After Supreme Court ruling, local House Democrats led push for EPA to tighten air and water quality rules – Orange County Register

As experts weigh the fallout from the June 30 Supreme Court ruling that limits the Environmental Protection Agency’s ability to force power plants to switch to cleaner energy, House Democrats — led by Southern California Reps. Mike Levin and Katie Porter — are pushing the Biden administration to quickly pass a detailed list of rules aimed at improving air and water quality nationwide.

A letter dated Wednesday, June 29, signed by Levin, Porter and 28 other House Democrats, calls on EPA Administrator Michael Regan to take aggressive executive action in 11 areas. This includes calls to lower acceptable levels of harmful particles in the air, to remove all lead pipes from public water systems within 10 years and to tighten clean vehicle standards by 2030.

The letter also suggests a potential workaround for the EPA to continue limiting power plant emissions without violating the Supreme Court’s latest ruling.

“I don’t think any of us want to go back to a time when smog alerts were the rule rather than the exception,” said Levin, D-San Juan Capistrano, recalling how important such measures were. common in Southern California before the creation of the EPA and other environmental laws in the early 1970s started an era of pressure for cleaner air.

“We need to strengthen our air quality standards, not weaken them.”

In their decision in West Virginia v. EPA, a conservative majority of Supreme Court justices said the EPA overstepped its authority when it put such a strict cap on carbon dioxide emissions that it essentially forced the nation’s power plants to move away from using coal.

“The court’s decision confirms that Congress, not the EPA, has the authority to create environmental policy,” said GOP Sen. John Barrasso of Wyoming, who is the top member of the Senate committee. energy, in a press release. “We will continue to work to protect the environment while making America’s energy as clean, reliable, and affordable as possible.”

But Levin, who served as an environmental attorney before his 2018 election in the 49th District covering southern Orange County and northern San Diego County, joined nearly 200 other members of Congress in signing a amicus brief in January that challenged the idea that the EPA does have the authority to take general action. He said Congress passed the Clean Air Act — along with the Clean Water Act, the Endangered Species Act and a host of other key environmental laws — knowing that the appropriate regulator would have “the discretion and latitude to to be able to implement what Congress sends him. way.”

“You can’t expect Congress to be so prescriptive that it anticipates every potential action that would result from the legislative process. Otherwise, what good is the regulatory process?” he asked.

While the ruling doesn’t remove any of California’s tough environmental laws, Levin said he’s worried about the precedent it sets for other federal agencies, fearing it will ‘prevent’ them from taking proactive action. on important issues.

Still, Levin said he remains hopeful that the EPA can move forward on any regulations that he and his colleagues — including Southern California representatives Nanette Diaz Barragán, Mark Takano and others — described in their June 29 letter, insisting that such executive actions are permitted. under the agency’s current authority under the Clean Air Act.

“We can’t let a partisan Supreme Court derail efforts needed to reduce pollution and protect families,” Porter said. “Our letter outlines the executive actions that we believe the Biden administration should begin considering immediately to take appropriate action in light of the court’s decision.”

The request most directly related to the recent Supreme Court ruling calls for the EPA to issue binding federal greenhouse gas limits for new gas-fired power plants while only issuing guidelines for existing power plants. But according to the letter, states would then be required to use those guidelines to issue their own binding emissions limits for factories within their boundaries.

If the EPA were to attempt such a maneuver, Robin Kundis Craig, a professor of environmental law at USC, said it must first find a way to define a “better system” to reduce emissions. in a way that “does not offend the Supreme”. Court and actually reduces greenhouse gas emissions.

The court made it clear Thursday that the EPA cannot require a large-scale change in fuel sources. But Craig said a 2014 decision in Utility Air Regulatory Group v. EPA also gave the federal agency sweeping power to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from power plants that are already subject to certain limits under the Clean Air Act. So she said the agency should have the power to limit emissions from at least some facilities, which could lead to deep reductions without violating the Supreme Court’s latest ruling.

After reviewing other demands in the Democrats’ letter, Craig said most clearly remain under the authority of the EPA — though some may still face practical, financial or technological limitations. Here are the details of other key proposals.

-Lower the permitted level of fine particles, or soot, from 12 to 8 micrograms per cubic meter, and lower the level of ozone pollution from 70 to 60 parts per billion. Nearly 48,000 premature deaths a year are caused by breathing fine particles, the letter notes. Craig said both standards clearly fall under the authority of the EPA, although she noted that “some states are still struggling to comply with the EPA’s latest revision of the ozone standard. “.

-Remove all lead service lines from public water systems within a decade at no cost to homeowners, set acceptable lead levels at 5 parts per billion at the faucet, and increase lead testing in water. Such rules are in the works, Craig said. But she noted that these changes can be costly, especially for smaller, poorer towns that could be hit the hardest. “It becomes a bit of a catch-22 in the absence of significant federal money to help with upgrades,” she said, demanding coordinated infrastructure legislation to make it plausible.

– Require at least a 60% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from automobiles by 2030. Given Thursday’s decision, Craig said it would be interesting to know if the Supreme Court would back the EPA in drafting a regulation that could require a nationwide conversion to electric vehicles. by 2030. Additionally, she noted that the agency must consider that if electricity for cars comes from coal-fired power plants, “the switch to electric vehicles may not result in a net reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.” greenhouse effect”.

Asked about the idea of ​​Congress passing such regulations as legislation, rather than relying on the EPA to make the changes, Levin said members were discussing options. But he said the point is, they “shouldn’t have to” because he believes the EPA still has the power to act.

There is still a sense of urgency, Levin said, both because of the public health and climate change impacts, and to put in place the requested protections before the next presidential election.

“We’ve made tremendous progress through California’s waiver of the federal clean air law, which was attacked during the last administration,” he said.

“We cannot sit idly by and think that California’s environmental laws or reproductive rights laws or gun violence prevention laws should be taken for granted, because they are not.”

Surveys show that a majority of Americans support environmental efforts, Levin noted. And he pointed out that such ideas were bipartisan for decades, with the EPA created under GOP Chairman Richard Nixon while the Clean Air Act and other key environmental laws passed with overwhelming support from both sides of the board. the driveway. Ronald Reagan was Governor of California when we won a Clean Air Act waiver, while Arnold Schwarzenegger was at the helm when California passed its landmark Global Warming Solutions Act.

“Clean air, clean water; these are not partisan issues,” Levin said. “All our lungs, all our bodies, they are all impacted in the same way by pollution. And we should all want a cleaner future, not a dirtier one.

The EPA has not yet responded to the letter, a spokesperson for Levin’s office said Friday.