Marianne Lavelle / InsideClimate News & Lisa Friedman / The New York Times – 2018-10-13 00:35:22
Senate Confirms BP Oil Spill Lawyer & Climate Policy Foe
As Government’s Top Environment Attorney
Marianne Lavelle / InsideClimate News
Critics of Clark pointed out that the Senate
was confirming someone who had called climate change “contestable”
during a week when a Category 4 hurricane hit the Southeast and
the IPCC warned that time is running out to avoid catastrophe.
“[Clark is] exactly the wrong person to be in this job of enforcing regulations to clean up our environment.”
— Senator Dick Durbin (D-Ill.)
(October 11, 2018) — Jeffrey Bossert Clark, who represented BP in lawsuits over the nation’s largest oil spill and has repeatedly challenged the science of climate change, was confirmed Thursday by the Senate to serve as the nation’s top environmental lawyer — a key position for the defense of President Donald Trump’s regulatory rollback.
Lawmakers voted 52 to 45 to confirm Clark to serve as assistant attorney general for environment and natural resources.
In that post, Clark will steer the federal government’s defense of the slew of legal challenges the Trump administration faces over its repeal of environment and climate regulations. He also will be responsible for taking polluters and other environmental lawbreakers to court as head of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division.
Clark has represented numerous oil industry clients as a partner in the Washington, D.C., office of Kirkland & Ellis, including defending BP in lawsuits by fishing businesses and others who sued the oil company in the wake of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.
Clark also represented the US Chamber of Commerce in lawsuits challenging the federal government’s authority to regulate carbon emissions. In court, he repeatedly argued that it is inappropriate to base government policymaking on the scientific consensus presented by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
“When did America risk coming to be ruled by foreign scientists and apparatchiks at the United Nations?” Clark demanded in a 2010 blog post on the EPA’s endangerment finding. In a 2010 talk at a convention of the conservative Federalist Society, he said the Obama administration’s policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions were “reminiscent of kind of a Leninistic program from the 1920s to seize control of the commanding heights of the economy.”
In 2016, he filed a “friend of the court” brief against the Clean Power Plan, the nation’s first limits on carbon emissions from power plants, on behalf of a non-profit group that opposes regulation, Consumers’ Research. Environmental groups could use that as a basis to seek Clark’s recusal in the inevitable litigation ahead over the Trump administration’s Clean Power Plan repeal.
Critics of Clark pointed out that the Senate was confirming someone who had called the science of climate change “contestable” during a week when a Category 4 hurricane hit the Southeast and the IPCC warned that time is running out to head off catastrophic warming.
Clark is “exactly the wrong person to be in this job of enforcing regulations to clean up our environment,” said Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) the minority whip.
But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) praised Clark for his background as a litigator. “Mr. Clark’s legal colleagues describe him as one of the most capable lawyers with whom they’ve ever worked,” he said.
Two Democrats who are facing tough re-election battles in red-leaning states, Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Claire McCaskill of Missouri, joined Republicans in voting to confirm Clark. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, now seen as the most endangered red-state Democrat in November, did not vote. The two Florida senators, Democrat Bill Nelson and Republican Marco Rubio, were focused on the devastation in their state in the wake of Hurricane Michael and also didn’t vote on Clark’s confirmation.
Clark, who was nominated for the post more than a year ago, was one of nearly 200 Trump appointees awaiting confirmation, according to the Partnership for Public Service.
EPA to Disband a Key
Scientific Review Panel on Air Pollution
Lisa Friedman / The New York Times
Acting EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler just announced
that he’ll be nixing the particulate matter review panel. This is bad.
— Dr Gretchen Goldman, October 10, 2018
WASHINGTON (October 11, 2018) — An Environmental Protection Agency panel that advises the agency’s leadership on the latest scientific information about soot in the atmosphere is not listed as continuing its work next year, an EPA official said.
The 20-person Particulate Matter Review Panel, made up of experts in microscopic airborne pollutants known to cause respiratory disease, is responsible for helping the agency decide what levels of pollutants are safe to breathe.
Agency officials declined to say why the EPA intends to stop convening the panel next year, particularly as the agency considers whether to revise air quality standards.
Environmental activists criticized the move as a way for the Trump administration to avoid what they described as the panel’s lengthy but critical assessment of how much exposure to particulate matter is acceptable in the atmosphere.
“To me this is part of a pattern,” said Gretchen Goldman, research director at the Union of Concerned Scientists, a science-oriented environmental nonprofit. “We’re seeing EPA trying to cut science out of the process.”
She and others noted that the move follows other decisions at the EPA they find worrisome, including eliminating a senior science advisory position and pressing for new rules that would restrict the number and type of studies the EPA could consider when writing new regulations.
Dr. Goldman, an environmental engineer, wrote on Twitter that the EPA quietly telegraphed its latest move in a personnel announcement Wednesday. In that announcement, the EPA said that a smaller, seven-person umbrella advisory board would from now on be conducting reviews of federal air standards and that the administration hoped to complete any revisions by late 2020.
When asked about the future of the larger, 20-person scientific board, the EPA spokesman confirmed that the board was not “listed” in agency documents as continuing its work past 2018. The body is slated to meet in December.
The EPA is responsible for updating six air standards every five years under the Clean Air Act: carbon monoxide, particulate matter, nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide, lead, and ozone.
The smaller, seven-member group, known as the Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee, or CASAC, is legally obligated to provide advice to the administrator about those air quality standards. But the work of its sub-panels, such as the one on particulate matter, is not required by law.
Those panels are typically made up of researchers, doctors and others with specific expertise in the individual pollutants. Their reviews can take as long as 18 months, Dr. Goldman said.
At the same time, the CASAC also is going through a shake-up. Andrew Wheeler, the acting administrator of the EPA, announced Wednesday he was installing new members to that panel.
They include a biochemist from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality; an air pollution control engineer with the Jefferson County, Ala., Department of Health; a toxicologist with the Utah Department of Environmental Quality; and a pulmonary doctor and professor emeritus from the University of Rochester Medical Center.
Lianne Sheppard, a professor of biostatistics at the University of Washington who until Wednesday served as a member of the CASAC and also is on the particulate-matter review board, expressed concern that the resulting panel may be too small and inexperienced in some of the specific issues to handle the new volume of work.
“They’re being asked to implement a new process, which will significantly increase their workload,” Dr. Sheppard said. “All of this will result in poorer-quality scientific oversight.”
Thomas Pyle, president of the Institute for Energy Research, a think tank that supports fossil fuels, dismissed concerns about the changes. “Apparently it seems the enviros still don’t understand that elections have consequences,” he said.
Last year Scott Pruitt, Mr. Wheeler’s predecessor, barred advisory committee members from also receiving EPA grants, a change he said was designed to limit conflicts of interest. It also had the effect of making it harder for academic researchers to participate on agency boards. With Mr. Wheeler’s additions to the panel, the CASAC board now has only one researcher.
Mr. Wheeler, in a statement, praised the group as being highly qualified with a diverse set of backgrounds needed to take on new responsibilities.
“These experts will provide critical scientific advice to EPA as it evaluates where to set national standards for key pollutants like ozone and particulate matter,” he said, adding the group would “work hard over the next two years to advise EPA in a manner consistent with the Clean Air Act and the protection of public health.”
Lisa Friedman reports on climate and environmental policy in Washington. A former editor at Climatewire, she has covered nine international climate talks. For more news on climate and the environment, follow @NYTClimate on Twitter.
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