NEW REPORT: Accelerating the Clean Air Act’s Innovation Engine

Today, Evergreen Collaborative released a new report examining how the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) can help reform America’s air permitting system to accelerate climate progress and address ongoing public health crises in frontline communities. EPA can scale up Congress’ massive investments in clean power and industry in the Inflation Reduction Act by ensuring that clean technology is the first choice any time there’s a polluting source being permitted. That means EPA can supercharge climate action and clean technology with tools it already has.

The memo details how America’s air permitting system can be quickly reformed to keep up with modern technologies by repealing or revisiting out-of-date doctrines from decades ago, closing massive loopholes that are routinely exploited by polluting industry, and ensuring that permitting authorities can require zero-emission technology. These actions can greatly increase the return on federal investments in clean technologies and take a necessary step to address environmental injustices in the largely Black, Brown, or low-income communities that live near polluting facilities.

Read the full report here.

“Congress intended the Clean Air Act to drive forward clean technologies everywhere—the same technologies the Inflation Reduction Act now funds. But we must reform the core of the Clean Air Act’s permitting system to make sure all communities get the benefit of those investments. By relying on decades-old guidance and failing to close major loopholes, we’ve ended up with a permitting system that actually gets in the way of communities breathing cleaner air,” said Evergreen Collaborative Vice President Craig Segall. “Luckily, we don’t need an act of Congress to seize the opportunity. EPA already has the authority to reform the permitting system, prioritize truly clean technologies, and hold every polluting facility in the industrial and power sectors to rigorous standards and it needs to use it. EPA can deliver a major climate and public health win just by modernizing its own systems.”

To address the challenges presented by our flawed air permitting process, Evergreen’s report recommends several common sense steps that EPA and local permitters can take. Using existing authorities, they can bring our permitting system into the modern era and deploy zero-emission technologies at scale by:

  1. Closing permitting loopholes - EPA and local permitters need to close loopholes that  keep polluting facilities out of the system altogether, as we seek to quickly deploy clean  technologies at scale. 

  2. Making clear that clean technology must be required in permits - EPA must urge permitting  agencies to move further than cleaning up smokestacks and instead to require zero emission technologies 

  3. Making it easy to identify clean technology - The old technology databases at EPA and local agencies should be updated to list clean technologies available at key industrial and power sector polluting facilities. 

  4. Increasing public transparency - Air permits should be published publicly, ensuring that good ideas advance and scale up nationally. 

  5. Prioritizing addressing local impacts - EPA and local permitters must emphasize their core civil rights and environmental justice obligations in their permitting decisions and enforcement reviews, making clear that permitters can take these considerations into account in shaping permits or denying them in overburdened areas.