In late September, the Environmental Protection Agency announced it was scrapping a policy aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions from coal-fired power plants.
The rule had been in place since 2007, and was meant to protect the air we breathe, the soil we grow our food on, and the air that surrounds us.
But now, the EPA has said, the rule has to be reviewed because of new data showing that greenhouse gas concentrations are actually rising in the United States.
“This is an incredibly significant problem that we’ve got to address,” EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt told reporters in August.
“I think we can’t go on.”
Pruitt said the EPA was working to develop a strategy for managing greenhouse gas levels that would include new technologies like electric vehicles, but he didn’t say what kind of technology they would be.
The EPA was supposed to publish a new rule this month.
But in a letter to the American Association of Home Builders, Pruitt said, “The data is compelling that greenhouse gases are actually increasing in the atmosphere.
This is a matter of great concern, and we need to be working with all stakeholders to identify the best path forward.”
The new rule would not affect existing rules that have already been in effect for decades, including the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act.
Instead, the rules would have to be changed because the new data was not properly vetted.
But it’s a challenge the EPA is trying to overcome.
To make the new rule, the agency first needed to get approval from the Federal Register, the official record of all federal regulations.
The Federal Register has been the official government website since 1999, and it has the ability to issue rules that are retroactive.
The new EPA rule would have the same effect.
But because the EPA could not get the Federal Registry’s approval, Pruitt and other officials tried to get the National Archives and Records Administration to do the job.
“In early 2018, the Office of Management and Budget was contacted by the Office [of Management and [the] Office of the Assistant Secretary for Policy Planning for the Office on the Environment and Related Work,” the EPA said in a statement.
“The OMB asked the EPA to send in its proposed rule, which would address the [new] data.
The OMB agreed to assist the EPA with this process, but there was no agreement reached.”
In an email to me, an EPA spokesperson said the agency was still working to ensure the new EPA rules were properly vetted, but the agency wanted to make sure that it would be able to publish them.
Pruitt told the AP, “We’re trying to make the best decision for the American people, and I want to make it for the Americans as well.”
So far, the new rules haven’t met the EPA’s goals.
Pruitt says that the EPA needs to make a more ambitious goal.
The agency is expected to propose regulations this year that would limit carbon dioxide emissions from power plants to about 40 percent below 2005 levels by 2025.
But the new plan, Pruitt says, would only affect a small percentage of the country, and that’s what the rule would limit.
The regulations are supposed to have a goal of limiting the rise in greenhouse gases to less than 2 percent above 2005 levels.
But Pruitt says the EPA can’t really get to that number without the public’s input.
“There is no mechanism for us to go after emissions that are a very small percentage that’s not significant,” Pruitt said.
“We are looking at this in terms of a long-term goal, and at a rate that’s sustainable, and not at a point where we’re going to be producing a lot of pollution.”
A few states have already taken action to cut emissions.
Earlier this month, North Carolina became the first state to phase out its coal-burning power plants, and Tennessee has been working to phase them out altogether.
But there’s still much uncertainty around how to move forward, and whether the EPA will have the authority to enforce its rules.
“My concern is that we’re at a moment where it’s very much the EPA making decisions on what’s going to happen in a country that is changing and changing rapidly,” said Rep. Jared Polis, a Democrat from Colorado who sits on the House Energy and Commerce Committee.
Polis said the administration should take a more aggressive approach to tackling the issue.
“At some point, the American public and the American government are going to have to step up and say: You know what?
We’re not going to tolerate this.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.