Changing Planet

EPA to Roll Back Car Pollution Standards

Scott Pruitt, administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on Monday announced that greenhouse gas emissions standards for cars and light duty trucks should be revised.

“The Obama Administration’s determination was wrong,” said Pruitt. “Obama’s EPA cut the Midterm Evaluation process short with politically charged expediency, made assumptions about the standards that didn’t comport with reality, and set the standards too high.”

The EPA did not indicate how far the rules should be rolled back, only that it would begin drafting new standards for 2022–2025 with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which manages a parallel set of rules called the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFÉ) standards.

The announcement follows an April 1 deadline requiring the EPA to reopen the standards or leave them alone—a review resulting from 2011 negotiations between the Obama administration and carmakers, which wanted an opportunity to reassess the standards. The standards presently require new cars and trucks to get 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025.

Pruitt’s announcement also called out California, which is authorized under the Clean Air Act to set its own fuel standards. California was part of the 2011 deal, agreeing to stand down on its authority in return for a more aggressive national standard. The Golden State together with a dozen other states that follow California’s rules, account for more than one-third of the vehicles sold in the U.S.

“It is in America’s best interest to have a national standard, and we look forward to partnering with all states, including California, as we work to finalize that standard,” Pruitt said.

joint statement by the governors of California, Oregon, and Washington and the mayors of Los Angeles, Oakland, San Francisco, Portland and Seattle denounced the EPA’s decision to weaken standards.

“This move sets us back from years of advancements by the automotive industry put in motion by states that took the lead in setting emission standards,” they wrote. “These standards have cleared the haze and smog from our cities and reversed decades of chronic air pollution problems, while putting more money in consumers’ pockets.”

California Air Resources Board Chairman Mary Nichols hinted that California would contest the EPA’s decision.

“California will not weaken its nationally accepted clean car standards, and automakers will continue to meet those higher standards, bringing better gas mileage and less pollution for everyone,” said Nichols. “This decision takes the U.S. auto industry backward, and we will vigorously defend the existing clean vehicle standards and fight to preserve one national clean vehicle program.”

Hearings on Virginia Emissions Trading Rule End; Comment Period up Monday

A 90-day public comment period on Virginia’s draft regulations to cut carbon emissions from power plants ends Monday. The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) began developing the proposed rules after then Gov. Terry McAuliffe issued an executive order last year to assess the impact of climate change on the state.

The draft plan aims to cap emissions from the state’s electricity sector beginning in 2020 and to reduce them 30 percent by 2030. It also establishes a carbon trading market that will link to the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI). If the plan is approved, Virginia would be the state with the largest carbon footprint affiliated with RGGI—a nine-state cap-and-trade program designed to reduce carbon emissions from electric power plants.

“Although Virginia would not be formally part of RGGI—it needs legislation for this—the state is forging a new path for other states interested in a similar linkage,” said Kate Konschnik, director of the Climate and Energy Program at Duke University’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions. “Virginia is designing a carbon program that meets its needs and links to a mature carbon market to ease utility compliance. This may be the wave of the future for RGGI.”

The last of six public hearings on the draft wrapped up last month. DEQ expects the final regulationsto go before the state’s Air Pollution Control Board this summer.

Warming Waters Are Speeding Retreat of Glaciers, Raising Sea Levels

A satellite tracking study of Antarctica’s glaciers by researchers at the UK Centre for Polar Observation and Modelling at the University of Leeds finds evidence of accelerated Antarctic deglaciation that could greatly increase global sea-level rise. Published this week in the journal Nature Geoscience, the study shows that the warming waters of the Southern Ocean melted565 square miles of Antarctica’s underwater ice between 2010 and 2016. It shows that the warming is moving “grounding lines”—the boundary where an ice sheet’s base leaves the sea floor and begins to float.

The researchers produced the first complete map of how the Antarctic ice sheet’s grounding lines are changing. They say grounding line retreat has been extreme at eight of the ice sheet’s 65 biggest glaciers. There the pace of deglaciation is five times the historical average of 25 meters per year since the last ice age.

Overall, the researchers found that 10.7 percent of Antarctic grounding lines were retreating at a rate faster than that average; only 1.9 percent of the lines were advancing faster than the average.

These new measurements suggest a pattern of melting in Antarctica that is contributing to global sea level rise, according to lead author Hannes Konrad from the University of Leeds.

“Our study provides clear evidence that retreat is happening across the ice sheet due to ocean melting at its base, and not just at the few spots that have been mapped before now,” said Konrad. “This retreat has had a huge impact on inland glaciers, because releasing them from the sea bed removes friction, causing them to speed up and contribute to global sea level rise.”

The Climate Post offers a rundown of the week in climate and energy news. It is produced each Thursday by Duke University’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions.

Tim Profeta is the founding director of the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions. The Nicholas Institute is part of Duke University and focuses on improving environmental policy making worldwide through objective, fact-based research in the areas of climate change, the economics of limiting carbon pollution, oceans governance and coastal management, emerging environmental markets and freshwater concerns at home and abroad. In his role at the Nicholas Institute, Profeta has continued to use his experience on Capitol Hill to engage in climate change debates. His research has focused, specifically, on market-based approaches to environmental regulations—particularly energy and climate change policy. Other projects engage his expertise in environmental law and air pollution regulation under the Clean Air Act.

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