Friday, September 30, 2005

Roy Blunt: helped kill small-engine pollution standards

A little-known fact about Rep. Roy Blunt (R-MO), who has taken over, for now, as House Majority Leader.

Two years ago, Blunt flexed his muscles behind closed doors to take away the right of states to adopt better pollution standards for high-polluting small engines including lawn mowers and weed whackers.

Blunt was acting on behalf of lawnmower giant, Briggs & Stratton, which has factories in Missouri.

The U.S. EPA is studying tougher national standards for small engines, but the agency has been delayed by Briggs & Stratton's other Capitol Hill mouthpiece, Sen. Kit Bond (R-MO).

Thursday, September 29, 2005

House Energy Bill: Biggest Clean Air Act Weakening in History

After midnight this morning, the House Energy and Commerce Committee approved the biggest weakening of the Clean Air Act in history, under the guise of increasing the number of refineries. For more, see

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Attempt to moderate dirty-air bill fails in House committee

Rep. Charles Bass (R-NH) attempted to moderate the roll back of the Clean Air Act (the new source review provisions), but failed by a 16-25 vote in the Barton committee.

Bass pointed out repeatedly that the Barton legislation – sought by the Bush administration -- was a “relaxation” of the Clean Air Act. “We cannot condone an overall relaxation of the law,” he said. His amendment would have limited the relaxation to refineries and compressing stations. It also could have sunset at some future time if refinery capacity expanded. (In other words, the relaxed requirements would not have applied to coal-fired electric power plants under what Bass called a “compromise.”)

Bass lost after most of the panel’s Republicans agreed with chairman Joe Barton (R-TX) and Rep. John Shimkus (R-IL), who declared “This is a great opportunity to get rid of” new source review. So motivations are becoming clear.

Earlier today, Barton disclosed that this relaxation of the Clean Air Act was actually submitted by the Bush administration – indeed, that it was the “primary request” by the administration in the refinery bill.

Barton declared he intends to complete action on the legislation this evening.

Though the indictment of Rep. Tom DeLay (R-TX) and the subsequent shakeup in the House will eclipse these activities in the news, there have still been remarkable developments today in this panel:

The Barton committee is on track to report out legislation that will severely weaken the Clean Air Act under the guise of providing hurricane-related relief. And the Bush administration is now officially promoting legislation that would undermine its own Justice Department and pending enforcement cases against big polluters.

As a result of Bass’ defeat, this will not be a moderately dirty-air bill. This is real dirty-air legislation. And the Bush administration is promoting it.

Rep. Barton: Bush administration ASKED us to change Clean Air Act

Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX) conceded this afternoon that the Bush administration asked him to include provisions that would change the Clean Air Act’s new source review provisions to adopt contested interpretations of the law sought by the White House and the coal-burning electric power industry.

Barton included the provisions in his legislation ostensibly aimed increasing refinery capacity.

“We’re putting this in at the request of the Bush administration. This is the primary request of the Bush administration in this bill,” Barton said during deliberations of his Energy and Commerce Committee.

The proposed changes would permit smokestack industries – including coal-burning power plants, refineries and other major sources -- to increase actual emissions.

Rep. Barton admits House Republican leadership demanded dirty-refinery bill

Dear friends,

Interesting verbal fireworks this morning as the House Energy and Commerce Committee began deliberations on its chairman Joe Barton’s (R-TX)’s proposed legislation, which ostensibly is aimed at improving refinery capacity. (Please get in touch if you need more on this bill, which would dramatically weaken the Clean Air Act.)

In response to charges by committee Democrats that the legislation would use the recent hurricanes as an excuse to gut health and environmental protections – and that Barton had bypassed normal committee procedures to rush the legislation through without a hearing – Barton conceded that the latter accusations were “understandable, justified.”

But Barton blamed the House Republican leadership for forcing his hand. (Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL) apparently wants the entire Congress to vote on new post-Katrina energy legislation before the congressional Columbus Day break. It appears that the leadership is working with the White House on this.) He told the committee that the alternative would have been legislation that went directly to the House floor without any committee consideration. It was an extraordinary public admission, though it did little to defuse the partisan atmosphere or the feeling among Democrats that they were being rolled.

In the haste to produce legislation, Barton’s staff pretty obviously cobbled together provisions drafted by various energy industry special interests. Few of those interests have been quite as cheeky as the gas station lobby, which reported to its members last week – and actually put this on the Internet – that it was helping Barton’s staff write the legislation. See details at the bottom of this note.

There were several noteworthy dynamics in the politically charged atmosphere of the committee this morning: the panel’s Republican members, who normally are most loquacious, were generally silent or even absent from the room except for a vote. Perhaps they were embarrassed about the bill’s excesses, or – more likely – didn’t want to be caught uttering pro-oil industry comments. And the committee’s Democrats – often divided when more conservative members side with the other party on votes – stuck together on the first big committee vote – a Democratic substitute. The Democrats failed 22-27 on a straight party line vote, as Republican members glumly seeped into the room to cast their votes.

When things are this partisan, you know there’s trouble ahead.

Here is a note from the weekly 9/22/05 weekly report of the Society of Independent Gasoline Marketers of America:

PROPOSED ENERGY BILLSPost-Hurricane Katrina legislative actions are coming to a head next week on Capitol Hill. It is expected that two draft energy bills will be released sometime next week. Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX), Chairman of the House Energy & Commerce Committee and Senator James Inhofe (R-OK), Chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, have been working on their respective committees’ bills set to address key energy issues. Both bills are expected to contain provisions on domestic refining capacity, boutique fuels, and price gouging allegations. The Energy and Commerce Committee may be poised to move their version through the House of Representatives next week. SIGMA counsel is working closely with Congressional staff to ensure the proposed bills are productive and constructive and not ill-considered. Details on the bills should be available next week. SIGMA will keep you up-to-date on any new developments.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

environmental standards on the "chopping block"

US green rules seen on "chopping block" post-Rita

By Chris Baltimore 27 September 200510:44 pm GMTReuters News

WASHINGTON, Sept 27 (Reuters) - House Republicans on Wednesday will launch a rapid-fire assault against environmental protections on the pretext of helping the U.S. oil and gas industry recover from hurricane damage, environmental groups charge.

The House Energy and Commerce Committee and the House Resources Committee are holding separate meetings to finalize legislation on Wednesday, with the aim of combining them into a single energy bill for the full House to debate next week.

The resources panel, led by Richard Pombo of California, wants to lift a ban on Florida offshore drilling, promote oil shale and sell a dozen national parks for energy development.

"This really has very little to do with the hurricanes or relief efforts or even refiners. This is deregulation pure and simple," said John Walke of Natural Resources Defense Council.

Texan Joe Barton's energy committee wants to expand U.S. gasoline production by loosening federal rules that limit pollution when refineries or coal-fired power plants are expanded. U.S. gasoline supplies have tightened since hurricanes Katrina and Rita roared across the U.S. Gulf Coast, closing up to one-fourth of the nation's refining capacity.

House Republicans received a thumbs up from President George W. Bush on Monday when he said environmental rules and paperwork are obstacles holding up U.S. refinery expansions.
Bush specifically criticized the relatively obscure "new source review" rule administered by the Environmental Protection Agency as part of the Clean Air Act. It aims to protect public health by ensuring that refinery expansions do not increase acid rain and smog.
Environmentalists perked up their ears at Bush's remarks, noting that he rarely mentions the program.

"You know darn well that the president doesn't have a clue what new source review is," said Frank O'Donnell of Clean Air Watch. "It's clear that there's a coordinated effort between the White House and Congress to put key environmental protections on the chopping block."
Barton said his bill would help U.S. refiners gird against another natural disaster like the recent hurricanes, which highlighted the U.S. dearth of refining capacity.

In an interview, Barton said new source review "was a tool to blackmail industry" into deferring plant upgrades.

"We don't want more emissions but we do want to give existing industrial facilities the ability to retrofit and modernize without going through a laborious permitting process," Barton said.
A draft copy of Barton's bill would codify an EPA proposal that allows plants to expand their facilities without triggering anti-pollution rules, NRDC'S Walke said. That proposal was frozen by a federal judge in a lawsuit brought by New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer.

"If the new Barton rule were adopted it would set us back 40 or 50 years," said Judith Enck, a Spitzer aide.

It would also adopt a utility-friendly strategy that says the anti-pollution rules only apply if expansion projects boost hourly emission rates, not overall plant emissions. Using that test, a federal appeals court in June ruled that Duke Power did not violate the law by expanding eight North Carolina plants without adding expensive anti-pollution devices.

Pombo's separate bill would open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling as well as letting states opt out of an offshore oil leasing ban. He also wants to sell 15 national parks for energy or commercial development, including the Mary McLeod Bethune House in Washington, D.C.

Monday, September 26, 2005

9/27 news briefing on hurricanes used as pretext to weaken health and environmental standards



No one (except perhaps oil companies?) likes high gasoline prices. But now price increases linked to the Katrina catastrophe are prompting some in Congress to recycle bad ideas and promote legislation that would weaken health and environmental protections. That would mean dirtier air – and more public health damage.

Equally bad, some want to rush something through to help oil companies without appropriate discussion of the issues. We think it’s worth taking a few minutes to explore the consequences of weakening key public health protections.

Please join us at a Tuesday September 27 luncheon briefing, as public health, environmental, state and local groups examine:

Ø How the hurricanes are being used as a pretext to attack clean-air controls
Ø Specific clean-air requirements that are under assault
Ø The public health consequences of weakening current protections

Who: Invited speakers from:
--American Lung Association
--Environmental Integrity Project
--Natural Resources Defense Council
--State and Territorial Air Pollution Program Administrators/
Association of Local Air Pollution Control Officials

When: Tuesday, September 27, 2005 12:30 p.m. [Lunch served]

Where: Hall of the States, 444 North Capitol Street, NW, Room 233

PUBLIC RADIO’S “MARKETPLACE” Congress to consider more energy legislation

26 September 2005

KAI RYSSDAL, anchor: Irony being what it is, Congress spent the last four and a half years working on an energy bill. The president finally signed it back in August. But the one-two Katrina-Rita punch has Washington dealing with many of those same issues all over again. Here's MARKETPLACE's Hillary Wicai.

HILLARY WICAI reporting: The ink's barely dry on this summer's energy bill, but get ready for a possible sequel. First, there's the Gasoline for America's Security Act. It would make it a lot easier to build more refineries by speeding up the approval process. It also calls for building refineries on surplus military facilities. Then, there's the National Energy Supply Diversification and Disruption Prevention Act. It would authorize drilling in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Sound familiar?

Many of the provisions in both bills are the same controversial ones that were left out of the original energy bill to get it passed.

Mr. BOB SLAUGHTER (National Petrochemical & Refiners Association): You can't keep good ideas down.

WICAI: Bob Slaughter is with the National Petrochemical & Refiners Association. He says something's got to give with American regulations or the consumer will continue to see high prices at the pump.

Mr. SLAUGHTER: It is very difficult to permit a new refinery. There's been no new refinery in the US in 30 years, and one is attempting to be built in Arizona, but they've been working on that one for 10 years.

WICAI: Environmentalists say there's a reason this kind of strategy got rejected the first time. Frank O'Donnell is president of Clean Air Watch.

Mr. FRANK O'DONNELL (Clean Air Watch): It's an all-out assault on the health and environmental requirements, and it all appears to be done under the guise of trying to make the country more secure because of the hurricane.

WICAI: There are some new ideas. One proposal would issue leases on public lands. Another would prohibit judicial review. They're controversial, too, and environmentalists say they're poor substitutions for old-fashioned conservation.

In Washington, I'm Hillary Wicai for MARKETPLACE.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Bill in Congress would permit smokestacks to spew more pollution, using Katrina as an excuse

Another development: Rep. John Shadegg (R-AZ) has introduced new dirty-air legislation related to Katrina. His bill, which may be part of the upcoming markup expected next week by the House Energy and Commerce Committee, would change the Clean Air Act to permit actual increases in pollution from smokestack industries. (This issue -- "new source review" -- has been the subject of much controversy in the past several years. The Bush administration has tried to do something similar, but the plan has been stalled by lawsuits by states and environmentalists.)

This break would NOT be limited to refineries. And it would take away the rights of states to set tougher requirements.

It would also mean near-automatic approval of plans to expand refineries. And the federal government would be defending oil companies in court.

In short. this is one more deplorable example of Katrina being used as a pretext to bulldoze clean-air protections

House prepares new assault on clean-air protections

As the Gulf braces for Hurricane Rita, key lawmakers in the House of Representatives are said to be scrambling to rush through new legislation that could weaken clean-air protections in various ways.

No text is yet available, but there is word that the House Energy and Commerce Committee, chaired by Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX), will hold a markup [legislative drafting session] next week of an energy bill nominally related to Katrina. Apparently there will be no prior hearing.

This legislation will be part of what is becoming a ferocious assault on clean air and other protections.

The proposed legislation reportedly will include some major clean-air provisions including:

Ideas to limit opposition to new refineries

A plan to limit the number of “boutique” fuels [Rep. Bob Ney R-OH] has already introduced something of this sort – a scheme that would mean more smog and toxic air pollution in much of the nation

Revisions to new source review (perhaps an effort to codify the EPA revisions that are being challenged in court) and

The Barton provisions – rejected by the Senate in the last energy bill – that would permit states to postpone deadlines for meeting smog standards.

When you add on the Inhofe plan and the draft EPA-written legislation [see details at] – reported first last Friday by Elizabeth Shogren of National Public Radio – that would permit unlimited waivers of major environmental requirements in response to all sorts of situations – it’s fair to say that our clean air standards are really coming under siege.

Stay tuned.

Some thoughts on gasoline

As unscrupulous members of Congress machinate on ways to relax current fuel (and other) standards, here are some thoughts on gasoline -- and why the current system of fuels is so complex.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Science update: new studies underscore death threat from pollution, link between traffic pollution and asthma

A quick science update for those of you not receiving the announcements coming out today in California. Two new studies, both published in the scientific journal Epidemiology, underscore the real health risks posed by air pollution.

In one, American and Canadian researchers conclude that experts may be significantly underestimating air pollution’s role in causing early death. After examining more than 260 Los Angeles neighborhoods, these researchers concluded that fine particle pollution may be causing a much higher death toll than previously believed.

This information is very timely. As you may know, the U.S. EPA is reviewing whether the current national standards for fine particle pollution (set in 1997) remain adequate to protect people’s health. EPA is under a court order to propose a decision by late December – which means it could be forwarding recommendations to the White House within a matter of weeks. EPA’s career scientists and EPA’s outside science advisors agree that the current standards are not good enough to protect people’s health. This new study underscores the need for EPA to set tougher new standards. (Industry is preparing to fight any tightening of the standards.) More on this study, below.

In the other study (also below), researchers found that children living near a freeway are more likely to have asthma. This study also is timely since it comes amid efforts to suspend clean air and other requirements in response to the Katrina tragedy. It’s a graphic reminder that motor vehicles remain a big source of health damage, and that we slow down cleanup or take away cleanup tools at a real risk to people’s health – in this case, the health of children.

Here are the releases, with contact information:

Public release date: 20-Sep-2005Contact: Kathleen O'Neil of Southern California
Air pollution found to pose greater danger to health than earlier thought
Univ. of Southern CA-led study shows significant death risk linked to airborne particles
LOS ANGELES (Sept. 20)-Experts may be significantly underestimating air pollution's role in causing early death, according to a team of American and Canadian researchers, who studied two decades' worth of data on residents of the Los Angeles metro area. When the epidemiologists examined links between particle pollution and mortality within more than 260 Los Angeles neighborhoods, they found that pollution's chronic health effects are two to three times greater than earlier believed. The study appears in the November issue of Epidemiology but was published early on the journal's Web site. Among participants, for each increase of 10 micrograms per cubic meter (µg/m3) of fine particles in the neighborhood's air, the risk of death from any cause rose by 11 to 17 percent, according to Michael Jerrett, Ph.D., associate professor of preventive medicine at the Keck School of Medicine of the University of Southern California and the paper's lead author. Fine particle levels can differ by about 20 µg/m3 from the cleanest parts of Los Angeles to the most polluted. "By looking at the effects of pollution within communities, not only did we observe pollution's influence on overall mortality, but we saw specific links between particulate matter and death from ischemic heart disease, such as heart attack, as well as lung cancers," Jerrett says. Ischemic heart disease mortality risks rose by 25 to 39 percent for the 10 µg/m3increase in air pollution. Earlier studies took one or two pollution measures from several cities and compared health effects among cities. This study digs more deeply, taking pollution measures at 23 sites within Los Angeles to more accurately reflect air pollution exposure where residents live and work. Researchers examined data from 22,906 residents of Los Angeles, Riverside, San Bernardino and Ventura counties in the American Cancer Society's Cancer Prevention Study II since 1982. They determined air pollution exposure in 267 different zip codes where participants lived. The vast number of participants allowed scientists to control for dozens of factors that influence health outcome, such as smoking, diet and education. Finally, they compiled causes of death for the 5,856 participants who died by 2000. When considering air pollution, the epidemiologists specifically looked at levels of particulate matter, a mixture of airborne microscopic solids and liquid droplets. That includes acids (such as nitrates), organic chemicals, metals, dust and allergens. Small particles less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter pose the greatest problems to health because they can penetrate deep into the lungs and sometimes even enter the bloodstream. In this study, the researchers tracked this particulate matter, called PM2.5 for short, across the neighborhoods of Los Angeles. It is often found in smoke, vehicle exhaust, industrial emissions and haze, driven by the burning of fossil fuels. Scientists also tracked ozone pollution, but found no link between ozone levels and mortality. Increased deaths from heart disease jibe with the scientists' earlier research showing links between air pollution and atherosclerosis, a thickening of artery walls that may lead to heart attack and stroke. They believe particulate matter may promote inflammatory processes, including atherosclerosis, in key tissues. "We have convincing evidence that those causes of death that we might expect from inflammation, ischemic heart disease and lung disorders, are elevated in areas of higher pollution levels," he says. Researchers also saw more than a twofold increased risk of death from diabetes, although numbers of diabetes-related deaths were smaller than those from heart disease, making findings less reliable. "People who are diabetic may be more susceptible to day-to-day fluctuations in air pollution," Jerrett says. "They may experience a state of greater inflammation-related to insulin resistance-that makes their lungs more receptive to receiving harmful particles." Jerrett notes that findings might have been affected by participants who moved during the study or who changed their lifestyle since 1982. Another limitation is that scientists could only use participants' zip codes, rather than their home addresses, to determine their home neighborhood. Researchers will conduct a similar study in New York City to try to duplicate findings. They hope to determine whether Los Angeles' tailpipe-emission-driven pollution poses a greater danger than that in the eastern United States, where power plants and factories contribute more heavily to pollution. They also plan to better understand pollution's effects on diabetes, and will use more specific measures to assess pollution within neighborhoods. Because of the large number of participants in the American Cancer Society's study (more than a million people in 150 cities), policymakers in the past have relied heavily on findings from the study to set the nation's air-quality standards. "These findings should give us some pause to think about what we need to do as a society," Jerrett says. "Restrictions on tailpipe emissions have gotten tighter, but there are more trucks and cars on the roads and people are driving farther. This study may cause us to reflect on how we use our cars, what cars we drive and whether we can do anything to make tailpipe emissions from all vehicles less harmful to health."
The Health Effects Institute and the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences supported the research. For American Cancer Society information, contact David Sampson at (213) 368-8523.

Researchers Find Traffic-Related Pollution Causes Childhood Asthma
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Contact Information
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USC investigators show proximity to freeways poses respiratory risk.

Newswise — Living near a freeway may mean more than the annoying rumble of cars and trucks: For children, it brings an increased risk of asthma, according to researchers at the Keck School of Medicine of the University of Southern California.
Scientists studying air pollution levels in 10 Southern California cities found that the closer children live to a freeway, the greater their chance of having been diagnosed with asthma. They report their findings in the November issue of the journal Epidemiology.
Researchers also found that children who had higher levels of nitrogen dioxide, or NO2, in the air around their homes were more likely to have developed asthma. NO2 is a product of pollutants emitted from combustion engines, such as those in cars and trucks.
"These results suggest that tailpipe pollutants from freeway traffic are a significant risk factor for asthma," says lead author James Gauderman, Ph.D., associate professor of preventive medicine at the Keck School. "Considering the enormous costs associated with childhood asthma, today's public policy toward regulating pollutants may merit some re-evaluation."
"These results have both scientific and public health implications," saysDavid A. Schwartz, M.D., director of the National Institute of EnvironmentalHealth Sciences, the federal agency that funded the study. "They strengthen an emerging body of evidence that air pollution can cause asthma, and that exposure to outdoor levels of nitrogen dioxide and other traffic-related air pollutants may be a significant risk factor for this illness."
Researchers looked at the pollution-asthma link in 208 children who were part of the USC-led Children's Health Study, the longest investigation ever into air pollution and kids' health. The study has tracked the respiratory health of children in a group of Southern California cities since 1993.
The investigators placed air samplers outside the home of each student to measure NO2 levels. In addition, they determined the distance of each child's home from local freeways, as well as how many vehicles traveled within 150 meters (about 164 yards) of the child's home. Finally, they estimated traffic-related air pollution levels at each child's home using models that take weather conditions, vehicle counts and other important factors into account.
In all, 31 children (15 percent) had asthma. Scientists found a link between asthma prevalence in the children and NO2 levels at their homes. For each increase of 5.7 parts per billion in average NO2-which represents a typical range from low to high pollution levels among Southern California cities-the risk of asthma increased by 83 percent. Risk of wheezing and current asthma medication use also rose as NO2 levels increased.
They also found that the closer the students lived to a freeway, the higher the NO2 levels outside their homes. NO2 levels also corresponded with traffic-related pollution estimates from the group's statistical model.
It was not surprising, then, when they found that the closer the students lived to a freeway, the higher the students' asthma prevalence. For every 1.2 kilometers (about three-quarters of a mile) the students lived closer to the freeway, asthma risk increased by 89 percent. For example, students who lived 400 meters from the freeway had an 89 percent higher risk of asthma than students living 1,600 meters away from the freeway.
Interestingly, the researchers saw that air pollution from freeway traffic influenced NO2 concentrations at homes more strongly than pollution from other types of roads. Traffic counts within 150 meters of homes (which primarily comprised traffic from smaller streets) were only weakly correlated with measured NO2.
In any community, a freeway is a major source of air pollution. "Cars and trucks traveling on freeways and other large roads may be a bigger source of pollutants that matter for asthma than traffic on smaller roads," Gauderman says. Scientists also find it difficult to get good data on traffic on smaller streets, which may make it harder to find associations between asthma and local traffic.
Gauderman cautions that researchers do not yet know that NO2 is to blame for the asthma. NO2 travels together with other airborne pollutants, such as particulate matter, so it may be a marker for other asthma-causing pollutants.
Study sites included the cities of Alpine, Atascadero, Lake Elsinore, Lancaster, Long Beach, Mira Loma, Riverside, San Dimas, Santa Maria and Upland.
The Children's Health Study is supported by the NIEHS, California Air Resources Board, the Southern California Particle Center and Supersite, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Hastings Foundation.
W.J. Gauderman, E. Avol, F. Lurmann, N. Kuenzli, F. Gilliland, J. Peters and R. McConnell, "Childhood Asthma and Exposure to Traffic and Nitrogen Dioxide," Epidemiology. Vol. 16, No. 6, November 2005.

Friday, September 16, 2005

An update on Senate Inhofe's effort to suspend environmental standards

Just a quick update. Many of you are probably aware of these developments. There are three:

1) Senator Inhofe has actually introduced his proposed legislation, which would permit EPA to suspend environmental requirements for lengthy periods of time. It is an open invitation for special interests to pressure EPA to give breaks from health and environmental standards.

2) EPA has done a political flip-flop. After EPA Administrator Steve Johnson said earlier this week that he did not need additional authority, the agency put out a statement late this afternoon saying it welcomed the Inhofe initiative. This EPA flip-flop is a vivid demonstration of the basic problem here: the agency will come under extreme political pressure to grant waivers even as it was obviously pressured here to change its tune.

3) Some industries already smell blood. As Reuters reported a short while ago, the chemical industry is already clamoring for relaxations of clean air requirements so the power industry can burn more coal without appropriate pollution controls.

NPR: EPA contemplates measure suspending rules

16 September 2005
NPR: All Things Considered

ROBERT SIEGEL, host: This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel.

MELISSA BLOCK, host: And I'm Melissa Block.

In this portion of the program, some of the proposals on the table in Washington after Hurricane Katrina. In a few minutes we'll consider some of the ideas President Bush laid out in his address from New Orleans last night. First, news that the administration and some members of Congress are looking at ways to provide sweeping authority to waive environmental laws. The congressional proposal would apply specifically to Hurricane Katrina and would last for three months. The administration's version would be much broader. NPR's Elizabeth Shogren has read some of the documents.

ELIZABETH SHOGREN reporting: One draft proposal circulating in the Environmental Protection Agency would give the administrator authority to exempt anyone from a range of environmental laws and rules in emergency situations. The administrator would decide if a situation counts as an emergency. It could include any act of God or unavoidable event. It wouldn't be limited to a state of emergency declared by the president or a governor. The document explains that the new power is necessary because current environmental laws could hamper speedy relief and reconstruction.

The documents were provided to NPR by EPA officials who are concerned that the proposal could put too much authority in the hands of one person who would be under intense pressure to relax environmental protections. The officials also are worried that almost any accident could trigger these waivers and erase environmental protections. The documents are about pollution laws overseen by one office of the EPA, but staff members from that office and others say they are part of a broader Bush administration plan to seek authority to waive a wide range of environmental laws. The officials spoke on the condition that they not be named because they fear retribution.

The EPA already has waived environmental rules because of Katrina. It did so to allow polluted floodwaters to be pumped into Lake Pontchartrain and to permit the sale of dirtier diesel fuel in some areas to ease a fuel shortage caused by the hurricane. But the broad proposal under consideration would need congressional approval. Michelle St. Martin of the White House Office of Environmental Quality says she can't comment on any efforts not related to Katrina, but she did say the administration is working with Congress on environmental exemptions for hurricane relief.

Ms. MICHELLE ST. MARTIN (White House Office of Environmental Quality): The administration is currently reviewing what waivers may be necessary to enable a speedy, safe and complete response to a natural disaster of this magnitude.

SHOGREN: EPA spokeswoman Eryn Witcher adds that her agency is working on legislation to, quote, "respond to Hurricane Katrina and future natural disasters in an environmentally responsible manner." No EPA officials would go on tape.

Senate Environment Committee James Inhofe is working on similar legislation. A recent draft of his 90-day measure would allow the EPA administrator to waive or alter any requirement in any law to respond quickly to a situation relating to Hurricane Katrina. Frank O'Donnell of Clean Air Watch says advocates of the waivers are using Katrina as a pretext to gut environmental protections.

Mr. FRANK O'DONNELL (Clean Air Watch): The outcome could mean dirtier air, dirtier water and a lot more public health damage. It really would be an open invitation to big special-interest polluters to come in and seek a break.

SHOGREN: But Senator Inhofe's spokesman, Bill Holbrook, says waivers would enable EPA to move quickly to clean up and rebuild after the hurricane.

Mr. BILL HOLBROOK (Spokesperson for Senator Inhofe): We're working very closely with the administration on legislative remedies and, to me, it's unconscionable that special-interest groups out there would criticize a bill that would facilitate cleanup along the Gulf Coast and would have a beneficial impact on public health.

SHOGREN: Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer of California says taking away environmental protections would further disadvantage the people who already have suffered so much from Katrina.

Senator BARBARA BOXER (Democrat, California): If we need to waive a law temporarily, let's look at the particular law. Let's have a proposal from the administration. Let's debate it and discuss it and move swiftly, but let's not completely walk away from all environmental protection.

SHOGREN: Since Katrina, industry representatives have been asking the government to relax a variety of environmental rules. Elizabeth Shogren, NPR News, Washington.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

News Flash: Inhofe preps overkill waiver of environmental standards, using Katrina as pretext

Many reporters have written stories in recent days about efforts to revive bad ideas or to relax environmental requirements in light of the Katrina catastrophe.

But here comes the mother of all environmental rollbacks. Senator James Inhofe (R-OK) has drafted legislation that would permit the EPA to waive or modify ANY requirement in ANY law under EPA’s jurisdiction for up to 120 days in the aftermath of the hurricane.

This could become a blank check for big polluters. It would also be a terrible precedent. (There is also no reason to think 120 days would be a time limit if something like this became law. EPA has waived some fuel standards temporarily – and just renewed the waiver when the original deadline ran out. See more below.)

Ironically, just yesterday, EPA Administrator Steve Johnson reportedly told Inhofe privately that no such waiver authority is needed to deal with the continuing crisis.

Johnson held a closed-door briefing with Inhofe and other members of his Senate and Public Works Committee. We are told that Johnson said he was "...not aware of any emergency [additional legislative] waivers that are required..."

Stay tuned.

One footnote: as you are aware, EPA has granted some temporary waivers of diesel and other fuel requirements. Some of these may be reasonable as quick emergency measures, but lengthy delays could entail big health and economic downsides. For example, more than a couple of tanks full of high-sulfur diesel fuel could ruin pollution controls used on diesel school buses and other diesel equipment. There are literally tens of thousands of diesel catalysts and filters in use today. Ruining them with dirty fuel would mean school kids and others would be stuck breathing noxious diesel exhaust. And who would replace the equipment if destroyed?

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Bush mercury plan squeaks through Senate vote

The Senate voted 47-51 today to reject the effort led by Senator Leahy to reject the Bush administration's industry-friendly mercury rules.

Fifteen senators crossed party lines in the vote. (See below.)

Even though the pro-environment side came up a few votes short, they demonstrated that the so-called "clear skies" legislation has no legs as currently written. The 47 would be more than enough for a filibuster to keep it from becoming law.

Look for the mercury issue to be settled by the courts, which are likely to throw out the illegal Bush rules and tell the agency to do a proper job.

Six Democrats -- Sens. Max Baucus (Mont.), Robert Byrd (W.Va.), Kent Conrad (N.D.), Byron Dorgan (N.D.), Ben Nelson (Neb.) and Mark Pryor (Ark.) -- joined 45 Republicans against the resolution. In support of the measure were 37 Democrats, Vermont independent Sen. Jim Jeffords and nine Republicans: Sens. Lamar Alexander (Tenn.), Lincoln Chafee (R.I.), Norm Coleman (Minn.), Susan Collins (Maine), Judd Gregg (N.H.), John McCain (Ariz.), Gordon Smith (Ore.), Olympia Snowe (Maine) and John Sununu (N.H.).

Monday, September 12, 2005

White House threatens veto on mercury issue

Well, the week is starting off with a bang, with a vote scheduled this evening in the Senate on the Leahy-Collins-Snowe resolution against the pro-industry Bush mercury rules.

And this morning the White House has come out with a proclamation: if this resolution should pass Congress, the White House “senior advisors” would recommend that the President veto the measure. (See “Statement of Administration Policy,” below, issued this morning by the Office of Management and Budget.)

President Bush has not vetoed any thing during his years in office.

Indeed, it’s not every day that the White House even threatens to veto something. (It recalls the recent scene from HBO’s “Rome,” in which the frantic Cicero begs Tribune Anthony to veto a resolution condemning Caesar. Sometimes it seems as if this crowd comes to praise mercury, not to bury it…)

Today’s White House veto threat puts defending the industry-friendly mercury plan up there with prior White House threats to veto funding for stem cell research.

Senate James Inhofe (R-OK) and other industry defenders must be nervous if they have to call in reinforcements. Immediately below the White House statement is a rebuttal by Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT):

September 12, 2005 (Senate)
S.J. Res. 20 – Disapproving an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rule Controlling Mercury Emissions from the Power Sector
(Senator Leahy (D) VT and 31 cosponsors)

The Administration supports clean air rules to reduce mercury emissions and protect public health based on sound science, and thus strongly opposes S.J. Res. 20. This resolution would, in effect, repeal EPA’s Clean Air Mercury Rule (CAMR), which will reduce mercury emissions by nearly 70 percent. Repeal of CAMR would unnecessarily delay the first-ever reduction of mercury emissions from power plants. It would also compromise incentives for the power sector to invest now in the development of reliable and cost-effective mercury control technologies. If S. J. Res. 20 were presented to the President, his senior advisors would recommend that he veto the bill.

On March 29, 2005, after extensive scientific study and analysis, EPA issued a final rule under the Clean Air Act (CAA) that upon full implementation will reduce coal-fired utility mercury emissions from 48 to 15 tons per year. EPA is regulating mercury emissions from coal-fired electric utility steam-generating units with CAMR, an emissions cap-and-trade rule under section 111 of the Act instead of under the less flexible command-and-control approach of section 112. CAMR establishes a regulatory program to permanently limit and cap mercury emissions from new and existing coal-fired power plants. CAMR is designed to work in combination with the Administration’s Clean Air Interstate Rule (CAIR) to control emissions of sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, and mercury from the power sector. This multi-emissions program permits emission trading similar to the highly successful CAA Acid Rain Trading Program.

EPA’s analysis shows that CAIR and CAMR will ensure that power plant mercury emissions do not cause a public health hazard and will achieve reductions in a manner that is more cost-effective than could be achieved through the command-and-control approach. The Administration urges the Senate to support public health by defeating S.J. Res. 20.
Rebuttal by Senator Leahy:

Rebuttal To Administration’s Statement Of Administration Policy
On S.J Res. 20 – The Bipartisan Leahy-Collins
Resolution Of Disapproval On The EPA Mercury Rule

Administration assertion: “The Administration supports clean air rules to reduce mercury emissions and protect public health based on sound science, and thus strongly opposes S.J Res.20.”

FACTS: The rule proposed by the Administration has not been developed on sound science. In fact it has appropriately been faulted for catering to the needs and wants of polluting industries instead of following sound science. The General Accounting Office has found: “EPA did not estimate the value of the health benefits directly related to decreased mercury emissions.” The EPA Inspector General found: “EPA’s rule development process did not comply with certain Agency and Executive Order requirements, including not fully analyzing the cost-benefit of regulatory alternatives and not fully assessing the rule’s impact on children’s health.”

Administration assertion: “This resolution would, in effect, repeal EPA’s Clean Air Mercury Rule, which will reduce mercury emissions by 70 percent.”

FACTS: This resolution will force EPA to undertake a credible rulemaking – one that’s not co-opted and written just by industry. Also the Administration’s rule will not reduce emissions by 70 percent until 2030 and would not even begin reductions until 2018. The Clean Air Act would start reductions in 2008 and achieve up to 90 percent reductions, far sooner.

Administration assertion: “EPA is regulating under cap and trade rather than command and control and has been successful with other pollutants.”

FACTS: The acid rain program has been successful, but toxic mercury is not like other pollutants. Because of deposition, toxic hot spots can develop which cannot be controlled with a cap-and-trade approach. There are already a number of places in the country that have been identified with high levels of mercury contamination in fish and wildlife. The Administration’s solution ignores the dangers of mercury to communities and families living in hotspots or living downwind of mercury pollution sources.

Administration assertion: “EPA’s analysis will ensure that power plant mercury emissions do not cause a public hazard and will achieve reductions in a manner that is more cost effective than could be achieved through a MACT standard.”

FACTS: First, the Administration’s rule will not do anything to protect the 630,000 newborns at risk of elevated mercury exposure until 2018 at the earliest.

Second, mercury pollution control technology is effective, commercially available, and affordable. In fact this technology is currently being installed in two Midwest power plants. The EPA's mercury rule leaves this new technology -- and new 300,000 jobs -- on the shelf, for another 20 years.

# # # # #

Contact: David Carle (w/Leahy), 202-224-3693

Friday, September 09, 2005

EPA proposes new loopholes for power industry in late Friday-afternoon rule dump

It’s suspicious that EPA would issue a 464-page rule proposal late on a Friday afternoon. (How many people will actually read it?) We’ve begun reading it, and have found that EPA is proposing to give yet another break to the electric power industry. EPA is proposing new loopholes that could permit electric power plants in dirty-air areas to avoid tough pollution controls.

Under this proposal, power companies would NOT have to install “reasonably available” pollution controls as long as they are located in states that participate in the “cap and trade” program that EPA calls the Clean Air Interstate Rule.

This is yet another gift to the electric power industry – one that could subject breathers to unnecessarily high levels of fine-particle pollution, which has been linked to premature death and numerous health problems.

Just a quick bit of background: last year EPA listed areas of the country out of compliance with the national health standard for fine particle pollution (PM 2.5) that was set in 1997. For many months the White House has sat on a companion rule which is supposed to outline for states how they are supposed to meet those standards.

Late this afternoon, EPA finally slipped the rule out. See at

Discussion of the proposed loopholes begins on page 222. I am including a snippet of the jargon-laden material below. One glaring loophole is that EPA is proposing that power plants [EGUs in the jargon of the bureaucracy] would not have to install reasonably available pollution controls – a minimal requirement in the past for big sources of pollution located in areas that violate public health standards – if the state in question participates in the regional cap-and-trade program under the Clean Air Interstate Rule.

As many states (and environmentalists) have pointed out, that interstate rule will NOT be adequate to meet public health standards in many areas.

Under this new proposal, a power plant wouldn’t necessarily have to be controlled at all – even if it is contributing to local pollution problems. Why should it get a bye from cleanup just because the state is using a cap and trade plan?

(By the way, if EPA counters that a state could require additional controls anyway, please recall that can be very, very difficult politically if not required by EPA.)

[from EPA’s proposal, starting at page 222]

In this rulemaking, EPA is proposing to determine that
in states that fulfill their CAIR emission reductions
entirely through emission reductions from EGUs, CAIR would
satisfy SO2 RACT requirements for EGU sources in eastern
PM2.5 nonattainment areas covered by CAIR. EPA is proposing
a similar finding for NOx RACT for EGUs, subject to a
requirement that existing SCRs in those nonattainment areas
be operated year-round beginning in 2009. The EPA believes
that the SIP provisions for those sources meet the ozone Nox
RACT requirement. A State that is relying on this
conclusion for the affected sources should document this
reliance in its RACT SIP.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Science update: new California study links pollution to deaths among women, diabetics, others

A new study of air pollution in California has found that women, diabetics and others appear to be at particular risk of dying from breathing fine-particle pollution like that produced by cars, trucks and buses.

The study, by researchers from the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment, the University of California, Davis, and the University of California, San Francisco, was quietly published in Environmental Health Perspectives published by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The researchers note that while many studies have examined links between pollution and death, relatively few have specifically examined the link between fine-particle pollution (technically known as PM 2.5) and premature death.

The study comes as the U.S. EPA is pondering whether to tighten national health standards for fine-particle pollution set in 1997. I’d argue that this new study bolsters prior recommendations by EPA career scientists and EPA’s outside science advisors, who have called for tougher national health standards than those set in 1997. An EPA proposal on the matter is expected by December.

The researchers examined people from 1999 through 2002 in nine California Counties -- Contra Costa (Concord), Fresno (Fresno), Kern (Bakersfield), Los Angeles (Los Angeles, North Long Beach, Azusa), Orange (Anaheim), Riverside (Riverside), Sacramento (Sacramento), San Diego (San Diego, Escondido, El Cajon), and Santa Clara (two in San Jose) – who make up about two-thirds of the state’s population.

Here are a few quick excerpts:

“Overall, this large, multi-county analysis provides evidence of significant associations of fine particles with daily mortality among nearly two-thirds of California’s population… short-term exposures to fine particles were associated with increased daily mortality… PM2.5-mortality associations were particularly elevated among females, whites, persons who did not graduate from high school, diabetics and for out-of-hospital deaths.”

The whole study is available at

Why oil companies don't build new refineries

An interesting piece from today's Washington Post:

Refiners' Merger Good for Business, Not Consumers
By Steven Pearlstein

Wednesday, September 7, 2005; Page D01

Last week, as supply shortages sent the price of a gallon of gasoline as high as $6 in some markets, federal officials charged with protecting consumers quietly approved yet another oil industry merger, this one creating the nation's largest oil refiner.

Because of the rush of Katrina news, the merger earned hardly a mention in the general press. And yet by giving its blessing to Valero's $8 billion purchase of Premcor, the Federal Trade Commission not only reinforced its reputation as a patsy for the energy industry but demonstrated a stunning lack of political sensitivity.

Although the FTC and its staff never seem to make the link between industry consolidation, rising energy prices and record profits, Wall Street investors surely can. Over the past year, shares in Valero are up 226 percent, which, as the Financial Times pointed out last week, makes Google (only 186 percent) look like a laggard.

Listen to what Valero's chief executive, Bill Greehey, had to say Thursday in announcing that the deal had closed: "We are in a new era for refining where I believe you will continue to see higher highs and higher lows for both product margins and sour crude discounts. And now, with 18 refineries, no one is better positioned to benefit from this than Valero."

Translation: This deal will do nothing for consumers, but it's a home run for investors.
Here's the situation, as far as I can make it out. Refineries in the United States produce about 18 million barrels of refined product a day for an economy that consumes about 21 million. A completely new refinery hasn't been built in this country in nearly 40 years. And although Valero and others have spent $47 billion over the past decade to expand existing capacity by 13 percent, demand has grown even faster.

The reason that supply has not kept up in this industry, as in others, is simple: The industry makes more money that way. And one way the industry is better able to enforce this gentleman's agreement against investing too heavily in new capacity is by reducing the number of players and making entry into the industry even more difficult than it is already.

The FTC uses a different analysis. Its staff finds no evidence that this merger -- or any of the dozens of others they have approved -- gives the acquiring companies the power to raise prices. After all, even with this latest refinery deal, no company controls more than 13 percent of the national market nor more than 20 percent in any region.

But that analysis misses the point. As long as the industry can coordinate its investments, keep supplies tight and free-ride on OPEC price fixing, there is no need to unilaterally raise prices. In the mismatch of supply and demand, the "free" market does it for them.

The industry likes to explain away the lack of adequate refining capacity by arguing that government regulation makes building a refinery virtually impossible. The last time we heard the "government regulation" excuse, it was from Vice President Cheney during the California energy crisis. It turned out our energy-maven vice president didn't know what he was talking about, and that the real reason for skyrocketing prices was that Enron and the others were secretly manipulating the market by strategically withholding supply.

In the case of oil refineries, there's no doubt that, given voters' natural antipathy to having a refinery in the neighborhood, finding a new site requires much time, money and patience. But when President Bush floated the idea last year of speeding site approval by locating new refineries on inactive military bases, Valero's chief operating officer declared he wasn't interested. When you look at industry rates of return, he told The Post's Justin Blum, it's just not worth it.

This is the oil industry's other Big Lie. Every year, Fortune Magazine, in its Fortune 500 issue, calculates the rate of return on shareholder equity for each major industry. Last year, when oil prices were a lot lower than they are now, the average return for both independent refiners and integrated majors was 23.9 percent. This year, it's been even higher. And over the past decade, according to Fortune, the return on equity in the sector has averaged 16 percent, well above the investment hurdle rates in most other sectors of the economy.

Valero is a great company and a real success story. Since 1997, it has bought up lots of lousy refineries, fixed them up and run them right -- in the process adding the equivalent of two refineries' worth of new capacity. Essentially, it has put the lie to the self-serving complaint from the integrated majors that there was no money to be made from refining and from other downstream operations.

But what the country needs isn't a bigger Valero -- it's more Valeros, challenging the majors, investing heavily in new capacity and competing for market share. By approving the merger with Premcor, the FTC has reduced the chance of having that kind of full-throttle competition in an industry that desperately needs it.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

News notes: fuel economy, mercury vote, summer smog update, and more...

A few quick items worth your consideration as we all try to deal with the unspeakable horror in the Gulf.

The time to improve fuel economy standards is now: The catastrophe has demonstrated, among many other things, that as a nation we remain vulnerable to disruptions in oil supplies and distribution. It could have been predicted. (In fact, the National Commission on Energy Policy DID predict something quite like this awhile ago. See at )

As a very thoughtful editorial in today’s New York Times notes, Congress is meeting today amid new calls for drilling in Alaska, weakening environmental standards, and other stopgap measures. “Americans' gas-guzzling ways keep prices up, threatening the nation's economic well-being and creating windfall profits for foreign oil producers, some of which are used to finance terrorism…But the focus must be - finally - on reducing oil consumption. The lawmakers should call for a rapid, mandatory increase in automobile mileage standards.” The Wall Street Journal notes this call was echoed by a noted Wall Street energy analyst who is scheduled to testify today to the Senate energy committee: "We need to address the demand side," says John Dowd, a Wall Street energy analyst for Sanford C. Bernstein & Co. who favors consideration of higher automobile fuel-efficiency standards and decreased speed limits on interstate highways. This is worth watching as Congress re-opens consideration of our national energy policy.

Senate to vote on mercury: It’s been largely under the radar, but the U.S. Senate is likely to vote within the next week (probably either this Thursday or next Monday) on a resolution opposing the Bush administration’s pro-industry mercury policy for electric power plants. Stay tuned for updates. This is likely to be the biggest vote on clean air in Congress this year.

Bush administration cutting new breaks for power plants: As we noted August 19 in our Blog for Clean Air -- in a story first reported by Inside EPA and reiterated last week by the Washington Post -- the Bush administration is trying to cut yet another break for the electric power industry by a further weakening of pollution requirements under New Source Review. We understand the Justice Department continues to balk at this blatant political gift by political appointees at EPA since it would undermine the government’s prosecution of cases against big polluters. (Just last week, a federal judge in Indiana with the Justice Department—and against Cinergy Corp.—in finding that the Clean Air Act’s New Source Review program is triggered by increases in annual emissions, not hourly emissions rates.) The new EPA approach – cooked up by now-former EPA official Jeffrey Holmstead and his interim replacement, William Wehrum, would adopt the industry interpretation of the law. Here’s how Senator Jim Jeffords (I-VT) described it: “This would be by far the worst proposed rollback of the Clean Air Act yet by the Bush Administration.” The Environmental Council of States meets later this week in Maine. We expect some state officials there will confront EPA Administrator Steve Johnson over this odious attempt to give the store away while the country is focused on other issues.

Summer smog update: Clean Air Watch volunteers continue to monitor smog problems in the waning days of summer. Our unofficial tally shows that the federal health standards for ozone were breached about 725 times in August, compared to about 525 times in August 2004. At least 30 states and the District of Columbia had unhealthful levels of smog last month. Please let us know if you want details. In a related matter, the EPA has released a new draft compendium of scientific information about ozone. See at The agency is reviewing whether current health standards are adequate. EPA’s outside science advisors will meet in December to review the matter.

Republican War on Science now in print: Noted science writer Chris Mooney’s long-awaited book, The Republican War on Science, is now in print. .