Saturday, December 23, 2006

Schwarzenegger goes green

Excellent front-page Washington Post story on California's governor.

The full story at http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/12/22/AR2006122201476.html

Here are some excerpts:

Schwarzenegger Remakes Himself as Environmentalist; Governor Challenges GOP on Global Warming

John Pomfret 23 December 2006
The Washington Post Page A1

Arnold Schwarzenegger is not the type of guy you would necessarily associate with tree hugging. When he bought a Hummer in the early 1990s, it kicked off a nationwide craze for the gas-guzzling behemoths. His lighter-fluid-dowsed action flicks and protein-packed chest bespoke more of American excess than environmentalism, more violence than vegan.

But as governor of California, Schwarzenegger has engaged in a savvy makeover, befitting a Hollywood star. He retooled one of his four Hummers to run on alternative fuels and is quickly fashioning himself into one of the most aggressively pro-environment governors in a state known for leading the nation on that issue.

This year he signed the nation's first environmental law of its kind, committing the state to lowering its greenhouse gas production to 1990 levels by 2020 and setting up an international program that provides manufacturers with incentives to lower carbon emissions, which is supposed to begin by 2012. He has vowed to fight any attempt to drill for oil off California's coast.

And now Schwarzenegger, a Republican, wants to use his star power to turn global warming into an issue in the 2008 presidential election. "There is a whole new movement because of the change of people sent to Washington," Schwarzenegger said in an interview this week, referring to the Democratic Party's impending takeover of Congress. "We want to put the spotlight on this issue in America. It has to become a debate in the presidential election. It has to become an issue."...

But no other issue divides the governor and the president as much as global warming.

Schwarzenegger's embrace of the issue is clearly a gambit on the part of a politician with big ambitions. Analysts say he could run for the Senate in 2010. He cannot run for president because he was not born in the United States.

Schwarzenegger made no bones about his exasperation with the Bush administration's refusal to allow California to become the first state in the nation to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles. A request in 2005 for that authority has received no response from the Environmental Protection Agency. The question of whether the EPA -- or other agencies -- should regulate greenhouse gases is being considered by the Supreme Court.

"We are going to find a way to do it, no matter what anyone says," Schwarzenegger said. ". . . We have to make moves that protect the health of the people. That's our number one priority.
"We don't want Washington to tell us when we are allowed to be healthy or when we should get cancer," he continued. "We don't want people to die because pollution causes certain illnesses and cancers and so on." ...

Environmental groups, rarely inclined to support a Republican, have grudgingly given Schwarzenegger decent marks. "Schwarzenegger has really taken the lead on greenhouse gases, more so than almost any American politician," said Frank O'Donnell, president of D.C.-based Clean Air Watch. "His state is the leading edge of many of our problems, but it's also the leading edge of many of their solutions."

In California, Schwarzenegger's pro-environmental position is part of a bipartisan tradition; even Ronald Reagan was known as pro-environment during his years in the statehouse. Since the 1960s, the state, bedeviled by the worst air quality in the United States, has led the nation in tackling pollutants. In 1961, it required the first automotive emissions control technology in the nation, and its regulations continue to be the toughest in the country.

California's standards have helped give birth in the United States to hybrid cars, efficient refrigerators and air conditioners, and the catalytic converter, which, because of California's leadership, will soon be installed on lawn mowers and other equipment using two-stroke engines.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Federal court strikes down Bush EPA smog rule; and shocking comments from an EPA science adviser

Today a federal appeals court struck down the Bush administration’s rules for making sure public health is protected from smog. The panel from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit ruled that some of EPA’s 2004 requirements were illegally weak. The ruling came in response to a suit filed by environmental groups, the South Coast Air Quality Management District and numerous state governments.

In its rule, EPA permitted many areas with smog problems to meet weaker cleanup requirements than other areas. In effect, the Bush administration was giving industry a break. It was an illogical way to deal with the problem of smog.

The court said this was also a legal no-no, and told the EPA to go back to the drawing board:

We therefore hold that the 2004 Rule violates the Act insofar as it subjects areas with eight-hour ozone in excess of 0.09 ppm to Subpart 1. We further hold that EPA’s interpretation of the Act in a manner to maximize its own discretion is unreasonable because the clear intent of Congress in enacting the 1990 Amendments was to the contrary.

At the same time, the court rejected other challenges to the rules brought by the state of Ohio and the oil industry.

**

Now for the comments by EPA science adviser Roger McClellan, long a chemical industry consultant. In an interview broadcast last night on CBS Evening News, McClellan contended that people who die early from breathing dirty air are not “real deaths.” (See transcript below.)

This is an utterly appalling comment. Is one death better than another?

It is little wonder that the Bush administration has McClellan on a “short list” to remain an EPA adviser. See page 14 at this link:

http://www.epa.gov/sab/panels/casac_nox_and_sox_primary_panel.htm

Perhaps McClellan is so far outside the scientific mainstream that he’s not an appropriate person to advise the federal government in these matters.

EVENING NEWS for December 21, 2006, CBS


KATIE COURIC: …Another serious health danger to Americans of every age is air pollution. Today, the Bush administration announced plans to seek tough new emission standards for diesel trains, but critics say the government is ignoring all the problems caused by soot that comes out of industrial smokestacks. They claim it kills thousands every year, and deadliest of all may be the pollution you can`t even see. Here`s Wyatt Andrews with part two of our series, "Foul Air."

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

WYATT ANDREWS, CBS NEWS CORRESPONDENT: One day last July, this power plant smokestack rained black soot on the farms and homes of Shipping Port, Pennsylvania. The power company, First Energy, said it was a maintenance accident, and according to local residents, warned them not to eat anything dusted by the soot.

(on camera): Don`t eat the fruit off your own trees?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, don`t eat it.

ANDREWS (voice-over): The accident, which had the power company power washing a town, was an unusually severe and visible example of what Americans breathe in much smaller amounts every day, and not just from power plants. Trucks, cars, and even fires produce microscopic soot particles and chemicals that can damage your lungs.

JANICE NOLEN, AMERICAN LUNG ASSOCIATION: Particle pollution -- soot - - kills people.

ANDREWS: Janice Nolen is with the American Lung Association, one of many leading medical groups demanding that the Bush administration adopts stricter controls on microscopic soot. These groups cite overwhelming evidence linking microscopic particles to fatal diseases.
(on camera): Tens of thousands of people die every year?

NOLEN: Every year from soot-based heart attacks, cancer, strokes.

ANDREWS: Despite that evidence, when the Environmental Protection Agency, the EPA, had the chance to set a tough new annual emission standard for soot this year, the agency declined.
The EPA also declined our request to explain that decision on camera, but in a written statement said: "EPA`s air quality standards are the most health protective in U.S. history."

One scientist who agrees with the agency says none of the research cited by critics proves that tougher standards will save lives.

DR. ROGER MCCLELLAN, EPA SCIENCE ADVISORY BOARD: They`re just stretching the scientific data, and I think that has been used excessively to try to scare the public into thinking these are real deaths.

ANDREWS: However, in a 20-2 vote last year, an independent committee of scientists advising the EPA said tighter annual control on microscopic soot would save lives. When EPA dismissed this, critics said the Bush administration was ignoring science to go easy on industry.

The power company in Shipping Port, meanwhile, is now telling residents it`s safe to eat vegetables if they`re washed. But remember, the black rain that fell that day was pollution you could see. On every other day, it`s what you can`t see that could kill you.

Wyatt Andrews, CBS News, Shipping Port, Pennsylvania.

New Mexico Navajo reservation is big battleground over proposed coal power plant

As you may know, there have been some real battlegrounds – particularly in Texas and the Midwest – over plans to build new coal-burning electric power plants. (Not only big sources of deadly “conventional” pollutants, but also of greenhouse gas emissions.)

One of the more emotional and visual dramas is playing out in northwestern New Mexico, where Navajo protesters are trying to block a $3 billion project planned by Houston-based Sithe Global Power and a Navajo power authority. (See Associated Press story, below.)

And I didn’t realize until today that my Bizarro world alter ego, Frank Maisano, is involved!

This is a classic clash. Its resolution may say a lot about our energy future.

Anyway, I offer this for what it is worth. I believe it is a story well worth monitoring. For more, also see
http://www.desert-rock-blog.com/


**
Protest continues, court grants access to proposed power plant site
By SUSAN MONTOYA BRYAN Associated Press Writer 21 December 2006
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) - The dirt road winds through desert grasslands and over sandstone outcroppings before it ends -- sooner than expected -- at a camp built by Navajos who refer to themselves as the "resisters."
For more than a week, they have blocked the road to the site of a $3 billion coal-fired power plant planned by the Navajo Nation's Dine Power Authority and Houston-based Sithe Global Power.
They see the Desert Rock Energy Project as a threat to tribal resources, the environment and cultural landmarks that dot northwestern New Mexico.
"We're here to stay," Lucy Willie, vice president of the Dooda Desert Rock Committee, told supporters on an Internet blog site Wednesday.
But Sithe and DPA officials plan on staying, too.
They were granted a court order Wednesday that allows access to the site to continue survey work for an environmental impact statement. The study, along with an air permit from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, is needed before construction can began.
Sithe and DPA had no choice but to seek the order, said spokesman Frank Maisano.
"We do this with some regret because it's important that people have their voice heard but it's also necessary and imperative that we continue to move the process forward," he said.
The public comment period for the EIS takes time. But more importantly, Maisano said, the Navajos will not see any economic benefits until the plant is built.
"It's not Sithe's building of the plant getting pushed back," he said. "What's getting pushed back is the building permit fees, the construction jobs, the royalties and water payments."
With the court order, Maisano said contractors planned to return to the site Thursday.
Navajo President Joe Shirley Jr. traveled to the site this week to meet with the resisters. He told the group the plant is desperately needed. Many Navajos live without running water and electricity and jobs are scarce on the reservation.
Shirley believes Desert Rock can help by bringing hundreds of jobs and millions of dollars in tax revenues and royalty payments.
"My people are struggling," he said Tuesday. "... I will continue to work on this to try to help my people. I have a heart for my people."
But Shirley's words have not swayed the group.
The resisters continue to criticize Desert Rock on blog sites and with a video posted on YouTube.com. They describe the project as "an act of terrorism" and say the plant would only add to the emissions of two existing coal-fired plants in the region.
Sithe has assured Shirley and other Navajo leaders that Desert Rock will be one of the cleanest plant with its high-tech pollution control systems.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Bush holiday gifts to polluters just keep on coming

It's been a dizzying array of gifts to industry from the Bush administration in the past two weeks -- new deals for cement plants, hopes for lead smelters, a big win for the oil industry, weaker chemical reporter requirements, and on and on.

And the gifts just keep on coming.

The latest is a new proposal that would permit weaker requirements for industries the spew out toxic air pollutants.

It's more than a little technical (for details, see the EPA proposal at
http://www.epa.gov/ttn/oarpg/t3/fr_notices/oiai_fin122006.pdf ).

Bottom line: it's yet another political gift to polluting industries.

EcoTalk explores "Santa" Cheney's gifts to polluter pals

The picture alone is worth checking this out: http://www.ecotalkblog.com/

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Chamber of Commerce lives up to its reputation -- joins black-hat lawsuit against EPA's already weak particle soot standards

Last week the U.S. Chamber of Commerce held a press conference to claim that dirty air problems in the U.S. were caused by pollution from places as far-flung as Africa.

Now the other shoe has dropped. The Chamber – a consistent foe of clean air controls – has joined an industry lawsuit to try to invalidate the already-weak EPA standards for particle soot.

Other litigants include power companies, the steel industry, the paper industry, the cement industry, corn refiners [weren’t the corn people supposed to be good guys?], the National Association of Manufacturers and others polluter groups.

Health and environmental groups led by the American Lung Association have also gone to court seeking tighter standards, as have 13 states and the District of Columbia, led New York State Governor-Elect Eliot Spitzer.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Will Bush administration try to censor an international watchdog agency?

There have been plenty of stories about various efforts by the Bush administration to censor government scientists on environmental issues. (Indeed, don’t be surprised if health and environmental groups sue soon over the scientifically weak EPA standards for particle soot. These standards were politically manipulated. And now the Bush administration is seeking to muzzle EPA scientists.)

But would the Bush administration also try to censor an international watchdog agency?

We may find out as soon as next week, when the Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC), the international watchdog organization set up under NAFTA, meets to consider complaints filed by both U.S. and Canadian citizen groups concerned about mercury pollution from coal-burning electric power plants.

The groups, including Sierra Club of the U.S. and Canada, have asked the CEC to develop a “factual record” – that is, launch an in-depth investigation – of their claims that the U.S. government has failed to enforce provisions of the Clean Water Act designed to protect lakes, streams and rivers.

The U.S. government has bristled at these claims, but the Commission’s professional staff believes the issue is worth further investigation. (A summary of their report is below.)

Now the decision is up to the political leaders of the CEC – representatives of the U.S., Canada, and Mexico. They are supposed to meet soon on this issue, perhaps as early as next week.

It wouldn’t be a surprise if the U.S. reiterated its opposition – and sought to squelch further scrutiny by the international body. But will Mexico or Canada go along? (The investigation would be killed if either country joined the U.S. in a vote on this.)

A little other quick background: In the 12-year history of the CEC, the three NAFTA countries have never killed a citizen request like this. (Under the NAFTA agreement, citizens in each country are supposed to have the opportunity to petition for and receive factual information from the CEC Secretariat in a transparent and independent process regarding instances where legitimate questions are raised about a NAFTA country's failure to enforce its own environmental laws. The Commission has documented that these investigations have led to environmental improvements in both Canada and Mexico.)

Killing this investigation might set a serious precedent that could undermine other bilateral and multilateral free trade agreements the US has recently negotiated with Central and South American countries. These new treaties (e.g., CAFTA), include provisions requiring US citizens who are alleging a failure of the US to enforce its domestic environmental laws to petition the CEC, just as is currently done under NAFTA.

Such an action would be both ironic and hypocritical, since EPA chief Steve Johnson is in Beijing, issuing press releases about the administration’s desire for international cooperation.

Here is the summary of the recommendation by the CEC on this issue:

V. RECOMMENDATION
For the foregoing reasons, the Secretariat considers that the submission, in light of the United
States’ response, warrants the development of a factual record and hereby so informs the
Council. As discussed in detail above, a factual record is warranted to develop and present
information regarding Submitters’ assertions that EPA is failing to effectively enforce §§ 303
and 402 of the CWA in the ten highlighted states by issuing or renewing NPDES permits (or
allowing states to issue or renew such permits) that allow for point source discharges of
mercury that do not comply with, or that cause or contribute to non-attainment of, the water
quality criteria for mercury in the receiving waterbodies. The Secretariat also recommends
that a factual record be developed to examine EPA’s actions with respect to the development
of mercury TMDLs for mercury-impaired waterways in the ten states of concern, except
where pending litigation or consent decrees are addressing mercury TMDLs.
Developing a factual record on the foreoing issues will serve the goals of the NAAEC by,
inter alia, illuminating the efforts being undertaken to promote pollution prevention policies
and practices, fostering the protection and improvement of the environment for the well-being
of present and future generations, and enhancing compliance with environmental laws and
regulations.181 These objectives are particularly important in light of the serious harmful
effects of mercury on environmental and human health, particularly that of children and
pregnant women, which both the submission and the response acknowledge. Accordingly, in
accordance with Article 15(1), and for the reasons set forth in this document, the Secretariat
informs the Council of its determination that the purposes of the NAAEC would be well
served by developing a factual record regarding the submission.
Respectfully submitted on this 5th day of December 2005.
Secretariat of the Commission for Environmental Cooperation
(original signed)
per: William V. Kennedy
Executive Director
181 See NAAEC Article 1.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Holiday gifts to polluters

Which polluters are getting gifts from the Bush administration this holiday season, even though they've been naughty?

See commentary at http://www.tompaine.com/articles/2006/12/14/holiday_gifts_for_polluters.php

Did political deal in Congress contribute to fatal Milwaukee explosion?

National rules don't require inspection of propane tanks, pipes

By CARRIE ANTLFINGER Associated Press Writer
14 December 2006

MILWAUKEE (AP) - Guidelines covering propane tanks and pipes nationwide do not require inspections or tests by any government agency once they're installed, no matter how old the systems might be.

And efforts to regulate propane on the federal level failed in the 1990s when Congress passed a law preventing the Environmental Protection Agency from requiring propane facilities to come up with risk management plans. The law was sponsored by an Oklahoma senator who received campaign donations from the propane industry.

A blast following a propane leak at a Milwaukee warehouse last week leveled the building, killed three people and injured dozens. Workers were testing a backup propane system that is more than 30 years old.

One Wisconsin lawmaker now says more regulation of propane systems is needed.

State Rep. Pedro Colon, a Democrat who represents the district where the explosion occurred, said he didn't know propane tanks and pipes were not inspected.

"That's amazing. That's amazing, especially because it's terribly flammable," Colon said.

"I guess we are going to have to go and create the rule, because if we didn't do it before the explosion, we should do it now," he said.

Without federal oversight, regulation is left to the states, which have adopted variations of guidelines set by the National Fire Protection Association. States also delegate responsibility in some cases to municipalities.

Ted Lemoff, a principle gases engineer at the association, said those rules cover installation of tanks and pipes but there is no requirement for governmental agencies to reinspect or retest those used for propane and other liquefied petroleum gases -- even if they date back to World War II. The tanks and pipes are built to last, he said.

Companies must maintain them, and workers who fill the tanks are required to check them, Lemoff said. Problems are usually detected when someone smells propane, checks the propane level or notices dead vegetation killed by leaking gas.

The association is open to amending its guidelines, he said.

"Normally they don't go and look for what might go wrong, but they react to incidents that they become aware of," Lemoff said.

State and federal authorities are still investigating the blast at Milwaukee's Falk Corp. Jeffrey Remsik, a spokesman for the company's mechanical contractor, said his workers were observing the annual operational test when they smelled and saw liquid propane coming from underground.

Evan Zeppos, a Falk spokesman, said he didn't have the details on what is done during the annual test, but it was conducted to "ensure it is properly operating and in good condition."
Neither the state of Wisconsin or the city of Milwaukee requires regular tests or inspections of propane systems.

Lemoff, of the national fire association, said states and municipalities can add regulations to his group's guidelines when they establish their codes, but he knew of none that require inspections of propane pipes and tanks.

The city of Milwaukee used to inspect propane tanks -- but not pipes -- every three years, said Todd Weiler, spokesman for the city Department of Neighborhood Services. But that stopped in 1999 when a state administrative code was changed to exempt propane tanks from inspections, Weiler said.

State Department of Commerce spokesman Tony Hozeny was unable to find an explanation Wednesday night as to why Wisconsin changed its code.

The same year, U.S. Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., won passage of legislation preventing the Environmental Protection Agency from requiring propane facilities to develop risk management plans. With 63 other flammable and 77 toxic materials, the EPA requires facilities to detail their chemicals on site, maintenance schedules, and safety and health procedures.

Inhofe said at the time that the legislation was needed to protect small propane dealers and small farmers from the cost of complying with a 1996 EPA rule that would have required risk management plans of facilities keeping 10,000 pounds or more of propane in a tank or set of interconnected tanks. The EPA engaged in "regulatory overreaching" by requiring propane facilities come up with plans, Inhofe said.

Federal Election Commission records show he received $3,398 in monetary and in-kind contributions from the National Propane Gas Association's political action committee during the 1999-2000 election cycle.

Robert Baylor, communications director of the National Propane Gas Association, said it fought the EPA, even filing a lawsuit, because its rules would have duplicated the National Fire Protection Association's guidelines. The NPGA claimed EPA oversight would have cost the industry $1 billion in paperwork and not improved safety.

"If you are going to spend a billion dollars to improve safety, spend it on something that is going to be meaningful," Baylor said.

But Jim Belke, a chemical engineer who worked on the EPA rules, said they included additional requirements, such as a worst-case scenario analysis, an accident history report and a risk management plan submitted to EPA.

Frank O'Donnell, president of Clean Air Watch, an environmental group, said the guidelines devised by the fire association aren't adequate. He also called Inhofe's law "foolhardy."

"The industry sued to be exempt from safety requirements, and then Senator Inhofe jumped in and gave them a special deal," he said. "And now you have a disaster as a possible consequence that ought to be investigated."

After being questioned by the Associated Press, Inhofe, the outgoing chairman of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, issued a statement this week. He expressed sympathy for the Milwaukee blast victims.

O'Donnell "is apparently making wild accusations that a bill that I wrote, that passed the Senate and was signed into law by President Clinton back in 1999, is somehow responsible," he said. "This claim is simply untrue, despicable and trivializes the losses of those who suffered and died in the explosion."

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Chamber of Commerce makes foreign countries scapegoat for our pollution problems

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is at it again. One of America's most persistent opponents of effective clean air controls, the business lobby has cooked up a new strategy: blame our pollution problems on emissions from other countries.

It's an obvious attempt to shift the blame about pollution caused by the chamber's members.

It's not the first time this stunt has been tried. Earlier this year, a Senate panel heard from a Georgia official who claimed that some of her state's pollution problems originated in Africa.

But Cox News Service investigated, and found no evidence to support her claim.
http://blogforcleanair.blogspot.com/2006/07/example-of-dying-art-real-journalism.html

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

EPA oks California lawnmower standards; Kit Bond finally loses; what's next?

We’ve had enough bad news from EPA in recent days: EPA considers dropping lead standard; EPA downgrades role of scientists; EPA gives sweetheart deal to cement makers.

So it’s heartening to learn that something good does happen occasionally.

In this case, it’s EPA decision to approve California’s request to set better clean air standards for lawnmowers and other small engines.

Those of you who have followed this story will recall that it is the latest chapter in four-year saga pitting California’s desire for cleaner air against special interest polluter Briggs & Stratton and its Senate spear carrier, Kit Bond (R-MO).

These opponents of clean air finally backed down in the face of compelling evidence by California that the standards were needed and easily achievable. From what we’ve heard, it didn’t hurt that retailers such as WalMart expressed the desire to sell cleaner products.

This is a real victory for California breathers.

Now it’s time for EPA to follow through with its promise to set national standards that mirror the California standards. (Recall that Congress rolled over to Kit Bond’s play to take away the right of other states to adopt California’s standards.)

It’s time for EPA to follow up by approving California’s greenhouse gas emission standards for motor vehicles.

We’ve got one significant victory here for states’ rights. Now it’s time for another.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Cement industry gets early Christmas present from EPA


The Bush administration has given the cement industry an early Christmas present. This is a dirty business, and it will stay dirty under these new EPA rules.

EPA has just announced new toxic pollution standards from cement plants. The agency actually approved this rule (under a court order) last Friday, but it took them this long to come up with some “spin” to try justifying another giveaway to industry.

Below is a link to information on the November 30, 2006 meeting that the cement industry had with the White House Office of Management and Budget to make a last-minute plea to avoid tough new requirements.

Industry won hands down.

Cement plants will not have to use wet scrubbers to limit toxic mercury emissions, even though some plants already use them. EPA also ducked setting standards for toxic hydrogen chloride emissions – another favor sought by the cement makers.

Here is the documentation of the White House OMB meeting, from the White House web site:

http://www.whitehouse.gov/omb/oira/2060/meetings/570.html

NY Times editorial flays Bush EPA for latest air scandal

Muzzling Those Pesky Scientists

Published: December 11, 2006

The Environmental Protection Agency disclosed last week that it had revised — stood on their head is more like it — procedures it has used for 25 years to set standards for air pollutants like soot and lead. The administration said the change will streamline decision making. Perhaps it will. It will also have the further effect of decreasing the role of science in policy making while increasing the influence of the agency’s political appointees.

This is disheartening, but not surprising. Whether the issue is birth control or global warming or clean air, this administration has already acquired a special place in regulatory history for the audacity with which it has manipulated or muzzled science (and in some cases individual scientists) that might discomfit its industrial allies or interfere with its political agenda.

The E.P.A. is required every five years to review scientific research and set new exposure levels for six pollutants identified as hazardous to human health. Normally, recommendations are first solicited from two groups of scientists: professional staff members inside the agency and independent outside scientists. Those recommendations are then sent to the department’s senior officers — nearly all political appointees — who shape departmental policy and then send it to the White House and Office of Management and Budget for clearance.

Under the new process, initial reviews will be done by staff scientists and political appointees, who together will produce a synopsis of “policy-relevant” science — which sounds ominously like science tailored to predetermined policy outcomes. The independent scientists, meanwhile, will be frozen out until the very end, when they will be allowed to comment on proposals that will have already generated considerable momentum.

The betting among environmental groups is that these new procedures will lead to weaker air quality standards more in keeping with industry objectives — indeed, the American Petroleum Institute is already claiming credit for some of the changes. The new procedures will also help spare the agency the sort of public embarrassment it suffered in October, when its final standards for soot turned out to be far weaker than those recommended earlier (and virtually unanimously) by its staff scientists and the outside consultants.

Under the new process, when the E.P.A. considers how it will set air pollution standards, the only debate it will have is with itself.

Friday, December 08, 2006

A Haymaker from Boxer

New Senate chair to probe EPA air policy


Associated Press

WASHINGTON - The Senate's incoming environmental committee chairwoman on Friday criticized a new EPA policy that reduces the role of scientists in setting air pollution standards.

Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., said the policy politicizes decision-making and may run counter to the Clean Air Act. She said it will be the focus of her first oversight hearing in the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee when Democrats take control of Congress next month.

"EPA has taken a dangerous turn in this plan. Instead of basing health standards on the best science they will now inject politics into the entire process, basically from start to finish," Boxer told reporters.

An EPA official said the new process would streamline a cumbersome review process and adhere to the highest scientific standards.

"Under the old process EPA never met congressionally mandated deadlines for setting air quality standards, under the old process scientific and policy judgments were intermingled, under the old process the science was two-years-old by the time it got to the administrator," said Deputy EPA Administrator Marcus Peacock.

At issue are standards for the six most dangerous air pollutants: ozone, particulate matter, sulfur dioxide, carbon monoxide, nitrous oxides and lead. The Clean Air Act requires EPA to review standards for those pollutants every five years.

Under the current process, career EPA staffers compile scientific information on the pollutants that is reviewed by an independent group of science advisers. The EPA staffers then finalize their review in a paper that includes options for changing the standards.

The process announced Thursday would eliminate the staff paper, replacing it with a policy assessment reflecting the views of high-level political appointees. The independent advisers wouldn't get to comment on the policy assessment until it is published in the Federal Register.
Scientific views would be reflected in a separate document that wouldn't offer recommendations for changes to the standards.

The new process reflects suggestions from the American Petroleum Institute, an industry lobby, and has been angrily criticized by environmental groups. Some recommendations of the independent science advisers also are adopted.

The announcement of the new process followed a controversial decision this fall to set new safety standards for soot and dust that ignored some recommendations from science advisers.

On the Net:

EPA air division:
Clean Air Watch:
www.epa.gov/oar/oaqps/
www.cleanairwatch.org/

Update on dirty dealing at EPA: Boxer to throw a punch, and more...

We understand that Senator Barbara Boxer, the incoming chair of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, is planning to explore the Bush administration’s dirty deal to interject more politics into the process of setting clean air standards.

We look forward to her scrutiny of this situation. Congressman Henry Waxman issued a critical statement on this yesterday afternoon, following the near-incoherent EPA presentation. (It is pretty tough to spin such a vile action.) We hope she will look into the role of Bush EPA political appointee Brian Mannix, husband of Susan Dudley, whose nomination as chief OMB regulatory czar is now in limbo.

This dirty deal was cooked up by the oil industry. It will politicize the process for setting clean air standards. It is meant to weaken the influence of EPA career experts and that of EPA’s independent scientists, and give industry (and its friends at OMB) more clout to block effective standards.

As the California Air Resources Board noted earlier, it could mean weaker public health standards in the future.

Be prepared for another Friday afternoon outrage from EPA: This one involves toxic pollution standards for mercury spewing from cement plants. It is possible to significantly reduce mercury by scrubbing it. If EPA doesn’t require this (and recall that the cement lobby was visiting with the White House on this just last week http://www.whitehouse.gov/omb/oira/2060/meetings/570.html ), this will be another special interest deal by the Bush administration.

And one more in the pipeline: Note that the chemical industry went to the White House this week, apparently to plead for weak toxic pollution standards http://www.whitehouse.gov/omb/oira/2060/meetings/575.html

Usually people from EPA are invited to such meetings, at least to listen to what the industry whiners are telling OMB. No one from EPA is recorded to have been present in this case – perhaps a sign that EPA has become such a creature of the White House that it is now viewed as irrelevant.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Details on EPA's industry-friendly changes to the process for setting clean air standards

Here is the link to the memo EPA put out today:
http://www.epa.gov/ttn/naaqs/memo_process_for_reviewing_naaqs.pdf

Key excerpts:


*Policy Assessment/Rulemaking : Following the ISA and the Risk/Exposure Assessment, the Agency will develop a policy assessment that reflects the Agency's
views, consistent with EPA's practice in other rulemakings . This document, in conjunction with the ISA and the Risk/Exposure Assessment, will replace the Staff
Paper. Moreover, the policy assessment should identify conceptual evidence- and risk-based approaches for reaching policy judgments, discuss what the science and
risk/exposure assessments say about the adequacy of the current standards, and present any preliminary risk/exposure information associated with alternative
standards . This policy assessment should also describe a range of options for standard setting, in terms of indicators, averaging times, form, and ranges of levels
for any alternative standards, along with a description of the alternative underlying interpretations of the scientific evidence and risk/exposure information that might
support such alternative standards and that could be considered by the Administrator in making NAAQS decisions. Such an assessment should help to "bridge the gap"
between the Agency's scientific assessment and the judgments required of the Administrator in determining whether it is appropriate to retain or revise the standards .
This policy assessment should be published in the Federal Register as an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPR), with supporting documents placed in the
rulemaking record as appropriate. The use of an ANPR will provide an opportunity for both CASAC and the public to evaluate the policy options under consideration
and offer detailed comments and recommendations to inform the development of a proposed rule. Issuance of a proposed and final rule will complete the rulemaking
process.

Quick translation of this gobbledygook: EPA is downgrading the role of its own career experts and making sure that political appointees are running the show from the beginning. EPA is discarding the important “staff paper” (which has been written by agency career staffers) and replacing it with the “policy assessment.” As Bush political appointee William Wehrum said during today’s teleconference, this policy assessment will “reflect management’s views.”

This move will also downgrade the status of EPA’s independent science advisers. Instead of having the unique role of critiquing the “staff paper,” as they have in the past, the scientists will be allowed to comment on the “policy assessment” on an equal footing with industry lobbies. It is little wonder that the oil industry pushed for exactly this sort of “reform” to the process.

The whole purpose of this exercise is to make sure that EPA’s career experts don’t embarrass the politically appointed head of EPA again, as they did in the case of the fine-particle soot standards.

Dudley Dumped!

Both Federal Times and BNA's Daily Environment Report are reporting that Susan Dudley's nomination as White House regulatory czarina is dead.

As we have been reporting for months, Dudley is a diehard opponent of effective federal health, environmental and safety standards.

Putting her in charge of all federal regulations would have been like making comedian Michael Richards the head of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission.

Here is the BNA story:

Dudley OMB Nomination Dies in Senate

The nomination of Susan E. Dudley to become regulatory chief at the Office of Management and Budget is effectively dead in the current Congress, Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) said Dec. 6, citing a lack of support for Dudley in the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee. "It appears there is no Democratic support on the committee for Susan Dudley," Collins, the committee chairman, told BNA, adding, "If that's the case, it's pointless for the committee to hold a vote." Without a committee vote, the nomination will not go to the Senate floor and will expire when the 109th Congress adjourns, likely by Dec. 8. Collins declined to say whether Republicans on the committee also objected to the nomination, but it appeared that Dudley had failed to win the support of a committee majority since her appearance before the panel at her confirmation hearing in November (234 DEN A-9, 12/6/06

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Rep. Waxman to EPA: lead proposal "dangerous"

Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA), one of Congress's biggest clean-air defenders, has jumped on the EPA for suggesting that it might eliminate national clean air standards for lead.

"I am urging you to renounce this dangerous proposal immediately," Waxman said in a letter today to EPA Administrator Steve Johnson.

EPA raised the prospect of killing the lead standard -- a move sought by the lead smelting lobby -- in a release and fact sheet yesterday. EPA also disclosed that it was changing the entire process for setting clean air standards -- something sought by the oil industry.

Waxman alluded to this in his letter: "I have heard serious concern from within the agency that under your leadership, EPA is considering taking additional deregulatory actions that may harm public health in the weeks ahead."

More on the EPA action on the Air America Radio/Ecotalk program at http://www.ecotalkblog.com/

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

EPA will use lead rule to break in new oil industry scheme for setting clean-air standards

Well, EPA made it official this afternoon. It is changing the process for how it sets national clean air standards.

We reported on this late yesterday amid a buzz in industry circles. (EPA is adopting a scheme sought by the oil industry to reduce the role of science -- and increase the role of political appointees -- in setting standards.)

EPA quietly made the revelation in a fact sheet put out this afternoon about the agency's ongoing review of national clean air standards for lead.
http://www.epa.gov/ttn/naaqs/standards/pb/data/pb_sp_fs_120506.pdf

"The agency is now moving forward to implement a new, more efficient process" for conducting air-standard reviews, is how the agency pols are trying to spin this.

No wonder the industry guys are delighted!

This lead issue is another one worth watching because the lead smelting industry is trying to do away with the standard altogether.

EPA says it hasn't made up its mind about that idea yet. Any bets on what the industry-friendly agency pols are thinking now that they are wresting control away from the career scientists?

Monday, December 04, 2006

EPA about to take a dive for oil industry, downgrade science, politicize the process for setting of national clean air standards

We have learned that the U.S. EPA is about to announce a significant policy change regarding the way the agency sets national clean air standards.

The new approach will downgrade the role of EPA’s science advisers, who recently urged the agency to set tougher national clean air standards for soot and more recently for smog. Perhaps this is the ultimate Bush administration payback for the attempts by the science advisers to base clean air standards on science. (Which they are supposed to be).

EPA’s new approach will politicize the process for setting clean-air standards. It will boost the role of political appointees at the agency. (Yes, the same guys like Brian Mannix and Bill Werhum, who fought against significantly tougher clean-air standards for particle soot.)

This appears to be the first in a series of industry-friendly moves by the Bush EPA before the new Congress is installed.

The agency will adopt the strategy urged by the oil industry, which has sought for months to downgrade the influence of EPA’s science advisers as part of the industry strategy to prevent tougher clean-air requirements. Under this new approach, the science advisers will be permitted to comment on EPA “advanced notices” of proposed rules, just like anyone else. That’s a huge change from the status quo. Right now, the independent scientists have a far more active role as they interact frequently with EPA career scientists.

We are told the biggest advocate for this change is Brian Mannix, the ex-Mercatus Center alum who, coincidentally, is married to Susan Dudley, the Bush administration’s nominee as White House regulatory czarina. (The oil industry is among the polluters that pours money into Mercatus.)

Background on the change in agency direction can be found at the bottom half of this page: http://www.epa.gov/ttn/naaqs/ Last June, Clean Air Watch and the American Lung Association argued in a public meeting against the plan promoted by the oil industry.

The oil industry recommendation is contained on page 71-76 of this document:

http://www.epa.gov/ttn/naaqs/naaqs_process_report_march2006_attachments.pdf

EPA is also about to release a staff assessment regarding lead. The lead smelting industry is arguing in favor of eliminating the standard altogether.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Ex-Bush air man, now with Giuliani law firm, claims credit for Bush global warming stance

A most interesting exchange on this week's "Living on Earth" program, in a piece that correspondent Jeff Young produced on the Supreme Court case on global warming

Young interviewed Jeffrey Holmstead, formerly head of EPA's air pollution program, who recently joined the BracewellGIULIANI law firm (yes -- the named partner is former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who is exploring a presidential bid) .

BracewellGIULIANI is one of the most active (and influential) law/lobbying firms opposing limits on global warming emissions. Its clients include the oil industry, Southern Company (a real power house in D.C. political circles) and TXU, which is trying to fast-track about a dozen new coal-burning power plants in Texas.

Young asked BracewellGIULIANI partner Holmstead about his expectations for the Supreme Court case. Here is a partial transcript:

But one former EPA official is confident the agency's decision not to act on greenhouse gases will stand. Until last year, Jeff Holmstead was EPA's chief of Air issues.

HOLMSTEAD: It was the decision that I recommended and I think it's the right decision and I think the Supreme Court will say that as well.

YOUNG: And what do you do now?

HOLMSTEAD: I just started work, I'm a partner with the firm Bracewell and Giuliani.

YOUNG: Yes, that's the same firm that represents power companies. But Holmstead says there's nothing wrong with his move from government regulator to representing the regulated.

HOLMSTEAD: I, I'm not sure why, uh, people have tried to make something of that. But people have to have jobs. And that's the way it works.

YOUNG: The court is expected to rule by the summer. For living on Earth, I'm Jeff Young, at the Supreme Court.

The entire transcript is at http://www.loe.org/shows/segments.htm?programID=06-P13-00048&segmentID=3

You have to note there is some real irony here: Giuliani's New York City is one of the key participants asking the Supreme Court to rule that EPA has authority to limit greenhouse gases.

Yet his law firm has recruited, in a classic case of the revolving door syndrome, the very guy who is claiming at least partial credit for the Bush position.

You do have to wonder if Giuliani will become squeamish about his firm's activities if his nascent presidential bid gains any traction.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Cement industry makes 11th-hour pitch to White House to avoid cleanup of toxic mercury

With an EPA decision looming, the cement industry has done what industries often do – go to the White House to plea for a break. In this case, the industry is lobbying the White House Office of Management and Budget against any possible EPA plan to clean up toxic mercury from cement plants.

Representatives of the Portland Cement Association and the Ash Grove Cement Company met yesterday to bring their concerns to the White House.
http://www.whitehouse.gov/omb/oira/2060/meetings/570.html

I think it’s deplorable that the cement industry would spend its resources lobbying the White House rather than cleaning up the toxic mess it makes. The cement industry spews huge amounts of mercury into the air.

In its proposal last December, EPA had declared that mercury controls for cement plants were “not justified” and that cleanup technology was not available.

The industry-friendly proposal created a firestorm of protest from environmental groups like Earthjustice and Sierra Club as well as from state and local clean-air agencies and the trade association of the pollution control equipment industry (which noted that it was indeed technically possible to clean up mercury from cement plants).

EPA also proposed an exemption for emissions of toxic hydrogen chloride under the questionable legal theory that it posed little risk to public health. Health and environmental groups have charged that such an exemption is illegal.

In yesterday’s White House meeting, the cement industry reiterated its desire for an exemption.