Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Bush EPA ignores science -- and recent developments -- in reaffirming pro-industry mercury rule

The U.S. EPA has just put out a news release reaffirming the Bush administration’s bad, industry-friendly mercury pollution rule initially set in March 2005.

The Bush administration is ignoring science – and the obvious potential for better pollution cleanup. This is a classic case of the Bush administration harming the environment by currying favor with a powerful special interest – the coal-burning electric power industry.

The facts – and developments in the past year – show just how obviously a gift to the power industry this is.

When EPA first issued the rule, it claimed that no commercially available pollution controls were available to clean up mercury. Since that time, various commercial contracts have been announced – giving the lie to the EPA plan. (See some examples at

When EPA first issued the rule, it also claimed that its “cap-and-trade” plan would be just dandy – and that local pollution controls weren’t needed – because most of the mercury was allegedly coming from somewhere else. Since that time, EPA has found (in a study of Steubenville, Ohio), that localized reductions in mercury emissions would lead to less mercury in the local environment – thus giving the lie to the cap-and-trade plan.

The irony here is that the pro-industry Bush plan has triggered a rebellion by states.

As Rebecca Adams noted in a recent issue of CQ Weekly

“Twenty-one states - some with Republican governors, including New York, Maryland, Minnesota and Connecticut - have served notice to the administration that they will produce their own plans. Pennsylvania, which has a Democratic governor and the second-highest level of mercury emissions in the country, after Texas, is among the most aggressive dissenters, proposing to cut mercury levels by 90 percent by 2015. The state also wants to prohibit the trading of pollution credits among its 36 coal-fired power plants because officials say they believe it would leave pockets of mercury contamination near the dirtiest plants.”

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Sportsmen lock and load on global warming

It's a different constituency than the ones we usually think of as concerned about global warming.

But a new public opinion survey finds that sportsmen are not only concerned about the problem, but believe it's time for immediate action to deal with it.

"America's sportsmen are saying we have a moral responsibility to confront global warming to protect our children's future," said Larry Schweiger, president of the National Wildlife Federation, which commissioned the survey.

For more:

News notes: ethanol's (dirty) little secret, and more...

With a new “American Idol” champ about to be crowned, and Jack Bauer on a literal slow boat to China, we will soon be entering the summer doldrums. However, we are still on the alert for interesting stories from around the globe:

"States Eye Pollution Cuts to Offset Emissions Increases from Ethanol” – Now that was a jarring headline!

In this political season, so many stories that we read about ethanol -- even in major newspapers (see ) -- seem as if they were ghost-written by the Iowa Corn Growers or Archer Daniels Midland.

So it was quite fascinating to read the piece by Dawn Reeves in the publication Inside EPA, which notes that “air regulators in the Midwest and other parts of the country are considering new requirements on stationary and other pollution sources to address expected emissions increases from the energy law mandate to add more ethanol to gasoline.”

This story isn’t about the effort by Senator John Thune (R-SD) to bully the EPA on behalf of the corn lobby into proposing weaker air pollution standards for ethanol refineries; that’s a separate pollution problem.

Rather, this is about a special exemption in the Clean Air Act which permits weaker pollution standards for regular gasoline blended with ethanol. Note Reeves: “Ethanol that is blended into conventional gasoline is automatically granted a waiver from EPA rules aimed at limiting fuel volatility to control emissions of volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which contribute to ozone.”
As a result, pollution could increase. Even more extra pollution could happen from fumes that leak through car hoses. Some states, particularly in the upper Midwest, are said to be wondering if they will have to compensate by tightening smokestack pollution standards. Stay tuned.

(Note: these concerns should not apply to the more visionary goals of using mainly ethanol in cars designed for its use – or the very visionary goal of designing a plug-in hybrid electric car that would run mainly on ethanol (from waste products) when not powered by the battery.)

Whatever Happened to Hydrogen? President Bush told NBC’s Brian Williams in a recent interview: “The ultimate solution (to high gas prices) is to promote ethanol." But it seems like only yesterday (actually, it was last month, on Earth Day) that the President declared "I strongly believe hydrogen is the fuel of the future.”

Has hydrogen been discarded that quickly?

Not really, though it has at least temporarily been eclipsed as the Great Green Hope. Still there are developments on the hydrogen front. Just this week it was reported that a second hydrogen fuel station will open in Las Vegas

And just yesterday it was reported that scientists have determined that waste products from caramel production could be used to make hydrogen. No kidding:

Refiners Admit They Are Making Big Expansion Plans: The word from Washington is that bi-partisan discussions about new refinery legislation have collapsed. That means that congressional Republicans led by Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX) will probably try after the Memorial Day recess to forge ahead without significant Democratic support on a plan to limit environmental reviews of refinery expansions.

Ironically, the oil industry basically admitted this week that it is moving ahead with big refinery expansion plans under current environmental rules. In a May 22nd statement, the National Petrochemical and Refiners Association noted that, with regard to temporary tight gasoline supplies:

This situation will ultimately be addressed through announced additions to U.S. refinery capacity, estimated at 1.4 to 2.0 mmb/d. This is an 8-11% increase in U.S. capacity, which should be in place by 2010 at the latest… Over the past 10 years, domestic refining has increased by an average of 177,000 barrels per day of production each year or the equivalent of building one new, larger than average refinery each year. This fact should assuage some concerns about the fact that no new grassroots refinery has been built in the U.S. in over 30 years.

In other words, all the complaining by Barton, President Bush and others about no new refineries is just political baloney.

Neville Feinstein? One of the more interesting things to watch for when Congress returns is the spending legislation for the U.S. EPA, which will be subject to scrutiny by Senate appropriators. Sen. Kit Bond (R-MO), has already signaled he may try to use this legislation to interfere with planned EPA attempts to set new pollution standards for lawn mowers and other small engines.

Twice (in 2003 and again last year) Bond has interfered to protect a single big polluter, the Briggs & Stratton Corporation. And twice, Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-CA) has appeased Bond through striking deals that delay cleanup. Will that appeasement continue? Will other senators weigh in with Bond, who has earned the nickname “Senator Smog” from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch?

This is an issue, of course, that has implications far beyond California. New Jersey, for example, has noted that small engines produce more than 10% of smog-forming volatile organic compounds in that state on a typical summer day. The same is likely true for other states.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Congressional kooks score TKO against global warming resolution

Key Republicans today axed a "Sense of the Congress" resolution expressing concern about global warming from spending legislation for the Environmental Protection Agency.

They knocked it out on a technicality.

Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska), chairman of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, made a procedural point of order against the provision, claiming it constitutes legislation on an appropriations measure. The Rules Committee had left the provision unprotected from such maneuvers following a plea by Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas).

The House resolution, adopted last week without debate by the Appropriations Committee, acknowledges threats from record greenhouse gas concentrations on the Earth's climate and also urges action on a new U.S. policy that does not harm the economy and includes international trading partners. A similar measure, championed by Senators Pete Domenici (R-NM) and Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), was approved by the Senate last year.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Has Inhofe changed his tune on global warming? Reporters stay OUT

We all know that the ever-colorful Senator James Inhofe (R-OK) has a consistent record of denial when it comes to global warming.

"Man-made global warming is the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people," is how the chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee likes to put it.

But now it turns out that Inhofe has scheduled a closed-door forum of his Senate committee on May 25 to examine possible greenhouse gas reduction technologies.

Wait a minute. Given that Inhofe has declared global warming is a hoax, why is he even holding such a session?

It probably has to do with the one congressional priority that trumps all ideology and substance: preservation of turf.

A separate Senate committee – Energy and Natural Resources – has also been investigating strategies to deal with global warming. Inhofe’s extremist views threaten to become irrelevant.
The details of the Inhofe “forum” remain hush-hush.

One thing we do know: according to today’s BNA Daily Environment Report, reporters will NOT be allowed in the room, though they apparently will be allowed to interview the still-secret panelists after the fact.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

An update from the front: Briggs & Stratton tries a new tactic in war against pollution controls

The infamous Briggs & Stratton Corporation is apparently trying a new tactic in its long-running war against new air pollution standards for lawn mowers and other small gasoline-powered engines.

At an EPA meeting yesterday in Ann Arbor, Michigan, B&S kept a decidedly low profile – despite having at least a half dozen lawyers, other company employees and consultants in attendance. (This meeting, you may recall, was to permit a public vetting of a recent EPA report which concluded that using baby catalytic converters on lawn mowers would not create new safety concerns. )

Instead, B&S relied on its trade association, the Outdoor Equipment Power Institute, to try undermining new pollution standards. But the Institute spokesmen looked and acted a little embarrassed at the whole business -- a little like a nervous groom at the proverbial shotgun wedding.

The Institute called on EPA to postpone any new small-engine pollution standards until the industry developed “voluntary” safety guidelines.

The Institute spokesmen looked especially embarrassed because it was revealed at the meeting that the Consumer Product Safety Commission had asked the industry in 2002 to develop similar guidelines for leaky fuel tanks in existing engines – and they still haven’t done it!

Margo Oge, director of EPA’s Office of Transportation and Air Quality, asked how long it would take the industry to develop guidelines for engines equipped with tiny catalytic converters.

“We don’t know how long it will take,” responded James McNew, the Institute’s vice president for technical and marketing services.

Oge quickly replied that “we don’t believe EPA should delay our efforts” while the industry cogitates. She noted that small engines “contribute significantly” to smog problems. (One of the Institute spokesmen also urged a delay until an industry-funded front group completes its own study of safety issues. It is pretty obvious that the front-group study’s conclusions have already been written.)

Several of the Institute’s members – including Honda and Koehler – stood up at yesterday’s meeting to break ranks with the Institute and endorse, without delay, national clean-air standards for small engines similar to those adopted already by the state of California. Several other companies previously have also done this in writing.

Even so, I would not be surprised if the industry takes its lame complaints to B&S’s longtime champion, Senator Kit Bond (R-MO), as spending legislation for EPA moves in the near future from the House (slated to act on it this week) to the Senate.

There are two issues pending: the need for EPA to grant an official waiver to permit California to move ahead with its standards; and proposed national EPA standards. We hope the former will happen soon. The latter probably won’t happen before late this year.

We will be watching to see if “Senator Smog” Bond (as christened by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch) tries once again to interfere on behalf of his friends at Briggs & Stratton.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

EPA political hack revives senior death discount"

A Bush administration political appointee at EPA is promoting what some call a "senior death discount" -- the idea of placing less value on the lives of elderly people in calculating the health benefits of reducing pollution.

The publication Inside EPA reports that Brian Mannix, associate administrator of EPA's Office of Policy, Economics & Innovation, made a pitch for the senior death discount at a recent workshop on economic analyses. Mannnix previously worked at the Mercatus Center, an industry-funded "think tank."

Bush administration officials floated the senior death discount idea several years ago, but they were forced to shelve it following protests by environmentalists, some senior groups and some in Congress.

News notes: is it the Colbert Report? Front groups are blooming, and other matters...

I don’t know if it’s because America is reeling because rocker Chris Daughtry got the boot from “American Idol,” or perhaps because too many lawn mower fumes are fouling the air (see more, below), but the nation’s capital is blooming with new front groups promoting dirty air and energy development.

More on this, and other matters below.

Would Americans Want Non-American Energy? Front group number one was unveiled yesterday – Americans for American Energy. No, this is not a spoof by Stephen Colbert, but it would be easy to think so.

The web site has scary pictures of Osama, etc. in order to provide political cover for companies that want to drill for oil in Alaska and mine and burn more coal.

If this seems like a page from the Bush-Cheney drill-and-burn energy playbook, well, it is! And no wonder. The group is headed by Jim Sims, former press spokesman for the secretive Cheney energy task force and the guy who organizes the Annual Business Festival of Access Buying in Arizona, where business leaders booze it up and golf with their favorite members of Congress and the Bush administration.

Tobacco-Style Research -- or Just Blowing Smoke? We have begun investigating front group number two -- The Scientific Integrity Institute which appears to be an electric power industry-funded effort to undermine US EPA attempts to set better air pollution standards for deadly fine particle pollution.

The “Institute” appears to be run by UCLA researcher James Enstrom, who became notorious several years ago for publishing a study which concluded there was no health risk associated with second-hand smoking. (See at ) Enstrom’s study was panned by mainstream researchers, who noted that it was funded by the tobacco industry.

Undaunted by the controversy, Enstrom is at it again – this time with a new study which challenges the link between fine particle soot and premature death in California. And once again (in the June issue of the scientific publication Inhalation Toxicology), other researchers are saying that Enstrom is just blowing smoke. This issue is probably worth further investigation since the electric power industry is using Enstrom’s study as an argument against better particle pollution standards.

Farmers for Clean Air? Actually the name of this front group is Farmers for Clean Air and Water. As near as we can tell, it is aimed at making sure the Superfund law is never applied to giant agri-businesses.

As for the track record of agriculture and clean air, we’ve reported previously on opposition by farm groups to better fine-particle pollution standards. (See at ). Some farm groups are also arguing in favor of weakening clean-air standards for ethanol refineries. Clean Air Watch has joined other groups including the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Dakota Resource Council and the state and local clean-air regulators in opposing weaker standards. We have more on this if you need it.

Speaking of Phonies, you may have noticed that the House Energy and Commerce Committee yesterday rejected efforts to set better fuel economy standards for passenger vehicles. But, by a narrow 28-26 vote, the panel did approve the Bush administration strategy of giving the federal Transportation Department authority to set better standards. Since the administration already has the authority to do this, this legislation can best be viewed as a cynical effort to fool a gullable public (See above on Chris Daughtry.) It coincides with newspaper advertisements by auto companies, which are obviously trying to change the subject and defuse any real effort to improve fuel economy.

Symbolic, or a Sign on Global Warming? In a little-noticed move elsewhere on Capitol Hill, the House Appropriations Committee yesterday endorsed a resolution that urges Congress to develop an overall emissions cap on global warming emissions. As noted today in Environment & Energy Daily, the resolution mirrors a resolution, championed by Senators Pete Domenici (R-NM) and Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) approved last year by the Senate. This House resolution likely will be killed by Senate appropriators, but this vote is another sign that limits on global warming pollution are coming. (Last week’s decision by conservative Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) to co-sponsor the power plant legislation developed by Senator Tom Carper (D-DEL) is another sign of this trend.) It’s only a matter of time. Watch for some real fireworks in the next Congress.

Mowing Matters: Next Monday, Clean Air Watch will be among those attending an EPA meeting in Ann Arbor, Michigan, on the agency’s recent study of lawn mowers and safety. Folks who have followed this issue will recall that California regulators and the EPA have both worked towards setting new clean-air standards for lawn mowers and other small engines. Those standards have been vigorously opposed by Senator Kit Bond (R-MO) – whom the St. Louis Post-Dispatch refers to as “Senator Smog” – and the Briggs & Stratton Corporation. Following recent publicity on this issue – from news outlets ranging from the Ecotalk radio show to the New York Times and the CBS Evening News, Briggs & Stratton appears to be taking a lower profile, hiding, as it were, behind the gas can of the Outdoor Equipment Power Institute, of which B&S is a member.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

House committee passes fake fuel economy bill

Late today, the House Energy and Commerce Committee approved a bill that would -- as requested by the President -- clarify that the Department of Transportation has authority to change fuel efficiency requirements for passenger cars. Over the objections of Democrats, the committee narrowly approved the bill in a 28 to 26 vote.

The committee rejected actual attempts to improve fuel economy.

An amendment offered by Rep. Edward Markey, D-Mass., that would require fuel efficiency standards to go from a fleet average of 27.5 miles per gallon to 33 mpg after model year 2015 easily failed in a 36 to 17 vote.

Although supporters of the amendment argued that key scientists say the higher standards can be met today without compromising vehicle safety, Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich., said setting "an arbitrary" number would be painful for the U.S. auto industry and small business owners in his state. "This is an arbitrary, political number," he said, arguing that if consumers want more fuel efficient vehicles, they can already buy them.

Monday, May 08, 2006

CBS Evening News examines lawn mowers, politics and pollution

CBS EVENING NEWS for May 7, 2006, CBS

…Just ahead on tonight`s CBS EVENING NEWS, why mowing your lawn is creating smog and why some say it`s politicians working hard to keep it that way.


MITCHELL: Gas prices are still climbing, only not as fast. According to the Lundberg Survey prices at the pump rose just four cents over the past two weeks to a national average of $2.95 for self-service regular. Communities all across America are coming alive these days with the sounds of lawn mowers. Not only are mowers loud, they also fill the air with surprising amounts of pollutants, but efforts to reduce more emissions are being stymied. Jerry Bowen tells us how and why.


BOWEN: It may not look like a pollution monster, but California officials say the old family lawnmower is a smog machine. Taken all together little engines that foul the state`s air with 22 tons of pollutants a day, the equivalent of 800,000 cars a day.

FRANK O`DONNELL, CLEAN AIR WATCH: And as the cars get cleaner and cleaner lawn mowers become a bigger and bigger part of the pollution problem.

BOWEN: The solution? California air regulators say it`s simple.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Air pollution control would not be where it is today without the catalytic converter. There is absolutely no question about that.

BOWEN: Adding catalytic converters to lawn mower engines. The same device used on cars to cut smog. The Briggs & Stratton, America`s largest mower engine manufacturer is strongly resisting, and with two plants in Missouri the company is getting some extraordinary help from Missouri Senator Christopher Bond.

SEN. CHRISTOPHER BOND (R), MISSOURI: Unfair California regulations threaten to shut down two Missouri plants.

BOWEN: Bond declined to talk to CBS News but this 2004 campaign ad said Missouri jobs were in jeopardy because of California`s clean air proposal. Briggs & Stratton also declined to be interviewed, but an industry spokesman said the issue is safety, that catalytic converters run hot and could start fires.

RANAJIT SAHU, OUTDOOR POWER EQUIPMENT INSTITUTE: One wildfire, one grass fire, regardless of the safety concerns it poses, will also put out a lot of emissions into the air.

O`DONNELL: Back in the 1970s you had people running around saying if you put catalytic converters on cars it would set fires all across America. Well, that didn`t happen and it`s not going to happen here.

BOWEN: What has happened is that Missouri`s Senator Bond has been able to delay new regulations in California by requiring EPA studies of the standards and when the EPA approved the new standards Bond`s office complained the EPA study was flawed.

SAHU: Although they have done some work we don`t think they have covered the range of the real life use of this - this equipment.

BOWEN: California`s tougher lawn mower regulations may go into effect next year, but they will stop at border. Missouri`s Senator Bond engineered federal legislation that prevents other states from adopting the California standard. Jerry Bowen, CBS News, Los Angeles.

Friday, May 05, 2006

The center is moving left on global warming...

Note that South Carolina Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, who has previously opposed mandatory limits on global warming pollution, has signed on as a co-sponsor of the power plant legislation crafted by Senator Tom Carper, which would limit greenhouse gas emissions from power plants.

See excerpts below from a story in today's Environment and Energy Daily:

AIR POLLUTION: Graham, Dodd sign on as cosponsors to Carper's power plant bill

Darren Samuelsohn, E&E Daily senior reporter

Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.) added two more cosponsors to his global warming and air pollution bill yesterday, including a conservative Republican who has previously opposed mandatory caps on heat-trapping greenhouse-gas emissions.

Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) signed on to support Carper's latest bill just as the former Delaware governor was to formally introduce the measure in the Senate. According to Carper spokesman Bill Ghent, the new support is an indication of the bill picking up momentum.

"The fact we've attracted more cosponsors than previously is a signal that our bill probably could pass the Senate," Ghent said...

Cosponsors of Carper's bill already include Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), Lincoln Chafee (R-R.I.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Judd Gregg (R-N.H.).

One environmentalist tracking the emissions debate, Clean Air Watch director Frank O'Donnell, said Graham's cosponsorship was "something of a coup." He added, "This is additional evidence that the center is shifting to the left and starting to gather a certain critical mass."

In the summer of 2005, Graham voted against a bill from Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.) that would have capped greenhouse gas emissions across several U.S. industrial sectors. Earlier in the year, nuclear industry sources had said Graham could get behind a climate change measure because of his support for more nuclear energy. Dodd voted in 2005 in favor of the McCain-Lieberman bill.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Clean Air Watch on "Ecotalk" radio show

IT was a real pleasure joining "Ecotalk" to discuss the need to clean up small engines -- but painful to note the continuing opposition from Senator Kit Bond.

Clean Air and Lawn Mowers

Frank O'Donnell, President of Clear Air Watch talks about having cleaner lawn mowers and how the new regulation is blocked by Senator Kit Bond. Listen (7 min) and read the blog for clean air

Power plant politics move left, the return of Humpty Dumpty, and more…

Carper Diem: While Congress scrambles to appear busy to stem the fallout from higher gasoline prices (see more on that, below), the political ground is quietly shifting on another big issue – the pollution from electric power plants. Environment & Energy Daily reports this morning that Senator Tom Carper (D-DE) plans tomorrow to introduce new and improved “multi-pollutant” power plant legislation. This will be (from our perspective) an improved version of the legislation that Carper introduced in the last Congress since it reportedly will not permit the trading of mercury emissions or include other deregulatory changes. According to the report, co-sponsors of this centrist bill will include Republicans Lamar Alexander (R-TN), Lincoln Chafee (R-RI) and Judd Gregg (R-NH).

To be sure, many environmentalists will continue to point out that the global warming pollution limits should be tougher. But this bill introduction is significant: it shows that the political middle-ground is shifting to the left. It is the final nail in the coffin of the so-called Bush Clear Skies plan. And it sets the stage for a real battle in the next Congress.


Humpty-Dumpty Returns: You may recall that on St. Patrick’s Day, a federal appeals court panel unanimously shot down the Bush administration’s attempt to carve out a major loophole that would allow power plants and other smokestack industries to avoid pollution controls when then make big changes. The judges noted that “Only in a Humpty Dumpty world” would the administration’s argument seem logical. Well, Humpty Dumpty is back! Rather than conceding that it acted illegally, the administration is asking the full U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit to re-consider the case. I’ve got news for them. As the old rhyme goes, “All the king’s horses and all the king’s men couldn’t put humpty dumpty back together again.”


Gas and More Gas: It has been remarkable to watch the frantic “spin” over rising gasoline prices: General Motors – one of the most flagrantly anti-environmental companies in U.S. history -- takes out full-page newspaper ads proclaiming that “change is in the air.” Oil companies take out similar ads proclaiming they are blameless. And even President Bush – after long fighting against better fuel economy standards for passenger cars – declares that he wants to do something about the situation. And so tomorrow the House Energy and Commerce Committee will hold a hearing on whether to give the administration new power to improve passenger car fuel economy standards.

The truth is, if the President wanted to do more than just posture on this, he could probably set better fuel economy standards tomorrow. (Existing law says that better administration standards could be subject to a congressional veto, but the congressional veto was ruled unconstitutional in an unrelated case.)

Meanwhile, 10 states are about to sue the administration to force better fuel economy standards for sport utility vehicles and other trucks.