Tuesday, January 18, 2005

News Notes: Rattlesnake Nachos and Other Toxic Tidbits

Dear friends,

A few items this morning of possible note:

--Toxic Trouble: As the Nation’s capital braces for inauguration activities with a Texas theme (including, according to one report, “rattlesnake nachos” being prepared in honor of the President), there’s interesting news from Texas about pollution. In an example of strong enterprise reporting, the Houston Chronicle is reporting on a five-month investigation of toxic fumes in various neighborhoods. In the investigation, led by reporter Dina Cappiello, the Chronicle tested the air in public parks, playgrounds and neighborhoods bordering some of the state's largest industrial plants and found the air in some areas so laden with toxic chemicals that it was dangerous to breathe. The investigation also raised serious questions about the efforts of the Texas state government to protect people’s health – and appears to be prompting some CYA moves by the state. This series might be worth looking at as a model.

--California-Canada Coalition?: Canadian officials are visiting California this week, the Los Angeles Times notes, as Canada considers whether it should adopt motor vehicle greenhouse gas emission standards similar to those adopted by California. “The Canadian officials said their government would prefer to follow the example of the European Union, which entered into a voluntary agreement with automakers to reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” the Times notes. “But if such a deal cannot be struck, Canada is prepared to go forward with a California-style regulation, the officials said. Canadian officials plan to discuss the issue with representatives of the carmakers later this month.” This issue – which is driving the car companies bats – is really worth keeping an eye on. If Canada and several Northeastern states follow California’s lead, the auto makers may be dragged kicking and screaming into the 21st century.

--Smoggy Study: California also may be looking to tighten state air quality standards for smog. A state advisory committee has recommended a more protective standard for 8-hour levels of ozone following studies which showed health problems. The state Air Resources Board will consider the matter in the spring. This could have national implications since the U.S. EPA will launch a review of the federal smog standard by the end of the year.

--Washington Whirlwind: D.C. could become quite lively as Congress returns to action. EPA Administrator Mike Leavitt undergoes confirmation hearings this morning in his bid to become Secretary of Health and Human Services. There have been rumors of some senators wanting to “hold” Leavitt’s nomination up until he delivers on some of his unmet promise regarding additional evaluation of mercury pollution cleanup. At the very least, it would not be surprising if Leavitt faced questions (from the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions) about his broken promise. An EPA Inspector General report on the agency’s mercury actions is said to be near completion. It is expected to be critical of the Bush administration’s attempt to de-list mercury as a toxic contaminant.

Next week: oral arguments on January 25 in federal court in D.C. on the lawsuit against the Bush EPA’s attempt to ease new source review requirements for industry. And the following day, Senator James Inhofe (R-OK) has tentatively scheduled a hearing in his Senate Environment and Public Works Committee to pave the way for a possible vote next month on the Bush “clear skies” plan. Committee member to watch: Republican Senator Lincoln Chafee (R-RI), who has been expected to vote against Inhofe. Pressure is said to be building on Chafee to reconsider. And rumor de jour about Inhofe: that he is contemplating an amendment that would tell EPA to STOP compiling information about carbon dioxide emissions from electric power plants. (Those emissions have been increasing in recent years, are expected to increase further if “clear skies” became law.)

As always, please don’t hesitate to get in touch if we can help.
--Frank O’Donnell, Clean Air Watch

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