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Joseph Goffman

  • EPA’s Recent Rollbacks Raise Public Health Worries for Vulnerable Americans

    April 27, 2020

    It would have been a controversial move under any circumstances, but an announcement from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency last week looked especially problematic given the context: During an outbreak of a disease that attacks people’s ability to breathe and has killed more than 45,000 Americans, the agency finalized a rule that says it’s no longer “appropriate and necessary” to regulate mercury and other toxic air pollution from power plants...Last week’s action doesn’t lower limits on mercury emissions, but instead alters the regulation’s mathematical foundation—a bureaucratic-seeming change that experts say could have profound consequences. The Obama administration had justified the regulation’s hefty cost by noting that it would improve public health not only by reducing exposure to toxic mercury, but also by capturing other pollution from smokestacks, preventing an estimated 11,000 premature deaths each year. But the Trump administration’s new rule says the government can’t consider those indirect benefits...That interpretation could leave not only the mercury standards, but also other regulations that promote public health, vulnerable to legal challenges from the fossil fuel industry, says Joseph Goffman, executive director of the Environmental and Energy Law Program at Harvard University and a former EPA official. “I think this has a little bit less to do with this particular set of emissions standards and more to do with a much bigger project the agency and the administration have, which is to essentially sabotage or manipulate cost-benefit analysis so that it always comes out to show that the costs of regulation outweigh the benefits,” he says.

  • Why the Rollback of the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards ‘Foreshadows What’s to Come’

    April 27, 2020

    The Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS), finalized in 2015, were designed to lower the amount of mercury and toxic air pollution Americans are exposed to from coal- and oil-fired power plants. But last week, the Trump administration relaxed those standards, rewriting a major aspect of the rules. With the vast majority of power plants already in compliance, why roll it back now? On this episode of our podcast, Trump on Earth, we hear first from someone who helped write the original rule. Joseph Goffman is a former senior counsel at EPA under the Obama administration. He now runs the Environmental and Energy Law Program at Harvard. And next, we hear from John Walke, senior attorney at the Natural Resources Defence Council. He explains why the rollback of the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards foreshadows what’s to come.

  • EPA Gives Utilities A Headache With Mercury Rule Revision

    April 20, 2020

    The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency opened a Pandora's box for utilities with an about-face on the justification underpinning an Obama-era rule limiting coal-fired power plants' mercury emissions, including the potential that ratepayers will try to claw back what they paid for utilities to comply with the rule. Experts say that at best, the EPA's finalized cost-benefit analysis of its Mercury and Air Toxics Standards rule is an empty gesture to utilities. The EPA said it's not "appropriate or necessary" to regulate hazardous air pollutants from coal and oil-fired plants under Section 112 of the Clean Air Act, but the rule remains in place and utilities have already spent billions to comply with it...EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler said Thursday that the agency is prepared to defend in court its decision to keep the MATS rule — which was enacted in 2012 and required utilities to comply by 2015 — in place...Experts say the EPA could have really cut the legs out from under the MATS rule by also removing power plants from the list of pollution source categories subject to regulation under Section 112, but ultimately decided not to. "Although there is still some chance that the coal industry will challenge the standards on the grounds that the appropriate and necessary finding is gone, their prospects for success are dimmer now," said Joseph Goffman, an Obama-era EPA official who is now the executive director of Harvard Law School's Environmental and Energy Law Program.

  • How the Laws That Earth Day Inspired Have Benefited Us All

    April 16, 2020

    On the perpetual campaign trail, Donald Trump likes to brag that his regulatory rollbacks will save Americans from having to depend on the latest energy-saving light bulbs. (“To me, most importantly, the light’s no good. I always look orange.”) He promises to get rid of water-efficiency standards because toilets require too much flushing. (“Ten times, right?… Not me. But you. Him.”) The aim is to find a homey way to put across the message that regulations — especially environmental regulations — inconvenience the average American. They hurt the economy. They cost jobs...The move to discredit benefits began as a result of the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990 targeting acid rain emissions from coal-burning power plants, mostly located in the Midwest...At the time, the paradigm was that “like politics, all pollution is local,” says Joseph Goffman, executive director of Harvard’s Environmental and Energy Law Program, who helped write the original legislation as an attorney for the Environmental Defense Fund. The soot and other pollution that made a difference for human health was thought to come from nearby sources...The Trump administration has tried multiple tactics to skew cost-benefit calculations back in favor of deregulation. Caitlin McCoy, also an attorney in the Environmental and Energy Law Program, lists a few such tactics.

  • Greens plot court strategy for stronger soot limits

    April 16, 2020

    Environmental groups said they are prepared to sue EPA over its proposal to leave national soot standards unchanged, a move that conflicts with scientific evidence and career staff calls for stronger restrictions on fine particulate matter. The agency's draft rule preserving limits set on those particles, known as PM2.5, in 2012 tees up unusual legal questions of whether EPA can override recommendations from its staff and some of its scientific experts to strengthen those standards...Once the proposed rule appears in the Federal Register, interested parties will have 60 days to comment on EPA's plan. The agency is expected to finalize the rule later this year, which would trigger litigation. Joe Goffman, an Obama-era EPA official who is now at Harvard Law School, said he expects the comments to include lots of scientific research demonstrating the need for tighter restrictions on PM2.5. "The record is the one thing that the administrator can't rig a priori," he said. "Ultimately, challengers are going to be able to bring to the D.C. Circuit a very strong record, notwithstanding what's in the proposal."

  • EPA retains Obama-era air quality standards despite staff questions of adequacy

    April 15, 2020

    The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed to make no changes to certain air quality standards even though members of its staff raised questions about whether one of the standards is adequate. The agency on Tuesday proposed keeping the maximum acceptable levels of both fine and coarse forms of a pollutant known as particulate matter at Obama-era levels. Assessments have linked long-term exposure to fine particulate matter to as many as 52,100 premature deaths and suggested that stricter standards could save thousands of lives...The announcement comes on the heels of a Harvard study that determined that people who lived in areas with more exposure to fine particulate matter are more likely to die from the coronavirus pandemic...Critics also raised procedural objections, namely the EPA’s 2018 decision to fire scientists that helped the agency review its air quality standards. “It’s not just a bad result, it’s a fouled process that led to the result,” said Joseph Goffman, an Obama administration EPA official who is now the executive director of Harvard Law’s Environmental and Energy Law Program.

  • Exhibit A: Science advisers’ critiques of EPA rules

    March 9, 2020

    An EPA advisory panel's sharp rebukes of the Trump administration's Clean Water Act protections and vehicle emissions standards have provided a partial blueprint for how critics could challenge the rules in court. EPA's Science Advisory Board (SAB), which includes many members selected by the Trump administration, last week finalized striking criticisms of the agency's proposed Safer Affordable Fuel-Efficient Vehicles Rule and its recently narrowed definition of the "waters of the United States," or WOTUS. ... In contrast, a court could reprimand EPA for disregarding such guidance without a rational explanation for that decision, said Joseph Goffman, an Obama-era EPA official who is now at Harvard Law School. "The way the D.C. Circuit expressed itself really invited the inference that if the agency hadn't aligned itself in a thoughtful way with the science advisers, the court would have made a different decision," he said.

  • What does Trump actually believe on climate change?

    January 24, 2020

    US President Donald Trump's position on climate change has been in the spotlight again, after he criticised "prophets of doom" at the World Economic Forum in Davos. At the event, which had sustainability as its main theme, and activist Greta Thunberg as its star guest, Mr Trump dismissed "alarmists" who wanted to "control every aspect of our lives" - while also expressing the US's support for an initiative to plant one trillion trees....Meanwhile, Joseph Goffman, executive director of Harvard's Environmental Law Programme, argues that Mr Trump "believes nothing on climate change - he's a climate nihilist". Mr Trump's position is based on his need to appeal to "the part of the Republican establishment that rejects climate policy," Mr Goffman, who previously worked as Democratic staff director on the Senate environmental committee, adds.

  • Advisers Call Proposed EPA Science Rule ‘License to Politicize’

    January 3, 2020

    The EPA’s science advisers say the agency’s proposal to change the way science feeds into rulemaking could politicize the rulemaking process and wasn’t fully thought through, according to a draft report published Dec. 31. The Environmental Protection Agency’s April 2018 Strengthening Transparency in Regulatory Science (RIN:2080-AA14) proposal, also known as the “secret science” rule, would bar the agency from using scientific research that isn’t or can’t be made public. Blocking the use of that type of research would represent a sharp break from the EPA’s decades-old approach. Critics have said the proposal is a bid to sideline the science that the EPA uses in regulations because the agency wouldn’t be able to rely on epidemiological studies, which often draw on private medical information. “Given the lack of clarity, the proposed rule could be viewed as a license to politicize the scientific evaluation required under the statute,” wrote the Science Advisory Board, a group of outside experts who review the quality of the science the EPA uses in regulations...Joseph Goffman, executive director of the Environmental and Energy Law Program at Harvard Law School, said, “What’s really interesting is that the report echoes what an absolute legion of commenters from the science community have said about the proposal. There’s something at least in the ballpark of consensus that the proposal is really flawed.”

  • Trump carbon rule defense: A double-edged sword?

    November 5, 2019

    The Trump administration's courtroom defense of its Clean Power Plan repeal could blunt its own efforts to craft standards for carbon dioxide emissions from power plants, legal experts say. EPA has taken an unexpected approach to defending its rollback of the Obama-era rule against challenges by states, environmental groups, public health organizations, and even industry and conservative groups in federal court, Joseph Goffman and Caitlin McCoy of Harvard University's Environmental and Energy Law Program wrote in a recent analysis...When an agency presents an argument that it is making a reasonable interpretation of the law, courts will often defer to the agency's expertise under the doctrine known as Chevron deference. But EPA might have trouble defending a rule that says the best approach for states to reduce emissions from existing power plants is to take action at the facility level, or "inside the fence line," Goffman and other legal experts said. EPA could have argued both that the Clean Air Act compelled the agency's interpretation that power plant regulations could only use an "inside the fence line" approach, and that — even in the event that it didn't — EPA had selected a reasonable option among a number of possibilities in developing the ACE rule, Goffman said. "The riddle is, why didn't they do that?" he said. "Why did they just argue that the statutory language is compelled and not argue that it is reasonable?"

  • Trump Formally Begins U.S. Withdrawal From Paris Climate Agreement in Latest Effort to Roll Back Regulations

    November 5, 2019

    President Donald Trump formally began the process of withdrawing the U.S. from the Paris climate accord on Monday, a move announced in 2017 that will take another year to complete. The State Department formally submitted a request to withdraw from the pact signed by roughly 200 countries on Monday, the earliest date Trump can make the official notification. “With or without the paperwork the administration is doing to withdraw from Paris, they have effectively withdrawn from any kind of commitment already,” said Joe Goffman, executive director of the Environmental and Energy Law Program at Harvard Law School.

  • Air Pollution Is Increasing for the First Time in a Decade Under Trump

    October 23, 2019

    After a decade of improvements in air pollution, the U.S. is backsliding. And that means more people are dying prematurely, according to new research. The paper authors don’t point to a specific reason why the increase happened, but the numbers are clear that it occurred under the presidency of Donald Trump. A team of economists at Carnegie Mellon University published their working paper Monday with the National Bureau of Economic Research... “Since 2017, the agency, through a variety of actions, has signaled it is going to take a more relaxed approach,” Joe Goffman, former associate administrator for Climate and Senior Counsel at the EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation who now helps run Harvard Law School’s Environmental Law Program, told Earther. “This administration has sent enough signals to sources that they are operating under a more lenient regime that could corroborate the data that is the focus of this report.”

  • California power shutdowns raise air pollution worries

    October 15, 2019

    Power shutdowns intended to prevent more devastating California wildfires are raising new concerns about another longstanding environmental threat: air pollution. As utilities halted service to more than 2 million people this week, lines formed at hardware stores selling portable generators, while many hospitals and businesses fired up their own. The prospect of emissions belching from untold numbers of the machines, some powered by diesel and gasoline as well as propane and natural gas, was troubling in a state already burdened with some of the nation's worst air quality...It could be hard to quantify the effects of power shutdowns on air quality because of the many factors to consider, including how to weigh the pollution they cause against the pollution avoided by preventing wildfires, said Joe Goffman, a former assistant administrator with EPA's Office of Air and Radiation during the Obama administration. "The kinds of fires California has seen in recent years have been major, catastrophic polluters in and of themselves," said Goffman, now director of the Harvard Law School Environment and Energy Law Program. "These shutdowns are being done precisely to prevent that from happening."

  • Trump Orders Could Gum Up The Works At Enviro Agencies

    October 11, 2019

    President Donald Trump's executive orders aimed at curtailing federal agencies' use of informal guidance in policymaking could prevent agencies like the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Energy from reacting quickly to industry problems. The regulated community expects overall relief from the orders, but also knows the change means that when businesses need environmental regulatory clarity, they could get bogged down in lengthy rulemakings and subsequent litigation. ... "The short answer is: the more rulemaking, the more litigation," said Joseph Goffman, a former Obama-era EPA official who is now the executive director of Harvard Law School's Environmental and Energy Law Program. "The increased burden will fall on DOJ if so, as the agency tends to engage in consultation with stakeholders even on guidance and sometimes puts out draft guidance for comment."

  • Trump administration proposes weaker monitoring of major greenhouse gas

    August 30, 2019

    A newly proposed Trump administration rule would allow for weaker monitoring of methane, a major greenhouse gas contributing to global warming. The proposed rule rolled out Thursday morning by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) would eliminate current requirements on oil and gas companies to install technology to monitor methane emissions from pipelines, wells and facilities...“I would say it’s a lose-lose-lose. It’s a bad environmental outcome, it’s a bad outcome for what the industry itself is now saying it needs, and it’s pretty much outright sabotage of the EPA’s own legal authority and what the Clean Air Act was enacted to accomplish,” said Joseph Goffman, who helped develop the Obama-era regulations on methane at EPA and now serves as executive director of the Environmental & Energy Law Program at Harvard Law School.

  • Trump touts environmental record despite slashing climate regulations

    July 9, 2019

    Donald Trump is arguing he has made America an environmental leader, despite moving to gut dozens of rules meant to safeguard clean air and water and rescinding every major US effort to stem the climate crisis...Joe Goffman, a senior lawyer at the Environmental Protection Agency under Barack Obama, said Trump has been stalling environmental efforts since he signed an early executive order, in March 2017, to unwind Obama policies. “From his very first weeks in office the president has made it a priority to go backwards in terms of air quality and climate protections,” Goffman said.

  • EPA Aims to Tie Democrats’ Hands for Good on Power Plant Carbon

    July 9, 2019

    The Trump administration’s legal strategy for overturning Obama-era power plant carbon dioxide controls goes beyond simply arguing it has the right to regulate differently, to contend that its way is the only way. If successful, the Environmental Protection Agency could close the door on any future Democratic administration using that section of the Clean Air Act to expansively regulate climate-warming emissions from power plants. The power sector was the second-largest emitter of greenhouse gases in the U.S. in 2017, according to EPA data. But the legal tactic is also risky, critics and supporters both say. If the argument fails, it could fail big—sending the EPA’s repeal and replacement of the Obama-era rule, known as the Clean Power Plan, back to the agency for a redo...“They’re playing a purist’s game,” Joseph Goffman, former senior counsel in the EPA’s air office during the Obama administration, said in an interview. “The authors of this strategy are very, very skeptical of any kind of climate policy and dead set against the EPA using the Clean Air Act as an authority for such a policy.” Goffman is now executive director of Harvard University’s Environmental and Energy Law Program. “The current EPA leadership is trying to shrink the EPA’s Clean Air Act authority over greenhouse gases so it’s small enough that they can ‘drown it in a bathtub,’ ” he added, likening the agency’s tactics to Americans for Tax Reform President Grover Norquist‘s famous quote about cutting the size of the federal government.

  • 8 rules on the new air chief’s agenda

    July 2, 2019

    Anne Idsal begins this week as EPA's new acting air chief with a full plate of unfinished regulatory actions before her. People tracking EPA's deregulatory proposals don't anticipate Bill Wehrum's abrupt exit last week will have much effect on the pace of work, even as Idsal gets up to speed on the full scope of the agency's ambitious agenda. "It's unlikely that the Air Office's deregulatory tempo will change regardless of Wehrum's departure," said former EPA senior official Joseph Goffman, executive director of the Environmental and Energy Law Program at Harvard Law School, which tracks environmental deregulation under the Trump administration. "The transition from Wehrum to Anne Idsal, a political appointee who had already been serving in the EPA, reminds me of the sports cliche, 'it's next man/woman up' so the game can go on," he wrote in an email.

  • Wehrum backers say ACE cemented his legacy. Critics disagree

    July 2, 2019

    Industry lawyers praised outgoing EPA air chief Bill Wehrum yesterday for setting limits on Clean Air Act climate rules they hope will outlast the Trump administration. Wehrum, who will leave EPA on Sunday, raised questions with his abrupt exit. But former EPA air chief Jeff Holmstead, who worked with Wehrum in the George W. Bush administration, said his former colleague had planned to depart after work was complete on a replacement for the Obama-era Clean Power Plan carbon rule...Joe Goffman, who served as the air office's top lawyer under Obama and is now at Harvard Law School, said the ACE rule's preamble "read like a brief on behalf of the proposition that the Clean Air Act ... gives EPA next to no authority to do anything." He attributed it to Wehrum. Goffman and others said the air office and its chief, in their zeal to limit what a future administration might do, might have made their own rule more vulnerable.

  • We Helped Write the Clean Power Plan, and Trump’s Do-Nothing Replacement Is an Outrage

    July 2, 2019

    An op-ed by Gina McCarthy, Janet McCabe and Joseph Goffman:  We were part of the senior team at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) during the Obama administration, when the agency's mission truly was to protect the health of American families from dangerous pollution and act on perhaps the greatest challenge of our time: climate change...Had the CPP gone into effect, the EPA's 2015 analysis showed that by 2030 power plant CO2 emissions would have fallen by 32 percent below 2005 levels and the pollutants that cause life-threatening smog and soot would have been reduced significantly. The CPP pollution cuts would have saved thousands of lives and prevented tens of thousands of pollution-related illnesses...In sharp contrast, the Trump administration's ACE will achieve virtually no reductions in CO2 emissions and next to no cuts in soot and smog pollution. It will prevent next to none of the premature deaths, cardiac problems, lung damage or asthma attacks suffered by the most vulnerable among us—our kids, seniors and poor families—that the CPP would have prevented.

  • Another top EPA official is out amid ethics scandal

    July 2, 2019

    The mastermind behind the Trump administration’s pro-coal alternative to Obama’s Clean Power Plan is out, reportedly another victim of an ethics scandal. The Environmental Protection Agency announced Wednesday that William Wehrum, the mercury-loving weirdo who ran the agency’s Office of Air and Radiation, is stepping down by the end of this month. Honestly, good riddance...“Wehrum was an enthusiastic executioner of the Trump EPA’s anti-public health anti-environmental agenda,” said Joe Goffman, who worked on the Clean Power Plan when he worked at the EPA, in a statement emailed to Earther. “To the great harm of the public and the environment, that agenda will roll on regardless of who replaces him.”