While Americans were buying and opening their Christmas presents, the Trump administration’s environmental regulators were wrapping up their work on some controversial issues, including some proposed rollbacks of Bush and Obama-era regulations.
Their gifts – which you might have missed amidst the holidays – include policies on energy efficient lightbulbs, water contamination and pesticides.
Here are the details:
The Energy Department blocked stricter efficiency requirements for many common types of lightbulbs that would have taken effect in the new year.
The government, consumer groups and environmentalists have disputed how much the standards, developed under the Obama administration and based on a Bush-era law, would cost or save.
The Trump administration said the cost of more efficient incandescent bulbs “could cost consumers more than 300 percent” more, and therefore “the benefits of more stringent standards do not outweigh the cost to the American people.” But outside groups said the cost of switching to alternatives like LEDs is reasonable and that the reduced energy consumption means financial savings, as well as the environmental benefits.
President Donald Trump has criticized environmental regulations on lightbulbs. Energy efficient bulbs, he claimed, make him “always look orange.”
Natural gas emissions
The Environmental Protection Agency announced it would expand a temporary and voluntary “self-audit” program that would cut penalties for polluters that discover, self-report and fix problems.
The program will, for 12 months, allow oil and natural gas explorers and producers to report and fix Clean Air Act violations and waive fines, which can be in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.
EPA already allows new owners of such facilities to voluntarily report and address deficiencies. The temporary program will grant a reprieve to current owners. The agency’s Assistant Administrator Susan Bodine said the program “will provide additional public health and environmental protection in the surrounding communities.”
EPA proposed granting Georgia the authority to regulate in its state the handling of coal ash, a toxic byproduct of coal-burning power plants. Coal ash, containing dangerous metals including arsenic and mercury, has typically been mixed with water to form a sludge and stored in unlined pits, which environmentalists say in many cases are leaking into groundwater.
A report last year by the Environmental Integrity Project and Earthjustice found that 11 of 12 coal ash pits in Georgia were compromised in that way, and called upon state regulators to develop stricter rules.
In November, EPA proposed easing an Obama-era rule regulating coal ash because of the discovery that “more surface impoundments regardless of liner type are leaking,” making compliance with the regulations for utility companies more expensive.
EPA proposed increasing the allowable levels of the herbicide Atrazine, which is used by professionals to kill weeds on crops and lawns. It said the proposal is one of several that would “ensure a strong and vibrant agricultural market.”
The Centers for Disease Control says the chemical does not break down if it is washed into into groundwater or nearby streams, and that it has been linked to reproductive abnormalities including premature birth. The Center for Biological Diversity, an environmental group, says 35 countries have banned or are phasing out their use of Atrazine and called EPA’s proposal a “disgusting backward step.”
The Justice Department sided with Monsanto in a lawsuit over Roundup claiming the company did not warn consumers of the product’s cancer risks. The government wrote in an appeals court brief that a cancer warning on the product under California law would have been illegal under federal law, because “EPA has for decades concluded science does not support” cancer risks. (The company has also argued its product does not cause cancer.) Several juries, however, have awarded plaintiffs large sums in damages – including a $2 billion award in May.