Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Particle soot boosts heart disease in women

A federally funded study has found that particle soot boosts the risk of heart disease in older women much more powerfully than scientists had realized.

This study is further evidence that the politically manipulated standards set by the Bush administration are too weak.

For more, see

Big polluters vow "royal fight" against tougher smog standards

It didn't take long for big polluters to begin a counter-attack against the idea that national health standards for smog should be made tougher.

As noted earlier, career experts from the US EPA -- bucking political pressure from Bush administration political appointees -- have recommended that national smog standards be made stricter to protect kids with asthma and other breathers.

And now the polluter empire is striking back.

In today's USA Today, a spokesman for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce vowed to oppose any effort to tighten the smog limit:

"This is going to be a royal fight, because the cost is too big," said William Kovacs, a vice president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

The Chamber of Commerce is only one of many corporate polluters that have already announced their opposition to tougher smog standards:

• Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers
• American Chemistry Council
• American Coke & Coal Chemicals Institute
• American Forest & Paper Association
• American Iron and Steel Institute
• American Petroleum Institute
• American Trucking Associations
• Corn Refiners Association
• Council of Industrial Boiler Owners
• Edison Electric Institute
• Engine Manufacturers Association
• National Association of Manufacturers
• National Cotton Council
• National Mining Association
• National Oilseed Producers Association
• National Rural Electric Cooperative Association
• National Petrochemical & Refiners Association
• Portland Cement Association
• U.S . Chamber of Commerce
• Utility Air Regulatory Group

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

EPA scientists call for tougher smog standards

EPA Staff to Recommend Tougher Standards for Ozone
By Tina Seeley

Jan. 30 (Bloomberg) -- The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's staff is recommending the government toughen its standards for ground-level ozone, or smog, for public health reasons.

The agency is required to regularly review its air quality standards to keep up with new science.

An independent scientific panel recommended in October the standards be tightened. The official opinion of agency staff will be issued tomorrow, EPA said in a press release, and the agency will consider the recommendations before issuing a final decision in March 2008.

Agency staff will recommend a standard between 0.060 parts per million and below 0.08 parts per million. The current standard, promulgated in 1997, is at the 0.08 level. Staff said the new standard will provide greater health protection for sensitive groups, including asthmatic children and people with lung disease, according to an agency summary.

``It's a very big deal,'' said Frank O'Donnell, president of Clean Air Watch, an environmental group. ``These are national health standards for the most widespread air pollutant in America. These standards are absolutely critical because they are the heart and lungs of the Clean Air Act.''

Ground-level ozone is formed by a combination of pollutants, mostly hydrocarbons or volatile organic compounds, mixed with nitrogen oxides.

Cars, Power Plants

``The biggest contributors tend to be cars and trucks,'' said Jeff Holmstead, former assistant administrator for air and radiation at the agency. ``After that, probably power plants are big contributors of nitrogen oxides. Almost any kind of industrial facility emits something that contributes to ozone formation.''

A change in ozone standards will be ``a billions-of-dollars issue, in terms of economic impact,'' said Holmstead, now a partner with Bracewell & Giuliani LLP. ``In order to reduce ozone you've got to reduce both hydrocarbons and nitrogen oxides pretty significantly. You're going to have to hit virtually everybody.''

The last time the agency toughened the standards, they were fought all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

``Virtually every big polluter is lined up to oppose these standards'' if they are made final by the agency, said O'Donnell. ``The final decision will almost certainly be challenged in court. They always are.''

Holmstead said the agency has not always done what staff has recommended. ``I wouldn't say it's a foregone conclusion now.''

Agency Administrator Stephen Johnson last year did not follow the recommendations of an independent scientific group on setting standards for fine particulate matter.

If ozone standards are tightened ``the majority of U.S. counties will fail'' to meet air-quality rules, Dan Riedinger, spokesman for the Edison Electric Institute, which represents publicly traded utilities, said in an e-mailed statement. ``States will face some tough challenges in finding ways to meet more stringent requirements.''

Monday, January 29, 2007

Planetcheck radio examines global warming and Congress

Voices on PlanetCheck...

Clean Air Watch's Frank O'Donnell
reports on US emissions & new Global Warming Bill.

A regulatory expert dissects bad Bush scheme

Previously we raised a warning about a new White House executive order that puts more power in the hands of the White House regulatory office -- to the possible detriment of agencies like the EPA charged with protecting public health.

A real expert on regulations has chimed in, warning that the order "opens another front in this administration's assault on congressional power."

Lisa Heinzerling, of Georgetown University's law school, notes that "Judging regulations implementing these laws based on whether the regulations respond to a "market failure" misunderstands the premises of many of the laws Congress enacts.

"Doing so also puts the White House in the position of the legislator, asking, as if for the first time, is this a problem worth addressing? The executive order does not even come into play unless Congress has passed a statute finding that a particular problem is indeed worth addressing. The new version of the executive order invites -- even more, directs -- agencies to secondguess that congressional judgment."

Friday, January 26, 2007

Next week: The Senate version of American Idol? and more

It could become the Senate version of American Idol! On January 30, Senator Barbara Boxer will host a forum in her Senate Environment and Public Works Committee on "Senators' Perspectives on Global Warming."

As noted by the committee, “The purpose of the hearing is to hear from each Senator about his or her views on global warming, and what the Senator believes the nation's response should be to the issue.”

Expect to see quite a few presidential candidates, starting at 9 am. (But who’s going to be Simon Cowell? Ultimately, the voters, I guess.)


At the same time (actually starting at 10 am) the new House Oversight and Government Reform Committee will hold its first hearing – also on global warming. It will involve “allegations of political interference with the work of government climate change scientists.”


Smog season: Yes, global warming is rightly getting the headlines, but there are other big issues pending – including the US EPA’s review of national health standards for smog. We anticipate a milestone next week. Stay tuned for details on a mid-day January 31 briefing-by-phone that we plan to host. This can be very useful for folks outside of DC as well as those of us trapped inside the proverbial Beltway.


Filthy liquid lucre: What unites President Bush and Barack Obama? Why, support for plans to subsidize conversion of coal to liquid fuel. As you may know, environmentalists are aghast at this idea, because of the potential to increase greenhouse gas emissions. (Obama, to be fair, advocates a cap and overall reduction in global warming pollution, unlike the President.)

But industry is ramping up its lobbying activities: note that a new (front?) group has been formed – Future Coal Fuels – with a web site provided by the National Mining Association:

It is now writing to members of Congress to “urge you to cosponsor the "Coal-to-Liquids Promotion Act of 2007" and to debunk the misleading claims recently put forth by a handful of environmental lobbying groups in opposition to this much-needed legislation.” (Let us know if you want the whole letter.)

There is a wonderful piece in today’s Wall St. Journal on this new push for coal-to-liquid (especially interesting: the ethanol lobby is afraid it might lose some of its money to coal!).

And there are some pretty shrewd companies and lobbyists involved, including Utah-based Headwaters, which has the well-wired Hunton and Williams law/lobby firm on its payroll. Following the money, note that Headwaters’ PAC gave to a fair number of lawmakers in the last election cycle, including Reps. Rick Boucher (D-VA), John Shimkus (R-IL), and Senators Max Baucus (D-MT), Robert Byrd (D-WVA) and Mitch McConnell (R-KY).

Another company associated by name with Future Coal Fuels is the Denver-based Rentech, Inc., which is working closely with coal behemoth Peabody.

In a federal lobbying registration form, one of Rentech’s lobbyists was touchingly innocent in explaining his mission: “Lobbying for grant to build a plant in MS.”

That is our tax money we’re talking about.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Ecotalk examines the State of the Union, while urges the President to try a french fry

January 24, 2007
Frank O'Donnell on the State of the Union: Cars, Coal, and Corn

EcoTalk's very own Clean Air Correspondent Frank O'Donnell waxes funny and fiery on President Bush's State of the Union speech: "He's starting to talk the talk, but he's a long way from walking the walk. He's tip-toeing in the right direction, but he is not coming forward with any plan at all to actually limit emissions related to global warming." LISTEN (11 min)

Ana Unruh Cohen's take on the State of the Union

Ana Unruh Cohen, Director of Environmental Policy with the Center for American Progress, gave us her take on the President's trip to the Capitol: "Recognition of the challenge is not enough. We need action." LISTEN (8 min)

And in

Around the horn: TXU ramps up lobbying effort, and more on coal, pollution and money

We are hearing that TXU, the power company seeking to build all those conventional coal-burning power plants in Texas, is going door-to-door in the Senate, trying to secure a “grandfather” status for those plants when it comes to global warming emissions. TXU wants to nuke (sorry – wrong word!) any effort in Congress to restrict free credits or allowances for those facilities. As you’ll recall, the legislation introduced last week by Senators Feinstein and Carper would do exactly that, and we expect other proposed legislation will attempt the same.

Start following the money, because you can bet those visits will be followed up with campaign contributions! (According to the Center for Responsive Politics, TXU contributed in the last election cycle to such senators as Inhofe, DeMint, Vitter, Bingaman and Thomas. See for more. )

And money, of course, is the root of the issue: any credits that TXU gets will come out of the hide of other power company customers. TXU’s gain would be their loss.


This lobbying blitz happens as TXU made some headlines in Texas by disclosing in a deposition that even though it intended to reduce overall conventional pollution from its fleet of power plants--- that they might sell the resulting “credits” elsewhere. An editorial in today’s Dallas Morning News bemoans this development:

The fact that a large corporation is trying to maximize profits comes as no surprise. But the details of the deposition confirm our oft-stated fears about the consequences of allowing an unprecedented expansion of polluting power plants.

A courageous Texas lawmaker filed a resolution yesterday that would halt new coal plant permits for six months. It seems like a timeout of this sort is in order.


Mercury control cost less than anticipated, according to a new Department of Energy analysis reported in Environmental Science & Technology:

The new report, published today on ES&T’s Research ASAP website (DOI: 10.1021/es0617340), focuses on a well-known technology, activated carbon injection (ACI), and has sparked interest from electric utilities and environmental advocates who sparred over EPA’s Clean Air Mercury Rule (CAMR) when it was released in 2005.
“The clock is ticking for U.S. coal-fired power plants,” in terms of developing the most effective strategies for responding to CAMR, writes Thomas Feeley and coauthors at DOE’s National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL). Coal-fired plants are the largest single source of mercury emissions nationally and emit 48 tons (t) of mercury annually, according to DOE.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

A few quick thoughts on White House propaganda associated with the State of the Union address

The White House has released its proposed “energy initiatives” at

Let’s start with the fact that the White House refuses to endorse any strategy to cap greenhouse gas emissions nationwide. Just throwing money at various technologies is not going to cut it. Greenhouse gas emissions from the power industry are projected to increase unless we set actual limits. And, despite some of the chatter about working with other nations on global warming, President Bush has consistently thumbed his nose at the U.N.-established body dealing with climate change. There’s no evidence in these materials that that’s going to change.

It’s also worth noting that amid all the verbiage, the White House opposes any congressional efforts to set an actual new fleet wide fuel economy standard for motor vehicles. Instead, it proposes an industry-favored approach that leaves a lot in the hands of the Secretary of Transportation. So this is less than meets the eye.

Now for some of the whoppers: The White House includes a laundry list of past activities – some of them inaccurate, others nearly incomprehensible.

For example, the White House asserts that its “proposed reforms” to EPA’s new source review requirements would be an aid in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. This is utter nonsense. The White House wants to change the rules at the behest of the coal-burning electric power companies, who want to burn more coal at dirty old power plants. Burning more coal (without capturing and storing the carbon emissions) will lead to greater global warming pollution, not less. If the White House actually wanted to use new source review to reduce carbon emissions, it would strictly enforce the rules and possibly prompt the shutdown of some of the old smoky dinosaurs.

Seemingly out of nowhere – like Athena springing from Zeus’ forehead -- the White House asserts that its programs “Will help Improve Public Health By Significantly Reducing Carbon Monoxide Emissions And Cancer-Causing Benzene Emissions.”

Maybe they’re talking about the proposals to increase use of ethanol in gasoline?? Anyone following these topics knows these are somewhat desperate arguments: we’ve eliminated most of the carbon monoxide problems in this country already through use of catalytic converters.

And environmental groups have had to sue the administration to prompt rules aimed at reducing benzene in gasoline. (And, as we noted last week, western refiners are lobbying to delay benzene reductions.)

One thing not mentioned here is that EPA itself has noted that increased use of ethanol – unless in E85 vehicles – could lead to more smog in many parts of the country. The White House also has forgotten that it has proposed rules to weaken air pollution standards for ethanol refineries – a move that could lead to more public health damage and more coal burning. (And more coal burning, as noted above, could lead to more greenhouse gas emissions and offset possible benefits associated with ethanol use.)

As for some of these other new initiatives: the call for more ethanol use is one heck of a lot less bold than it might appear, because groups are already racing to build new ethanol refineries. The goal set in the 2005 energy policy act was long ago made irrelevant.

Friday, January 19, 2007

News notes: some progress on global warming, but more smoke from the White House

Climate action alliance: Fascinating news out today about a new corporate and environmental alliance aimed at promoting limits to greenhouse gas emissions. As the New York Times put it, “Ten major companies with operations across the economy — utilities, manufacturing, petroleum, chemicals and financial services — have banded together with leading environmental groups to call for a firm nationwide limit on carbon dioxide emissions that would lead to reductions of 10 to 30 percent over the next 15 years.” The biggest corporate mover and shaker is General Electric, though the group includes others and sometimes controversial companies such as Wal-Mart, BP and Duke Energy.

This alliance could prove influential as Congress tries to sort out the various climate change plans that have been introduced. One of many things worth highlighting: this new group, the U.S. Climate Action Partnership, recommends steps to discourage construction of conventional coal burning power plants, such as those proposed in Texas and elsewhere. In that regard, it dovetails with the legislation introduced earlier this week by Senators Feinstein and Carper, which would not permit “free” credits or allowances for conventional coal burning plants in the future.

[Some see a tinge of hypocrisy in the partnership. For example, my friend, John Blair of Valley Watch in Indiana: "I find the inclusion of Duke Energy on this list as nothing more than that firm's continued Greenwashing. They talk a good game but as we speak, they are trying to build a 1600 MW PC coal plant in NC and a 630 IGCC plant in Indiana without carbon capture or sequestration. All the while they continue to pump money into their old PC plants to assure they will continue to operate throughout the 21st Century. Who do they think they are kidding?"]


Cultivating progress: Several items of note from my friends at the Center for American Progress. Jake Caldwell, the Director of Policy for the Center’s Energy Opportunity program released "Fueling a New Farm Economy: Creating Incentives for Biofuels in Agriculture and Trade Policy." It outlines how biofuels can reduce global warming and global poverty while boosting our energy security and global free trade. For an executive summary and the full report:
A second report of note is "Transforming Rural America" by David Morris of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. It discusses why local ownership and rural prosperity is critical to the prospect of America's farming communities and energy security. For more, see
Smoke-filled rooms: Continuing an ugly theme of his administration, President Bush has signed an executive order that broadens the power of the red-pen crowd at the White House Office of Management and Budget.

As Greenwire put it today, “The order would give the Office of Management and Budget new power to question, delay or alter federal guidance documents on topics ranging from traffic safety to global warming.”

This is actually a very big story that has generally gotten short shrift amid all the Pelosi-Dingell, etc. intrigue.

The executive order stipulates that no agency can even begin work on a rule without approval of political appointees. It says agencies must justify any proposed rule by identifying the "specific market failure" it is supposed to address. The White House also would gain new power to censor guidelines issued by agencies such as EPA.

At the very least, these changes will make it much harder for an agency like EPA to do its job, which (at least in theory) is supposed to protect the public from environmental threats. For more, see OMB Watch at

This new attempt to neuter EPA and other agencies comes as corporate champion Susan Dudley arrives at OMB.

No wonder the anti-regulatory crowd at the Chamber of Commerce and National Association of Manufacturers are lighting up cigars, looking like Denny Crane at the end of an episode of Boston Legal.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Western oil companies lobby White House on benzene gasoline rule

The US EPA has faced criticism from senators from Washington and Oregon for a proposal that would allow more benzene in gasoline in the Northwest.

Now some oil companies are pushing back! Some lobbyists for Sinclair Oil Company and some other companies met this week at the White House to argue against tougher limits. See materials below from White House OMB web site.

These companies and their lobbyists argued for more lenient requirements for refineries located in the Rocky Mountain states and the Pacific Northwest.

This looks like an eleventh-hour, backdoor attempt to water down any standards. Once again, industry lobbyists are appealing to the White House to weaken EPA requirements.

EPA is expected to issue final rules by Feb. 9.

Meeting Record Regarding: MSAT (Mobile Source Air Toxics)
Date: 1/16/2007
Client (if applicable) -->
Art Fraas

Stephen brown
Dutko (For Tesoro)

Ned Kendrick
Montgomery & Andrews (for Giant)

Gene Burden

David Anderson

Jon Gans

Steve Aitken

David Rostker

Clint Ensign

Kathryn Sargent

Tad Wyson

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Snow dampens Bush warming expectation; Feinstein and Carper weigh in, and more

It is becoming nearly a full-time job just tracking various global warming plans in our nation’s capital. Please note a few updates, below.

Snow dampener: There has been quite a buzz in recent days that President Bush might announce some dramatic new initiative on global warming in next week’s State of the Union Address. White House Press Secretary Tony Snow poured icy water on such talk yesterday. Though he said the President would “lay out our policy on global warming” during the address, Snow added “if you're talking about enforceable carbon caps, in terms of industry wide and nationwide, we knocked that down. That's not something we're talking about.”

Something to watch for: see if the President calls for new discussions of the topic by the so-called “G8” club of industrial nations. That would probably be an effort to shift the focus away from the existing U.N. framework for dealing with climate change. That would actually be a rollback of sorts, no matter how Snow tries to spin it.

If the President really wanted to take steps to deal with global warming, among other things he would direct EPA to approve California’s request to enforce its global warming standards for motor vehicles (see more, below) and permit EPA to consider carbon emission-trapping technologies when determining “best available” technologies for new coal-burning power plants. Bush political appointee William Wehrum has nixed such efforts at the EPA.

Feinstein-Carper: This morning (10:30 am, Room 301 of the Russell Senate Office Building), Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Tom Carper (D-DE) throw a new global warming plan into the proverbial hopper. It follows other initiatives by such senators as Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Joe Lieberman (D-CT), John McCain (R-AZ) and one floated by Senator Jeff Bingaman (D-NM).

At this stage of the game, it is often hard to distinguish bills introduced solely to make a statement, and those that actually could form the basis of something that could be enacted. There are a couple of interesting wrinkles to the Feinstein-Carper bill: 1) it deals solely with the electric power industry, the biggest source of global warming emissions in the USA, and 2) it actually is being endorsed by a half dozen electric power companies, including PG&E (whose CEO, Peter Darbee, is getting an award today from NRDC at the National Press Club) Entergy, Exelon, Public Service Enterprise Group, Florida Power & Light and Calpine. This bill would make both short-term and long-term reductions in carbon emissions from the power sector.

Something to watch for: Carper is a key member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, and would be a position to try to move something like this through the panel. This bill might be more than just something that makes a statement.

California court: A federal judge in California has postponed a car company law suit against California’s global warming vehicle standards until the Supreme Court rules on the pending global warming case. See release, below, from NRDC.

NAM null and void: The National Association of Manufacturers, one of DC’s most vile anti-clean air lobbies, has come out in support of Susan Dudley, the anti-regulatory zealot brought in to head the White House regulatory office. NAM uses a type of pig Latin to attack Clean Air Watch and some of our friends. It’s something we’ll wear with pride.


Here is the NRDC release noted above:
Federal Court in Fresno Stays Automakers’ Lawsuit Against California Global Warming Law
Judge Says Decision in Related U.S. Supreme Court Case Likely to Affect California Outcome
(January 16, 2007) – A federal judge in Fresno, Calif. today postponed trial of the auto industry’s lawsuit against California’s landmark clean cars global warming standards until the U.S. Supreme Court issues its decision in a closely related case later this spring.
In a victory for the state and its environmental allies, Judge Anthony Ishii decided to wait for the Supreme Court’s decision in Massachusetts v. EPA before holding a lengthy and costly trial on the auto industry’s lawsuit.
“Judge Ishii has rebuffed the auto industry’s latest effort to block California’s landmark global warming law,” said David Doniger, NRDC’s attorney in both the California and Supreme Court cases. “He has decided to wait for the Supreme Court’s word on whether the federal Clean Air Act covers the pollution that causes global warming.”
In the Massachusetts case, NRDC joined California, 11 other states, and environmental organizations to challenge the Bush administration’s claim that the Clean Air Act gives it no power to curb global warming pollution. Judge Ishii ruled today that the two cases pose such similar issues that the Supreme Court’s decision in the Massachusetts case is likely to control the outcome of the California case. The high court is expected to rule by June.
The car companies claim California’s global warming pollution standards conflict with the federal fuel economy law. Judge Ishii found that’s essentially the same argument the Bush administration and the auto industry are making in the Supreme Court. If the Supreme Court rebuffs their argument and decides the federal Clean Air Act covers global warming pollution, then California’s authority will be clear.
The state of California and all other parties – including both plaintiffs and defendants – agree that California cannot enforce its standards until the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) grants it a “waiver” under the Clean Air Act.
“For four decades EPA has almost always approved California’s vehicle emission standards,” said Doniger. “We’re confident that after the Supreme Court rules, EPA will follow the law and allow California’s historic standards to go forward.”
The California Air Resources Board (CARB) adopted the nation’s first ever regulation to reduce global warming pollution from cars in compliance with a 2002 state law (AB 1493, Pavley). The standard requires automakers to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping pollutants by 22 percent by the 2012 model year and 30 percent by the 2016 model year.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

They're back: the Bush "surge" strategy for federal agencies

Still Hiring Tree-Haters
Frank O'Donnell
January 11, 2007

Frank O'Donnell is president of Clean Air Watch, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization aimed at educating the public about clean air and the need for an effective Clean Air Act.

The headlines focused on the Bush administration’s decision Tuesday to drop four controversial judicial nominees, but equally significant news was buried: President Bush re-nominated a veritable rogues' gallery of anti-environmental figures to key posts in federal agencies. These nominees have records so bad that they couldn’t pass muster with the last Congress.

Maybe this is a domestic version of the president’s “surge” strategy: send in more troops to try to tame federal agencies that might be hostile to the administration’s pro-polluter policies. At the very least, it’s—again shades of policy on Iraq—a thumb in the eye of the new Congress. These personnel moves also ought to dampen speculation that the Bush team might play nice on the environment during the next two years.

Given the paucity of coverage on this in the mainstream media, perhaps it’s worth a moment to remind us just who these nominees are, and why they couldn’t get clearance even from last year’s Republican-controlled Senate.

Perhaps most notorious is Susan Dudley, nominated as head of the regulatory office of the White House Office of Management and Budget. This is one of the most obscure yet powerful jobs in Washington. The person in this position can, largely without public scrutiny, interfere with actions of agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency, and become a conduit for industries seeking to avoid federal health, environmental and safety standards.

These industries couldn’t have picked a better champion than Dudley, a true anti-regulatory zealot. As director of regulatory studies at the industry-funded Mercatus Center, Dudley was like a wrecking ball out to smash key safeguards. She opposed, for example, EPA attempts to reduce smog, clean up gasoline and keep arsenic out of drinking water. (For more, see the Public Citizen and OMB Watch's report.)

Putting Dudley in this key federal post would be like naming comedian Michael Richards to head the U.S. Civil Rights Commission. At her nomination hearing last fall, Dudley reiterated she was “proud of” her positions, which prompted more than 100 groups to oppose her nomination.

Dudley’s nomination goes before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, chaired by Senator Joe Lieberman, I-Conn. The panel’s former chair, Senator Susan Collins, R-Maine, supported Dudley, but that wasn’t enough to overcome Democratic opposition in the last Congress.

Aware that Dudley probably can’t be confirmed, the White House reportedly plans to put her on the payroll as a “senior adviser” so she can get down to the dirty work. A recess appointment (putting her in the job without need of a vote—another thumb in the eye of the Democrats) is expected later this year.

Also on track for a recess appointment is William Wehrum, nominated to head the air pollution program at the EPA. A former industry attorney, Wehrum has been running the show on an acting basis since mid-2005. Before that, he was top counsel and Rasputin to his predecessor, Jeffrey Holmstead, who then passed through the revolving door to work for industry clients at Rudy Giuliani’s law firm.

In other words, Wehrum has been a principal architect of the Bush administration’s industry-friendly air pollution policies, including weak standards for smog, soot and mercury. Wehrum has confided he expects a recess appointment later this year.

He’ll probably need that to keep doing the bidding of polluting industry on the taxpayer’s nickel. His nomination will go before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, chaired by Senator Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., who will oppose him. (Boxer and Lieberman put holds on Wehrum’s nomination—preventing full Senate action—after the Republican-controlled committee recommended approval on a straight party-line vote.)

In the last Congress, Boxer also put a hold on yet another bad apple, Alex Beehler, who was re-nominated as the EPA inspector general. As assistant deputy secretary of defense since 2004, Beehler has sought to exempt military activities from environmental requirements. Boxer faulted Beehler and the Pentagon for withholding documents on his record. Previously Beehler worked for Koch Industries, a notorious polluter and underwriter of anti-environmental think tanks such as Dudley’s Mercatus Center.

Other nominees making a return engagement include Roger Martella, advanced as EPA’s general counsel (Martella wasn’t especially controversial but Senator Ron Wyden, D-Ore., blocked his confirmation in an effort to force EPA to rework a rule limiting benzene emissions from gasoline) and John Correll, named director of the Interior Department’s Office of Mining Reclamation and Enforcement. The Sierra Club and the United Mine Workers oppose Correll, charging he is hostile to environmental and safety standards.

He’ll fit right in with the rest of this odious crowd.

EIA: Bingaman climate bill would have extremely modest economic impact

An interesting analysis out this morning by the Energy Information Administration.

It examines a preliminary version of climate legislation drafted by Senator Jeff Bingaman (D-NM). The Bingaman legislation is still being massaged a little, but this analysis does provide some perspective.

This is fairly complex material. But a couple of quick initial observations:

This analysis ought to undercut the claims of scare-mongering opponents of global warming emission limits. They’ve tried to create the impression that any limits on greenhouse gas emissions would harm the economy. Obviously, that’s nonsense.

The cost of this plan seems extremely modest. The increase in household energy costs could be as little as about $3.50 to $5 a month in the year 2020. In other words, the cost would be a pittance -- something we probably wouldn’t even notice.

The plan would provide incentives to lower energy use and reduce fossil fuel consumption.

Coal use would actually increase somewhat, though not as much as it would without these hypothetical limits.

Bingaman, of course, is trying to strike a middle-ground position. Environmentalists will be supporting tougher requirements.

This analysis ought to bolster the position of environmentalists, since it appears we could adopt tougher limits with modest impacts on the economy.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Obama's coal--pandering ploy, and more

Coal caucus: Environment and Energy Daily reports this morning that Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) and Jim Bunning (R-KY) have teamed up to form a new Senate caucus “with the express purpose of promoting development of a domestic coal-to-liquid fuels production industry.” This follows the duo’s introduction last week of legislation aimed at providing tax credits for coal-to-liquid factories.

The National Mining Association (which yesterday reported a coal mining record in 2006 – paralleling the record amount of greenhouse gas pollution) issued a gushing salute to the Obama-Bunning legislation.

Environmentalists generally frown on coal-to-liquid production (despite its popularity in Nazi Germany and apartheid South Africa) because of the likelihood of greenhouse gas increases.

As with virtually everything in our nation’s capital, there is a well-paid lobby promoting this technology. One prominent lobbyist seeking federal support for the process is.former Rep. Bob Livingston.

One of DC’s little secrets is that environmentalists breathed a big sigh of relief when Obama recently left the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, which could be voting on global warming legislation later this year. No wonder, in light of this coal-pandering ploy.

Advanced coal? Today the US EPA is taking its own stab at promoting more benign use of coal. The agency – whose political leaders rejected the seemingly judicious idea that IGCC technology should be explored in “best” technology analyses – has set up a working group that meets today just outside of DC. This working group could lead to some promising developments over the course of the next year. We’ll want to keep a close eye on this.

Whatever happened to…? Speaking of EPA, the agency has promised for months that it would soon go public with proposals to limit noxious emissions from diesel trains and big diesel boats, and that it would also propose a separate plan to limit pollution from dirty small engines. But where’s the beef? We intend to hold the agency to its word on this. We’ll probably even say nice things – if these proposals ever surface.

California leads again: California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger made big headlines today with his plan for universal health coverage. And now, according to the Los Angeles Times, Schwarzenegger is ready to unveil another big initiative. The Times reports he will order a 10% cut in motor vehicle emissions of greenhouse gases, mainly carbon dioxide.

“Under the proposal, petroleum refiners and gasoline sellers would be ordered to reduce the carbon content of their fuels over the next 13 years,” the Times reports.

“The order could also usher in a new generation of alternative fuels in California, experts say, as refiners consider adding ethanol or other biofuels into gasoline blends. It could also mean a shift of part of the state's auto fleet to hydrogen or electric power.” Meanwhile, car companies like General Motors trot out “green” vehicles at car shows but say they’re not available for sale – suggesting that may be just another ploy to block attempts in Congress to limit global warming gases from motor vehicles or improve fuel economy.

As it has so often with other issues, California is taking the lead to deal with perhaps our biggest environmental challenge.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Bingaman seeks middle ground in global warming debate

From Congress Daily:

Bingaman Shops Global Warming Language For Discussion

Senate Energy and Natural Resources Chairman Bingaman is fine-tuning draft global warming legislation in a bid to stake out the middle ground in the debate. A staff discussion draft floated to some senators and lobbyists aims to cap greenhouse gas emissions at 2013 levels by 2020, while also accounting for projected economic output. It aims to lower greenhouse gas "intensity," which is derived by dividing greenhouse gas emissions by the forecasted gross domestic product for a given year. Environmental groups prefer a more stringent plan; industry critics of a similar Bingaman bill last Congress said it still would significantly harm the economy while producing negligible environmental benefits. "He's definitely staking out the middle," said Frank O'Donnell, president of Clean Air Watch, an environmental group. "But I think it will be helpful in moving the debate forward." Bingaman and other supporters of mandating reductions in greenhouse gas emissions will battle many Republicans, the Bush administration and others who favor voluntary, incentive-based approaches to curbing global warming.

Supporters of Bingaman's draft say it more aggressively lowers emissions and increases the maximum penalty for exceeding emission limits than under a 2005 bill he filed. Both the staff draft and the 2005 bill allows credits to be traded between facilities while initially limiting to $7 per ton the amount a facility would have to pay for exceeding emission limits. But Bingaman's draft plan proposes to expedite the increase of that "safety valve" annually by taking inflation into account, which his 2005 bill did not do. Both bills cover the gamut of industrial emitters of greenhouse gasses, including petroleum refineries, coal mines, electric utilities and natural gas shippers and pipelines.

Bingaman has been trying to find a bipartisan solution with Energy and Natural Resources ranking member Pete Domenici, R-N.M., but the two appeared far apart last Congress when Domenici chaired the committee. Domenici is one of several senators that Bingaman is in discussions with, sources said...

Bingaman's bill will be one of a flurry of global warming proposals expected to be introduced, and Senate Majority Leader Reid has promised to bring global warming legislation to the floor this year. Senate Environment and Public Works Chairwoman Boxer and House Government Reform Chairman Waxman probably will introduce similar bills that have had the backing of House Speaker Pelosi and environmental groups. Boxer starting this month will hold several global warming hearings in her committee.

Sen. Thomas Carper, D-Del., who takes over the redefined Environment and Public Works Clean Air, Nuclear Plant Security and Community Development Subcommittee, is expected to reintroduce a bipartisan plan that would limit carbon dioxide emissions to current levels through 2010 and force power plants to reduce emissions to 2001 levels by 2015. He has the support of three Senate Republicans and Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., who previously voted against mandatory carbon caps. Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., will again offer a plan to limit greenhouse gas emissions. Their plan last Congress was opposed by environmental groups and Boxer because it promoted nuclear energy.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

News notes: the new Congress sets up shop amid a heat wave, and more

It’s an auspicious day for the start of the new Congress. The thermometer in DC is expected to hit 60 degrees (about 17 degrees above “normal”) and the UK government’s weather forecasters predict 2007 will be the warmest year in recorded history. The threats from global warming have prompted yet another prominent local jurisdiction to limit greenhouse gas emissions (see more, below). And a new AP-AOL poll finds that 74% of respondents believe global warming will get worse.

You’d think all of this might be enough to prompt the new Congress to take swift and decisive action on global warming. But will it? Read on.

Congressional cyclone: Amid the whirlwind of action in the opening days of Congress, expect the introduction of various plans to limit greenhouse gas emissions. Among those expected to offer visionary plans: Senators Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA). Other forms of proposed legislation are likely, including an updated multi-pollutant plan to be introduced by Senator Tom Carper (D-DE). Boxer, new chair of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, will hold a series of hearings to explore the issue.

But will the new Congress actually start voting on anything soon? Conventional wisdom was that there might be more talk than action in the coming weeks. But Environment and Energy Daily notes this morning a memo from new Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who promises the Senate will “address global warming” this spring. Keep your eye not only on Boxer’s committee but on the Senate Energy Committee, now chaired by Senator Jeff Bingaman (D-NM). And don’t forget former chair Pete Domenici (R-NM), who could be a very key player as this issue moves forward.

State and local governments are keeping the heat on. This week, Arlington County, Virginia (part of the Washington, DC metro area) announced it was going to take action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions because action at the federal level has been so slow – up until now. It’s the latest action of its sort by state and local governments, and important because it’s happening literally in the backyard of many federal policy makers. It prompted a good editorial in today’s Washington Post.

Smog status: Several very key issues to watch at the US EPA: Perhaps foremost is the agency’s ongoing review of national clean air standards for ozone, or smog. EPA’s independent science advisers have unanimously urged the agency to toughen the standards, last revised a decade ago, because of new evidence that smog can not only make it more difficult to breathe, but can actually shorten one’s life. Up soon: an EPA staff assessment of the problem.

If EPA’s staff fails to go along with the recommendation of the independent advisers, it will show that Bush administration political appointees have censored them. (Several honest and important EPA career staffers have retired in recent days, including John Bachmann, a key player in these science reviews, and Richard Long, longtime head of EPA air programs in its Rocky Mountain region. For more on Long, see excellent piece in yesterday’s Rocky Mountain News.)

Mercury menace: A new study of mercury pollution identifies “hot spots” linked to coal burning electric power plants. The study by the Hubbard Brook Research Foundation, as reported in today’s BNA Daily Environment Report. This study is yet another piece of evidence that calls into question the industry-friendly Bush administration approach to mercury, while entails extensive “emission trading” and – as we predicted – “hot spots.” A separate report, in Inside EPA Weekly Report, says the Bush administration is seeking to stymie an international body’s investigation of the water pollution impacts of the Bush mercury strategy. Fancy that – the Bush administration seeking to muzzle a science-based inquiry! This one is definitely worth watching.