Tuesday, January 31, 2006

President to promote "clear skies" in State of the Union?

Congress Daily is reporting this afternoon that President Bush may make a pitch for his moribund “clear skies” initiative in tonight’s State of the Union Address:

“...Bush also will emphasize nuclear, clean coal, liquefied natural gas, solar and wind production. He is also likely to reiterate his desire for Congress to approve several controversial energy solutions, including authorizing oil and gas drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, enacting his "Clear Skies" air quality plan and modifying EPA's New Source Review permitting program for electric utilities and refineries."

I can understand the President’s promoting ethanol as a way to divert attention from the huge profits announced by ExxonMobil and the few other big oil companies left in this age of mergers. If I were him, I guess I’d be trying to soften my image as an “oilman,” too. (Interestingly enough, although it has become very trendy to talk about ethanol, please note that the American Corn Growers Association has taken a turn to the dark side – it wants to block the EPA from setting standards for so-called “coarse” particles in the air.)

I would not get too excited about any “clear skies” reference. The bill is deader than a doornail.

If he does mention “clear skies,” I would interpret it as an effort to stroke some of his big fund-raising constituencies, for example, money-raising friend Tom Kuhn at the Edison Electric Institute.

IT would also suggest there isn’t all that much good to talk about.

Monday, January 30, 2006

The week ahead: mark your calendars

There are some obvious items this week. (For instance, the President’s State of the Union Address and its expected mention of energy issues – expect an interesting presidential two-step in light of Exxon Mobil’s surging profits announced today.)

But please also be on the lookout for some specific clean-air news this week. A few notes on this below.

It isn’t just Ground Hog day… Mark your calendar for Thursday, Feb. 2, as state and local clean-air regulators poke their heads out with a new report about the pollution and related health effects from diesel trains and boats. You may find the results shocking.

This story is of obvious relevance to port cities ranging from Seattle to Miami, but it also ought to stir up interest anywhere with a train track. The report will be unveiled at an event in DC, starting at 12:45 pm EST: Hall of the States, 444 North Capitol Street, NW, Room 333. For folks outside DC, there will be a call-in number at (800) 376-6136, access code 835828#. An all-start lineup of health and environmental experts will also be present. A formal advisory should be out by tomorrow.

Speaking of diesel: My colleagues with the Clean Air Task Force have rightly earned a reputation for understanding the risk of cancer from diesel engines as well as from other chemicals in the air. They are on the alert this week for a new federal assessment of this issue. I will try to alert you, but please keep in your rolodex the phone # for CATF Advocacy Director Conrad Schneider: (207) 721-8676, e-mail cschneider@catf.us.

Feb. 2 is also the day the U.S. EPA is supposed to complete a report about the potential risk of fires if lawnmowers were equipped with baby catalytic converters. (We believe this is a bogus issue.) You may recall that Sen. Kit Bond (R-MO) blocked EPA from setting new standards for dirty small engines pending completion of this study. Bond, as we all know, has been carrying water for engine maker Briggs & Stratton. BNA’s Daily Environment Report reports today that Briggs & Stratton last week reiterated its opposition to new EPA standards – putting it in opposition to four other engine makers, including Honda.

As we noted last week, Briggs & Stratton has another congressional champion, Rep. Roy Blunt (R-MO), the frontrunner in the race to succeed Rep. Tom DeLay (R-TX) as House Republican Majority Leader. That election will also take place on Feb. 2. As we noted, Blunt’s top fundraiser, lobbyist Gregg Hartley, lobbies for Briggs & Stratton. We expect Blunt and Bond to continue squeezing EPA on behalf of Briggs & Stratton. The result will be continued unnecessary levels of smog.

On Feb. 3, the EPA’s science advisors will meet to discuss their formal response, if any, to EPA’s proposed new standards for particle pollution. You will recall that the chair of the EPA science panel has been publicly critical of EPA’s decision to propose a weaker standard than that endorsed by the panel.

The meeting will take place from 1-5 p.m, EST. You can listen in at: 866-299-3188. Access number: 202-343-9994#

Friday, January 27, 2006

Roy Blunt, Lobbying "Corruption," and Air Pollution

There are two excellent stories this morning that I’d like to call to your attention – one in the Washington Post and the other in the Wall Street Journal – both on the link between key members of Congress and influential lobbyists who raise money for them.

I’d like to focus your attention, if I may, on the subject of the Journal story by Brody Mullins and the link to dirty air.

The Journal looks at one Gregg Hartley, former aide to Rep. Roy Blunt (R-MO) and now a lobbyist who also spends time as a fundraiser for Blunt. “Mr. Hartley is now assisting Mr. Blunt in his bid to succeed Rep. Tom DeLay as House majority leader,” the Journal notes.

What, you might ask, is the connection to air pollution?

Hartley’s connection to Blunt apparently became VERY useful several years ago when California set out to require lower-polluting lawnmowers. And the small-engine firm Briggs & Stratton (which has factories in Missouri) countered with a DC lobbying blitz against California.

You may recall the publicity when Sen. Kit Bond (R-MO) tried on behalf of Briggs & Stratton to stop California from setting the tougher pollution standards. Bond initially blocked this in an appropriations bill.

Then a real brass-knuckle battle ensued behind the scenes: California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, then brand new on the job, and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) fought against Bond. And for a while it appeared as if they would prevail, as other key appropriators, including Reps. Jerry Lewis (R-CA) and Jim Walsh (R-NY) sided against Bond.

But at the last minute, Blunt intervened, according to insiders. Behind closed doors, he demanded that Briggs & Stratton get a break. Blunt basically big-footed appropriators including Walsh, who were trying to assert the rights not only of California, but of other states to adopt the California standards.

In the end, Blunt prevailed, and an uncomfortable "compromise" was reached - California was given the right to move ahead with cleaner small-engine standards. But other states lost their legal right to adopt the California standards. EPA was directed to set tougher national standards - something that still hasn't happened because of continuing opposition by Briggs & Stratton. (Feinstein pointed this out last week in a letter to EPA.) That means we’re breathing extra smog in the summer when lawnmowers rev up.

One of Briggs & Stratton’s major lobbyists at the time was Cassidy & Associates, the firm Hartley joined in 2003. According to lobbying disclosure records, Hartley's firm received $620,000 from Briggs & Stratton for their services on this issue from mid-2003 through mid-2005. The second-half 2005 records have not yet been made public.

A couple of quick footnotes: Blunt is also a key player in some other environmental battles, including an effort by gas stations and the mini-mart lobby to restrict the rights of states to require cleaner fuels. (The mini-mart lobby, the National Association of Convenience Stores, is usually one of Blunt’s top campaign contributors.)

Briggs & Stratton had some other pretty skillful lobbyists during that round of the lawnmower battle. One of them, Granta Nakayama, was then with the firm Kirkland & Elllis. Last year Nakayama was made head of the U.S. EPA office of enforcement. More on Briggs & Stratton and its continuing lobbying campaign, as the year proceeds.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Quick News Notes

A couple of quick news notes.

EPA Inspector General Resigns: Nikki Tinsley, the courageous Inspector General of the EPA, has resigned. Her resignation will deprive the country of a true public servant – someone who pointed out some of the worst abuses by the Bush administration on air pollution matters.

You may recall she had been criticized by Senator Inhofe for having the guts to take on some of these abuses. Let's hope the administration does not use this as an opportunity to install a political hack. Hope springs eternal!

Global Warning: AP reports on a new study that warns global warming will cause sea levels to rise by about a foot during the next century. The research was published in the Geophysical Research Letters. You’d think that reports like this -- coming on the heels of the news about 2005 being the hottest year on record -- would get our policy makers off the proverbial dime. Will President Bush address this in next week’s State of the Union?

Quote of the Week: On this same topic, the quote of the week comes from one John Sterba, chairman, president and CEO of the Albuquerque-based PNM Resources (This was reported on by Darren Samuelsohn of Greenwire.) At an electric utility conference in Arizona, Sterba urged his industry colleagues to cut a deal and support some sort of mandatory greenhouse gas reduction strategy while Republicans still control Congress and the White House.

"If this Congress is not the one to work with, than what one is?" said Sterba, "I have a sense that the time to strike is when you have a seat at the table and the ability to use your leverage."

Monday, January 23, 2006

Mail Call: A Selection of Comments on NASCAR

Here is a selection of some of the e-mails we have received regarding NASCAR's decision to stop using leaded gasoline following Clean Air Watch's call for NASCAR to go unleaded:

From: kpfeifer@uwm.edu
Subject: Loser activists

Do you people have nothing better to do with your time than bitch about every last bit of society? First there was PETA, then ALF, then ACLU, and now you clowns. Can't you people get real jobs? I bet 95% of your members are stupid middleage women with nothing better to do with their (and your) meaningless lives. Thanks for wasting taxpayers money on your BS.

From: Les Elkins [rckymtnhi6@yahoo.com]
Subject: environmental wackos

why dont you enviromental wackos go jump in a lake somewhere as a native coloradian i have been listening to you people my whole life just shut up and stay away from the races if you dont like the air next you will want them to make it less noisy just shut up and stay home.

From: Dick Englert [rge47@frontiernet.net]
No subject line
Screw your origination,

From: SD
No subject line
How about the EPA try doing something real for a change and leave professional motorsports alone. When a governmental entity has to stoop to hitting on motorsports to gain headlines then it's high time someone put a stop to governmental interference. The EPA was one of those good ideas that is radically destroying the US economy. One of those good ideas that gets taken too far by extremists. Somehow, I feel that the EPA should be staffed by real live scientists working for the people instead of zealots trying to cause more trouble.

Friday, January 20, 2006

NASCAR to switch to unleaded gas

If you haven’t seen it, I thought you might be interested that The New York Times reports today that NASCAR plans to switch to unleaded gasoline at its events.

Faithful readers may recall that Clean Air Watch has mounted a mini-campaign on this issue during the past year – most recently with a call this week for EPA to begin monitoring the air for lead pollution at NASCAR events.

(For more, see our website at http://cleanairwatchpressroom.blogspot.com/2006/01/epa-nascar-lead-fumes-may-pose-serious.html and http://blogforcleanair.blogspot.com/2006/01/nascar-update-new-warning-from-epa.html )

NASCAR officials initially appeared to bristle at the suggestion that the lead fumes might be putting the health of children and other spectators at some risk. But I think they eventually realized that the continuing publicity could be bad for business.

I believe this case does show the media can still make a difference.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

NASCAR Update: A New Warning from EPA; Clean Air Watch urges monitoring effort; researchers find elevated lead levels in NASCAR team

Below are several related items regarding lead emissions from NASCAR vehicles:

1) Excerpts from a new EPA study raising concerns about emissions from leaded gasoline at NASCAR events and a link to the study itself;

2) A letter from Clean Air Watch to EPA calling on the agency to monitor lead emissions at NASCAR events; and

3) An abstract of a study by researchers from the Indiana University School of Medicine who found elevated lead levels in a NASCAR team

1) From a new EPA study:


Volume 1, page 2-42-2-43

Emissions from Racing Vehicles

Vehicles used in racing (including cars, trucks, and boats) are not regulated by the EPA according to the Clean Air Act, and can therefore use alkyl-lead additives to boost octane. Data on Pb levels in racing fuel and rates of Pb emissions are scarce. The U.S. Department of Energy stopped tracking information on the production of leaded gasoline for non-aviation use in 1990
(U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 2002). However, the National Motor Sports Council
reports that approximately 100,000 gallons of leaded gasoline were used by National Association for Stock Car Automobile Racing (NASCAR) vehicles in 1998 (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 2002).

As was the case with on-road emissions during the time of universal leaded gasoline use, the combustion of racing fuel likely elevates airborne Pb concentrations in the nearby area. This may pose a serious health risk to some subpopulations such as residents living in the vicinity of racetracks, fuel attendants, racing crew and staff, and spectators.

The EPA has formed a voluntary partnership with NASCAR with the goal of permanently removing alkyl-Pb from racing fuels used in the Busch, Winston Cup, and Craftsman Truck Series (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 2002).

Emissions from the combustion of leaded fuel are generally in the form of submicron particles of inorganic Pb halides.

In addition to racing vehicles and piston engine aircraft, legally permitted uses of leaded fuel include construction machinery, agricultural equipment, logging equipment, industrial and light commercial equipment, airport service equipment, lawn and garden equipment, and recreation equipment including boats, ATVs, jet skis, snowmobiles, etc., (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 2000). Given the relative unavailability of leaded fuel, it is unlikely that it is commonly used for any of these purposes other than racing vehicle
Clean Air Watch
1090 Vermont Avenue, NW, Suite 800Washington, DC 20005
(202) 558-3527

January 13, 2006

Mr. Stephen Johnson
USEPA Headquarters Ariel Rios Building 1200 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W. Mail Code: 1101A Washington, DC 20460

Dear Mr. Johnson:

I am writing to you about the need to monitor toxic lead emissions that could harm the health of people attending or living near NASCAR races.

As you probably know, the Clean Air Act exempts gasoline used in racing cars from the general ban on leaded gasoline.

The EPA reportedly has been working for several years in a “partnership” with NASCAR to encourage a voluntary phase-out of leaded gasoline. NASCAR reports to me that it has not yet found what it considers a suitable substitute.

Sincere NASCAR lead emissions are likely to continue unabated for the foreseeable future, I was struck by a passage in the recently published EPA draft criteria document for lead, in which EPA scientists note that “the combustion of racing fuel likely elevates airborne Pb concentrations in the nearby area. This may pose a serious health risk to some subpopulations such as residents living in the vicinity of racetracks, fuel attendants, racing crew and staff, and spectators.”

Separately, researchers from the Indiana University School of Medicine recently reported that 40% of tested NASCAR team members had high levels of lead in their blood.

As the EPA itself has reported, lead causes damage to the kidneys, liver, brain and nerves, and other organs. Even low levels of lead damage the brain and nerves in fetuses and young children, resulting in learning deficits and lowered IQ.

Because of the extraordinarily toxic nature of lead, most of the world has moved to eliminate its use in gasoline. The Washington Post reported earlier this month, for example, that all of sub-Saharan Africa has ended production of leaded gasoline.

Unfortunately, the health protections given to those in sub-Saharan Africa are not shared by children and others attending NASCAR events or living near race tracks.

Because EPA has determined that NASCAR lead emissions “may pose a serious health risk,” the agency should conduct a few simple tests to find out if that threat is real. And so I am requesting that, as you develop EPA’s new budget request to Congress, you include a request for appropriations to monitor for lead emissions at NASCAR race events. I am sure that a modest amount of money would either document the concerns raised by the agency, or put those concerns to rest.

Thank you for taking time to review this matter. I look forward to your response.


Frank O’Donnell
Clean Air Watch

3) American Public Health Association133rd Annual Meeting & ExpositionDecember 10-14, 2005 Philadelphia, PA

3024.0: Monday, December 12, 2005 - 8:30 AM

Abstract #99917

Blood lead levels in NASCAR racing teams

Joseph O'Neil, MD, Section of Developmental Pediatrics, Indiana University School of Medicine, Riley Hospital for Children, 702 Barnhill Drive, Room 1601, Indianapolis, IN 46202, 317-274-4846, joeoneil@iupui.edu, Gregory K. Steele, DrPH, MPH, Department of Public Health, Indiana University School of Medicine, 1050 Wishard Blvd. RG 4165, Indianapolis, IN 46202, C. Scott McNair, MD, Private Physician, 1393 Celanese Rd, Rock Hill, SC 29732, and Matthew Matusiak, PhD, Marion County Health Department, 3838 North Rural Street, Indianapolis, IN 46211.
Blood lead levels in NASCAR racing teams

NASCAR is the only major autosport using lead-containing fuel. Leaded gasoline exhaust may result in elevated Blood Lead Levels (BLL). In adults this may be associated with cognitive and physical disorders. Early identification and removal of lead is the treatment of choice. This pilot study determines if NASCAR racing teams have BLL >10 µg/dl.

Drivers, pit crews, and mechanics of a NASCAR racing team were stratified by proximity to fuel exhaust or engine components. After informed consent, each participant completed a self-reported survey recording demographics, lead exposure and any physical symptoms of lead toxicity. Blood lead levels were measured. Data analysis was performed using measures of association and linear regression analyses.

BLL of 47 NASCAR drivers and team members were measured with a range of 1-22 µg/dl and a median of 9 µg/dl. A linear regression model identified exposure to exhaust as significant factor for a BLL > 10 µg/dl with a relative risk of 1.43 (95% CI: 1.09, 1.87). Increased relative risks of self-reported cognitive and physical symptoms were reported with a BLL > 10µg/dl.

The study demonstrated that 40% of this NASCAR team had a BLL > 10 µg/dl. Lead is not a naturally occurring metal in man and any level could be considered abnormal. Efforts to reduce lead exposure by either reducing or eliminating lead in the gasoline, protective equipment and frequent hand washing should be implemented.

Learning Objectives:

Assess the effect of leaded gasoline on a NASCAR racing team
Identify occupational and environmental risk factors for elevated blood lead levels
Discuss methods to reduce elevated blood lead levels in NASCAR racing teams
Keywords: Environmental Health Hazards, Lead

Presenting author's disclosure statement:

I wish to disclose that I have NO financial interests or other relationship with the manufactures of commercial products, suppliers of commercial services or commercial supporters.

Excellent New York Times Editorial today

See at http://cleanairarticles.blogspot.com/

Thursday, January 12, 2006

new poster child for mercury pollution? ex-lobbyist Jack Abramoff

From today's Washington Post

Mercury Rising: The Abramoff Diet

We knew ex-lobbyist Jack Abramoff struggled with his weight. Now we know one reason why -- the poor guy never found the right diet. During one of his thin periods a few years back, he told a reporter friend of ours that he'd tried an all-sushi diet. (Is that kosher? Not the ebi .) Worked great -- the pounds fell off -- until his doctor discovered the mercury levels in his blood had rocketed off the charts and he had to give it up. A spokesman for Abramoff said he had no comment.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Lobbying firm linked to DeLay, Abramoff, worked against better fuel economy standards

Just a quick note to remind you of the anti-environmental activities of a scandal-plagued lobbying firm in the news today.

The Alexander Strategy Group, a firm with links to lobbyist Jack Abramoff and Rep. Tom DeLay is going out of business.

Here's how the Washington Post put it:

One of Washington's top lobbying operations will shut down at the end of the month because of its ties to disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff and former House majority leader Tom DeLay.

Alexander Strategy Group, which had thrived since its founding in 1998 thanks largely to its close connections to DeLay (R-Tex.), will cease to operate except for a relatively small business-development division, Edwin A. Buckham, the former top DeLay aide who owns the company, said yesterday.


Among the company's clients have included the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers and the National Automobile Dealers Association. For both clients, the firm lobbied Congress to block better motor vehicle fuel economy standards.

A key member of the lobbying firm, former DeLay (and Abramoff) aide Tony Rudy, lobbied for both the car companies and the car dealers.

Monday, January 09, 2006

EPA lead science advisor vows to fight bad particle decision; EPA conspires with Ohio to cheat breathers, and more...

Those of us in DC are awaiting the return of Congress, as many lawmakers solemnly vow to “reform” corrupt lobbying practices (though one major lawmaker with control over air pollution policy, Rep. Joe Barton of Texas, plans a big “Texas Hold’em event to rake in cards AND campaign checks – see at http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/01/08/AR2006010801162.html)

Here are a few potentially interesting updates.

Fighting mad: The chair of EPA’s science advisory panel vows to fight the scientifically deficient proposal by the agency regarding national air quality standards for dangerous particle pollution. We believe that real science was contaminated by political science as EPA made that proposal right before the holidays. You will recall that EPA proposed something weaker than either its own scientists or the agency’s outside science advisors had recommended. And now the chair of EPA’s science advisory panel is vowing to fight that bad decision. In an interview with Science magazine, Rogene Henderson of the Lovelace Respiratory Research Institute in Albuquerque, New Mexico, declares “this isn’t over” and says the science panel will reiterate its case. Please let me know if you want a copy of the article.

Stuffing staff: In a related matter, the deputy head of the EPA is calling on the agency to review the entire process of setting national air quality standards. EPA Deputy Head Marcus Peacock has set up a work group to “conduct a top-to-bottom review” review of the process. To evaluate this December 15 memo (if you want this, please let me know), it is probably worth knowing that former Office of Management and Budget official Peacock is viewed by many inside the agency as a White House agent whose mission is to control those pesky bureaucrats who want to do something positive. Sure enough, this memo appears designed to keep EPA’s staff scientists – who called for tougher particle pollution standards than the agency actually proposed – from doing something like that again in the future. In other words, this could inject even more politics into what is supposed to be a scientific process. In an interesting display of plumage, Peacock’s memo also adopts an argument being made by the coal-burning electric power industry against tougher standards.

Bureaucratic bungles: Ugly politics is also playing a big role in an EPA decision to ignore the Clean Air Act and permit the state of Ohio to scrap its auto inspection program for the Cincinnati-Dayton area. As you may know, Ohio did this at the end of last year in violation of legal requirements which stipulate that states with smog problems can’t just dump pollution control programs they don’t like. It turns out now that the US EPA was in on the deal, which will mean more dirty air and health problems for breathers in Ohio. We’ve written to the EPA regional head in Chicago to protest “the unfortunate appearance of a federal agency that thinks it is above the law – an agency that only decides to enforce the law when it appears politically convenient. It is the sort of action that can further undermine public confidence in our national government.” The full letter is at http://blogforcleanair.blogspot.com/2006/01/clean-air-watch-to-epa-dont-act-as-if.html

SUV subterfuge: While many car companies are introducing new models – including some that are environmentally friendly – at this week’s big auto show in Detroit, the car companies are up to some of their dirty old political tricks. Last week the SUV, Pickup and Van Owners of America, launched a new attack on California standards aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions from motor vehicles. The organization, which sometimes refers to itself as Sport Utility Vehicle Owners of America, is actually a front group run by a D.C. pr firm that has also represented the auto industry and diesel technology industry. Given that so many states have adopted the California standards, you might want to be on the lookout for this front group in your community.

New Year’s resolution: What do planes, trains and boats have in common? That’s one of our resolutions to explore in the New Year.

Clean Air Watch to EPA: Don't Act As If You Are Above the Law

Clean Air Watch
1090 Vermont Avenue, NW, Suite 800
Washington, DC 20005

January 5, 2006

Mr. Thomas V. Skinner
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
Region 5
77 West Jackson Boulevard Mail Code: R-19J Chicago, IL 60604-3507

Dear Mr. Skinner:

I am writing to you regarding the illegal suspension of Ohio’s vehicle emission inspection program.

Clean Air Watch is a national non-profit watchdog organization that monitors air pollution control policy. We keep close tabs on smog problems around the nation. We recently reported on national smog problems during 2005. See at http://cleanairwatchpressroom.blogspot.com/2005/11/smog-problems-nearly-double-in-2005.html.

We were struck by the recent report by the American Lung Associations of Ohio and Kentucky, “The Ohio/Kentucky Smog Report,” which documented the significant and persistent smog problem in the Cincinnati-Dayton area. The report points out that there are many at-risk populations living in that area, including: more than 219,000 people with asthma (children and adults), more than 86,000 people with chronic bronchitis, and over 31,000 people with emphysema. These diseases can be greatly aggravated by unhealthful levels of ozone pollution. The Cincinnati-Dayton area experienced 19 days of unhealthful air this past summer. The grim result is more emergency room visits, more asthma attacks and more premature deaths.

In light of this very significant public health problem, Clean Air Watch was stunned not only by the arbitrary and flatly illegal decision by the state of Ohio to eliminate auto inspection and maintenance programs in southern Ohio, but also by the apparent decision by the federal government to encourage such lawless behavior. This action by Ohio and the apparent complicity by EPA Region 5 undermines the integrity of the State Implementation Plan (SIP) process.

In a December 28, 2005, letter to the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, Stephen Rothblatt, director of the Air and Radiation Division of U.S. EPA Region V, makes it clear that the U.S. EPA knew well in advance that Ohio was planning to terminate a legally mandated and effective smog-fighting program without even seeking EPA’s approval.

The U.S. EPA’s action in this episode creates the unfortunate appearance of a federal agency that thinks it is above the law – an agency that only decides to enforce the law when it appears politically convenient. It is the sort of action that can further undermine public confidence in our national government.

Mr. Skinner, I am particularly disappointed that such inappropriate behavior by the federal government is happening on your watch as administrator of EPA’s Region V branch office. You were formerly head of the U.S. EPA’s national enforcement office and should understand the importance of enforcing the law. In this instance, the U.S. EPA’s cavalier disregard of the law can only lead to increased suffering for many thousands of breathers.

I urge you to reconsider the U.S. EPA’s ill-considered behavior and require that Ohio meet the requirements of its SIP and reinstate its vehicle inspection and maintenance program.

Thank you for taking time to review this matter. I look forward to your response.


Frank O’Donnell
Clean Air Watch

Bharat Mathur, Deputy Regional Administrator
Margo Oge, Director, Office of Transportation and Air Quality
Steve Page, Director, Office of Air Quality Planning and Standards
Stephen Rothblatt, Director, Air & Radiation Division
Bill Wehrum, Assistant Administrator, Office of Air and Radiation

Friday, January 06, 2006

Scientists: EPA proposed particle rules anything but fine

Science 6 January 2006:Vol. 311. no. 5757, p. 27

News of the Week
ENVIRONMENTAL REGULATION:New Particulate Rules Are Anything but Fine, Say Scientists

Erik Stokstad

Cutting in half the maximum amount of fine particles that people should breathe over 24 hours sounds impressive. But critics of this revision to air pollution standards, proposed last month by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), say the new daily threshold will only marginally improve public health. They say a truly dramatic reduction in mortality rates requires lower annual exposure levels, too.

In fact, an outside panel that made such a recommendation is not happy with EPA's decision. "What is the point of having a scientific advisory committee if you don't use their judgment?" wonders Jane Koenig of the University of Washington, Seattle.

EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson didn't answer that question during a 20 December teleconference announcing the standards but said he had thought long and hard about the data. "I made my decision based upon the best available science," he explained. "And this choice requires judgment based upon an interpretation of the evidence."

Studies have shown that inhaling the small particles that make up soot--a widespread byproduct of combustion--harms health, although the mechanisms are not all clear (Science, 25 March 2005, p. 1858). Bad air days can trigger asthma attacks, for example, and even kill people suffering from lung or heart disease. Even chronic exposure to lower levels of soot leads to health problems and premature death.

In 1997, EPA first regulated fine particles measuring 2.5 micrometers (PM 2.5) or less. As part of a settlement in a suit brought by the American Lung Association, EPA was required to propose revised PM 2.5 rules by the end of 2005. The new standards would lower the maximum allowable 24-hour exposure for PM 2.5 from 65 micrograms per cubic meter (g/m3) to 35 g/m3. That's within the range recommended by the agency's Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee (CASAC) but still on the high side. EPA ignored other suggestions, most notably declining to reduce the average annual PM 2.5 standard of 15 g/m3 to 13 or 14. Such a reduction could make a big difference in public health, scientists have found.

EPA models for nine major U.S. cities predict that the tightest daily and annual standards recommended by CASAC would cut the roughly 4700 deaths due each year to PM 2.5 in those cities by 48%. In contrast, death rates would drop by 22% under the agency's proposal to tighten only the daily standard. EPA didn't make a nationwide tally of lives saved under any of the proposals, but epidemiologist Joel Schwartz of Harvard School of Public Health in Boston, using an annual standard of 14 g/m3, came up with 9000 or more. Having a looser standard is "completely unjustified by the science," he says.

EPA plans three public hearings on its proposal and will accept public comments until early April. "This isn't over," vows CASAC chair Rogene Henderson of the Lovelace Respiratory Research Institute in Albuquerque, New Mexico, who says the committee will reiterate its case. The final revisions are due out in September.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Clean Air Watch assailed by industry-funded, right-wing think tank


Particle Civics

By Joel Schwartz
Posted: Wednesday, January 4, 2006

Tech Central Station

Publication Date: January 4, 2006

When the Environmental Protection Agency cuts allowable particle pollution levels more than 45 percent, you might expect commendations from environmentalists and the press. You’d be disappointed.

EPA recently proposed reducing allowable daily levels of fine particulate matter (PM2.5) from 65 micrograms per cubic meter (ug/m3) down to 35 ug/m3. The change would nearly double the number of pollution monitoring locations that violate federal PM2.5 standards.[i]
Environmentalists were unimpressed. Clean Air Watch complained “President Bush Gives Early Christmas Present to Smokestack Industries.”[ii] According to the American Lung Association “EPA Proposes ‘Status Quo’ Revisions to PM [Standards].”[iii]

Some newspapers didn’t do any better. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s front-page headline claimed “EPA barely budges on soot; Health advice disregarded.”[iv] According to the New York Times, EPA “modestly” reduced allowable PM2.5, and “largely ignored recommendations for tighter controls from its own scientists and from an independent panel of outside experts.”[v]

A more realistic assessment is that EPA substantially tightened its PM2.5 standard, but by a bit less than its science advisory panel recommended, and not by nearly as much as environmentalists wanted. That this could be called “status quo” is a mark of how detached from reality the bizarre world of air pollution politics has become.

EPA has two standards for fine particulates, or PM2.5. An annual-average limit of 15 ug/m3, and a daily limit of 65 ug/m3.[vi] Both were adopted by the Clinton administration in 1997. EPA is proposing to keep the annual standard the same, but to lower the daily PM2.5 limit from 65 to 35 ug/m3.

Currently, the annual standard is what’s driving PM2.5 regulation. Fourteen percent of the nation’s PM2.5 monitoring locations violate the annual standard, while only 0.3 percent violate the daily standard. But under EPA’s new proposal, the daily standard would set the pace, nearly doubling the PM2.5 violation rate to 27 percent of all monitoring sites, including turning virtually all annual violators in daily violators as well, and adding about 75 additional counties to EPA’s list of PM2.5 “non-attainment” areas.[vii]

EPA’s Clean Air Science Advisory Committee (CASAC), a group of outside scientists and health experts, recommended somewhat tougher standards than EPA proposed—a 30 ug/m3 daily limit, and a 13-14 ug/m3 annual limit. Activists wanted EPA to go further still. The Lung Association pressed for a daily standard of 25 ug/m3 and an annual of 12 ug/m3.[viii] This would have put about 75 percent of America’s metropolitan areas in violation of the standards. Although EPA didn’t go as far as CASAC recommended, calling EPA’s proposal “status quo” is a gross misrepresentation.

Environmentalists are also creating the false impression that current standards are weak and that little is being done to reduce particulate matter. For example, John Balbus of Environmental Defense claimed “The old standard was so weak that there was room to lower the number without actually making big improvements on the ground.”[ix]

In reality, 35 percent of the nation’s PM2.5 monitors exceeded the annual PM2.5 standard in 1999--the year that EPA began national PM2.5 monitoring, and two years after EPA adopted the standard. Only the 8-hour ozone standard had a higher violation rate. And regardless of where the standard is set, “big improvements” have indeed occurred on the ground. Average PM2.5 levels dropped 15 percent from 1999 to 2004.

Frank O’Donnell of Clean Air Watch pilloried the new standards for “not requiring any additional cleanup from the power industry beyond what’s already planned under earlier, industry-friendly rules.”[x] O’Donnell fails to mention that those ostensibly “industry-friendly” power-plant rules reduced sulfur dioxide (SO2) emissions nearly 33 percent between 1990 and 2003, and require future SO2 emissions to be reduced another 77 percent below 2003 levels.[xi] SO2 is by far the largest source of industrial PM2.5 in the eastern U.S., and existing requirements will get rid of most of it.

A small amount of industrial PM2.5 also comes from emissions of oxides of nitrogen (NOx). But additional “industry-friendly” rules reduced annual power plant NOx emissions by 30 percent between 1998 and 2004, and 60 percent during May-September.[xii] EPA’s Clean Air Interstate Rule requires additional power-plant NOx reductions in the future. EPA has also adopted rules that will eliminate almost all remaining PM2.5 from automobiles, diesel trucks, and off-road diesel equipment, as well as PM2.5 from other industries besides power plants.[xiii]

It is possible that EPA’s tougher PM2.5 standard won’t require any new emission-reduction requirements in some metropolitan areas. If so, it won’t be because the new standard is lax, but because EPA has already clamped down so severely on the major sources of PM2.5 that no additional regulations would be necessary. Leave it to environmentalists to turn the stringency of past regulations into an apparent liability.

Environmentalists and even health experts on EPA’s CASAC advisory panel are also using EPA’s failure to reduce the annual PM2.5 standard to justify the false claims that EPA maintained the “status quo” on PM2.5 and “ignored” CASAC’s advice.

What both the activists and scientists, and the journalists who quote them, fail to realize is that tightening the daily PM2.5 standard will effectively tighten the annual PM2.5 standard as well. After all, annual PM2.5 levels are just an average of daily levels, and most measures to reduce PM2.5 on the worst days also reduce PM2.5 on all other days (and vice versa). Low-emitting cars and trucks are low-emitting all the time, not just on a few days expected to have high PM2.5 levels.

That reductions in short-term and long-term PM2.5 occur in concert is easy to verify with data collected over the last few years. Between 1999 and 2004, annual-average PM2.5 levels declined 15 percent, while PM2.5 levels on the worst days declined 14 percent. Similarly, since the early 1980s, annual-average PM2.5 levels have declined about 45 percent, while peak daily levels declined nearly 50 percent.[xiv]

As a result of the relationship between daily and annual-average PM2.5 levels, reducing the
daily standard from 65 to 35 ug/m3 will have the effect of reducing the annual standard at least to CASAC’s recommended level of 13-14 ug/m3, and perhaps even to the 12 ug/m3 standard the Lung Association wanted.

The debate over where EPA should set PM2.5 standards also confuses process--the standards--with the actual measures that reduce PM2.5. The fact that federal air pollution regulations are generally national or at least multi-state in scope means that PM2.5 will continue to go down all over the U.S., including in places that already comply with EPA’s proposed standards.

Could public debate on air pollution be any more absurd? EPA proposes a new standard that would reduce allowable peak PM2.5 levels by 45 percent and that would double the national PM2.5 non-attainment rate. Yet environmentalists call this “status quo” with a straight face, health scientists claim EPA ignored their recommendations, and journalists endorse these false assessments.

Environmentalists then criticize the standard on the grounds that it might not require adoption of any new regulations, ignoring that this could only be true if EPA had already adopted regulations sufficiently demanding to attain the new standard. Perhaps next time environmentalists would be appeased if EPA instead delayed any actual pollution reductions until after a new standard is adopted.

Polls continue to show that most Americans mistakenly believe air pollution has been worsening and that too little is being done to improve air quality. With our current band of “reliable sources” for air pollution information, is it any wonder?

Joel Schwartz is a visiting fellow at AEI. The second article in this series will focus on PM2.5 and health.

[i] Unless otherwise noted, information on PM2.5 levels, trends, and violation rates comes from national PM2.5 monitoring data downloaded from EPA at http://www.epa.gov/air/data/repsus.html?us~usa~United percent20States. Violation analyses are based on monitoring sites with complete data for 2002-04 (attainment of the standard is based on three-year averages of pollution levels), while trends are based on sites with complete data for 1999-2004.
[ii] See http://www.cleanairwatchpressroom.blogspot.com/.
[iii] See http://www.cleanairstandards.org/article/articleview/406/1/41/.
[iv] Jeff Nesmith, “EPA barely budges on soot; Health advice disregarded,” Atlanta Journal-Constitution, December 21, 2005, 1A.
[v] Michael Janofsky, “Regulations Are Proposed to Cut Back Particulates,” New York Times, December 21, 2005.
[vi] The daily standard is based on the three-year average of the 98th percentile of daily readings. In practice, this means that a given monitoring site can average about 7 days per year with PM2.5 above 65 ug/m3 before it violates the standard.
[vii] For EPA’s estimates of the increases in non-attainment counties, see http://www.epa.gov/air/particles/pdfs/presentation20051220a.pdf. These estimates are based on 2002-2004 data, which are the most recent available. Actual regulatory designations of non-attainment areas under the new standard will of course depend on future PM2.5 levels, probably levels during 2006-2008.
[viii] From ALA’s press backgrounder on the new standards. ALA also wanted the daily standard to be based on the 99th percentile, rather than the 98th.
[ix] Quoted in the Washington Post, December 21, 2005.
[x] Frank O’Donnell, “The Unfriendly Skies,” December 20, 2005, http://www.tompaine.com/articles/20051220/the_unfriendly_skies.php.
[xi] The reductions through 2003 occurred under the Clean Air Act’s Title IV acid rain requirements. Future reductions are required by EPA’s recently adopted Clean Air Interstate Rule.
[xii] These rules are the NOx Budget Trading Program and the NOx SIP Call.
[xiii] In discussing PM2.5 reductions here, I mean both direct PM emissions, and emissions of PM2.5-forming gases, such as NOx, and volatile organic compounds. For a summary of regulatory requirements with links to primary sources, see my TCS column “New Source of Confusion.”
[xiv] Based on comparison of PM2.5 data collected by the Inhalable Particulate Monitoring Network, which operated from 1979-83, with data collected since 1999.