Tuesday, March 29, 2005

News notes

A few items perhaps worth noting:

Where’s the consistency? The U.S. Environmental Protection agency today announced updated guidelines regarding the risk of cancer from exposure to chemicals in the environment. The EPA plan would require regulators to pay particular attention to the risk that chemicals pose to young children. Well and good. But why wasn’t the agency using a similar approach when it came to regulating mercury, when the agency sided with big polluters instead of babies? Maybe if mercury were linked to cancer, instead of such things as brain development, heart problems, etc. The bottom line is that the coal and coal-burning power industries wouldn’t stand for tougher mercury requirements, while the chemical industry apparently was ok with the overall package of new cancer guidelines.

A secret deal for coal? EPA’s recent “clean air interstate rule” received a fair amount of praise from environmentalists (we’d grade it a C+) – perhaps because it demonstrated we could make at least some progress without re-writing the whole Clean Air Act to cut new breaks for polluters. But now it turns out that buried in the weeds of this rule was a secret deal for coal states. In today’s BNA Daily Environment Report, reporter Steve Cook discloses that “States that rely on coal to generate electricity will be able to emit more nitrogen oxides than originally proposed.” That’s because EPA manipulated its process to give added emission “allowances” in the final rule to states that burn more coal. States getting the extra break include Ohio, Pennsylvania, Illinois, and Indiana. States more dependent on natural gas – including the District of Columbia, Texas, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, and New York – will receive fewer emission “allowances.” Energy producers that use gas are noting that EPA used the rule to pick a fuel “winner” – coal – in sharp contrast to the Bush administration’s rhetoric that it is relying on “market forces.”

Science update: On April 6 and 7, EPA’s outside science advisers will be reviewing a recommendation by agency scientists that the current national air quality standard for fine particle matter (set in 1997, but only put in place recently because of industry legal challenges) should be made more restrictive. See agenda at http://www.epa.gov/sab/05agendas/casac_pm_rev_panel_04_6-7_05_agenda.pdf

EPA is under a court deadline to propose a decision in the matter later this year. Science Magazine published an interesting overview last week. Please let me know if you want a copy. More on this matter later in the week.

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