Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Who gets the official Clean Air Watch Bird for 2005?

A few thoughts for those of you still chained to the desk (and, if you are, I sincerely hope you can get free soon):

Refinery update: Only weeks ago, members of both the U.S. House and Senate were clamoring for new legislation to weaken environmental standards because oil companies allegedly could not increase their refinery capacity. (At the time, we pointed out that refineries could indeed expand if they want to, and that we should not have to make a choice between clean air and adequate gas supplies.)

Lo and behold: There is a fascinating piece in today’s Christian Science Monitor which notes that oil companies have indeed begun expanding refinery capacity in recent weeks – without any changes in clean air requirements http://www.csmonitor.com/2005/1123/p01s03-usec.html . Perhaps this will take the wind out of the sails of those ill-considered plans in Congress. (There is also a fascinating piece in today’s Washington Post on Senate attempts to protect oil company big-wigs, who obviously were in on the development Vice President Cheney’s drill-and-burn energy policy.)

EPA reconsiders interstate rules: The U.S. EPA says it will officially “reconsider” several aspects of its so-called “clean air interstate rule.” Usually, this does not reflect a true change of heart – merely a need to shore up a shaky legal foundation because of pending court challenges. One item involved: you may recall that EPA doctored its final rule to give more emission “credits” to coal-burning states – something that appears to have been a blatant political gift.

Attorneys general fight hot air: eight state attorneys general and the city of New York have written to the federal Department of Transportation, suggesting they may sue unless the agency relents on a plan that would only let the federal government regulate carbon dioxide exhaust. Please let me know if you want a copy.

And, finally, The Bird: we have been watching from a distance some disgraceful governmental activity in Kentucky and Ohio. The former recently scrapped its auto emission inspection program for the northern part of the state; the latter plans to eliminate such tests in the Cincinnati-Dayton area by the end of this year. (Their true motivations remain somewhat murky. I recall some years back that Maryland lawmakers delayed similar inspections in response to an outpouring of racist invective on local hate/talk radio: “I don’t want THEM PEOPLE getting into MY CAR to test it!” or so some talk-radio callers asserted.) Several things here are very clear: as the American Lung Association recently noted, this area still has a terrible smog problem. The Cincinnati metro area literally had 19 bad-air days this summer alone. And these moves to scrap auto inspections are blatantly illegal. (EPA rules specify that dirty-air states can’t just up and dump clean-up requirements.) Auto inspections aren’t perfect, but they do help limit pollution somewhat.

There are several major contenders for The Bird: Kentucky governor Ernie Fletcher, who made a ghoulish Halloween appearance – apparently playing himself -- at an emission inspection station to declare an end to the program and the elimination of local jobs; the U.S. EPA, particularly its Regional Administrator Thomas Skinner, who is failing to enforce the law. But we think The Bird should go to Ohio EPA Director Joe Koncelik, who has the audacity to scrap this cleanup program while simultaneously whining to Congress that his state can’t meet federal smog standards on time. For that, Joe Koncelik, you get The Bird.

Happy Thanksgiving to you all. Get ready, because December will be a big month for clean air.

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