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.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Introducing Clean Air Watch

Dear friends,

Many of you may recall me from nearly a decade that I spent as executive director of Clean Air Trust. I want to update your address books and generally make you aware of a new organization – Clean Air Watch, which was officially incorporated as a non-profit this month.

I hope that we can be of service to you as some in Congress take dead aim at the Clean Air Act, while all of us try to puzzle out what’s really going in at the U.S. EPA and related government agencies. Please do not hesitate to e-mail or call if we can help. (We should have at least one additional phone line up and running within a few days. You can always reach me at 202-302-2065.)

Clean Air Watch intends to closely monitor clean-air and climate policy and to present a public-interest perspective. Those of you who know me also know this perspective will be grounded in fact and analysis, not just a lot of hot air. We hope to educate the public about the value of clean air (and related developments in science regarding air and climate), and to raise the alarm when miscreants attempt dirty deeds in the dark. (I don’t think any of us will be lacking material!)

By the sound of things, our early focus will be on helping mobilize the public against attempts in Congress to weaken the law. Of course, there will be another flurry of activity later this week as EPA designates areas out of compliance with fine-particle soot standards and the White House seeks a replacement for Mike Leavitt. Other likely fights ahead may involve efforts by oil and car companies to kill California’s greenhouse gas motor vehicle standards (and their adoption by other states), trucking company attempts to have taxpayers subsidize cleaner trucks, and the continued woeful enforcement of the law by the current EPA.

I should point out that our efforts are meant to complement those of our many friends, including (this is far from an inclusive list) NRDC, Sierra Club, US PIRG, Clear the Air, Clean Air Task Force, and Union of Concerned Scientists, all of whom have staffers who’ve privately told me they welcome our creation. We also aim to provide information to clean-air activists around the nation. (If we don’t have the answers you seek, we’ll be happy to try to find someone who does.) Volunteers from key states have already sought us out seeking to help.

Clean Air Watch has received start-up support from some philanthropists who have asked to remain in the background. It has received no corporate or business funding. We will be seeking members who care about the quality of the air we breathe.

We will be headquartered in Washington, D.C. and will have a web site up and running (http://www.cleanairwatch.org/) early in the new year. This (cleanairfrank@cleanairwatch.org) will be my primary e-mail address.

Many thanks for taking the time. I hope to hear from you soon.
--Frank O’Donnell, President, Clean Air Watch

Saturday, December 11, 2004

Bush Will Make Air Pollution "Priority"

Dear friends,

Unfortunately, as I had predicted some time ago, EPA Administrator Mike Leavitt has bowed to polluter-generated political pressure and is going to delay interstate air pollution cleanup requirements. Leavitt has become "Whitman-ed" -- like former EPA head Christie Whitman, forced to eat crow and change his position after getting orders from the White House. And now the "spin control" has begun. (See AP story, below.)

The real story here is that Leavitt had repeatedly pledged that he would issue the interstate cleanup standards (known in the jargon as the Clean Air Interstate, or "CAIR" rules) by the end of this year. Now it appears he has broken that pledge in the face of pressure from the White House. (The fact that Leavitt's name has once again surfaced as a candidate to head Homeland Security may be a factor; as is most evident, this White House demands loyalty.)

That political pressure was sparked by Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK), who asked coal-burning electric power companies to call the White House and demand that the "CAIR" rules be delayed in order to give him a better chance at ramming the so-called "clear skies" legislation through his Environment Committee in the new Congress. Inhofe's strategy appears to have worked, at least for now.

This virtually guarantees that the Clean Air Act will come under assault in the new Congress. Stay tuned for further developments. As always, if I can help, please don't hesitate to e-mail me or call. I will have word this week about a new nonprofit organization that will be most active on this issue.

*********************

AP: Bush Will Make Air Pollution Priority
By JOHN HEILPRIN Saturday, December 11, 2004 9:05 PM EST

WASHINGTON - President Bush will make air pollution a top priority in Congress early next year, starting with "an aggressive push" to build support for his pollution-cutting plan, senior administration officials said Saturday.

At the same time, the administration will hold off until no later than March on a rule to cut pollution from power plants that would accomplish some of the same ends as Bush's anti-pollution plan, the officials told The Associated Press.

The White House on Saturday told the Environmental Protection Agency of its game plan, which is meant to allow time for Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., sponsor of Bush's "Clear Skies" initiative, to hold hearings on it in January.

"The president decided to make a strong push at the start of next year to complete his clean air and clean energy agenda," said EPA Administrator Mike Leavitt, who met with Bush to discuss the strategy earlier in the week.

"The centerpiece will be 'Clear Skies' legislation and/or the 'Clean Air Interstate Rule,'" Leavitt added in an interview. "Both of those will provide a 70 percent reduction of nitrogen oxides and of sulfur dioxide. It would be a $50 billion investment in clean air; it would take more tons of pollution out of the air."

The Clean Air Interstate Rule would call for reducing pollution according to a timetable and strategy that closely mirror the proposals the administration offered nearly three years ago in a Clear Skies initiative that stalled in Congress.

Environmentalists, however, say the Bush legislative proposal carried by Inhofe goes further than the rule, weakening parts of the Clean Air Act.

"The Bush administration is now staking its money on a bill in Congress that weakens and delays public health protections already provided under the current Clean Air Act, while forcing the EPA to delay public health protections under current law," said John Walke, director of clean air programs for the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Administration officials now hope Inhofe, chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, can get the bill onto the Senate floor soon. The interstate rule on power plant pollution was to have been made final by the end of this year, but doing that could detract from the need for the legislation.

"The president wants to synchronize our strategy, and Senator Inhofe has asked that we allow his hearings to be concluded before we finalize CAIR (the interstate rule)," Leavitt told the AP. "We believe that it improves the possibility of passage of Clear Skies legislation, and of course we prefer to have legislation."

The EPA will still send the interstate rule to the White House Office of Management and Budget on Monday for a 90-day review, and it will be made final by March unless Congress passes Bush's legislative plan by then, said Leavitt and James Connaughton, chairman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality.

"We're looking forward to a strong, early and aggressive push that will guarantee massive pollution cuts from our old power plants," Connaughton said. "The legislation also allows us to have a national cap on pollution from power plants, whereas the regulation only allows us to deal with the Eastern states where transported pollution is the issue."

That rule covers hundreds of coal-burning power plants that EPA believes will "significantly contribute" to ozone and soot pollution in the East. It is designed to reduce long-distance, interstate pollution, which will help states meet the more stringent federal health-based air quality standards that are being put into place.

Next Friday, Leavitt said, EPA will designate which areas of the country are not meeting the more protective standards for fine particle pollution, or soot. States will have three years to come up with plans for meeting the new standards.

But to do that, they will rely heavily on significant reductions in pollution from power plants and other industrial sources, said Bill Becker, executive director of associations representing state and local air pollution control officials.

"It is disappointing that the Clean Air Interstate Rule is being delayed by as much as three months, especially given the controversy surrounding Clear Skies legislation and how it weakens the existing Clean Air Act," Becker said.

Democrats and some moderate Republicans blocked the bill because of disagreement over whether to regulate industrial emissions of carbon dioxide, a major gas produced from burning fossil fuels that is widely blamed for warming the atmosphere like a greenhouse.

After promising to regulate it during his 2000 election campaign, Bush since March 2001 has repeatedly said he opposes regulating carbon dioxide emissions.

Leavitt said he will issue in March the last part of EPA's five-part air pollution rules, one addressing mercury pollution.

Leavitt and Connaughton said they believe legislation is superior to a regulatory approach, cutting down on the possibility of lawsuits that could delay rules from going into effect from opponents who say they do too little or require too much.

"No regulation, no matter how well crafted, can come close to providing benefits that legislation can, both in terms of certainty for business and for the environment," said Dan Riedinger, a spokesman for the Edison Electric Institute, a trade group for utilities.

On the Net-White House:

Thursday, December 09, 2004

The Gathering Storm Over Clean Air in Congress

Dear friends,

Strap on your seat belt. It will soon become VERY interesting.

Sen. James Inhofe (who was last seen applying pressure to EPA Administrator Mike Leavitt to delay upcoming interstate pollution rules) is now planning to drop the other shoe.

Inhofe is tentatively planning to "mark up," or draft, legislation in his Senate committee in February. The word is he plans that month to deal both with highway AND the so-called "clear skies" legislation. He plans two hearings on the latter in January, when the new Congress convenes.

Inhofe is asking power companies to call the White House and squeeze Leavitt; Inhofe realizes that if the interstate rules are made final, the alleged intellectual rationale for "clear skies" pretty much goes down the drain. (The real reason for it, of course, is that it would repeal numerous tools in the current Clean Air Act as well as delay compliance dates for meeting clean air standards. That's why most of the big coal-burning power companies support "clear skies.")

Poor Leavitt has put a lot of his credibility on the line by repeatedly asserting he will issue the clean air rules by the end of the year. He runs the risk of being "Whitman-ed" here if the rules are delayed.

We will, of course, continue to monitor this activity closely. And will have more to say next week about the monitoring activity. As always, don't hesitate to check in any time.