Wednesday, February 28, 2007

New report details diesel danger for commuters

Our friends with the Clean Air Task Force are releasing a new report today that should give pause to any commuter.

Here is how their news release begins:

Diesel fumes pose a major health risk to commuters, according to a new report by the non-profit Clean Air Task Force.

The Boston-based environmental research group reported today that even though we spend only a tiny portion of our day commuting, it's during the commute that we receive more than half our overall exposure to deadly fine particle pollution.

The full report should be available today online at

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Is the highway department undermining congressional intent on clean-air funds?

The emission control industry is warning that interim guidance by the Federal Highway Administration may “undermine” appropriate use of billions of dollars in federal highway spending on projects designed to mitigate congestion and air pollution.

That’s because the highway agency did not properly tally up the value of money spent on cleaning up existing diesel engines.

The backdrop is this: on Nov. 9, the highway agency put out “interim” guidance on how states should spend federal transportation funds provided through the so-called Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality program.

This program gives federal aid to various transportation and infrastructure projects specifically aimed at reducing congestion or improving air quality. In the past, it has been used for such things as HOV lanes and building bike paths.

But in 2005, Congress directed states to give priority to diesel retrofits, particularly for equipment used in road construction, when deciding how to spend CMAQ money. (The provisions were included in that year’s transportation legislation, known as the “Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Use.”)

It was left to the highway agency to issue guidelines spelling out congressional intent.

According to the Emission Control Technology Association, the interim guidance “suffers from several notable shortcomings which prevent an `apples-to-apples’ comparison among alternative strategies, undermining the guidance’s ability to promote informed decision making and facilitate the efficient use of public monies.”

Their basic argument is that the guidelines don’t compare the value of reducing emissions of particle soot – the most lethal of widespread pollutants – to pollutants that cause less public health damage. As a result, highway agencies may keep on spending money on projects that don’t achieve the same public health improvements.

Frankly, I think they have a point here. I wonder if the highway guidelines were just typical bureaucratic bungling, or was it a real attempt to undermine the intent of Congress that more money should go to cleaning up dirty diesel engines?

Thursday, February 22, 2007

A new Bush power grab

It's time for Congress to take on the President on a key domestic policy matter:

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

A tawdry tale of sex, oil and vacation property

Ever wonder who buys those expensive beach houses -- and how they pay for them?

Associated Press writer John Heilprin recounts how it happened in one case -- as a lobbyist teamed up with the government's top environmental prosecutor, in a tangled tale of sex, oil and vacation property.

Here's how the story begins:

WASHINGTON — Nine months before agreeing to let ConocoPhillips delay a half-billion-dollar pollution cleanup, the government's top environmental prosecutor bought a $1 million vacation home with the company's top lobbyist.

Also in on the Kiawah Island, S.C., house deal was former Deputy Interior Secretary J. Steven Griles, the highest-ranking Bush administration official targeted for criminal prosecution in the Jack Abramoff corruption probe.

The whole story is at:

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Hypocritical GE lobbies against important diesel pollution standards

For many months we’ve been wondering why the US EPA has delayed taking action to clean up noxious diesel train and boat emissions. (EPA had promised to do this in mid-2004.)

And last year, the Washington Post revealed that trains spew out a lot more harmful emissions than previously realized ) . Diesel train pollution literally causes thousands of deaths a year.

But EPA never seems to take action. Now, we know why.

Today’s Wall Street Journal discloses that General Electric – the nation’s biggest diesel train engine maker – is lobbying to weaken upcoming EPA standards. And an EPA official explains that GE’s opposition has helped delay the rules.

As the Journal points out, GE’s lobbying comes in sharp contrast to its “Ecoimagination” ad campaign, touting allegedly “green” trains, among other things. (These commercials run relentlessly on GE-owned NBC, on such programs as Friday Night Lights and My Name is Earl.)

This is a real GreenScam. General Electric ought to be ashamed of such blatant hypocrisy.

More at

Monday, February 12, 2007

Here they go again: the Bush team cooks up another way to create dirty-air loopholes for smokestack industries

It only seems like a broken record.

But once again, the Bush administration has cooked up another way to create dirty-air loopholes for smokestack industries.

This time, it’s a concept called a “flexible air permit.” The idea is to permit industries to make continuing changes at a factory without further outside scrutiny after an initial permit review.

The White House Office of Management and Budget reports it began reviewing EPA’s proposal on this last week. (See at )

EPA says it wants to reduce administrative “friction.” We’d be happier if they seemed more concerned about reducing pollution!

(This sort of “flexible” rule carries with it the possible loss of public scrutiny of factory changes, and also could mean weaker pollution controls over the long haul.)

Our friend, John Walke of NRDC, perhaps knows more about this than anyone else.

Just remember: flexibility is great for yoga, but it’s usually bad for breathers – especially if the polluter gets to be “flexible.”

Friday, February 09, 2007

EPA moves to reduce public exposure to cancer-causing gasoline fumes

This isn't a blockbuster move, but the EPA did issue some positive standards today aimed at reducing public exposure to cancer-causing gasoline fumes.

See more at

The rules would not require a reduction in the worst potential cancer problem from motor vehicles -- diesel fumes.

EPA has lagged in setting standards for diesel trains and boats.

And the President's recent budget request did not include enough in money to clean up dirty diesel engines.

Ecotalk on Steve Johnson's grilling by Barbara Boxer or at

EPA Chief Steve Johnson Testifies Before Congress

by Philippe Boucher on February 9, 2007 - 1:09am.

With Clean Air Watch's Frank O'Donnell watching from the congressional pews, Barbara Boxer's Environment and Public Works Committee this week put EPA Chief Steve Johnson on the stand, and Senator Boxer took him to task: "You are accountable to the American people, not special interests." Also, as an extra treat: the latest bizarre statements from Senator James Inhofe.PART ONE (11 min) PART TWO (7 min)

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

EPA science advisers cry foul over new politicized process, while agency chief Johnson stumbles before Boxer committee

While many of us were watching this morning, EPA Administrator Steve Johnson struggled before Senator Boxer’s committee, which examined recent rollbacks at the EPA.

Johnson had some carefully scripted moments with some of the committee’s Republicans, particularly Senator Inhofe of Oklahoma, but he stumbled when he had to improvise.

In an obviously rehearsed dialogue with Inhofe, Johnson said he knew, for example, that EPA’s library contained the book Fat Chicks Rule – but Johnson didn’t appear to know that EPA had just closed a library in Maryland!

Inhofe – ever alert to provide political cover for Bush administration misdeeds -- also sprang to Johnson’s defense over industry-sought changes to EPA’s process for setting national clean air standards.

Johnson dissembled when Inhofe asked if EPA had accepted the recommendations of the American Petroleum Institute. “No,” said Johnson – though, in fact, EPA did exactly that in the most important change it made, to downgrade the role of EPA’s career experts while injecting more politics into the process for setting standards.

Interestingly, at the very same time this little drama was unfolding, EPA’s independent science advisers this morning were crying foul about those new Bush administration changes. Here are some excerpts from an excellent (and very informative) Greenwire account:

Members of U.S. EPA's science advisory panel on air pollution voiced strong concerns today about the Bush administration's recent directive to expand the power of political appointees over the panel's work.

In a meeting of the Clean Air Science Advisory Committee (CASAC) in Durham, N.C., panel members questioned the legality of the policy, which was announced in December by EPA Deputy Administrator Marcus Peacock.

One member suggested scientists were "handcuffing ourselves" by allowing political appointees to take a stronger role the agency's scientific reviews of six criteria air pollutants and their associated human health risks.

The new policy essentially strips the panel of its fundamental advisory role with EPA staff scientists as they compile and disseminate the latest findings on pollutants -- like ozone, particulate matter or lead -- and human health. The Clean Air Act requires such reviews twice per decade as part of the National Ambient Air Quality Standards program.

Under the new policy, EPA science staff will no longer draft policy recommendations alone but will share that responsibility with a political appointee in the agency. The outcome will be a synopsis of "policy-relevant science," as opposed to a comprehensive review of past and present knowledge on the health effects of criteria air pollutants.

Also under the policy, the committee will no longer review staff science prior to its release but will comment on proposed changes after the public has been notified but before a final decision is made by the EPA administrator. Some have said the move relegates CASAC to the same status as lobbying groups, greatly eroding both its purpose and its prestige.

You’ve got to feel sorry for the EPA people who tried to defend this indefensible change. One of them, according to Greenwire, urged the independent science advisers to bring their concerns to Johnson. Actually, they’d be much better off bringing them to Boxer.

Monday, February 05, 2007

EPA's Steve Johnson steps into the hot seat before Boxer panel

It should be interesting tomorrow as EPA chief Steve Johnson steps into the hot seat. More specifically, Johnson is the lead witness before Senator Boxer’s Environment and Public Works Committee.

(Former EPA chief Christie Whitman says Johnson's got no juice. For more on that, see

We will be there, watching with interest. Below, I’ve flagged a couple of things to look for.

--Johnson does some bragging in his prepared statement about how things are better than they used to be, but the record is actually quite mixed. For example, EPA’s most recent emission “trends” report shows that emissions of fine-particle soot, the most lethal of widespread pollutants, actually increased slightly between 2000 and 2005.

That increase mirrors the trend in a number of major metropolitan areas, which saw increases of fine-particle soot levels in the air in 2005: (It’s easy to check your own city’s pollution levels.)

--Johnson’s discussion of Bush changes in the process for setting national clean air standards is pure nonsense. The reality is that EPA took a recommendation directly from the oil industry, which wanted to downgrade the role of those honest EPA career workers. This was a classic special-interest giveaway.

--Johnson touts the success of the Bush administration’s diesel rules. (You will recall that one of the administration’s biggest accomplishments was upholding the Clinton administration’s clean-diesel standards for trucks, buses and highway diesel fuel – after a slight delay.)

But where the heck are the long-promised standards to clean up dirty diesel trains and medium-sized diesel boats – something EPA has literally been promising since May of 2004? EPA has determined that pollution from these engines is shortening the lives of literally thousands of people a year. Every year of delay adds to the body count.

And today’s budget revelations raise other questions. The administration is seeking a mere $35 million for grants to clean up existing diesel engines – school buses, and the like. This is a slight step in the right direction, but it is still a pittance compared to the demonstrated need – and the fact the Congress actually authorized $200 million a year in such funding. Why is the Bush administration being so cheap when it comes to helping little school kids breathe easier?

Equally disturbing, the administration seeks to cut approximately $35 million from grants to state and local clean air agencies. The National Association of Clean Air Agencies can best comment on this, but how can Johnson brag that EPA doing such a great job, when it wants to hack away at state and local agencies, that are often on the front line of the fight against pollution?

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Gore says "yes!" Will testify at House global warming hearing

Former Vice President Al Gore has accepted an invitation to testify at a House subcommittee hearing on climate change March 21, according to a Feb. 2 statement from the Energy and Commerce Committee.

Gore will appear as the sole witness at a joint hearing of the Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Energy and Air Quality and the House Science and Technology Subcommittee on Energy and Environment.

The hearing is one of several expected to be held over the next few months by the Energy and Commerce Committee to address global warming.

Gore's documentary film, "An Inconvenient Truth," has been nominated for an Oscar, and he has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.

Friday, February 02, 2007

An old Clean Air Watch adversary offers cash to scientists to raise doubts about global warming

In case you wondered if those record Exxon-Mobil profits were going to constructive use, consider the story published in today’s Guardian newspaper in London:,,2004399,00.html

“Scientists and economists have been offered $10,000 each by a lobby group funded by one of the world's largest oil companies to undermine a major climate change report due to be published today,” the newspaper reports.

“Letters sent by the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), an ExxonMobil-funded thinktank with close links to the Bush administration, offered the payments for articles that emphasise the shortcomings of a report from the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).”

What – not the same American Enterprise Institute that has paid a “visiting fellow” to repeatedly attack Clean Air Watch?



I guess we are in good company, at least.

Our friends at the Union of Concerned Scientists noted last month that the oil giant had spread around a lot of money to cultivate doubt about global warming.