Saturday, July 30, 2005

Shuffling the Deck at EPA

Note the lastest piece in our articles section -- http://cleanairarticles.blogspot.com/atom.xml --
a very good piece from Grist Magazine -- on disturbing new changes at EPA.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Joe Barton loses effort to weaken Clean Air Act through energy bill

Last night the Senate energy negotiators rejected Joe Barton’s attempt to postpone deadlines for meeting the ozone standards (the so-called “bumpup” amendment that he rammed through the House). See preview story, below, from today’s BNA Daily Environment Report.

It will likely spur Barton to seek other ways to weaken the Clean Air Act, so I wouldn’t celebrate too long.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005
Page A-10
ISSN 1521-9402
News
EnergyBarton's Air Pollution Provision UnlikelyTo Be Included in Final Version of Energy Bill

A House-passed provision to extend compliance deadlines for ozone standards is unlikely to be part of the comprehensive energy legislation currently being debated in conference, congressional staff said July 25.

Two titles in the energy legislation (H.R. 6) dealing with environmental issues still were up for debate as conferees continued work late July 25 to reconcile the House and Senate versions.

Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas), chairman of the energy conference, sponsored the provision that would extend ozone compliance deadlines under the Clean Air Act.

There was no comparable provision in the Senate-passed bill, and the Barton provision was expected to attract strong opposition in the conference.

Late July 25, Senate Democrats were still seeking to add names to a letter sent July 22 to Sens. Pete Domenici (R-N.M.) and Jeff Bingaman (R-N.M.), the Senate conference leaders, expressing opposition to the House provision.
Opposition Previously Expressed

The provision is also referred to as the Barton "bump up" provision because it extends the attainment date for certain areas that are downwind of pollution.

Specifically, Barton's provision (Section 1443 of the energy bill) would amend Clean Air Act Section 181, which extends the deadlines for cleaning up smog across much of the country.

Barton's plan has been opposed by state and local air regulators, Northeastern states, and health and environmental groups.

In addition, in the July 22 letter, Sens. Jim Jeffords (I-Vt.), Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.), Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.), John F. Kerry (D-Mass.), and Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) wrote, "We would find it very difficult to support efforts to move to or otherwise vote for an Energy bill conference report that contained Section 1443 or any similar provision that seeks to rewrite the Clean Air Act in such a fashion. Changes of this magnitude in public health protection should not occur without at least first engaging in a substantive and thoughtful public process in the Senate to review its costs and benefits."

A Senate Republican committee aide acknowledged that "it is very unlikely this provision will survive."

The bump-up provision did not make it into the agreed-upon base text going into conference late July 25, but a Republican aide said Barton will probably offer the provision as an amendment during the night. If it is agreed to by his House colleagues, it must be presented to the Senate.

But a Senate Democratic committee aide said July 25 that if such an amendment were offered, Senate conferees will not except it, in which case the provision will not be in the final conference report.
Effects of Ozone Provision

According to Frank O'Donnell, president of Clean Air Watch, if the provision as passed by the House were to be included in the energy bill, it could subject much of the nation to continuing smog problems and "amount to the biggest weakening of the Clean Air Act in at least 15 years."

As structured, the effect of the provision, O'Donnell said, "would be a dirty-air domino plan, since it stipulates that no area would have to meet smog standards until areas upwind of it did."

House Democratic conferees have expressed dissenting views on the Barton plan, noting that the need for legislative provisions to address potential bump-ups is greatly reduced, or possibly even eliminated, because many areas have received a lower classification and, therefore, face little threat of increased mandatory controls anytime in the near future. But possibly more significant, according to Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), is the effect of such a provision.

The Environmental Protection Agency has recently issued new regulations to address ozone pollution that require most localities to achieve cleaner air by 2007 or 2010, depending on how polluted the area is now.

But under Section 1443, the deadlines for polluted areas extending from Georgia to Connecticut, as well as in Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, and Texas, would be extended to 2015 or beyond, according to Waxman.

By Pamela Najor

Monday, July 25, 2005

more trouble in energy bill -- this time water

One more thing to look for this afternoon as House and Senate negotiators resume public discussions of the energy legislation.

We are informed reliably that as of right now, the top negotiators seem headed towards omitting a very important section of the Senate bill – one that clarified that EPA has authority to regulate fuels and fuel additives under the Clean Air Act to protect water quality and resources.

This was a key recommendation of the Blue Ribbon Panel on oxygenates in gasoline – and in fact, it’s already passed the Senate twice!

The whole MTBE mess might have been avoided if EPA had this authority in days past.

OF course, oil companies and ethanol producers would probably prefer that EPA NOT have this sort of authority.

Keep your eye on the old ball. There could be a skirmish over this later today.

Showdown today on Joe Barton dirty-air plan

It looks as if the showdown will take place today on the Joe Barton (R-TX) dirty-air plan.

The House and Senate energy negotiators are expected to meet at 5 pm edt to wrap up action on energy legislation.

One issue still outstanding is Barton's plan (included in the House bill) that would lead to long delays in meeting smog standards in much of the nation. In effect, it would be the biggest weakening of the Clean Air Act in at least 15 years.

Late Friday afternoon, seven senators hinted at a possible filibuster if Barton's plan were included in the final bill. We believe Barton is still pushing for a modified version of his plan. More as we learn more.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Media (generally) ignores departure of EPA air head

Today the New York Times ran a well-crafted editorial on the announcement that Jeffrey Holmstead has resigned as the head of the US EPA's air pollution division. Holmstead has been one of the architects of the pro-industry Bush administration air policies.

The strange part is that no newspaper, to my knowledge, (not even the Times) has written a news story about Holmstead's departure.

A major editorial in the New York Times, but no news coverage.

Am I the only one who finds this strange?

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

As the revolving door turns: Holmstead OUT at EPA; someone even WORSE may be coming in!

It’s official. Jeffrey Holmstead has announced his resignation as EPA’s chief air pollution control officer.

And we he may be replaced by someone even worse from a clean-air standpoint.

Holmstead, the former Latham&Watkins attorney, of course has been one of the key players in the pro-industry air pollution positions crafted by the Bush administration. His top aide and confidant has been William Wehrum, another Latham&Watkins alum.

And now we hear Wehrum is in line to take Holmstead’s job.

If this is true, Wehrum deserves intense scrutiny by the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, which would have to make a recommendation on his nomination.

Wehrum has been a dark force whispering in Holmstead’s ear. He is credited with helping shred the Clean Air Act’s new source review program (which even incoming enforcement head Granta Nakayama admits should be an important enforcement tool in the law), cutting deals for the paper industry (which he used to represent) and helping craft the odious pro-industry mercury rule. He reportedly ordered EPA professionals not to perform needed studies.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

incoming EPA Deputy Dog: oily government red-pen guy's censorshhip was "appropriate"

You will recall the recent scandal and the revelation that former oil industry lobbyist Phil Cooney doctored Bush administration global warming reports while with the White House – and then, having served his companies well, went through the revolving door to join ExxonMobil.
You might think the administration would be just a tad wary of condoning this sort of thing. Apparently, not so.

Tomorrow the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee is expected to recommend confirmation of OMB official Marcus Peacock to become deputy administrator of EPA. (Also to endorse lawnmower lobbyist Granta Nakayama to become EPA’s head of enforcement. Few apparently find it remarkable that a polluter lobbyist would become the nation’s top environmental cop.)

In preparation for tomorrow’s vote, several committee members asked Peacock and Nakayama to respond in writing to various questions.

One question to Peacock came from Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ):
“I’m sure you are familiar with the case of Phil Cooney, a non-scientist lawyer at the White House who altered science reports on climate change. Do you believe these kinds of alterations of science documents by the White House are appropriate?”

Peacock had the following response:

“Phil Cooney was both a policy specialist and a senior manager involved in the development and conduct of our climate change policies and activities. As someone with expertise on issues relating to climate change and the environment, I believe his participation in the review was appropriate.”

In response to other questions, Peacock trotted out some obviously focus-grouped nonsense about the administration’s attitude towards science and global warming:

“I want to assure you that this Administration emphasizes the importance of using sound, credible, peer-reviewed science to inform its policies and decisions. EPA follows rigorous peer-review standards for all of its scientific products to ensure the soundness and credibility of their results.

The Bush Administration supports sound science and has made a strong commitment to climate change science.”

Monday, July 18, 2005

Mercury showdown coming up in the Senate

Today Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) filed a petition that would permit the full Senate to vote directly on a resolution disapproving the pro-industry Bush mercury rules. (Technically, this is called a discharge petition under the Congressional Review Act. I am told this is the first time a discharge petition has been filed on a Bush anti-environmental rule.)

The petition permits senators led by Leahy to go directly to the Senate floor for a vote, bypassing Senator James Inhofe’s (R-OK) Environment and Public Works Committee. It's not official yet, but we understand Leahy and his supporters may not actually call for a vote until Congress returns from its summer vacation in September.

We hear the coal-burning power companies are ramping up their lobbying efforts in the Senate. Senator Inhofe reportedly called some industry lobbyists into his office last week and urged them to turn up the heat against Leahy.

Friday, July 15, 2005

Republican judges uphold Bush administration on global warming

As the Senate girds itself for battle over the Supreme Court, a reminder this morning that judges can really affect the national agenda.

Two Republican-appointed federal appeals court judges outvoted a Democratic-appointed counterpart in rejecting an effort to push the Bush administration to limit greenhouse has emissions from motor vehicles.

In a 2-1 ruling, the judges ruled that the EPA was within its legal authority when it rejected a 1999 petition from environmentalists seeking national controls on motor vehicle greenhouse gas emissions.

As Greenwire described it:

“The decision by the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia dismissed a lawsuit filed by 11 states and 14 environmental groups that sought to force the Bush administration to issue mandatory controls for carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions from new cars and trucks.

Judges A. Raymond Randolph and David Sentelle, appointees of former President George H.W. Bush, said EPA exercised ample discretion in 2001 when it denied what was then a three-year-old petition before the agency from the International Center for Technology Assessment.”
Clinton appointee David Tatel dissented.

Tatel also dissented in 1999 when two Republican judges set aside EPA’s national air quality standards for smog and soot. Ultimately the Supreme Court upheld Tatel in that case. Of course, the Supreme Court’s membership is changing.

Former Bush I White House counsel C. Boyden Gray vetted both Randolph and Sentelle; now, of course, he is quarterbacking conservative lobbying efforts on the Supreme Court selections.

This case is a graphic reminder that it matters who gets appointed to be a judge.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Lawnmower lobbyist slated to become EPA top cop

Well, this one almost got past us. (Thanks to friends at Public Citizen for flagging it.)


Tomorrow the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee is scheduled to hold a hearing on several people nominated for key jobs at the EPA. One of those jobs, of course, is that of EPA’s top enforcer. Granta Nakayama, a partner with the Kirkland & Ellis law firm, has been nominated for that slot.


There’s been a flap over Kirkland & Ellis’ representation of W.R. Grace, which is under federal criminal indictment on charges related to the operation of its vermiculite mine in Libby, Mont. Hundreds of workers and Libby residents contracted lethal asbestos-related disease -- a situation that gained national attention after a Seattle Post-Intelligencer series in 1999. An asbestos-victims coalition has come out in opposition to Nakayama, even though the law firm denies he’s been involved in the Grace case.


One notorious corporation Nakayama HAS lobbied for, however, is the Briggs & Stratton Corporation, which has employed Nakayama since 2002 to try to undermine government efforts to clean up dirty small engines. (So far, Nakayama has succeeded pretty well at blocking the cleanup of lawnmowers and other dirty small engines. As most of you will recall, this is an ongoing issue, with both EPA and a Swedish-based organization – perhaps underwritten by Briggs & Stratton? – planning further studies before cleanup can begin. Please call or e-mail if you need more.)


In this era, it’s something short of person-bites-dog stuff to note that the Bush administration has tapped a polluter lobbyist to become its top environmental cop. Still, you have to wonder if any senators will even ask Nakayama about his efforts to thwart pollution cleanup – and whether he’ll have a different perspective once working for the public. It’s probably a safe bet that Briggs & Stratton’s big Senate champion, Senator Kit Bond (R-MO), will vote to confirm Nakayama.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

You have to hand it to Senator Inhofe...

He doesn’t let reality come between him and what he thinks is a real knee-slapper.
A day after it was disclosed that environmental groups were NOT suing to block the recent EPA “clean air interstate rules,” Inhofe issued a statement denouncing environmental groups for allegedly using the courts to try to block progress:

“Time and again, these extreme special interests and their Democrat allies seem to be more focused on issuing political statements than improving our air quality. This latest round of litigation demonstrates the need for a strong national Clear Skies law more than ever. Trying to litigate the way to cleaner air only delays progress, often yields little or no result and wastes millions in taxpayer dollars.”

Inhofe – who was trying to hump the failed Bush “clear skies initiative” -- failed to note that about a dozen industries and industry groups filed suit against the rules!
According to Greenwire, they include:

Minnesota Power, the Pennsylvania-based not-for-profit trade association ARIPPA, South Carolina Public Service Authority, Entergy Corp., Florida Association of Electric Utilities, FPL Group Inc., Northern Indiana Public Service Co., South Carolina Electric & Gas Co., Integrated Waste Services Association, The AES Corp. and Constellation Energy Group, and Duke Energy Corp as well as the city of Amarillo, Texas.

Several environmental groups are challenging peripheral parts of the rule’s preamble, but that challenge will not affect the main body of the rules.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Summer Smog Update

Here are some details on smog episodes this summer across the U.S. These results are unofficial and are based on a survey by Clean Air Watch volunteers of public websites.

States that have had monitored readings in 2005 above federal health standards include, in alphabetical order:

Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Wisconsin and West Virginia.

The survey found 941 monitored exceedances of the 8-hr standard in June 2005, compared to 329 in June 2004. (June 2004 was cooler and rainier in much of the nation, and the rain washed out much of the pollution. The 2005 results demonstrate that we can't depend on rain to protect us from pollution.)

San Bernardino, California appears to have the most frequent smog problem (23 days at one monitor). The highest one-hour smog levels have been experienced in Los Angeles, Houston and Fairfield, CT.

Vacation spots with pollution problems in June included:

Sequoia/Kings Canyon National Parks, CA
Joshua Tree National Park, CA
Death Valley National Park, CA
Zion National Park, UT
Great Smoky Mountains National Park, TN/NC Acadia National Park, ME, Mt. Vernon, VA Cap Cod (Truro), MA Martha's Vineyard, MA The Adirondacks, NY (Whiteface Mtn.)

And the problems continue into July -- on July first the Grand Canyon had pollution above the smog standard.

Regarding new studies (in the July issue of Epidemiology) that smog can kill, here's an insightful commentary by renowned air pollution researcher David Bates: http://www.epidem.com/pt/re/epidemiology/pdfhandler.00001648-200507000-00002.pdf;jsessionid=CNREtkRVTT0cPt7TIMsnRrvGSfzA7ca7ofGcwAMTHeCK8Q7rx0Bx!1707623050!-949856031!9001!-1

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Friday, July 01, 2005

EPA staff calls for stronger fine particle standards

EPA staff is recommending that the national air quality standard for fine particle matter be made tougher. A fact sheet on the “staff paper” is attached. A relevant excerpt is below. (Note the current annual standard is 15; the current 24-hour standard is 65, so EPA staff is recommending a range that includes a very significant tightening of the current standard.)

We will be urging the agency to set a standard at the low end of the suggested range because that would protect more people’s lives. This presents the Bush Administration with an historic opportunity to advance the cause of clean air.

****

…Consideration should be given to revising the current PM2.5 primary standards to
provide increased public health protection from the effects of both long- and shortterm
exposures to fine particles in the ambient air. Staff provides two alternative
approaches to establishing more protective suites of daily and annual PM2.5 standards.

- Retain annual standard at 15 mg/m3, together with a revised 24-hour PM2.5 standard
in the range of 35 to 25 mg/m3 (based a 98th percentile form for a standard set at the
middle to lower end of this range, or a 99th percentile form for a standard set at the
middle to upper end of this range)

OR

- Revise annual PM2.5 standard, within the range of 14 to 12 mg/m3, together with a
revised 24-hour PM2.5 standard in the range of 30 to 40 mg/m3, with either the annual
or the 24-hour standard, or both, at the middle to lower end of these ranges

The full staff paper should be posted at this EPA web site later today: http://www.epa.gov/ttn/naaqs/standards/pm/s_pm_cr_sp.html