Saturday, December 18, 2004

Some Clean Air Items To Keep a Look Out For...

Dear friends,

I know many of you were frustrated by the limited space for environmental news during the elections (especially since neither candidate talked about it much), but maybe things will pick up as we head into December. I wanted to give you a quick rundown on a few things that I know are coming up this month, all of them related to pollution from electric power plants.

Obviously it's far from an exhaustive list, but I do think there may be some opportunities here. As always, if I can be useful, please don't hesitate to e-mail or call. Here are a few things to keep an eye out for:

1) today the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) holds a news conference in DC to discuss air pollution and its impact on health. This is a power-industry-funded group reporting on some research initially instigated by our friends at Southern Company. You should not be stunned if the results conclude that: a) air pollution is a health problem; but b) the problem is mainly caused by something OTHER than power plants. (Recent EPRI studies have blamed health problems on traffic and wood burning. Those are indeed problems, but so are power plant emissions.)

2) for specialists tracking mercury, the US EPA will be accepting comments on materials it published late yesterday -- analyses submitted by various groups about the impacts of various mercury control plans. I should caution you that the fix is obviously in: EPA chief Mike Leavitt reneged on a pledge that the agency would conduct its own analyses. It's pretty obvious EPA plans to move ahead with a weak, industry-favored cap-and-trade approach on mercury despite continuing evidence that bigger and quicker reductions are possible. You can start writing the story now. [As I write this, by the way, many stories are identifying Leavitt as a candidate to replace Tom Ridge at Homeland Security. You may recall that I first noted some weeks ago that Leavitt wanted the job. He may be a long shot; we'll see.]

3) later this month (I don't know the exact date) a very interesting report is scheduled for publication by the North American Commission for Environmental Cooperation. It is expected to be the first-ever assessment of electric power industry emissions in the entire North American continent. This should not only provide a fascinating "big picture" snapshot of the industry and its emissions, but it could lend itself to many potential local hooks -- for example, "power plant X is the second biggest source of mercury on the continent." Please stay tuned. I'll report further when I know more.

4) on December 8, the bipartisan National Commission on Energy Policy reports the findings of its three-year inquiry aimed at developing a long-term U.S. energy strategy that promotes national security, economic prosperity, and environmental safety and health. It may provide a fresh start for Congress, which has become a prisoner of special-interest gridlock.

5) and, of course, the US EPA plans a series of connected announcements this month on particle soot pollution: a) the final list of areas judged out of compliance with health standards for this pollutant; b) rules outlining requirements for states out of compliance (expect these to be pretty vague and weak); 3) the agency's so-called "Clean Air Interstate Rule" or "CAIR," as the agency's spin-meisters put it. Leavitt has repeatedly pledged to issue these rules by the end of the year, despite reports that Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) might want them delayed.

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