Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Raise the Curtain: Inhofe, Voinovich on President's Pollution Plan (and other Oscar-worthy performances!)

Dear friends,

Well, they didn’t get an Oscar nomination. But it wasn’t for lack of trying.

I am talking about Senators James Inhofe (R-OK) and George Voinovich (R-OH), who late yesterday introduced a new version of President Bush’s pollution plan for the electric power industry (they’ve been calling it “Clear Skies” – but now that term faces some competition from US Airways, which is using the phrase in a new marketing campaign). As you may know, a Senate subcommittee chaired by Voinovich will hold what is almost certain to be a contentious hearing on the subject tomorrow.

Inhofe and Voinovich deserve an Oscar nomination for seeking to mislead the public about the realities of the President’s pollution plan – which is also the plan sought by the biggest and dirtiest electric power companies. Perhaps it should now be called the Inhofe-Voinovich plan. Here’s an example: in a statement introduced yesterday, the two senators declared that their plan ”would reduce pollution from power plants by 70 percent by 2018.” Unfortunately, more than a few reporters have been taken in by this act, but the truth is, their claims are false. Analyses by EPA and the Energy Department have noted that – because of the intricacies of pollution “trading” – the promised pollution reductions really won’t happen until around 2025 – in other words, two full decades from now.

This is one of the key reasons that the Edison Electric Institute and big member companies such as Southern Company are lobbying for the Inhofe-Voinovich plan – it would permit them to pollute more and longer than under existing law.

The Inhofe-Voinovich pollution plan also would create new loopholes for the power industry and take away key tools in the Clean Air Act that are designed to protect local communities from air pollution. Their legislation is such an elaborate attempt to prune away those pesky clean-air requirements that I hesitate to itemize all the new loopholes. But to note just a few examples: it would eliminate new source review; it would treat poisonous mercury as a non-toxic pollutant; it would take away states’ rights and paralyze states seeking to reduce pollution blowing in from other states; it would weaken protection for national parks and wilderness areas. And it would allow other smokestack industries to take advantage of giant new loopholes. That may be the real reason the National Association of Manufacturers is testifying in favor of the legislation (more on this, below). And did I mention that the Inhofe-Voinovich plan would actually encourage more carbon dioxide emissions linked to global warming? (In a fascinating interview with Bloomberg News last week, Inhofe described global warming as ``the second-largest hoax ever played on the American people, after the separation of church and state.'' Go figure.)

Please don’t hesitate to get in touch if you want more on the ugly deregulatory details of this polluter wish-list. For those of you in DC, some of our friends plan a media briefing tomorrow morning to go over some of these. I’ll try to get you the materials if you can’t make it. You can reach me by e-mail.

A little more about tomorrow’s hearing: state and local clean-air regulators will testify AGAINST the Inhofe-Voinovich plan because it will harm states’-rights and mean dirtier air compared to existing law. Our friend, Conrad Schneider, of the Clean Air Task Force, will also outline major objections. Of possible interest are some of the witnesses lined up IN FAVOR of the dirtier-air plan. Here are a few notes about them and things to look for:

Indiana State Senator Beverly Gard: Her testimony will stress the importance of the legislation to provide “certainty” for the electric power industry and to send “the signal to power companies and coal companies that coal will be an important and reliable long term source of energy for our country.” You’d almost think her testimony was influenced by the power company Cinergy, which is a major electricity supplier in her state and a financial contributor to her most recent election campaign. I doubt she’ll make note of that.

Akron Mayor Don Plusquellic: He’s actually testifying on behalf of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, which to my knowledge has not publicly endorsed the Inhofe-Voinovich plan. An interesting footnote: even though Plusquellic is a Democrat (and putting out feelers to run for governor of Ohio), he is no stranger to the Voinovich clan. In fact, in a report a few years back, an Ohio non-profit group pointed out that Plusquellic had received campaign contributions from Voinovich’s brother, who received some controversial Akron city contracts.

Ron Harper, CEO and General Manager, Basin Electric Power Cooperative: A big coal-burning electricity supplier in some Western states. Basin Electric has stirred up controversy by lobbying for new development that could threaten air quality in national parks. His organization would love to eliminate some of those pesky clean-air requirements.

And, finally, Fred Parady Manager, Environmental Services, OCI Wyoming, L.P. on behalf of the National Association of Manufacturers: He will note that the America’s manufacturing industry is fully backing the Inhofe-Voinovich plan. (A curious footnote: his company is actually a subsidiary of a South Korean company. OCI stands for “Oriental Chemical Industries of South Korea.”)

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

Saturday, January 15, 2005

Congress to Ask NAS To Evaluate The Bush Administration Changes

Dear friends,

Nothing urgent here, but just in case you are interested. The National Academy of Sciences today sent an “interim” report to Congress regarding New Source Review. There may be a bit of news on this. (Congress Daily has already done a brief item, below.)

Congress asked NAS to evaluate the Bush administration changes.

A final report is due at the end of the year, and this interim report mainly outlines how they intend to do the evaluation in the final report.

HOWEVER, there is a very interesting section on page 17, in which NAS basically says that the Bush “clear skies” plan would mean more pollution than if NSR were used. (Find report click here)

In other words, the NAS appears to have backed the concerns expressed by health, environmental and state and local government groups.

ENVIRONMENT
Jeffords: NAS Report Backs Concerns About 'Clear Skies'
Congress Daily

Senate Environment and Public Works ranking member James Jeffords, I-Vt., today said an interim report by the National Academy of Sciences supports his view that President Bush's signature air quality plan will be worse for the environment than a current EPA permitting program. The report, submitted to the committee today, states that Bush's proposed "Clear Skies" plan would not curb air pollution by as much as the New Source Review programs now in place. "The report provides further proof that the Bush administration has been recklessly tinkering with the Clean Air Act for several years and wants to go even further," Jeffords said in a statement. "They want to replace existing programs, like New Source Review, that have documented benefits, with a proposal that is weaker and slower when it comes to reducing emissions and protecting health and the environment."

The administration contends that exemptions it would allow would be offset by tightened clean-up requirements for new plants. The NAS study, however, points out that the new requirements would not offset all of the modifications the administration proposed. "It is therefore unlikely that Clear Skies would result in emission limits at individual sources that are tighter than those achieved when NSR is triggered at the same sources," the study notes.

A final report is expected by the end of the year. Senate Democrats and Jeffords have charged that the Bush administration illegally overhauled NSR in 2003 to favor energy producers. They say Bush's changes to NSR would indefinitely extend a grace period for polluters under the Clean Air Act. A spokesman for Environment and Public Works Chairman Inhofe defended Bush's proposal, pointing out that it is intended to cut sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide and mercury by 70 percent over the next 15 years.

-- by Darren Goode

Friday, January 07, 2005

News Notes from Clean Air Watch: Baucus says "NO" to Bush plan

Dear friends,

Well, a development this morning that is sure to irritate those seeking to promote the Bush administration’s so-called “clear skies” legislation in Congress. Environment and Energy Daily reports that Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT) declared in an interview yesterday that he would not support the legislation unless it included provisions to reduce carbon dioxide emissions – something the “clear skies” supporters bitterly oppose.

Said Baucus: "We as a country should address, in some reasonable way, carbon dioxide emissions," Baucus said. "We as a country have to address climate change gases." These comments put Baucus directly against Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman James Inhofe (R-OK), who earlier this week declared that concerns about global warming were “alarmist” and the product of "environmental extremists and their elitist organizations." (Senator Inhofe is not known for his scientific credentials.)

Baucus previously was viewed by some as a possible swing vote who could side with the President’s backsliding plan when the issue comes before the Inhofe committee. Now “clear skies” will have a much higher hurdle. Note to Maalox: Send a case to Senator Inhofe.

Other news you may have missed:

Several interesting studies out this week. Our friends at the National Wildlife Federation have a new report out warning of mercury problems in the Mid-Atlantic region and rating various state clean-up efforts. click here

Also of possible local interest, our friends at Environmental Defense have a good ranking of the top polluters in the nation, based on information in the US EPA’s Toxic Release Inventory. Check www.scorecard.org

And one other item of note out of Phoenix (no – I am not referring to the Annual Business Festival of Access Buying, or AB FAB, at the Arizona Biltmore). Phoenix has officially been declared “clean” for the pollutant carbon monoxide – a remarkable development considering the growth in the motor vehicles in the area. Like many areas, Phoenix still has other air pollution problems. But this development should be noted as a Clean Air Act success story – a cleanup prompted by motor vehicle emission standards and an effective auto emission inspection program.

--Frank O’Donnell, Clean Air Watch

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Polluters Buy Access to Policy Makers at Posh Arizona Resorts

Dear friends,

Congress returns to D.C. this week for a brief organizing session, but a lot of the real action is happening out west – at the posh Arizona Biltmore Resort & Spa in Phoenix. The Western Business Roundtable (a polluters’ who’s-who, including the Edison Electric Institute, big coal mining companies, etc.) is hosting the “Business Summit of the West,” a meeting that “gives business leaders a unique opportunity to talk with top experts” about such topics as the “latest threats/opportunities” in proposed air regulation. (You can read about this yourself a click here)

In other words, it’s a great opportunity for polluter lobbyists to buy access to top federal and state officials amid golf and booze.

(This meeting is, of course, in keeping with the Roundtable’s key mission, which includes:
Work to influence the development of public policies at the state, regional and federal levels.
Help our members gain access to public policymakers at the highest levels of government.)
The fun starts tomorrow with a welcoming reception (sponsored by Arch Coal Company) and charity golf tournament at the “wild west” Las Sendas golf course. But the real action may be January 6, when officials – including White House Counsel of Environmental Quality Chairman Jim Connaughton, EPA Assistant Administrator Jeffrey Holmstead, House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Joe Barton (R-TX) and John Shanahan, counsel to Senator James Inhofe (R-OK), are expected to discuss clean air and energy policy. Lunch is sponsored by BIPAC, a political action committee which “identifies and supports pro-business candidates who have demonstrated the skill and leadership necessary to fuel a pro-business Congress.”

There’s still time to make this exciting gathering – if you hurry! It only costs $500 to attend – and that includes admission to the “Wild West Saloon Night.”

BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE…

At the same time, the Edison Electric Institute is holding its winter board of directors meeting at the nearby Scottsdale Princess hotel. CEOs of the big power companies are expected to attend. Among the items on EEI’s agenda (yes, they’ve got their own golf tournament): power company CEOs will plot on ways to get Congress to adopt the Bush administration’s “clear skies” plan, which would weaken the current Clean Air Act.

And these guys know who to plot with! -- Senators Jim Inhofe (R-OK) and George Voinovich (R-OH) are expected to participate in part of this discussion via live video conference.

As always, please don’t hesitate to get in touch if we can help.

--Frank O’Donnell, Clean Air Watch