Monday, April 03, 2006

News notes: polluter consigliore confirmation and more

Consigliore confirmation? Confirmation hearings are scheduled Wednesday for EPA’s dirty-air mastermind, William Wehrum. The former Latham & Watkins lawyer/polluter advocate is scheduled to appear before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee following his nomination to become EPA’s assistant administrator for air pollution. Those of you who have followed this issue closely will recall that Wehrum was recruited by another Latham & Watkins alum, Jeffery Holmstead, to be his consigliore. (Holmstead distrusted EPA career employees who were interested in matters like environmental protection.) Together, Holmstead and Wehrum did wonderful things (for polluters) including writing the new source review loophole that was unanimously gunned down recently by a federal appeals court and giving coal-burning power companies a truly ludicrous break on mercury pollution. (See more on mercury, below.) Needless to say, the Bush administration and Committee Chair Senator James Inhofe (R-OK) view Wehrum as the perfect candidate to maintain the industry-friendly atmosphere.

Clear Skies redux?! Speaking of protecting industry, we have heard that the Bush administration plans as soon as today to make what appears to be yet another clumsy stab to promote its so-called Clear Skies legislation (!!!) and to dump on rival plans such as those that have been advocated by Senators Tom Carper (D-DE) and Jim Jeffords (I-VT). You may recall that several months ago, the EPA released computer modeling results that made the rival legislation look a lot better than the administration plan. If you don’t like the results, re-crunch the numbers. And that’s what the administration seeks to do this week to try to make its approach seem more reasonable. But don’t worry: as much as big coal burners like American Electric Power and Cinergy want the Bush plan, it isn’t going anywhere.

Climate of confusion? With the Senate Energy Committee planning a lengthy hearing tomorrow on the possibility of new global warming legislation, it is interesting to note that conservative political columnists are revving up to defend the biggest polluters. Yesterday George Will inveighed against what he called a “misinformation campaign” by “crusading journalism” on global warming. And today, the old Prince of Darkness himself, Bob Novak, assailed what he termed the “one-sided political presentation” of this issue by “60 Minutes” that “ignored the real scientific debate.”

Someone’s ghost-writing this drivel for these guys. Frank M., do you want to confess?

Polluter propaganda: A related matter: In recent months, there’s been an astonishing amount of propaganda extolling the climate-control virtues of some of the nation’s biggest polluters, including AEP and Cinergy. (Keep in mind that AEP boss Michael Morris is one of the diehard opponents of mandatory CO2 limits.) Maybe it’s time to call the meeting to order. We hear that Ceres plans to issue a new report this week tracking the actual emissions of the nation’s biggest power companies. I would strongly urge you to look at the actual numbers when it comes to the global warming pollution emitted by the likes of these companies. And consider some comparisons – megawatts generated versus CO2 emissions. We’ll help with these if you need it.

Mercury mendacity: As noted above, EPA’s Wehrum was a primary architect of the administration’s pro-industry mercury policy. That policy was based on the premise that reducing mercury emissions from a specific smokestack wouldn’t make much of a difference in nearby mercury deposition. WRONG! In an excellent piece in today’s Boston Globe, Beth Daley notes that reduced emissions from incinerators in Massachusetts has – voila – led to local fish with less mercury.

“These results undermine the whole assumption of the federal mercury control program," said Paul Miller, deputy director of the Northeast States For Coordinated Air Use Management, a nonprofit association of state air quality agencies. ''It shows local controls have local impacts."

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