Monday, August 21, 2006

EPA moves to weaken clean-air requirements -- even while defending them in the Supreme Court

Even while the Bush administration is planning to argue in favor of its new source review requirements before the Supreme Court, the EPA is forging ahead with changes that could weaken existing requirements – and possibly adopt the very changes the administration is opposing in court!

The White House OMB page notes the EPA proposal is under White House review.

It notes that EPA has submitted a proposed rule to change the definition of whether upgrades to an electric power plant would increase its emissions – and thus make it subject to new source review. EPA historically has looked at whether emissions would increase on an annual basis. But industry has argued that the agency should be looking only at an hourly “rate.”

A federal appeals court agreed with industry (in the so-called Duke case), and the Supreme Court will hear the case in November. The Justice Dept. will be arguing with environmental groups against the industry position. (Other courts – most recently the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit – have agreed the annual emissions test is the more appropriate gauge of whether pollution would increase in the real world.)

But while this issue is grinding through the court, EPA is moving ahead with a plan to adopt the more industry-friendly approach.

The EPA proposal would permit more real-world pollution. Power companies would be encouraged to modify aging facilities and run them more frequently, thereby increasing pollution.

OMB received this new EPA proposal on Friday, August 18. (EPA issued a preamble to the proposal last fall noting the agency planned to change the definition to the hourly approach.)

What’s even weirder is that EPA contends this is not a “major” rule (so the Supreme Court only deals with minor matters?) and that it is not “economically significant.”

Of course, it would be significant to breathers since it would encourage more air pollution.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Federal court slams polluter attempt to evade Clean Air Act; issue heading to the Supreme Court

Today a federal appeals court slammed an industry attempt to evade the Clean Air Act.

The case involves a lawsuit by the Clinton administration and NY Attorney General Eliot Spitzer against the Cinergy Corp., which was charged with illegally modifying its power plants in a way that increased pollution.

Cinergy argued that it did not violate the la, but the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit rejected Cinergy's argument as nonsense.

The U.S. Supreme Court will hear similar arguments next fall -- oral arguments are slated for Nov. 1 -- in a different case involving Duke Power.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Why is Congress cutting funds for ethanol?

Ethanol has been all the rage for months. Members of Congress -- especially from farm states -- can't seem to issue enough press releases pledging their devotion to this gasoline alternative.

And yet at the same time, Congress is cutting President Bush's budget request designed to make sure ethanol can be used without unwanted environmental consequences.

Here is how Associated Press spelled it out:

Bills cut funding to boost ethanol

By Associated PressAugust 15, 2006

President Bush has requested $11.4 million for the EPA to implement parts of a federal energy law that includes writing rules for a new renewable fuels standard. It requires refiners to use 7.5 billion gallons of ethanol in gasoline annually by 2012.

Spending committees in the House and Senate have recommended only a small percentage of what the president wanted. The bill passed by the House in May recommends $2.4 million; the bill pending on the Senate floor recommends $1.4 million.

EPA spokeswoman Enesta Jones says the agency is still analyzing the funding recommendations. Among other things, Jones said, the $11.4 million would be used to:

Develop a renewable fuel standard and do "comprehensive analyses and studies."

Develop a new electronic reporting system to verify compliance.

Begin a study of the emission and air quality changes resulting from the new standards.

"It surely retards the agency's effectiveness in coming up with a comprehensive program," said Charles Drevna, executive vice president of the National Petrochemical and Refiners Association. Drevna's group opposed creation of the renewable fuels standard, but it wants it done quickly so refiners know what they are expected to do.

Drevna said his group is particularly worried that, without full funding, the EPA will not be able to study environmental and other effects of increased ethanol use. If the effects of boosting renewable fuel use are not known soon, he said, refiners and their customers could be slapped with additional costs later on.

Environmentalists also worry about the lack of funds.

"It's as if they haven't read their own press releases about the need to promote alternatives to gasoline," said Frank O'Donnell, president of the Washington advocacy group Clean Air Watch.

Sen. Byron Dorgan of North Dakota, the top Democrat on the Senate subcommittee, said he expects senators to increase the funding to the House amount, $2.4 million, in the House-Senate conference committee.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Deadly diesel train pollution: how you can help

Today’s Washington Post includes an excellent story on the perils of pollution spewing from diesel freight trains.

As the Post notes , diesel trains are not only a big source of pollution, but – unless something is done to correct the problem – trains eventually will collectively emit more pollution than all the trucks on the road!

EPA scientists recognize this is a real problem, but freight-hauling railroads are balking at cleaning up the deadly mess they make.

But there is something you can do to help: Urge EPA to take swift action to clean up train pollution.

At the bottom of this message is a potential model – a letter sent to EPA last week by Clean Air Watch and several other prominent clean-air advocates. It makes reference to both train and marine diesel engines since EPA is likely to tackle both at the same time.

Here’s how to contact EPA:

E-mail: . Specify docket number OAR-2003-0190 in the
body of the message and copy

Fax: (202) 260-4400

Regular Mail: Environmental Protection Agency, Air Docket, Mailcode 6102T, 1200
Pennsylvania Ave., NW, Washington, DC, 20460. Also note docket number OAR-2003-0190

August 9, 2006
The Honorable Stephen L. Johnson
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
1200 Pennsylvania Ave., N.W.
Mail code 1101A
Washington, D.C. 20460
Cc: William Wehrum, Robert Brenner, Margo Oge

Dear Administrator Johnson,

Earlier this year state and local clean air agencies and more than 50 environmental and
public health organizations sent you a letter respectfully requesting your leadership in
taking swift action to clean up the harmful diesel exhaust from marine vessels and
locomotives. Since then, the case has only become more urgent for addressing this
pressing human health and environmental problem.

It now appears that projected locomotive emissions are far higher than originally
estimated. In fact, NOx emissions estimates from locomotives increased to more than
800,000 tons in 2030, and PM emissions estimates increased to a staggering 25,000 tons
in 2030. In addition, according to EPA, about half of all Americans now live in counties
that fail to meet basic healthy air standards. This includes the 474 counties, home to 159
million Americans, out of full compliance with the health-based eight-hour ozone
standard, and the 208 counties representing more than 57 million Americans out of full
compliance with the health-based particulate pollution standard.

State implementation plans are due in June, 2007 for ozone and in April, 2008 for PM.
It is vitally important that states not only be able to count on rigorous reductions from
the new fleet of marine vessels and locomotives, but also on immediate interim reductions
in order to meet their attainment goals in a timely manner. The pollution coming from
marine vessels and locomotives plays a key part in our country’s nonattainment problems
and this pollution contributes to lung cancer, heart attacks, asthma attacks, strokes,
diminished lung capacity in kids and premature death. Reductions today can prevent a
host of health effects tomorrow.

Therefore, our organizations respectfully urge the Agency to issue, as soon as possible,
both an aftertreatment-based standard for marine vessels and locomotives to take effect
no later than 2013 for PM and 2014 for NOx . and a strong interim standard for ships
and locomotives to address pollution from existing engines while we wait for the
aftertreatment-based standard to phase in.

Thank you for your continued attention to this important public health issue.

Paul Billings
American Lung Association

Frank O.Donnell
Clean Air Watch

Janea A. Scott
Environmental Defense

Rich Kassel
Natural Resources Defense Council
S.William Becker

State and Territorial Air Pollution Program Administrators/Association of Local Air
Pollution Control Officials

Don Anair
Union of Concerned Scientists

Emily Figdor
U.S. Public Interest Research Group

Friday, August 04, 2006

Industry blitz against EPA soot standards

Below, courtesy Greenwire, is a good summary of what has been going on behind the scenes, thanks to materials that EPA has put in its public docket. [oar-2001-0017].

Virtually every major industry group has banded together to oppose tougher soot standards. [One day after industry met with EPA – on July 13 – Republican senators including Inhofe, Voinovich, Bond, Isakson and DeMint were articulating these same industry arguments at a Senate hearing convened to pressure the EPA.]

This has become a classic case of science vs. political pressure.

AIR POLLUTION: Industry groups pressing EPA to drop soot proposals
Darren Samuelsohn, Greenwire senior reporter

A broad collection of industry groups is trying to convince the Bush administration not to set new pollution requirements for microscopic soot emissions, as well as larger dust particles.

Opponents to the U.S. EPA regulations have made their case through e-mails, letters, phone calls and meetings in Washington, according to EPA documents made public in recent weeks.

The National Mining Association has been among the most prolific in submitting comments. The organization sent an e-mail last week to EPA's Michael Catanzaro, chief of staff to deputy administrator Marcus Peacock, raising doubts about whether recent scientific studies reflect real-world conditions in discussing the adverse health effects from soot.

The July 26 e-mail cites an NMA-sponsored study from Yale University professor Jonathan Borak, which concludes three recent, often-quoted studies "may provide a basis for better understanding" of soot's toxicity. But Borak said the studies "can not currently serve as the basis for setting" new standards to protect human health.

NMA also presented EPA with a paper outlining the legal arguments it can use should it follow through with a proposal not to regulate windblown dust and soils from agriculture and mining sources. The plain language of the Clean Air Act gives EPA the authority to exempt such coarse particles, which measure between 2.5 microns and 10 microns in diameter, NMA said.

In another paper, the mining organization urges EPA to spike a separate proposal that would update a Reagan-era standard limiting coarse particle levels. Citing an analysis of the new rule's affects on coal mining in the Powder River Basin, NMA argues EPA's plan could force significant cutbacks at the Wyoming mines, which have produced the most coal in the nation over the last two decades.

One NMA model shows Powder River Basin mining would need to be scaled back 53 percent from 2004 levels, a cut of about 180 million tons of coal per year. The standards would cripple local and state economies, the association contends. More broadly, NMA argues, "The loss of 180 million tons of coal from the market would be devastating from a national energy supply standpoint."

EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson has until Sept. 27 before a court-ordered deadline requires him to decide if any final changes should be made to the current soot limits. Under Supreme Court precedent, Johnson must consider only public health issues when weighing changes to the standards. Costs are off limits, the high court ruled unanimously in 2001.
Industry focuses on bottom line

Despite the Supreme Court's ground rules, industry officials are still pressing their case on economic terms.

In a June 20 letter to Johnson, FirstEnergy president Anthony Alexander stressed the costs more stringent soot standards will have on the electric utility industry. Areas of the country tagged for not meeting new standards must deal with stronger environmental regulations compared with other parts of the country, creating disincentives for new industries that may want to locate there while also slowing or halting outright expansions at existing businesses.

"The prospects of lost jobs and wages, along with increased costs for energy and consumer products, are far more certain than are any health benefits to be derived from EPA's proposed standards," Alexander said.

Governors from Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Ohio, South Carolina and Wyoming have raised similar concerns in letters to Johnson.

Industry representatives had Johnson's ear July 12 when EPA held a series of meetings with outside groups. One session featured representatives of the American Farm Bureau, National Cattlemen's Beef Association and National Cotton Council.

Another meeting included the American Petroleum Institute, American Chemistry Council, Edison Electric Institute, Engine Manufacturers Association, American Road & Transportation Builders Association, National Petrochemical & Refiners Association, and Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers.

And EPA held a separate session just to discuss the coarse particle standard with the Engine Manufacturing Association, Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, the National Association of Homebuilders and American Trucking Association.

Health advocates take their turn

Public health advocates, environmentalists and EPA's outside body of scientific advisers have urged Johnson to set stronger soot limits on both a daily and annual basis. They also want Johnson to significantly tighten the coarse soot limits over his proposal, while also dropping exemptions for agriculture and mining interests.

In their own July 12 meeting with Johnson and other EPA officials, the American Lung Association, American Academy of Pediatrics, American Medical Association, Environmental Defense and Clean Air Task Force presented their case.

According to an EPA memo summarizing the meeting, the groups said there is a consensus in the medical, nursing, scientific and public health communities that EPA's proposal does not sufficiently protect public health. Environmental groups also are poised to sue EPA if they do not think the final standards reflect the science (E&E Daily, July 10).

Comments from outside EPA show the same type of divide displayed last month when the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee held hearings on the soot proposals. During the session, Republicans criticized EPA for considering a standard that did not have scientific evidence to back it up.

"I'm afraid we're going to do something to look like we're doing something," Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C) said at the July 19 hearing (E&E Daily, July 20).

But Democrats pushed EPA in the opposite direction by arguing there was ample evidence to tighten the standards further than the proposal. "We seem to be veering away from science and making politics a key ingredient in these decisions," argued Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.).

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Clean Air Watch smog survey: the grim facts for July 2006

Highlights of the Clean Air Watch Smog Survey for July 2006:

July 2006 was marginally worse than July 2005. Smog levels above public health standards were recorded about 1,020 times in July 2006 compared to about 980 times a year ago. Thirty-eight states plus the District of Columbia experienced unhealthful levels of smog last month.

Bad air quality was recorded in a number of national parks during July, including Acadia National Park in Maine, Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina and Tennessee, Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado, and Death Valley National Park, Joshua Tree National Park, Pinnacles National Monument, and Sequoia National Park, all in California.

Mount Vernon, Virginia, also experienced air bad enough to make George Washington gag.

States with smog problems in 2006, through July (all but New Hampshire had smog levels above public health standards during July).

New Hampshire
New Jersey
New Mexico
New York
North Carolina
Rhode Island
South Carolina
West Virginia

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

News notes: WH names regulatory czarina; ex-Inhofe aide becomes conduit for mining companies' bid to evade clean-air requirements

BUSH NAMES REGULATORY CZARINA: As we predicted several weeks ago, President Bush has named anti-regulatory ghoul Susan Dudley as the new regulatory czarina at the White House Office of Management and Budget.

Dudley has been director of regulatory studies at the Mercatus Center, an alleged “think tank” underwritten by big polluters including Koch Industries. (If you recall the story last week by AP’s Seth Borenstein, you will note that Koch is simultaneously scheming to fight efforts to limit global warming emissions.) She has opposed tougher standards for smog and cleaner gasoline, among many other things.

Putting Dudley in this job is like naming Mel Gibson as a special Mideast Peace Envoy.

Dudley is married to one Brian Mannix, another anti-regulatory type who was placed in the US EPA by the Bush administration. Imagine the pillow talk: “How many rules did you kill today, dear?”

SPEAKING OF ANTI-REGULATORY DIEHARDS: a former hit man for Senator James Inhofe (R-OK) is now at EPA and is being used as a conduit by the mining industry in its efforts to evade clean air restrictions. Michael Catanzaro, former Inhofe attack dog and hotshot in the Bush/Cheney re-election campaign, is now an aide to EPA Deputy Marcus Peacock. There is a flurry of activity at the EPA as the agency considers what to do about national air pollution standards for particle soot. The National Mining Association has put on a lobbying blitz – recounted to some degree in EPA’s official docket (we can help you document this) to try to make sure mining is exempt from any requirements. As part of this blitz, mining officials have funneled materials to Catanzaro, who in turn has passed them up the line.

MORE ON THE MINING CONNECTION: As the revolving door continues, EPA General Counsel Ann Klee is leaving to take a job with the DC law firm Crowell and Moring. Klee’s husband, John MacLeod, was one of the firm’s founding partners. He represents the National Mining Association and other mining interests. Isn’t it great to keep this stuff in the family?