Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Sneak attack on states' rights in new fuel economy plan, and more...

As the dog days of summer wind to a close, a theme continues to evolve: the tension between state governments (many of which are trying to make progress on the environment) and the federal government, which appears to put top priority on trying to shield big special-interest companies from having to do much. A few thoughts and examples on this, below.

SNEAK ATTACK ON STATES’ RIGHTS: Yesterday’s federal proposal for new fuel economy standards was so pitifully bad that it’s hard to know where to start: with oil prices near record levels and imports continuing to surge, the government comes out with a plan aimed at helping the so-called “Big Three” sell more of their biggest gas-guzzling SUVs. (Which, coincidentally, promote global warming.) It shows that this government is really not serious about becoming less dependent on foreign oil. Some might call it unpatriotic. Our friends with Sierra Club, Union of Concerned Scientists and Environmental Defense have put out some critiques of this almost-laughable plan, so we won’t be redundant.

However, little attention (aside from a brief note in the New York Times) has been paid to one nefarious part of this Big Three Protection Plan – a provision aimed at blocking California and other states from moving ahead with plans to limit global warming pollution from motor vehicles. States throughout the Northeast and west coast are moving to adopt these standards because the federal government has been so inept and recalcitrant. (There was an excellent editorial on this subject in last Sunday’s New York Times.) The new Bush administration says “A state law that seeks to reduce motor vehicle carbon dioxide emissions is both expressly and impliedly preempted.” (See more on the specific language, below.) This is a real sneak attack on states’ rights. And it is being done just to protect the big car companies.

NORTHEASTERN STATES MOVING FORWARD ON GLOBAL WARMING CONTROLS: In a related matter, today’s New York Times reports that Northeastern states have reached preliminary agreement on a plan to limit greenhouse gas emissions in the region. As in the case with motor vehicles, this is happening because of a failure of federal policy. Needless to say, an effective national program would be a much better idea. But it may take this kind of regional effort to move the ball forward.

THE RETURN OF CLEAR SKIES? Another point of federal-state tension is just over the horizon, as the Bush Administration revs up another effort to sell its so-called “Clear Skies” plan to the Congress (which will have more time on its hands having passed energy and transportation legislation). The EPA is working on a new analysis that it hopes will be useful in pulling one or two Democrats. (Senators Tom Carper of Delaware and Max Baucus of Montana are the key targets.) Stay tuned for more as Congress resumes action next month.

***

From the proposed new fuel economy rules:

"We reaffirm our view that a state may not impose a legal requirement relating to fuel economy, whether by statute, regulation or otherwise, that conflicts with this rule. A state law that seeks to reduce motor vehicle carbon dioxide emissions is both expressly and impliedly preempted. "Our statute contains a broad preemption provision making clear the need for a uniform, federal system: 'When an average fuel economy standard prescribed under this chapter is in effect, a State or a political subdivision of a State may not adopt or enforce a law or regulation related to fuel economy standards or average fuel economy standards for automobiles covered by an average fuel economy standard under this chapter.' 49 U.S.C. 32919(a). Since the way to reduce carbon dioxide emissions is to improve fuel economy, a state regulation seeking to reduce those emissions is a 'regulation related to fuel economy standards or average fuel economy standards.' "Further, such a regulation would be impliedly preempted, as it would interfere with our implementation of the CAFE statute. For example, it would interfere the careful balancing of various statutory factors and other related considerations, as contemplated in the conference report on EPCA, we must do in order to establish average fuel economy standards at the maximum feasible level. It would also interfere with our effort to reform CAFE so to achieve higher fuel savings, while reducing the risk of adverse economic and safety consequences." (From pages 150-151 of the PDF of the rule)

Friday, August 19, 2005

EPA politicos clash with Justice Department over power plant pollution

While the US EPA was busy yesterday "spinning" reporters about the latest "good news" on air pollution (see below, from today's New York Times), agency politicos apparently were clashing with the Justice Department over federal policy involving pollution from electric power plants.

The Justice Department wants to continue enforcing the law; the EPA politicians, with close ties to the electric power industry, want to re-write current rules and adopt a pro-industry interpretation that would permit coal-burning power plants to avoid pollution controls. (The new EPA strategy, which has not been unveiled yet, would also undermine existing cases brought by the Justice Department against some big and dirty power companies.)

The specialty publication Inside EPA broke this story late yesterday.

Keep a close eye on this one.
***
Report by E.P.A. Offers Heartening News on Summertime Air
By MICHAEL JANOFSKY

Published: August 19, 2005

WASHINGTON, Aug. 18 - A new report by the Environmental Protection Agency says ozone levels are falling in 19 Eastern states where bad air is common in the summer.

The reduction reflects what agency officials describe as a significant decline in emissions of nitrogen oxides, whose reaction with sunlight, other weather conditions and volatile organic chemicals can make the air hard to breathe in the warmer months.

The report says that last year, nitrogen oxide emissions from power plants and other large sources of combustion in the 19 states, including New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, were 30 percent below 2003 levels and 50 percent below those of 2000. The result, it says, was a four-year reduction in ozone of about 10 percent.

Jeffrey R. Holmstead, who is stepping down on Friday as the agency's assistant administrator for air and radiation, said that "this is a very significant reduction of ozone concentration" and that it offers reassurance "that what we're working on is the effective way to go."

Mr. Holmstead was referring to the cap-and-trade approach to emission reduction, which is favored by the Bush administration, rather than the Clinton administration's absolute cap, which remains favored by environmentalists.

In a cap-and-trade system, a plant can exceed its permitted level of emissions by buying credits from a plant in the same region whose emissions are below what is allowed. Environmentalists argue that such an approach fails to achieve the lowest possible emissions, because it does not require all plants to use "best available control technology."

But Mr. Holmstead said cap-and-trade worked more efficiently, since plant owners, without enough money to make all the necessary improvements at once, had incentive to install controls on the biggest emission sources first.

Responding to the new report, Frank O'Donnell, president of Clean Air Watch, an environmental group that monitors federal policy, acknowledged that "it's fair to say we are making progress."
"At the same time," Mr. O'Donnell added, "we haven't solved the ozone problem. This summer's air pollution shows how much further we have to go."

The report deals with one part of the Bush administration's broader strategy to combat air pollution under the Clean Air Act. Two larger components made final this year - the Clean Air Interstate Rule, governing nitrogen oxides and sulfur dioxide, and new standards for mercury emission controls - are intended to apply to 30 states and the District of Columbia.

With the interstate rule, the administration projects that by 2015, annual nitrogen oxide emissions will be 50 percent below 2003 levels, and sulfur dioxide emissions 60 percent below.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Is EPA's Holmstead planning an "August Surprise?"

The clock is ticking. Only a little more than one day until the good-bye party for EPA’s Jeffrey Holmstead.

And the question: is Holmstead planning an “August surprise” in conjunction with his soon-to-be stand-in (and maybe permanent successor) Bill Wehrum?

We do know that in his July 20 farewell e-mail, Holmstead observed that “There are still a few things I want to finish before I leave the Agency.”

Those “few things” don’t appear to be aimed at eliminating pollution [EPA and OMB are still dragging their feet on the rules to implement the 1997 fine particle pollution standards], so what could it be?

Something bad, I bet.

Friday, August 12, 2005

News notes: arguments of climate skeptics demolished; how are we handling record oil prices? and more

A few tidbits as the DC area and others face more “code orange” air pollution alerts [see at http://cfpub.epa.gov/airnow/index.cfm?action=airnow.national ] along with heat warnings, while oil prices continue bubbling upward, (And, yes, these items are related. Read on.)

OOPS – BAD NEWS FOR THE PROFESSIONAL GLOBAL WARMING “SKEPTICS” – As you know, for years, global warming “skeptics” (including all those alleged “think tank” types on the take from ExxonMobil and others) have asserted that global warming is “uncertain” because temperature trends in the lower atmosphere didn’t seem to be going up. Now, it turns out that the scientists who developed the original temperature records goofed. This revelation tends to shoot down one of the favorite arguments of the “skeptics.” New papers on this topic were published yesterday in the online edition of Science – and noted by, among others, science writer Chris Mooney’s blog [http://www.chriscmooney.com/blog.asp ] and by Andy Revkin in today’s NY Times.

MEANWHILE, MOTOR VEHICLES PUMP OUT MORE GLOBAL WARMING POLLUTION: Our friends at Environmental Defense released an important report this week noting that motor vehicles are pumping out more global warming pollution than they did 15 years ago. [http://www.environmentaldefense.org/documents/4715_CarbonBurdensUpdateFinal.pdf ]

This report deserves more attention than it received. The resulting global warming not only increases the likelihood of more “code orange” alerts well into the future [note: higher temperatures can mean more smog], but it is directly related to our bungling of the problem with oil imports.

AND OUR RESPONSE TO RECORD OIL PRICES IS… It’s no joke that higher oil prices are threatening our economy. It’s not just consumers paying through the nose at the pump. Oil prices boosted the price of an office chair I bought this week! And how are we responding? The combined clout of the oil and car companies persuaded Congress to sidestep the issue of reducing oil imports. The next shoe to drop on this issue may come as soon as next week, with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration due to release a new proposal regarding fuel economy for SUVs, minivans and pickup trucks. Will the proposal, as some believe, cut even more breaks for American manufacturers of big gas-guzzlers like General Motors? Stay tuned, and check in with us for a follow up.

FINALLY, NOT TO “CARP” ON THIS, BUT… Yesterday, the US EPA had a conference call to discuss a staff plan to set a new air pollution standard for bigger particles in the air – “coarse” particles according to the jargon. (There’s a good piece by Steve Cook about this in today’s BNA Daily Environment Report.) Our friends with the American Lung Association and Environmental Defense questioned EPA’s staff recommendation to limit any new standard to urban areas. (EPA is apparently afraid to challenge the political clout of the farm lobby.) But the whole notion of big-particle standards was challenged by an industry group which billed itself as The Coalition for Coarse Particle Regulation, which appears to be a front group for coal mining companies. Probably more appropriate to call them the Coalition Against the Regulation of Particles, or CARP.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

More scientists to Joe Barton: stop the global warming witchhunt

The presidents of the American Meteorological Society and the American Geophysical Union have joined the growing chorus of scientists who are criticizing Rep. Joe Barton's (R-TX) apparent attempt to intimidate scientists who have linked human activities to global warming.

In a letter to Barton, the presidents of the usually apolitical groups note that "the request of your committee for massive documentation from a few scientists about a small aspect of their work has been viewed by many as more intimidating than constructive. Your request has also been interpreted as an attack on particular scientific results. The prospect for scientists of defending unpopular results in a political arena rather than before their “peers” in the literature has the potential to undermine the scientific process and, if persistent, to produce tainted results."

Here is the full letter:

http://www.agu.org/sci_soc/policy/barton_response.pdf

Thanks to great science writer Chris C. Mooney for flagging this: http://www.chriscmooney.com/blog.asp

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Loophole for Michigan slipped into energy bill

from BNA Daily Environment Report, August 9, 2005


Air PollutionEPA Barred From Enforcing New Ozone RuleIn Michigan Counties During Two-Year Study

Ten counties in southwestern Michigan will have to take no actions to meet the new, federal eight-hour air quality standard for ozone for two years thanks to a provision in the energy bill signed into law Aug. 8 by President Bush.

Specifically, the provision bars the Environmental Protection Agency from enforcing the new eight-hour standard in the 10-county area for two years while the agency studies how ozone transport affects the area.

The counties affected by the provision in the energy bill are Ottawa, Kent, Allegan, Huron, Calhoun, Kalamazoo, Van Buren, Berrien, Cass, and Muskegon.

According to Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.), who won inclusion of the provision as an amendment in the House-Senate conference version of the bill (H.R. 6), the 10 counties are failing to meet the standard primarily because of pollution blowing across Lake Michigan from Chicago, Milwaukee, and Gary, Ind.

"As a member of the conference committee, I have been working to ensure that our communities in southwestern Michigan are not unfairly punished for air pollution that blows across the lake from such cities as Chicago, Milwaukee, and Gary," said Upton.

"My amendment is a logical, common-sense solution that gets to the heart of the matter, establishing a two-year demonstration program to examine the effect of transported ozone in our towns and cities," Upton said.

However, Frank O'Donnell, president of Clean Air Watch, said Upton was able to "sneak a dirty air loophole into the Clean Air Act by keeping under the radar."

EPA had designated the 10 southwestern Michigan counties as nonattainment areas for the eight-hour standard in 2004.

Congress approved the Energy Policy Act of 2005 July 29. The president signed the legislation during a trip to Albuquerque, N.M., as a courtesy to Sen. Pete Domenici (R-N.M.), chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, who played a central role in getting the bill through Congress after a four-year struggle. (See related story in this issue. )

Details of Upton Amendment

EPA replaced the old one-hour ozone standard with the eight-hour standard on June 15. The eight-hour standard establishes a maximum ozone level of 0.08 part per million averaged over an eight-hour period. The one-hour standard was 0.12 ppm averaged over a one-hour period.
The agency in 2004 announced that 474 counties in 32 states are violating the eight-hour standard. Most recently, EPA changed its regulations to codify the new nonattainment designations (70 Fed. Reg. 44,471; 148 DEN A-8, 08/3/05 ).

These included the 10 Michigan counties covered by Upton's amendment.

The amendment at Section 996 of the energy bill calls for EPA to conduct a two-year "demonstration project to address the effect of transported ozone and ozone precursors in Southwestern Michigan."

"The Administrator shall assess any difficulties such areas may experience in meeting the 8-hour national ambient air quality standard for ozone due to the effect of transported ozone or ozone precursors into the areas," the amendment said.

It also calls for EPA to work with state and local officials to determine the extent of ozone and ozone precursor transport, to assess alternatives to achieve compliance with the eight-hour standard apart from local controls, and to determine how long the areas will take to achieve compliance.

Friday, August 05, 2005

EPA staff: give us a contribution to get rid of Holmstead!

Talk about a send off! EPA staffers are having a party to bid farewell to Jeffrey Holmstead, the former (and future) industry lawyer who has spent more than four years trying to make EPA air pollution rules more favorable to industry.

After leaving office later this month, Holmstead is planning to tour the world for a year with his family. And it looks as if the EPA staffers are taking up a collection -- I guess just to make sure he goes away.

In an e-mail invitation, one party planner noted that "contributions appreciated" (see below).

>>> 8/3/2005 3:20:20 PM >>>
(Embedded image moved to file: pic26948.jpg)

YOU ARE CORDIALLY INVITED TO JOIN US IN SAYING THANK YOU AND GOODBYE TO JEFF HOLMSTEAD, ASSISTANT ADMINISTRATOR, OFFICE OF AIR &RADIATION AUGUST 18, 2005 3:00 PM U.S. ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY ARIEL RIOS SOUTH BUILDING 3RD FLOOR – THE GREEN ROOM 1200 PENN. AVENUE, N.W. WASHINGTON, D.C. 20460***********************************************************************************RSVP BY AUGUST 10, 2005
TO:Rhonda Robinson 202 564-7404 Benjamin Hengst 202 564-1495(EPA ARN 5406) (EPA ARN 5406)Mary Henigin 202 564-1663 Rebecca White 202564-5949(EPA ARN 5449) (EPA ARN 6520)Gina Costantino 202 343-9355 Ed Callahan 202343-9083(EPA 1310 L St. Rm. 325) (EPA 1310 L St. Rm. 1007)

Contributions Appreciated

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Smogwatch '05: standard breached nearly 1000 times in July, in 36 states

July 2005 was truly breathtaking when it comes to smog. Our informal survey found that the national health standard was breached nearly 1,000 times during the month (compared to about 600 a year ago) in 36 states, including such normally "clean" states as Oregon, Minnesota, Iowa and Florida.

Yes, hot weather is a factor, of course. (Similarly, the totals in 2004 were low because the weather was unusually cool and rainy.) But these are sobering statistics. We can hardly rely on rain to bail us out of our smog problems -- especially since the climate is heating up because of human activities.

Here is the list of states that experienced unhealthful levels of smog during July 2005:

Alabama
Arkansas
Arizona
California
Colorado
Connecticut
Delaware
Florida
Georgia
Illinois
Indiana
Iowa
Kansas
Kentucky
Louisiana
Maryland
Massachusetts
Michigan
Minnesota
Missouri
Nevada
New Hampshire
New Jersey
New Mexico
New York
North Carolina
Ohio
Oklahoma
Oregon
Pennsylvania
South Carolina
Tennessee
Texas
Utah
Virginia
Wisconsin