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.).

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