Courtesy of Thank You Big

Big Oil & Big Corn Sue EPA Over Exhaust Emissions Rule

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You can thank Charles Koch and the US Supreme Court for this current spate of madness, otherwise known as suing the federal government at every opportunity to get the courts to invalidate any policies that large corporations don’t like. Last week it was chemical manufacturers suing the EPA because of a new rule designed to keep Americans from drinking PFAS chemicals, which have been found in abundance in half the public drinking water systems in the US. The essence of the argument is that it is just too expensive to remove them, so people should just shut up, drink the water, get sick and die. Nothing must be allowed to interfere with corporate profits. Nothing!

Now Big Oil has banded together with Big Corn and the nation’s auto dealers to sue the EPA because it has enacted stricter emissions standards designed to keep Americans from breathing the crud that spews forth from the tailpipes of cars powered by infernal combustion engines. The nation’s automakers were consulted while the new rule was being created and were able to convince the EPA to delay full implementation in order to give them more time to adapt and adjust their model lineups. The rule is specifically designed to permit them to make their own decisions about how they will comply, but reactionaries are spinning the lie that it is an electric car “mandate.”

The EPA & The Clean Air Act

They claim the EPA overstepped its authority under the Clean Air Act by setting pollution standards that only electric vehicles can meet. The cap on carbon dioxide emissions — 85 grams per mile for model year 2032 — is too stringent for cars and light trucks burning gasoline or diesel. The EPA’s approach, however, is based on fleet-wide averages, which allows automakers to keep selling cars that exceed the cap so long as they also sell more EVs.

Nearly three dozen companies and trade associations opened their legal fight against the emissions standards by filing petitions with the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia on June 13, 2024. The challengers include such oil industry heavyweights as the American Petroleum Institute as well as the National Corn Growers Association, which backs ethanol, and a Valero Energy subsidiary that makes ethanol. Auto dealers, fuel marketers, and convenience stores have filed three separate petitions opposing the requirements issued by the Environmental Protection Agency in March. The Renewable Fuels Association and National Farmers Union are set to file their own lawsuit within days. “Congress has not authorized EPA to effectively ban the sale of new gas and diesel cars and overhaul the US economy in such a major way,” said Chet Thompson, president of the American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers association that represents refiners.

The “Major Questions” Issue

And there it is, right out in plain sight where everyone can see it. The latest gameplan from the lunatics on the right is to claim the government — i.e. the deep state — cannot do anything that Congress has not specifically authorized it to do. It is a full frontal assault on the rule-making power of the executive branch created by FDR and loathed by reactionaries ever since. It has been weaponized recently by six members of the US Supreme Court, who were elevated to their exalted positions by the same wealthy patrons who support the plaintiffs in these court challenges, when they created a new legal concept known as the “major questions” doctrine.

What it says in essence, is that only Congress can make policies that address “major questions.” The problem, of course, is that the definition of what is a major question is left intentionally vague. It is therefore up to the Supreme Court to hear and decide every case that might possibly touch on a major question, a process that can take years. If ever there was a legal gambit that could tie the federal government up in knots and prevent it from making any significant progress toward addressing the climate crisis, “major questions” is it.

What many may not realize is that the new legal concept was suggested to the Supreme Court by the very conservative reactionary organizations promoting these legal challenges. They created it, got the Supreme Court to bless it, then picked cases they believed violate the new concept and directed their minions to the nearest courthouse, knowing in advance the captive members of the court will do precisely what they were put there to do. Organized crime could never hope to match the fossil fuel industry when it comes to distorting the rules in its favor. The upshot is that for the next decade at least, six members of the Supreme Court will decide what is or is not a “major question” and hold the government of the United States hostage to their whims in the process.

Supporters of the new requirements called the lawsuits a cynical attempt to preserve the market for liquid fuels. “This is the oil and the ethanol industry and others happily trying to allow more pollution and health harm so they can continue to profit into the future,” said Dan Becker, director of the Center for Biological Diversity’s Safe Climate Transport Campaign.

Policy Decisions Have Consequences

Together with incentives in the Inflation Reduction Act, the new EPA rule is already reshaping the US auto industry, steering it toward more electric vehicles. Manufacturers have announced $179 billion of investments in EV and battery manufacturing plants across the US, according to a Natural Resources Defense Council analysis. Biden’s pro-EV policies have also become a battle line in the upcoming presidential election, with presumed Republican nominee Donald Trump vowing to scrap them if elected.

The legal attack unites longtime foes, as both oil and ethanol producers increasingly find common ground after years of jockeying over market share. Now, the growth of electric vehicles threatens all liquid transportation fuels. Michael Buschbacher, who represents a coalition of state corn-grower groups and bio-refining manufacturer ICM, said the EPA is attempting a novel use of its authority “to reverse engineer an electric vehicle mandate.” Critics also fault the EPA for focusing on tailpipe pollution while ignoring other environmental impacts, such as when battery-powered cars use electricity generated with coal. And yet, other groups propped up by the fossil fuel industry are suing to block other EPA policies designed to reduce pollution from coal-fired thermal generating stations. The hypocrisy of the fossil fuel industry is simply stunning.

The ethanol gang claims the EPA could have promoted more efficient combustion by increasing the octane rating of gasoline. How would it do that? By mandating the use of more ethanol, of course. Mandates are perfectly okay if they help prop up failing industries, but not okay if they help keep the Earth habitable for humans? Sure, that makes perfect sense — if  you are a highly paid industry shill. They fail to mention, however, that it takes 1.1 barrels of oil — nearly 47 gallons — to make the fertilizers and pesticides needed to grow an acre of corn. They also fail to mention that about 40% of the US corn harvest goes to making ethanol instead of feeding people.

“There’s nothing novel” in the EPA’s approach, said David Cooke, senior vehicles analyst with the Union of Concerned Scientists. He compared it to the embrace of catalytic converters to combat emissions in the 1970s. Now, Cooke said, “electrification has advanced the level of emissions reductions possible, proving itself a viable technology that EPA needs to incorporate.”

The Takeaway

The critical major question is whether humans will continue to thrive on the Earth or slide down a slippery slope toward extinction. Nothing else matters, not global bragging rights about what country is the biggest oil and gas producer or the latest quarterly report from GigantaCorp, Inc.. We are in the midst of a full-blown climate crisis and arguing over what the proper fork is to use for the salad course at dinner.

I have just finished reading a John Grisham novel called The Appeal, which is based on a lawsuit against a chemical company that polluted the groundwater in a community with substances that cause horrible medical issues for the residents. Grisham is just a writer and the story is just fiction, but he clearly knows a thing or two about the dirty tricks Corporate America uses to distort the legal process in its favor. There’s a reason why the library at the University of Mississippi School of Law is named in his honor.

If you really want to understand what is happening in American jurisprudence today and how oil money is involved in US politics at every level, you will find two other books illuminating — Kochtopus by Nigel Collins, and Jane Mayer’s Dark Money, a book that will frighten you to your core. Will the US Supreme Court side with the Earth or with big money?  We’re about to find out.

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Steve Hanley

Steve writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his home in Florida or anywhere else The Force may lead him. He is proud to be "woke" and doesn't really give a damn why the glass broke. He believes passionately in what Socrates said 3000 years ago: "The secret to change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old but on building the new." You can follow him on Substack and LinkedIn but not on Fakebook or any social media platforms controlled by narcissistic yahoos.

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