.
“It is no wonder Scott Pruitt beat a hasty retreat from holding up these important health standards,” said John Walke, NRDC’s clean air director. “He’s been blatantly violating the law by obstructing legally required reductions in smog pollution.”
In a handful of environmental cases now, the Trump administration has been forced—in the face of lawsuits brought by NRDC and partners—to follow the law. They involve ozone, mercury and methane pollution, the rusty patched bumble bee, and energy efficiency standards.
More legal challenges ahead
Up ahead: a number of other lawsuits are pending on clean air, safe water, and climate action. Will Trump triumph, or will the law win? “For all of these things, now we may be able to hold the government to account,” Doniger says.
NRDC files suit to reinstate transportation climate safeguards
Also this past week, NRDC and partners sued the Federal Highway Administration to defend a key clean air standard. The lawsuit takes the department to task for illegally suspending, in May, Obama-era standards intended to reduce climate-changing pollution in the nation’s transportation sector.
Transportation is now the leading source of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States, having surpassed those from power plants. The standards ask state highway and metropolitan transportation planners to track and try to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from their transportation plans and systems. This could give rise to cleaner air and smarter transportation options such as more bikeways and better public transit.
“The Trump administration broke the law by hitting the brakes on sensible transportation clean-air standards. We need them to protect our health today and to reduce climate chaos tomorrow,” says Deron Lovaas, an NRDC senior policy adviser.
What’s next? Perry proving Earth flat?
On July 27, the U.S. Department of Energy issued, from its official Twitter account, this curious tweet: “In the fight between @SecretaryPerry and climate scientists — He’s winning.” It linked to an editorial attacking the American Meteorological Society for its June letter blasting Perry for asserting in a television interview that “carbon dioxide is not a primary contributor to climate change.”
Well, hundreds, if not thousands, of leading scientists say that it certainly is.
House heads home with some ’splaining to do on clean energy cuts
Members of the House of Representatives have headed home for their August break with little to brag about, but with a need to explain why they’re pushing a misnamed “Make America Secure Appropriations Act.”
“It’s in stark opposition to the set of values shared by millions of Americans—one of clean air and clean water, equity and prosperity, and innovation and progress,” notes Elizabeth Noll, legislative director in NRDC’s Energy & Transportation program.