Friday, June 30, 2006

Ecotalk explores trouble at the EPA

Trouble at the EPA

Frank O’Donnell, President of Clean Air Watch reports on how the oil industry is not only targeting congressional races but the very way in which clean air standards are set by the EPA. LISTEN (7 min) More on his blog.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Anti-regulatory zealot in line to become Bush regulatory Czarina

  • Anti-regulatory zealot to be Bush regulatory Czarina: This will be under the radar for many people, but it is very significant news. We are informed that the Bush administration is planning to appoint a true anti-regulatory zealot to become its regulatory Czarina.

    The person in question is one Susan Dudley, currently head of the Regulatory Studies Program at the Mercatus Center. (The center is a corporate-funded front group that calls itself a “think tank.” It helps provide propaganda cover for the oil industry and other big polluters.)

    Dudley is in line to become the head of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs – an obscure branch of the government with a lot of power: it oversees the actions of federal regulatory agencies such as the EPA.

    You may recall that public interest groups had been critical of John Graham, who recently left this job.

    Well, Susan Dudley makes John Graham look like Ralph Nader,

    A couple of examples, then you can decide for yourself:

    At the Mercatus Center, Dudley has been busy criticizing various EPA rules and proposals. Dudley:

    Opposed EPA plans to set tougher public health standards for smog. Argued Dudley: “Non-regulatory approaches, including public health advisories and other targeted approaches, would be more effective at addressing the health effects of concern.” In other words, her solution was to have kids with asthma stay indoors and suck on inhalers rather than try to clean up the air.

    Opposed the idea of lower-polluting cars and SUVs and cleaner gasoline. (She was overtly hawking a discredited oil industry position.)

    Even opposed advanced air bags in cars – and had nice things to say about arsenic in drinking water! These comments, and more, are available at,type.1/people_link.asp

Dudley will be so controversial that I’d bet President Bush gives her a “recess appointment” – DC jargon for saying he’ll put her in office while Congress is on vacation to prevent an embarrassing confirmation battle in the Senate.

“Senator Smog” Surrenders (for now): The Associated Press is out this morning with a story that Senator Kit Bond (R-MO) will cease and desist – at least for now – in his campaign to block pollution standards for lawn mowers.

For years Bond (or “Senator Smog,” as the St. Louis Post-Dispatch calls him) has been fronting for the Briggs & Stratton Corporation. This news should clear the way for EPA to permit California to proceed with its plan to require cleaner small engines. (There is an EPA hearing on this today. For our comments, go to ).
Bond appeared to leave open the option that he would oppose national standards.

We will continue to monitor this. Small engines are a big source of smog. They can and should be cleaned up – not just in California, but in the entire nation.

Clean Air Watch supports California small engine rules

Frank O’Donnell
Clean Air Watch

Statement in Support of Amendments to the California Small Off-road Emission Standards and Test Procedures

Docket number EPA-HQ-OAR-2005-0133

June 29, 2006

My name is Frank O’Donnell and I am president of Clean Air Watch, a non-profit, non-partisan clean air watchdog organization.

Thank you for the opportunity to speak today. I will be very brief.

Aside from the fact that it has met all the appropriate legal requirements, there are two very big but simple reasons why EPA should grant California a waiver to proceed with its small-engine pollution standards.

1) Small engines are big sources of pollution and they can harm peoples’ health.

2) This is a state’s rights issue. By law, California has the right to protect its citizens from dirty air and should be permitted to exercise that right.

On the first point, smog is a serious public health problem: technically known as ozone, smog can cause asthma attacks among children and adults, send people to hospital emergency rooms, and reduce a person’s lung capacity. It has even been linked to premature death.[i]

Small engines are an increasingly large part of the smog problem.

California officials have noted that, on a gallon-for-gallon basis, small engines pump out 93 times more smog-forming emissions than 2006 cars.[ii]

To make another type of comparison, Northeastern state officials have noted that small engines spew out fully a tenth of all smog-forming emissions of volatile organic compounds on a typical summer day.[iii]

And as cars get cleaner and cleaner, small engines are becoming a bigger part of the remaining pollution problem.

California has adopted new small-engine pollution standards that it says would produce the equivalent of taking 800,000 cars off the state’s roads.

I believe these standards are absolutely necessary for California to make needed progress towards meeting national health standards for ozone. These standards are needed to meet compelling and extraordinary conditions. These standards are needed to help children avoid asthma attacks and trips to hospital emergency rooms.

On my second point, the Clean Air Act has long permitted California to set better-than-federal emission standards for most moving sources of pollution, subject to an EPA waiver.

In the past, EPA has granted waivers to permit California to set better standards for motor vehicles, including cars, SUVs and trucks. And the same thing should happen here.

This is a fundamental right that California has under the Clean Air Act. EPA should grant a similar waiver for California to proceed with pollution controls on new small engines.

In the course of EPA’s review of issues related to small engines, questions have been raised about safety and pollution controls and EPA has been directed to give “appropriate consideration” to safety factors.

We have long believed this to be a total red herring – a phony argument concocted by a politically wired, special-interest polluter that apparently would rather spend money on lobbyists and lawyers than on pollution controls that would improve people’s health. Or perhaps that polluter is just afraid to compete with other engine companies such as Kohler and Honda that have noted they can meet the standards without compromising safety.

I recall that we heard a similar argument in the 1970s by those who claimed that putting catalytic converters on cars would set off conflagrations. Well, it didn’t happen then, and it won’t happen here.

We believe that EPA has given “appropriate consideration” to the issue and put that red-herring to rest in its March 2006 report on safety, which concluded that “compliance with the anticipated emissions standards could somewhat reduce the risk to consumers.” [iv] Cleaner air and safer devices: it’s win-win.

Let me conclude with a simple thought: please grant the waiver so California can do the responsible thing – set better pollution standards to protect its citizens from dirty air.

[i] EPA, “Air Quality Criteria for Ozone and Other Photochemical Oxidants,” February 2006.
[ii] As reported in The New York Times, “A Greener Way to Cut the Grass Runs Afoul of a Powerful Lobby,” Felicity Barringer, April 24, 2006
[iii] June 21, 2006 letter to EPA Administrator Steve Johnson from Arthur Marin, executive director of Northeast States for Coordinated Air Use Management.

[iv] EPA fact sheet, “EPA Technical Study on the Safety of Emission Controls for Nonroad Spark-Ignition Engines Below 50 Horsepower,” March 2006

Monday, June 26, 2006

Clean Air Watch to EPA: Don’t Let Oil Industry Pollute Clean Air Standards

Frank O’Donnell,
Clean Air Watch
June 27, 2006
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
Public Workshop on National Ambient Air Quality Standards

Thank you very much for taking the time to receive public comment on this critical issue.

And let me also join with my colleagues from the American Lung Association in thanking EPA’s career staff for their consistent dedication to working in the public interest.

I have one over-riding message for you:

Don’t pollute this process with politics.

And don’t let the oil industry or other big special-interest polluters -- or White House political operatives -- interfere with the EPA’s scientific integrity.

We fear that’s exactly what is going on here. Indeed, that might be the principal purpose of this exercise.

The integrity of this process – which is fundamental to the Clean Air Act – could be destroyed if you follow through with the American Petroleum Institute suggestion to eliminate the so-called staff paper and replace it with a more politically driven approach.

Let me say that no reasonable person would scorn efforts to truly improve the process, and I will have a few observations in a minute about potential improvements.

But the real question is – is this about improving the process, or about corrupting it with special-interest politics?

In reviewing the background, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that the fix might be in.

Let’s do a quick review:

Last December, the EPA administrator proposed changes to the national air quality standards for particle soot. His proposal was weaker than that recommended by EPA’s career staff or by the agency’s science advisers.

When confronted with the discrepancy, the EPA administrator had no coherent response. Indeed, he sounded like a naughty child who had been caught fibbing.

And later it was revealed that unknown red-pen censors had made changes in EPA’s earlier drafts. The situation was reminiscent of the White House aide who censored the government’s scientific assessments of global warming – before he resigned and went to work for ExxonMobil. And there is concern that the secret hand of the oil industry may be at work once again.

Just as EPA was about to make its position on particle soot public, it was disclosed that Deputy Administrator Marcus Peacock had ordered a review of the standard-setting process.

We believe this review was ordered to make sure that the head of the EPA or the White House would never again be embarrassed by truth-seeking agency professionals. It was ordered to make sure that politics would be interjected into the process earlier to make sure those professionals toed the line. It was designed to bring out the red pen much earlier.

Indeed, the arbitrary deadline imposed on EPA’s staff bolstered the concern that there was political urgency to this “review process.” Various stakeholders were told to get their opinions in pronto or miss the bus. Some, including Clean Air Watch, the American Lung Association and others, noted that the initial deadline was “far too abbreviated to provide for adequate public input and review.” But the bus was indeed pulling out of the station.

Our concerns were heightened in March, when the bus arrived, in the form of recommendations by assistant administrators William Wehrum and George Gray.

Amid the smoky fumes of bureaucratic jargon, came the suggestion by the American Petroleum Institute: kill the traditional staff paper and replace it with an advanced notice of proposed rulemaking drafted by EPA’s political management.

Well, that would solve the problem of the White House being embarrassed by those tree-hugging bureaucrats! But would that actually improve the agency’s mission of protecting public health? Quite the opposite.

I don’t think there is a need to take up time reviewing how the process works today. The American Lung Association has done an excellent review and I would like to associate Clean Air Watch with it.

Just a few quick things to highlight: As you know, the National Ambient Air Quality Standards are the heart and lungs of the Clean Air Act. They form the life support for all the specific cleanup programs under the Clean Air Act.

The law charges EPA with setting public health standards based solely on scientific information. Economic or political considerations are not to be factored in. A unanimous Supreme Court came to that conclusion – rejecting the arguments by the oil industry and other special interest polluters who sought to make this a political rather than a scientific exercise.

Until now, the process has worked pretty well. As I noted earlier, improvements to any system are always possible. We agree with the American Lung Association on potential improvements here, including:

  • Devoting more resources to the review process;
  • Spending more attention on the effects of pollution on children and other vulnerable groups;
  • and Creating an integrated planning document vetted by the agency’s science advisers and the public.

    But, fundamentally, we expect you to protect the scientific integrity of the standard-setting process.

    That means rejecting the oil company special-interest attempt to win here what they lost at the Supreme Court – their attempt to corrupt the process with politics.

Supreme Court to Hear Global Warming Case

June 26, 2006
Supreme Court to Hear Key Environment Case
Filed at 10:19 a.m. ET

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Supreme Court agreed Monday to consider whether the Bush administration must regulate carbon dioxide to combat global warming, setting up what could be one of the court's most important decisions on the environment.

A dozen states, a number of cities and various environmental groups asked the court to take up the case after a divided lower court ruled against them.

They argue that the Environmental Protection Agency is obligated to limit carbon dioxide emissions from motor vehicles under the federal Clean Air Act because as the primary ''greenhouse'' gas causing a warming of the earth, carbon dioxide is a pollutant.

The administration maintains that carbon dioxide -- unlike other chemicals that must be controlled to assure healthy air -- is not a pollutant under the federal clean air law, and that even if it were the EPA has discretion over whether to regulate it.

A federal appeals court sided with the administration in a sharply divided ruling.

One judge said the EPA's refusal to regulate carbon dioxide was contrary to the clean air law; another said that even if the Clean Air Act gave the EPA authority over the heat-trapping chemical, the agency could choose not to use that authority; a third judge ruled against the suit because, he said, the plaintiffs had no standing because they hadn't proven harm.

Carbon dioxide, which is release when burning fossil fuels such as coal or gasoline, is the leading so-called ''greenhouse'' gas because as it drifts into the atmosphere it traps the earth's heat -- much like a greenhouse. Many scientists cite growing evidence that this pollution is warming the earth to a point of beginning to change global climate.

At the heart of the climate debate is whether carbon dioxide releases should be controlled by emission caps on power plants and requiring motor vehicles to become more fuel efficient, therefore burning less fuel and producing less carbon dioxide.

President Bush, when first running for president, expressed support for regulating carbon dioxide, but he reversed himself shortly after getting into office -- saying he was convinced that voluntary plans to curtail carbon were a better way to go and mandatory regulation would be too expensive for business.

In 2003, the EPA's top lawyer concluded that the agency lacked the authority to regulate carbon dioxide under the Clean Air Act, reversing a legal opinion issued several years earlier by the Clinton administration and prompting the lawsuit.

''If ever there was a case that warranted Supreme Court review this is it,'' says Massachusetts Attorney General Tom Reilly, whose state is one of 12 involved in the lawsuit.

In their appeal, the states argued that the case ''goes to the heart of the EPA's statutory responsibilities to deal with the most pressing environmental problem of our time'' -- the threat of global warming.

The administration countered that the EPA should not be required to ''embark on the extraordinarily complex and scientifically uncertain task of addressing the global issue of greenhouse gas emissions'' when other, voluntary ways to address climate change are available.

In addition to Massachusetts, the states are California, Connecticut, Illinois, Maine, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington. They were joined by a number of cities including Baltimore, New York City and Washington D.C., the Pacific island of America Samoa, the Union of Concerned Scientists, Greenpeace, and Friends of the Earth.
The case is Massachusetts v. Environmental Protection Agency, 05-1120
On the Net: EPA:

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Coverage of the clean fuel issue

Some good coverage of the clean fuel issue. (President Bush declared in April that state-based "boutique fuels" were driving up gas prices. He created a special task force to examine the issue and come up with ways to reduce the number of fuels. In a "confidential" draft report, the task force concluded the President was wrong.)

Good stories in Reuters, The Hill newspaper and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. See at

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

"Confidential" EPA report to President Bush: Mr. President, you're WRONG about clean fuels!

On April 25, with his ratings plummeting and desperate to find a scapegoat for high gasoline prices, President Bush asserted that so-called boutique fuels were harming consumers by pushing up gas prices. [See below, excerpt from the President’s April speech before the Renewable Fuels Association]

The President called on EPA Administrator Steve Johnson to convene a task force of the nation’s governors to come up with ways to “simplify the process for the sake of our consumers.”

Well, the task force met. It deliberated. And now it has produced the attached “confidential” draft report, which concludes, basically, that President Bush was dead wrong!

The draft report concludes that special state clean fuels “have provided significant, cost-effective air quality improvements,” and that EPA could find absolutely no hard evidence to show that these fuels either cause higher prices OR “present unusual distribution problems.” Since the President appeared to have prejudged the outcome of this report, normally you’d think bureaucratic pressure would be brought to conform to the President’s wishes.

As the draft went into circulation, Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX) put off plans to promote new legislation that would limit “boutique fuels.” It is not clear that Barton or his staff had read the “confidential” report.

Several things are clear, however: clean fuels are a very cost-effective way to help clean up the air. And it would be a dumb mistake to further limit state authority to adopt clean fuels without some way of compensating for possible pollution problems.

Please note, below, highlights from the draft report. Below that are excerpts of the President’s April 25 speech that led to the creation of the task force.

[“Confidential” task force excepts]

It is clear that state fuel programs have provided significant, cost-effective air quality
improvements. Any actions to modify the slate of existing boutique fuels or limit a
state’s ability to adopt fuel specifications must be done in a manner that at least
maintains these air quality gains and avoids unnecessarily restricting state authority…

As part of the analyses of future fuel options, careful consideration should be given to
the possibility of new legislative authority which would allow for the adoption of
regional clean fuel programs. Cleaner burning fuels used in the broader geographic
areas merit further study as an option for addressing fuel supply and fungibility

A critical issue for the states is that any change in the boutique fuel slate or
applicable authorities must be done in a manner that air quality benefits resulting from
boutique fuel programs will, at a minimum, at least be maintained. Benefits from these
programs have served an important role in the states’ efforts at meeting national air
quality standards, and these benefits are expected to be as important to future attainment
strategies. Further, while the task force received some input from industry stakeholders
suggesting a potential connection between boutique fuels and supply or price concerns,
this input was not supported by any documentation and EPA's review did not reveal any
studies or empirical data confirming that boutique fuels presently contribute to higher fuel prices or present unusual distribution problems.
Prior assessments have shown very small impacts on the cost of production of boutique fuels.


President Bush, before the Renewable Fuels Association:

We also need to confront the larger problem of too many localized fuel blends,
which are called boutique fuels. The number of boutique fuels has expanded rapidly over
the years, and America now has an uncoordinated and overly complex set of fuel rules.
And when you have a uncoordinated, overly complex set of fuel rules, it tends to cause
the price to go up.

And so I'm asking Director -- directing Administrator Johnson to bring the governors
together to form a task force on boutique fuels. And the mission of this task force will be
to find ways to reduce the number of boutique fuels and to increase cooperation between
states on gasoline supply decisions. I want to simplify the process for the sake of our
consumers. And then I'm asking them to get these recommendations to my desk, and I
look forward to working with the United States Congress to simplify the process.

Carbon dioxide emissions on the rise; new report

U.S. PIRG is releasing a report today which shows just how much carbon dioxide emissions have increased in recent decades. The report is at

The report shows that 28 states more than doubled their carbon dioxide emissions over the four decades. Increased combustion of oil to fuel cars and light trucks and coal for electricity drove the steep rise in emissions.

The report was released as Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) and Jim Jeffords (I-VT) were said to be preparing wide-ranging legislation to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Smithsonian removes electric car...the gas glut.. and interesting poll results

***In the latest chapter in a saga of a national disgrace, the Smithsonian Institution has removed the EV1 electric car from display at the National Museum of American History. The Smithsonian claims the move is not related to financial contributions from General Motors. IT comes as the movie "Who Killed the Electric Car" is about to premier.

More on this in today's WashingtonPost at

***Another fascinating item today in the Post: at least for now, we seem to have a glut of natural gas.

…The most immediate effect of falling natural gas prices will come at utilities or power-generating firms with the capability to burn either coal or natural gas. "We're beginning to get substitutions," Sieminski said. "At this price level, it actually makes sense to stop burning coal and start burning natural gas."

***Also today, some interesting new findings from the latest Wall St. Journal/NBC poll, as reported in today's Journal:

…Americans view former vice president [Gore] unfavorably by 42%-30%, though 53% of Democrats give a thumbs-up. But his cause draws adherents: 59% say climate change warrants "some action" or "immediate" steps, up from 51% in 1999…

By 28%-27%, Republicans say Democratic Party would better protect the environment….

Pluralities of voters in all regions except the Northeast say both parties are "equally" influenced by special interests and lobbyists. But if Democrats recapture Congress, 69% want Congress to investigate Bush administration's energy task force.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Mark your calendar: upcoming news on global warming, lawn mower pollution, and more

Next week is the official start of summer – perhaps an appropriate time to remind you about some upcoming developments regarding global warming, lawn mowers, and – well, please note below.

Global gap: Come next week, it will be exactly a year (June 22nd, 2005) since the U.S. Senate passed a resolution calling for action on global warming. And what’s the government done since then? Well, unfortunately, not much, despite increasing evidence that it’s time to shake a leg.

But maybe…

I am sworn to secrecy, but, as we approach the anniversary, keep your eyes open for some interesting news opportunities.

California dreaming: Those of you who have followed the continuing controversy over emissions from lawn mowers should be aware of a possible showdown involving California. On June 29, the U.S. EPA will hold a hearing on the Golden State’s application to put tougher pollution standards into effect, starting next year.

This is an important issue – not only about pollution, but about a state’s right to protect its citizens. By law, California can do this, but EPA officially has to nod approval. The hearing will begin at 10 a.m., in room 1153, at the agency's East Building, 1201 Constitution Ave., N.W.

We will be on the lookout for continuing opposition from the Briggs & Stratton Corporation or its surrogates. And there will be further news on this issue – very soon.

School’s out! At least in much of the nation. But we still have a persistent problem – children breathing toxic diesel emissions from school buses. This is a problem that can be fixed. But the Bush administration and Congress have both fallen short when it comes to spending on the cleanup. We’ll be on the watch as the Senate Appropriations Committee addresses this issue in the near future.

In the meantime, the Environmental and Energy Study Institute is organizing a briefing on this issue next Thursday, June 22. I am told it will start at 3 p.m. in Room 406 of the Dirksen Senate Office Building.

On the agenda, the recent “school bus report” from my friends at Union of Concerned Scientists
as well as experts discussing health and technology.

Ethanol: hope – or hype? Finally (for now) a June 20 brown bag lunch in DC on Ethanol: The Hope and the Hype.

This will include a presentation from yours truly. See why I may have to wear a bulls-eye, as William Shatner did in a recent episode of “Boston Legal.”

The event is sponsored by that excellent organization, the Women’s Council on Energy and Environment . Location: Troutman Sanders LLP, 401 9th Street NW, Suite 1000, starting at noon.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Energy bill update in Congress: will the public be fooled into thinking these actions will lower gas prices?

The House of Representatives, on a largely partisan vote, has passed legislation supposedly aimed at speeding construction of new refineries. It is chiefly an attack on states' right.

In a related attack on states' rights, Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX) wants to take away the ability of states to adopt clean fuels.

But will these moves lower gas prices? Hardly. See excerpts of coverage, below, from the Dallas Morning News and the San Francisco Chronicle. (The efforts of Congress on these issues are apparently viewed as so unimportant that they barely earned a paragraph in The Washington Post.):

Energy efforts stall
House Republicans struggle to win support for gas price measures
Thursday, June 8, 2006
By SUDEEP REDDY / The Dallas Morning News

WASHINGTON – As drivers continue facing higher prices at the pump, House Republicans are pursuing a slew of measures meant to increase gasoline supplies and lower costs.

House Republicans succeeded in passing legislation Wednesday to speed up the permitting process for new refineries, but other measures have stalled.

They want to open up new sites for the industry to build refineries, ease environmental permitting requirements for new facilities and cut the number of fuel blends nationwide.
But five months before mid-term elections, they're getting little traction in their attempts to ease the pain for consumers. The oil industry has met the overtures with mild interest, and the Senate has been slow to respond with its own measures.

Critics assert that the Republican measures would do little to help consumers, arguing for higher fuel-economy requirements and a greater focus on alternative energy sources.... Many companies have said they've shown little interest in building new refineries because the market has been too volatile over the last two decades, not necessarily because of permitting rules.

Because many permitting and fuel-specification requirements were created to comply with clean-air requirements, environmental groups say that proposed changes – such as a reduction in fuel blends – could short-circuit efforts in areas such as Dallas-Fort Worth that are already struggling to cut their air pollution
Local and state officials "are really wrestling with this stuff on a day-to-day level," said Frank O'Donnell, president of Clean Air Watch, an advocacy group.
"What's really going on is an attempt to fool the public into thinking Congress is doing something to lower gas prices," he said.

House OKs bill to speed permits for new refineries Foes say measure guts environmental rules
Edward Epstein and Zachary Coile, Chronicle Washington Bureau
Thursday, June 8, 2006

Washington -- The House passed legislation Wednesday aimed at streamlining permits for new refineries, a step Republican leaders stung by public anger over high gas prices said could expand energy supplies and eventually cut prices.

The Republicans, fighting to keep control of the House in November's elections, used the debate to attack minority Democrats who they say have been obstructionists, opposing any step that would increase gas supplies. The Democrats countered that Republicans are doing the oil companies' work by trying to gut environmental state regulations by requiring state authorities to submit to a new federal coordinator who would set a timetable for granting environmental permits for new or expanded refineries.

Also on Wednesday, the Energy and Commerce Committee chairman heard testimony on Barton's bill to limit the number of fuel blends that state and local air quality officials require in order to meet federal air quality standards.

But industry officials testifying before his committee said limiting the number of boutique fuels would not lower the high prices consumers are paying at the pump this summer, saying the real culprits were high demand worldwide and volatility in global energy markets.

President Bush urged Environmental Protection Agency administrator Stephen Johnson in April to "confront the large problem of too many localized fuel blends." But an EPA report last month found the cost to refiners to produce cleaner-burning blends was about 0.3 to 3 cents per gallon.
"Cleaner-burning fuels are a very cost-effective way to clean up the air," said Frank O'Donnell of Clean Air Watch. "It's something the average consumer doesn't even notice. If they take that right away, then state governments that are wrestling with air pollution problems might have to crack down on other kinds of consumer products or smokestack industries in ways that might not be as cost-effective."

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

News notes: congressional junketers take a break, spring smog update, and more...

Top travelers: In reading the new report by the Center for Public Integrity it almost hard to believe that members of the House of Representatives are actually in Washington, DC this week.

If you’ve read or heard about this excellent report, you know that some of our leaders are spending quite a bit of time on the road, with expenses paid by special interests. Among the top travelers – with him or someone from his office making more than 200 junkets in the past 5 years and receiving more than $350,000 in paid trips, was Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX.) The Dallas Morning News once christened him “Smokey Joe” but maybe they’ll re-name him “Travelin’ Joe” after this disclosure.

Fume fraud: Of course, one reason Barton and his colleagues are “back at work” is because the public is fuming over higher gasoline prices. And so our congressional leaders are moving forward on several pieces of energy legislation ostensibly designed to lower prices at the pump. Unfortunately, they are moving in the wrong direction – with suggested new laws aimed at limiting the right of states regarding permits for refineries and clean fuels. For a commentary on the refinery issue – likely to pass the House this week on largely partisan lines, please note Rep. Barton is holding a hearing on the “boutique fuel” issue tomorrow morning.

CAFÉ clash: A number of state attorneys general are worried about yet another attack on states’ rights – suggested changes by the Bush administration to the Corporate Average Fuel Economy standards. Of particular concern is what appears to be an effort to head off law suits by states against the administration’s recent rules for light trucks. (Ten states have sued the federal government because those light trucks standards did not evaluate the impact of the standards on foreign oil or on climate change.) More on this as it develops…

Sooty Senator: We understand that Senator George Voinovich (R-OH) tentatively plans a hearing next week on EPA’s particle soot proposal. It appears as if the motivation is to fire a shot across the proverbial bow – in case EPA was thinking of tightening the unscientifically weak standards the agency proposed last December. Voinovich’s power company supporters have urged no change in the current standards.

Spring Smog: Though summer hasn’t officially begun, the smog has. And our Clean Air Watch volunteers are diligently tracking trends across the country. Though a cool spring in much of the country helped keep smog levels generally somewhat lower than last year, we note than 21 states and the District of Columbia did have unhealthful levels of smog during April or May. See below for a list of states. Please contact us if you want details for your state.

States with unhealthful levels of smog during April or May:

North Carolina
District of Columbia
New Jersey
West Virginia
South Carolina
New York

Monday, June 05, 2006

Bad refinery legislation comes back like a bad penny

Some unscrupulous members of Congress are at it again -- unfairly trying to blame high gasoline prices on environmental standards.

See good stories from Reuters on this at

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Greenwire: Briggs & Stratton, other small engines flunk emission tests

An update for those of you who are tracking the continuing interest by Senator Kit Bond (R-MO) to delay or block pollution standards for small engines on behalf of the Briggs & Stratton Corporation:

Greenwire is out with a story this afternoon which notes that in EPA tests, 8 of 12 tested lawnmower engines failed to meet EXISTING pollution standards over time.

This material, taken from EPA’s docket, may explain the vehemence with which Briggs & Stratton has opposed any further pollution control requirements.

The Briggs & Stratton engines are the dirtiest of those tested. Four of six Briggs & Stratton engines failed the pollution tests. One tested Briggs & Stratton engine actually emitted more than triple the allowable pollution levels. (Some tested Honda and Tecumseh engines also failed, though generally not by as much.)

The tests suggest that lawn mowers and other small engines may be a bigger pollution problem than previously believed. (And we’ve seen some rotten air quality in recent days along with warmer weather – and more lawn mowing.)

The test results also underscore the need for new standards to limit pollution from small engines. EPA has scheduled a hearing later this month on California’s request to move ahead with tougher standards. Still big question marks: will EPA proceed, as it should, with new standards for other states? Will Bond try once again to interfere? Will Sen. Diane Feinstein once again seek a deal with Bond that might help California – at the expense of the rest of the nation?