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Texas Group Petitions EPA To Overturn Climate Change Policy

The Environmental Protection Agency issued a finding in 2009 that greenhouse gas emissions endanger public health.
Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon
The Environmental Protection Agency issued a finding in 2009 that greenhouse gas emissions endanger public health.

Since Scott Pruitt has taken the reigns of the Environmental Protection Agency, the agency has rolled back regulations, scrubbed information on global warming from its website and dismissed members of a key science advisory board. But that isn’t enough for some climate change skeptics and fossil fuel advocates, who would like to see the EPA rescind its entire rationale for battling global warming.

Now, the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a conservative Austin-based think tank, is petitioning the EPA to do just that.  

The rationale is called the Greenhouse Gas Endangerment Finding. It’s the EPA's 2009 determination that the agency is legally required to regulate emissions that cause global warming. Getting rid of the finding has been a holy grail for groups opposed to climate regulation. But Pruitt has said he’s not going to overturn it.

The Texas Public Policy Foundation's petition doesn’t challenge the science, but the process that led to the finding.

“We’ve got to have respect for the rule of law. And there are certain steps that federal agencies are required to follow when adopting regulations that are going to carry the force of law,” said Robert Henneke, the foundation’s general counsel.  

The petition says the EPA didn’t go through the right scientific review procedure before it issued the finding. The EPA has 180 days to reply to the petition or face a lawsuit from TPPF. 

So, how serious a challenge is this to climate regulation?

“Well, the petition relies on an argument that both EPA and the D.C. Circuit considered and rejected, and that the Supreme Court declined to even look at," said Joanne Spalding, chief climate counsel at the Sierra Club. "So that tells you something about the validity of the argument."

She said she sees the petition more as a way of applying public pressure than a winning legal strategy. But that doesn’t mean the EPA won’t take the opportunity to review the endangerment finding.

“If you were to reopen the endangerment finding, it does create the possibility that the agency might reach a different conclusion,” said Tracy Hester, who teaches environmental law at the University of Houston. “But that would trigger undoubtedly some very vicious litigation over a long period of time.”

He said it would also bring a fresh review of the science linking emissions to climate change, science that has become only more convincing in the years since the original finding was issued. 

Copyright 2020 KUT 90.5. To see more, visit KUT 90.5.

Mose Buchele is the Austin-based broadcast reporter for KUT's NPR partnership StateImpact Texas . He has been on staff at KUT 90.5 since 2009, covering local and state issues. Mose has also worked as a blogger on politics and an education reporter at his hometown paper in Western Massachusetts. He holds masters degrees in Latin American Studies and Journalism from UT Austin.