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 http://www.energycommission.org/news/news_detail.cfm?Page=1&NewsID=28330 )
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 http://www.blogforcleanair.blogspot.com/ -- 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 http://cfpub.epa.gov/ncea/cfm/recordisplay.cfm?deid=137307 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. www.waronscience.com .