Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Senators introduce anti-Bush mercury resolution

Senators Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), and Jim Jeffords (I-Vt.), joined by 27 other senators, today introduced a resolution to halt the Bush administration's rule to delist mercury from electric power plants as a toxic air pollutant.

The resolution invokes the Congressional Review Act (CRA). Because it has 30 signatures, the resolution can bypass the committee chaired by Senator James Inhofe (R-OK) and go directly to the Senate floor for an up-or-down vote on the Bush mercury policy.

Expect the power industry lobby to gear up for this in the coming weeks.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Senator Inhofe tries to kneecap critics

You may recall that Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) has had a running battle with state and local environmental officials, who opposed his dirty-air position on the so-called “clear skies” plan. Earlier Inhofe sought their tax records in what appeared to be an attempt at intimidation.

And now Inhofe is gunning for his critics’ kneecaps. He has prepared an amendment (attached) to a spending bill for the EPA and other agencies that could take away financial support for those critics. The amendment would require “open competition” for grants to organizations to represent state and local environmental agencies.

The way this is worded, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce – a bitter foe of tougher environmental requirements – could join the bidding. So could some front group.

The amendment is so broadly worded that it would not only hit the groups Inhofe has battled with (The State and Territorial Air Pollution Program Administrators/Association of Local Air Pollution Control Officials), but other state associations as well.

It is still unclear at this point if Inhofe will actually offer the amendment. The state and local associations have just written a letter to key senators opposing this effort to kneecap them.

Time for EPA to update clean air standards for fine particle pollution

Later this week, we should see a milestone in the ongoing EPA review of national air quality standards for fine particle pollution. EPA is under a court agreement by June 30 to issue a "staff paper" summarizing recent science and putting forth the opinon of agency career staff on whether the existing standards should be made stricter. (Prediction: yes, they will make such a recommendation, but probably leave a lot of wiggle room for the political types.)

Clean Air Watch is working closely with the American Lung Association on this issue. The association has published some good background at http://www.cleanairstandards.org/article/articleview/395/1/41/.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Opponents of pollution controls on small engines keep fighting

As the full Senate prepares to take up the spending bill for the US EPA (which includes the Kit Bond requirement for EPA to conduct a new study of the safety impact of putting small catalytic converters on lawn mowers and other small engines), it appears as an organization affiliated with critics of pollution control are planning their own study of the issue. This could pose yet another complication for EPA and the state of California as they seek to clean up dirty small engines.

You may recall that Senator Bond initially sought to have American taxpayers foot the bill for a study conducted by a Swedish agency affiliated with an outfit called The International Consortium for Fire Safety, Health & the Environment.

Now that organization, which overlaps with past critics of the effort to clean up small engines, has written to us. In a rather defensive letter, the Consortium notes that it is “attempting to assess the burn and fire performance of emission controls on outdoor power equipment. This latter project soon will be part of a broad look at wildland fire management, which has environmental, fire safety and economic interests at odds.”

Well, it’s hard to tell who’s actually going to pay for this assessment, but it wouldn’t shock me if one or more of the “outdoor power equipment” makers (Briggs & Stratton?) ends up involved. The Consortium notes on its web site www.clean-and-safe.org that “Grants and gifts may be requested of or accepted from any government agency, foundation, corporation, association or individual. These grants and gifts may be designated for the use by individual programs within the Consortium. However, upon conveying a grant or gift, contributors have no further say in the specific use of these resources by the programs.”

There’s some obvious overlap between this organization and the National Association of State Fire Marshals (among other things, they have the same D.C, representative), which has previously criticized efforts to clean up small engines. The fire marshals, in turn, solicit money from corporations and organizations. (The Los Angeles Times reported in 1998 that the fire marshals received money from Philip Morris Inc. and R.J. Reynolds and supported the tobacco industry position in a fight over fire-safe cigarettes.)

Stay tuned. The plot sickens, as they say.

Monday, June 20, 2005

Two visions of energy policy

With a potentially historic Senate vote on global warming looming, here's a piece on how the emerging Senate energy bill differs from the one already passed by the House of Representatives.


http://www.tompaine.com/articles/20050620/two_visions_of_energy.php

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Palm Beach Post: NASCAR Dads May be Losing Their Marbles Due to Lead

Palm Beach Post
NASCAR won't get the lead out
By Dan Moffett
Palm Beach Post Editorial Writer
Sunday, June 12, 2005

You don't need me to tell you that it's a dangerous world and the nation is facing threats today that would have been unimaginable a few years ago.

You know all about the Axis of Evil and Al-Qaeda and terrorists who don't like the United States and what it stands for. This is more than enough to soak up all the worry Americans can muster. The preoccupation with threats from outside our borders makes us acutely vulnerable to threats that could be materializing unnoticed but right in front of us.

I, for one, worry about the sanity of NASCAR dads.

You don't need me to tell you that they have become one of the country's most powerful voting blocs. What the soccer moms were to the 1990s, the NASCAR dads are now. They are Wal-Mart-shopping, conservative, Christian, white family men, and they vote. The great gains Republicans have made in the South during the past two decades have been built on a platform designed to suit the NASCAR dads. But you know all this.

What I worry about is losing the country to a threat from within. What if this most influential group is compromised? What if the nation's ideological compass goes haywire? What if the NASCAR dads go mad?

Let me explain. Because of a concession Congress made to the sport during the 1970s, NASCAR is one of only a few industries still permitted to use leaded gasoline. Race-car mechanics say that the lead-based anti-knock fluid in the gas reduces friction in engines and improves performance. Drivers have experimented with unleaded gas and have tried other additives, but they say nothing works as well as the leaded fuel.

The elimination of lead in gasoline around the world is considered one of the great public-health victories of the past century. Studies have shown that even a small amount of lead in the blood — a few parts per million — can cause brain damage and hearing loss, and even contribute to criminal behavior.

You don't need me to remind you that lead poisoning played a substantial role in bringing down the Roman Empire. The Romans not only used lead pipes for their plumbing network but also used lead for cosmetics, condiments and wine preservatives. NASCAR hasn't gone this far, but it may be closer than you think.

Based on studies by the Environmental Protection Agency, it's a good estimate that the stock car races burn at least 400,000 pounds of lead fuel each year. Lead particles from the exhaust emissions hang in the air for days. Attendance at NASCAR races grew by about 300 percent during the 1990s, and this year's events will draw about 7 million people. All of them will face some exposure to toxic lead.

You have to worry about the possible impaired judgment of these fans, especially when they go to the polls. Can the nation depend on the NASCAR dads anymore? Are they still capable of sorting through complex issues such as firearms ownership, fair and unbiased reporting, intelligent design and access to smokeless tobacco? All good questions that need to be asked.
Since 1998, the EPA has been trying to persuade NASCAR to switch voluntarily to unleaded gasoline, in effect, asking race-car drivers to go a little slower and perhaps watch their engines blow out a little sooner. It's not a popular suggestion, which only makes the threat to the nation more insidious.

Environmental organizations such as the not-for-profit Clean Air Watch are pressuring the sport, too, claiming that it's the Axles of Evil. Frank O'Donnell, Clean Air Watch's president, sent a letter to NASCAR accusing it of putting millions of spectators and residents at risk.

"If Kazakhstan can eliminate lead from gasoline," Mr. O'Donnell wrote, "why can't NASCAR?"
Of course, the answer is because most of the serious racing in Kazakhstan is done with camels, which have some unpleasant emission issues of their own.

It's important that Americans realize where the real dangers are and not overlook the obvious threat from within. Be on the lookout for strange behavior among the neighborhood NASCAR dads. OK, be on the lookout for stranger behavior.

A hint of chardonnay on the breath, a casual reference to a Peter Allen song, a chicken wing eaten with a knife and fork could signal something ominous.

If the NASCAR dads go, we may all go.

Oil companies unite to fight "moderate" global warming plan

It’s no shocker that, as today’s Wall Street Journal points out, ExxonMobil continues to balk at any effort to curb emissions linked to global warming.

http://online.wsj.com/article/0,,SB111870440192558569,00.html?mod=todays_us_page_one

But it is appalling to learn that BP, which even incorporated the color green into its logo, is lobbying just as aggressively against Senate efforts to limit global warming pollution. The Independent newspaper in the UK reported over the weekend that BP is showing “two faces” – marketing itself to the public as an environmentally progressive company, while “privately lobbying in Washington to block legislation to introduce a mandatory curb on greenhouse gases in the US.”

http://news.independent.co.uk/business/news/story.jsp?story=646162

The oil companies are uniting to focus special fire on what is considered a “moderate” plan on global warming, modeled on recommendations of the National Commission on Energy Policy www.energypolicy.org, Senator Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) has suggested he may introduce the plan as an amendment to the energy bill on the Senate floor this week and next.

The American Petroleum Institute, the oil industry’s lobbying arm, has denounced the Energy Commission plan in a series of increasingly frantic e-mails distributed on Capitol Hill. http://www.latimes.com/business/la-fi-warming12jun12,1,1156678.story

By focusing on Bingaman, the oil patch lobbying effort makes it appear as if the industry fears the commission plan more than a more comprehensive (and likely more costly) global warming plan championed by Senators John McCain (R-AZ) and Joe Lieberman (D-CT).

The Energy Information Administration recently reported that the commission plan, which would set a limit on global warming pollution, would have little negative impact on the economy, despite the claims of the oil companies.
http://www.eia.doe.gov/oiaf/servicerpt/bingaman/pdf/sroiaf(2005)02.pdf

Friday, June 10, 2005

Updates on lawn mowers and deadly particle soot

A couple of updates:

First, Senator Kit Briggs (actually Kit Bond) struck a lawnmower deal yesterday with Senator Dianne Feinstein. It's well-recounted in today's Washington Post at http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/06/09/AR2005060901774.html

Bond, acting at the behest of the giant lawnmower manufacturer, Briggs & Stratton, has been trying to block standards that would require that lawnmowers pollute less. Earlier in the week, he slipped a pro-Briggs amendment into an EPA spending bill. His plan said EPA could not move forward until a safety study was conducted by a Swedish agency with ties to a DC lobbying firm that used to represent the tobacco industry. Once we disclosed his nutty scheme (do the folks back home really want U.S. taxpayers to subsidize jobs in Sweden?), Bond was willing to compromise. Unfortunately, so was Feinstein, who told Greenwire that she cut a deal rather than risk losing a vote. The revised amendment would still require a safety study, but done by EPA "in coordination with other appropriate federal agencies." Appropriate, in this context, means agencies that will take orders from Senator Briggs.

In another interesting development, EPA's outside science advisors have recommended that the agency set considerably tougher standards for fine particle soot. This is a very significant development. This panel, which even included scientists with industry connections, has given EPA the green light to set tougher pollution standards. If EPA does that, it could prompt the need for even tougher controls on big sources of fine-particles – including coal-burning power plants and diesel engines – than envisioned today. But will this EPA actually pay attention to science?

The entire letter by the scientists is at http://www.epa.gov/sab/pdf/casac-05-007.pdf

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Update on Kit Bond and his dirty-air scheme on behalf of Briggs & Stratton

Here is a very quick update for folks who are keeping an eye on the effort by Senator Kit Bond of Missouri to undermine efforts by EPA (and California) to set better pollution standards for lawn mowers and other small engines:

· The full Senate Appropriations Committee will likely take up the matter today at 2pm EDT, when it looks at the parent spending bill for EPA and other federal agencies.

· We hear there are some negotiations happening offstage before that meeting, but we can’t predict the outcome at this time.

· As you know, the state and local air pollution regulators (STAPPA and ALAPCO) sent a letter late yesterday to Congress, urging that the Bond rider be struck from the EPA spending bill.

· In a meeting with reporters yesterday, new EPA chief Steve Johnson reportedly said EPA has “no position” on the Bond amendment. For those of you familiar with the unfortunate tendency of some government officials to evade the truth and to be more concerned with internal politics than the public good, I think it is fair to speculate that the real reason for EPA’s public reticence is concern that telling the truth on this might prompt Bond to interfere with the confirmation process of Marcus Peacock as Johnson’s new deputy.

· Two other items that might be food for thought: as has been well reported, Bond is promoting this anti-clean air position on behalf of Briggs & Stratton, which I believe is the nation’s largest maker of small gasoline engines. One of Briggs& Stratton’s rivals – Honda – believes there is no fire safety issue associated with making these devices cleaner, and in fact has said so in testimony to the California state government. I understand that Honda is willing to reiterate that view (David Raney 310-383-6127). And just a final note: I am informed that Briggs & Stratton has sold quite a few small engines equipped with catalytic converters to the European market. Somehow fire has not been an issue there.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

More on Senator Bond's dirty-air amendment

Bond’s amendment, which will be subject to review by the full House Appropriations Committee tomorrow (June 9), directs that EPA commission a study proposed by an obscure organization called the “International Consortium for Fire Safety, Health and the Environment.” (The D.C. contact for that organization is a lobbying firm, Sparber and Associates, which formerly represented the tobacco industry.) The “Consortium” proposed that the $650,000 study be led by the SP Swedish National Testing and Research Institute, owned by the Swedish government.

We have both the language of the amendment AND the proposal to give the money to Sweden.

Also there is new evidence that this whole "safety" issue is bogus. This basically involves the allegation that putting baby catalytic converters on lawn mowers could start fires. But new EPA evidence shows that lawn mowers with catalysts are actually COOLER and thus less likely to do this. EPA has also compiled information which shows that in the real world, lawn mowers (including those sold by Briggs & Stratton) are pumping out more pollution than assumed. The information is buried in an EPA docket at www.epa.gov/edockets file OAR-2004-0008.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Kit Bond attacks air standards, fronts for lawn-mower company

A real dirty development in DC, as Senator Kit Bond of Missouri has inserted into an EPA spending bill an amendment that would block the agency's effort to clean up dirty lawn mowers and other small engines.

Before EPA could move forward, it would have to follow a study outlined by a mysterious front group located in Sweden and represented in DC by a lobbying firm that once represented the tobacco industry. No, sadly, this is not a joke. Below is a story in today's Greenwire, which broke the news. More developments coming...

Greenwire 6/7/05:

SPOTLIGHT STORY:
AIR POLLUTION: Legislation orders EPA study on small engines' fire risks

The U.S. EPA would be required to study the potential fire hazards from small gasoline engines used in lawn care before it can issue regulations to lower their emissions, under the EPA annual spending bill approved this morning by a Senate subcommittee. Sen. Conrad Burns (R-Mont.), chairman of the panel, said the rider would ensure that new catalytic convertors installed on new lawn mowers, snow blowers, chain saws, leaf vacuums, marine vessels and small forklifts do not create safety risks. The rider is the only one Burns said he agreed to include in this year's spending bill. Go to Spotlight Story.

The U.S. EPA would be required to study the potential fire hazards from small gasoline engines used in lawn care before it can issue regulations to lower their emissions, under the EPA annual spending bill approved this morning by a Senate subcommittee.

Sen. Conrad Burns (R-Mont.), chairman of the panel, said the rider would ensure that new catalytic convertors installed on new lawn mowers, snow blowers, chain saws, leaf vacuums, marine vessels and small forklifts do not create safety risks. The rider is the only one Burns said he agreed to include in this year's spending bill.

Speaking with reporters after the markup, Burns said Sen. Kit Bond (R-Mo.) is responsible for trying to place the provision in the EPA spending bill. A spokesman for Bond, author of a provision inserted in EPA's budget two years ago that also addressed this issue, could not be reached for comment.

Bond's efforts during debate on the massive fiscal year 2004 omnibus appropriations bill were originally designed to strip California of its ability to set its own state standards for spark-ignition engines 25 horsepower and smaller, even if it went beyond what the federal government allowed.

California's rule, established by the state's Air Resources Board, would harm the U.S. economy by forcing Briggs & Stratton Corp., the nation's largest small engine maker for outdoor power equipment, to move much of its production overseas, Bond argued. Bond, whose state is home to some Briggs & Stratton facilities, also said the California rule would raise safety concerns because the new engines would be more prone to causing small fires.

During the November 2003 debate, Bond faced opposition from Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R). Also, House Republican and Democratic leaders showed no interest in accepting Bond's proposal in its entirety, leading the senior Missouri senator to enter into bipartisan negotiations with Feinstein.

Bond and Feinstein ultimately reached an agreement that allowed the state rule to stay in place only for California, while other states were stripped of their right under federal law to adopt the California standard. In exchange, the rest of the country was told to wait for new federal emission standards from EPA.

The law set the end of 2004 as a deadline for EPA to issue a proposal, with a final rule due by the end of 2005.

EPA has missed its Dec. 1, 2004, deadline to propose the rule, and agency officials earlier this year cited "technical details" as their explanation. In an EPA regulatory agenda published last month in the Federal Register, the agency said it was now on track to issue a proposed small engine rule by January 2006 and a final standard by next May.

Opposition to the engine language is likely to emerge on Capitol Hill in the coming weeks, and its status in a final bill remains uncertain as the House's version of the EPA budget does not include the same provision.

State officials outside California have in recent weeks complained that EPA's tardiness in releasing a rule reflects badly on the 2003 deal. "This is exactly why states need this tool in their toolbox," Bill Becker, executive director of the State and Territorial Air Pollution Program Administrators, said in an interview last month.

Frank O'Donnell, director of the environmental advocacy group Clean Air Watch, said today that the new language included in the Senate appropriations bill will delay EPA's ability to issue a new standard. "This is an outrageous assault on EPA's ability to protect the public from a major source of pollution," he said. "Sen. Bond is breaking his own word of two years ago solely to protect one special interest company."

Monday, June 06, 2005

EPA Reaffirms Pro-Polluter Position

As expected, the US EPA today reaffirmed its pro-polluter stance on electric power company emissions. (See below.) As we noted last week, the agency had agreed to reconsider the controversial “new source review” changes that have been put on hold by a federal court.


The Bush administration changes essentially would allow big polluters, including coal-burning electric power companies, to avoid upgrading pollution controls in many cases.


This means that environmental groups and various state attorneys general will continue court action to overturn the illegal changes.


The announcement comes only days after a federal judge (appointed by President Bush) issued an opinion which sided with a power company in a pending enforcement case. The Bush judge basically said she didn’t think the rules should be considered valid anymore because the Bush Administration is trying to change them. Former EPA Administrator Christie Whitman resigned rather than issue these pro-industry rules because she feared they could undermine the court cases.





News for Release: Monday, June 6, 2005

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)

New Source Review Response Stresses Improvements to Permitting Program

Contact: Eryn Witcher, 202-564-4355 / witcher.eryn@epa.gov


(Washington, D.C.-June 6, 2005) EPA responded on June 6, 2005 to petitions for reconsideration from a number of stakeholders on the Equipment Replacement Provision (ERP) of the Agency's New Source Review
(NSR) permitting program. After carefully considering the comments received during the reconsideration process, EPA determined that the ERP should be maintained as adopted in 2003.

EPA continues to believe that the October 2003 ERP rulemaking is fully justified and will provide much needed clarification to the NSR program while still ensuring environmental protection. The ERP offers certainty for industrial facilities by clearly spelling out that the NSR program should not stand as a barrier to equipment replacement activities needed to assure the safe, efficient, and reliable operation of manufacturing facilities.

The ERP, in conjunction with other programs such as the Clean Air Interstate Rule, the Acid Rain Program and the National Ambient Air Quality Standards, preserves public health protections provided by the Clean Air Act through the NSR program. Under the ERP facilities cannot increase their emissions past their current Clean Air Act limits.

For additional information on the New Source Review Program visit:
http://www.epa.gov/nsr .

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Spring Smog Report, Nasty Fibs by Government Officials, and More

This is traditionally billed as a “slow” week in the nation’s capital (members of Congress are back home raising money, while many of the lobbyists are crowding the beaches), but we thought it might be worth a quick update on a few items of possible interest.


New Source Review update: Many of us have tried to forget this headache, but it’s going to be coming back into the news soon – maybe more than once – so get ready. Here’s a quick summary and crib sheet: New Source Review is a badly named part of the Clean Air Act that requires smokestack industries (electric power plants, refineries, etc.) to modernize their pollution controls when they make factory changes that could increase pollution. Most in industry HATE this requirement, and have been lobbying aggressively for years to weaken or get rid of it entirely.

The Bush administration has issued two sets of rules that would weaken the requirements. The first set of rules came out in 2002. Various state attorneys general and environmental groups sued. The case has been slowly grinding through the courts, but a decision is now expected at any time from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. Opinions come out Tuesdays and Fridays at http://www.cadc.uscourts.gov/internet/internet.nsf so keep your eye on that space! Look for New York v. EPA, D.C. Cir., No. 02-1387.

Separately, EPA is expected soon to issue a new decision on its second rule to ease the requirements. This 2003 rule would permit industry to ignore the requirements in many cases by claiming it was merely conducting “routine maintenance.” In 2004, EPA agreed to reconsider the rule – probably because the agency realized it had acted illegally and would lose court challenges by state attorneys general and environmental groups. The “reconsideration” decision is expected shortly. We expect that if EPA agrees to modify its 2003 rule change (so obviously illegal that it was frozen by the same federal court), it will still permit widespread industry exemptions.

Nasty Fibs Told by Government Officials: One of the reasons the Bush administration has lobbied so heavily for its “Clear Skies Initiative” is because it would have Congress repeal New Source Review, thus sparing the administration the embarrassment of losing in court. (The other big motivator – and basically for the same reason – is EPA’s blatantly illegal approach to mercury pollution.) In their zeal to persuade Congress, administration spokespeople told some whoppers last week at a House hearing on “clear skies” that the White House requested.

Whopper Number One: This from Jeffrey Holmstead, EPA’s Assistant Administrator for air pollution: “Today there is no commercially available mercury-specific pollution control technology” Well, maybe it depends on what Jeffrey meant by “commercially available,” but I would contrast his claim with what’s going on in the real world, where power companies are soliciting bids for companies trying to sell mercury pollution control equipment, some of them in response to state requirements. And companies are offering their products for sale! I suspect that most people would say that if something is for sale, it’s “commercially available.”

Whopper Number Two: From James Connaughton, head of the White House Council on Environmental Quality: “They’re lucky.” In response to a question about whether power companies that have already cleaned up their pollution would benefit under “clear skies.” Holmstead chimed in that the administration’s “heat input” approach to doling out pollution credits would “benefit” those companies. Actually, the exact opposite is true. The Bush administration would dole out most of the credits to the dirtiest coal-burning companies, while penalizing companies that had already made investments to clean up.

Whopper Number Three: From Holmstead, “What improves air quality is not necessarily deadlines.” (He was trying, badly, to explain why the “clear skies” legislation would delay the deadlines for cleaning up the air. The real reason: delaying the deadlines will permit industry to delay spending money on cleanup – and it will mean continued dirty air for the hapless breathers. In fact, deadlines have been a critical component of our national strategy to clean up the air.)



James and Jeffrey: Repent your evil ways. It’s not too late. Even Darth Vader eventually came around.


Spring Smog Report: Our volunteers have been keeping an eye on smog patterns during the Spring months. These are unofficial statistics, but we can report that, by the end of May, at least 20 states have already experienced smog levels worse than current national standards. These include Arizona, California, Texas, Oklahoma, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Ohio, North Carolina, South Carolina, Florida, Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee, Michigan. Delaware, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island. San Bernadino, California, has the dubious distinction of having the most dirty-air days so far – 13. Los Angeles and Houston have had the worst single-day smog levels. Let us know if you need other details.