A pair of climate cases from opposite sides of the country appear to be the closest yet to holding fossil fuel companies accountable in court. Lawsuits filed by Honolulu, Hawaii, and by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts have both overcome initial procedural hurdles and are advancing in state courts, despite dogged attempts by lawyers for the fossil fuel firms to punt the cases into federal courts where they hoped to find an easier path to dismissal. And the two cases have each taken a big leap forward in state courts with judges denying fossil fuel defendants’ requests to dismiss the litigation. Earlier this year, a Hawaii state court judge issued several rulings denying oil companies’ motions to dismiss Honolulu’s case, originally filed in March 2020. In a press release, the Honolulu City Council explained, “with these favorable rulings [Honolulu’s] case is now set to become the first in the country to move into a trial phase and begin the all-important process of discovery, where the oil companies must begin opening up files to show what they knew.”
Workers at the Environmental Protection Agency are calling on President Joe Biden to issue a climate emergency declaration at the same time they’re calling for improvements in staffing and resources for the agency in their next union contract. The largest union representing workers at the EPA, the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) Council 238—which represents nearly 7,500 EPA employees around the US—voted to declare a climate emergency in May 2022 and are calling on Biden to do the same. AFGE is the largest union representing federal government and District of Columbia employees (currently the membership is about 700,000), though other smaller unions do represent professionals at the EPA.
The U.S. Supreme Court issued a rule that limits the EPA’s ability to regulate greenhouse gasses from the power sector using a specific provision of the Clean Air Act. Earlier this year, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change stated that existing and planned fossil fuel projects are more than the climate can handle, confirming that without sharp reductions in greenhouse gas emissions and fossil fuel use, we are, as UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres says, “on a fast track to climate disaster.” The report also warns investors of stranded fossil fuel assets that will amount to $4 trillion in a world where warming is limited to 2°C, and even more in a world where it is limited to 1.5°C.
On the last day of its term, the Supreme Court handed down a case no less impactful than its shameful ruling a week earlier that overturned Roe v. Wade. In West Virginia v. EPA, the court’s right-wing members confirmed they are in the pockets of the fossil fuel companies. The 6-3 majority sided with coal companies and Republican-led states to restrain the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) power to regulate carbon emissions. “Capping carbon dioxide emissions at a level that will force a nationwide transition away from the use of coal to generate electricity may be a sensible ‘solution to the crisis of the day,’” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote on behalf of himself, Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett.
The Supreme Court has restricted the ability of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to fight the climate crisis. In a 6 to 3 ruling on Thursday, the nation’s highest court ruled that the Clean Air Agency does not empower the EPA to limit greenhouse gas emissions from power plants without prior Congressional approval. Yet the decision comes on the heels of a global sweep of early heat waves that have made the necessity of climate action ever more apparent. “Whatever else this Court may know about, it does not have a clue about how to address climate change,” Justice Elana Kagan wrote in a scathing dissent. “And let’s say the obvious: The stakes here are high. Yet the Court today prevents congressionally authorized agency action to curb power plants’ carbon dioxide emissions.
The EPA’s biggest union, signaling its dissatisfaction with the White House’s level of action on climate, will ask the Biden administration to declare a national climate emergency and take other ambitious steps on the environment. The declaration of a national emergency would kick-start 123 statutory powers that aren’t otherwise available to the executive branch, according to the Brennan Center for Justice. Included among them is the hiring of more climate scientists, engineers, and lawyers at the EPA, a goal shared by both the American Federation of Government Employees Council 238 and the Biden administration. The request represents a marker for the American Federation of Government Employees Council 238 when it sits down with the Environmental Protection Agency on June 13 to negotiate a new contract.
In 2017, the Trump administration sided with industry lobbyists and rescinded safety rules governing thousands of chemical plants across America. Five years later — after multiple chemical plant explosions in the Houston area — government investigators are telling lawmakers that a lack of federal regulation is heightening the risk of chemical disasters during climate change-related extreme weather events at thousands of facilities nationwide. President Joe Biden’s administration is considering issuing a new rule regulating such facilities — but not until next summer. Chemical companies and industry groups have already sicced their lobbyists on the EPA to stop the new rules, arguing that, despite all evidence to the contrary, their members are well-prepared for disasters and will only be made more vulnerable by new regulations.
The US Environmental Protection Agency is failing to protect children by ignoring poisons in the environment and focusing on corporate interests, according to a top children’s health official who will testify this week that the agency tried to silence her because of her insistence on stronger preventions against lead poisoning. “The people of the United States expect the EPA to protect the health of their children, but the EPA is more concerned with protecting the interests of polluting industries,” said Ruth Etzel, former director of the EPA’s Office of Children’s Health Protection (OCHP). The harm being done to children is “irreparable”, she said. A hearing will be held on 13 September in which several internal EPA communications will be presented as evidence, including an email in which EPA personnel discuss using press inquiries about Etzel as “an opportunity to strike” out against her. Among many witnesses to be called to testify are several former high-level EPA officials.
Santa Fe, NM—WildEarth Guardians announced this week its intent to sue the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency over its failure to crack down on smog pollution in the Permian Basin of southeast New Mexico, where unchecked fracking is taking a dangerous toll on clean air. “Despite the Biden administration’s promises to put public health first, the oil and gas industry is getting a free ride to pollute the Permian Basin and undermine clean air,” said Jeremy Nichols, Climate and Energy Program Director for WildEarth Guardians. “The Environmental Protection Agency needs to stop dragging its feet and start helping people.” In the face of booming oil and gas extraction, levels of ground-level ozone–the key ingredient of smog–have violated federal health standards in southeastern New Mexico.
For over a month, noxious wastewater has been leaching across the ground on Ashley Watt’s family ranch in the Permian Basin in West Texas where she lives and raises cattle. It started in mid-June, when a well Chevron Corps drilled in the 1960s (and plugged with cement in the 1990s before abandoning it) burst open. The well spewed what Watt described on Twitter as “super concentrated brine and benzene” into her water supply, the Pecos River Basin alluvial aquifer. After a month on site, according to Watt, Chevron plugged the well on July 16, but it failed a pressure test and continued bubbling brine at the surface again just over an hour later. Two calves and four cows have died, as Bloomberg News reported, and the well continues to spray onto the sandy land, where the water table is just over 50 feet below ground.
The herbicide atrazine is likely to adversely affect over half of endangered species listed in the United States, according to a report released by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as part of a legal agreement with the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD). Based on both adverse human health and environmental threats, Beyond Pesticides joined with Center for Food Safety, CBD, and other public-interest groups in October to sue EPA over its decision to reapprove atrazine, an endocrine-disrupting herbicide banned across much of the world.
Washington, DC (Nov. 5, 2020) - The Environmental Protection Agency released an assessment today finding that the endocrine-disrupting pesticide atrazine is likely to harm more than 1,000 of the nation’s most endangered plants and animals. The finding is a result of the agency’s first-ever nationwide assessment of an herbicide’s harm to protected species, an analysis that’s required by the Endangered Species Act. The assessment’s release comes just two months after the EPA reapproved the pesticide’s use for another 15 years.
An Environmental Protection Agency whistleblower, whose disclosures ultimately led to former EPA administrator Scott Pruitt’s resignation, filed a lawsuit in federal court alleging his free speech and due process rights were violated. The lawsuit [PDF] says Kevin Chmielewski was a political appointee and worked as Pruitt’s deputy chief of staff for operations. He faced a retaliatory investigation from the EPA’s Office of the Inspector General that “falsely accused” him of “not having a security clearance and covering up a past arrest.”
Barrett, Texas - Fred Barrett thought he'd wait out Hurricane Harvey at his home in this town outside Houston, founded by his great-grandfather in 1889. He prepared for heavy rain, wind and flooding. But when the murky brown San Jacinto River jumped its banks, flooding Barrett's neighbors and an ominous cluster of four hazardous waste Superfund sites nearby, Barrett worried the catastrophic 2017 storm could fill his community with deadly toxins. The most notorious of the sites, the San Jacinto Waste Pits, was smashed by 16 feet of water that undermined a concrete cap covering the site's toxic contents, washing dioxin downriver.