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A Tale of Two Government Views on Climate Change

In reversals of previous positions taken by the Environmental Protection Administration (EPA), on April 28, 2017 the EPA announced that it took down information on climate change, previously placed on its Website, to “update” language. On the same date the EPA was also successful in having the U.S. Court of of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit  hold in abeyance an  action challenging Obama Era clean air regulations, while the EPA reviews the dismantling of those regulations.

On Friday the EPA issued a statement indicating:

“EPA.gov, the website for the United States Environmental Protection Agency, is undergoing changes that reflect the agency’s new direction under President Donald Trump and Administrator Scott Pruitt. The process, which involves updating language to reflect the approach of new leadership, is intended to ensure that the public can use the website to understand the agency’s current efforts. …The first page to be updated is a page reflecting President Trump’s Executive Order on Energy Independence, which calls for a review of the so-called Clean Power Plan. Language associated with the Clean Power Plan, written by the last administration, is out of date. Similarly, content related to climate and regulation is also being reviewed.”

The Court decision to hold the regulatory litigation in abeyance was based in part upon submissions by the EPA which argued:

“Two months after his inauguration, the President of the United States issued an Executive Order directing the Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) to immediately take all steps necessary to review the Clean Power Plan – the underlying rule at issue in these cases, which challenge EPA’s denial of petitions for administrative reconsideration of the rule (“the Denial Action”). The Executive Order also instructs EPA to, if appropriate and as soon as practicable, publish for notice and comment a proposed rule suspending, revising, or rescinding the Clean Power Plan.

EPA immediately followed the direction of the Executive Order, as it must, by announcing its initiation of review of the Clean Power Plan and potential forthcoming rulemaking. As a result of these very consequential developments, further judicial proceedings in these cases challenging EPA’s related Denial Action are unwarranted at this time. Therefore, EPA immediately requested that these cases be held in abeyance to avoid unnecessary adjudication or interference with the current administrative process. Abeyance will thus avoid an advisory opinion on issues that may become moot, preserve the integrity of the administrative process, and conserve judicial resources.”

In an apparent attempt to force the EPA to determine what course it will take, the Court ordered that the matter be held in abeyance for sixty days and that the EPA provide updates.

At least for the present time, the EPA is also archiving the Web pages it has taken down. For example, a copy of the Climate Change page as it existed the day prior to the Trump inaugaration is still available. Therefore, at least as of January 19, 2017 the EPA stated:

“Our Earth is warming. Earth’s average temperature has risen by 1.5°F over the past century, and is projected to rise another 0.5 to 8.6°F over the next hundred years. Small changes in the average temperature of the planet can translate to large and potentially dangerous shifts in climate and weather.
The evidence is clear. Rising global temperatures have been accompanied by changes in weather and climate. Many places have seen changes in rainfall, resulting in more floods, droughts, or intense rain, as well as more frequent and severe heat waves.”

It will be interesting to see the “updates” in language.

Steven Silverberg