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Looking to take further action against the State of California, the Environmental Protection Agency under the guise of enforcing the state’s non-compliance with the Clean Air Act (CAA) says it will take away billions in federal funds provided to the state of California to implement low carbon transportation projects. The Sacramento Bee reported yesterday that the EPA chief, Andrew Wheeler, wrote the California Air Resources Board, that the state had the “worst air quality in the United States” and had “failed to carry out its most basic tasks” under the federal law. The EPA reviews plans by states to come into compliance with the Clean Air Act regulation of six major air pollutants, and if they don’t then the law allows the EPA to pull funding for roads and other transportation projects.
Why This Matters:According to the Bee, when President Donald Trump entered office, the Administration faced a backlog of over 700 plans, and roughly 140 of those that remain are from California. California’s air is not crystal clear — but now that is also BECAUSE of the Trump Administration, not only the state of California. EPA is blocking some of California’s most important efforts to improve air quality — like the recent revocation of the state’s clean car waiver. This penalty against a state for non-compliance has rarely been exercised to withhold transportation funding. It is intended to be used to stop road and highway building because more roads generally lead to more cars and more air pollution. And this EPA has issued many waivers of compliance to states — indeed that is one reason why air quality has declined in the last two years. Just last week the Administration gave the state of Arkansas a waiver of the very same requirements, thereby allowing even more pollution to occur in Arkansas and imposing no penalty for non-compliance with their own state air quality improvement plans. It is just another example of the Trump administration’s corruption — using the power of the Presidency to penalize his political opponents. Shame on all of them.
Arkansas Gets Flexibility
According to Arkansas paper the Booneville Democrat, last week EPA approved updates to three Arkansas air quality “improvement” plans dating back as far as 2003, that will allow permittees “to implement alternative work plans that were not in their permit application and modify their facility without requesting a permit revision as well as delegating to the state the ability to allow extensions to testing, compliance or other dates in a permit.” This is significant flexibility for permittees that is likely to result in greater pollution. And it is easier to be in compliance with a lax plan — so Arkansas will not be at risk of losing its highway funds either.
And according to The Washington Post, three dozen other states also had counties that did not meet the same air standards — states like Texas, for example, which had 40 violations of federal air quality standards in 25 counties.
California Docked Billions
According to the letter from EPA, California has less than three weeks to new air quality improvement plans addressing non-compliance in 82 municipalities facing noncompliance. If they fail or if EPA disapproves those plans, then California could begin to lose federal highway funding which would be in the billions because California receives more highway funds than any other state in the country. The move is grossly unfair because the EPA is penalizing the state of California while at the same time taking away the tools with which it can meet the federal requirements — it’s like a teacher giving a student an F on a test that the teacher won’t let the student take.
To Go Deeper: Read the full EPA letter to California here.
As the Biden administration is readying a reversal of the Trump policies loosening rules on auto emissions, many states have started tightening their laws to align with the California clean car standards. Case in point: the Virginia legislature last week passed a law that toughened its emissions standards.
Gas flaring was responsible for Texas’s recent increase in oil refinery pollution, but it’s hardly a new problem. We’re less than a decade away from the UN’s goal of Zero Routine Flaring by 2030, but refineries still flare 150 billion cubic meters of natural gas each year, releasing 400 million tons of greenhouse gasses and other pollutants into the atmosphere.
Why This Matters: Companies have historically practiced gas flaring as a convenient and inexpensive way to “dispose of ” gas that was extracted alongside oil, as opposed to storing paying to store it.
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