Thursday, July 26, 2007

Diesel fumes and clogged arteries -- why we need to clean up existing diesel engines

Diesel Fumes Help Clog Arteries07.26.07

THURSDAY, July 26 (HealthDay News) -- Scientists say they've spotted the biochemical process that makes diesel exhaust so dangerous to human arteries.

An interaction between the fine particles found in diesel exhaust and the fatty acids in LDL ("bad") cholesterol activates genes that then cause inflammation in blood vessels, a team from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) report.

This process accelerates atherosclerosis -- a buildup of fatty deposits that can eventually lead to complete vessel blockage, according to the study in the July 26 online issue of Genome Biology...

"This study is more evidence of why we need to become more aggressive in cleaning up existing diesel engines," said Frank O'Donnell, director of Clean Air Watch, a private organization.

Chances that diesel engines will be used as commonly in the United States as in Europe, where they are found in many cars, are slim, because U.S. pollution standards are tougher, O'Donnell said.

"The real big problem remains the many thousands of diesel engines in construction equipment, old trucks and buses," he said. "The biggest bang for the buck would come from cleaning up existing diesel engines."

[More at ]

Bush administration telegraphs it will deny California's global warming vehicle request

It is a shameless political move.

But at a Senate hearing this morning, U.S. EPA Administrator Steve Johnson telegraphed that EPA is planning to deny California's request to enforce its greenhouse gas standards for motor vehicles.

Johnson linked the issue to an earlier promise by President Bush that EPA would develop its own plan to set new vehicle and fuel standards by the end of 2008.

Johnson signaled that EPA will deny the California request, using the pretext that there will be national standards.

Any such standards under consideration would be far weaker than the California standards, which have already been adopted by a number of other states. None would be able to enforce those standards unless California wins approval -- either by EPA, or through the courts.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

GE's credit card carbon offset scheme

It’s like buying a consumer product – and getting instant absolution for your sins. Of course, excessive consumption is one of the reasons we have a global warming problem!

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

New EPA analysis: global warming controls are possible while economy grows

As Sen. Lieberman noted this afternoon, “nothing is for free.”

But this analysis will provide grist for the upcoming Lieberman-Warner climate initiative.

It won’t quiet down the naysayers like Senator Inhofe. But this analysis is another step in the direction of action on global warming.

A really dumb idea: Wyoming senator wants to let companies trade the right to give people cancer

  • Normally we at Clean Air Watch don’t venture into the realm of tobacco. But we are making an exception here because a Wyoming senator is taking flawed Clean Air Act idea and is trying to apply it to tobacco – in a blatant attempt to stave off FDA regulation of coffin nails.

    See below. Our friend Paul Billings with the American Lung Association can get into all the grim details.

    ENZI’s “cap-and-trade” approach to tobacco: a plan to let companies trade the right to give people cancer.

    As those of you who have been following this issue know, the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pension Committee is planning to move forward tomorrow on long-awaited legislation that would give the FDA oversight over tobacco products. Health groups such as the American Lung Association support this effort.

    But the friends of tobacco have a different – and ludicrous – idea. Senator Mike Enzi (R-WY) has introduced an alternative plan that would seek to “cap and trade” tobacco use. The idea would be to permit tobacco companies to trade the right to turn people into tobacco addicts – and thus give them cancer and other diseases.

    No, this isn’t some ghoulish Halloween joke.

    Actually Enzi is stealing an idea from the Clean Air Act (1990 amendments) aimed basically at bribing coal-burning Midwestern power companies to reduce acid rain-causing emissions over a several decade period.

    (Why is Enzi doing this? Well, he is a long-time friend of the mini-mart lobby – the National Association of Convenience Stores – and they sell a lot of cigarettes. Perhaps Mini-mart Mike is trying to repay the favor for past campaign contributions. )

    A couple of quick reasons why “cap and trade” is silly in this context:

    first of all, “cap and trade” was interjected into the Clean Air Act as a compromise, rather than simply requiring coal-burning electric power plants to clean up. It ended up putting clean up on a very slow boat – it had a 20-year time frame.

    it’s only been so-so in its results. (In addition to the protracted time frame, and the targets were based on politics, not science. We now know the targets were too weak – we still have an acid rain problem.)

    in effect, it gave companies the right to pollute – a controversial measure by any means, but considered a little less volatile in the context of acid rain BECAUSE IT WAS ABOUT DEATH OF LAKES AND STREAMS, NOT PEOPLE. As Comedian Carlos Mencia might put it “dee-dee-dee!”

    the idea of giving away free “credits” to industry is now considered pretty stupid. See our report “Should Big Polluters Own the Sky?” at

    Note that even big coal-burning power companies like American Electric Power (which have backed the Bingaman global warming bill) now are willing to go along with something less greedy than simply demanding all the credits for free.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Citigroup downgrades coal stocks... so why does Citi still underwrite coal projects?

An interesting twist last week as Citigroup issued a bearish report on coal stocks. (See excerpt, below.) Citigroup wasn’t the only analyst to downgrade coal last week; so did HSBC Global Research.

Citigroup’s analysis was a warning signal from Wall Street that the coal industry needs to shape up – and find uses in advanced clean-coal technologies – or face the consequences, as politicians look to solutions for global warming. It also could be a sign that concern about global warming isn’t going away.

(St. Louis-based Arch Coal, the nation’s second biggest coal producer, reports second quarter earnings on Monday. Citigroup downgraded Arch from “buy” to “hold.”)

Interestingly enough, Citi has come under sharp criticism for underwriting conventional coal-burning power plants.

(Yes, we know there’s a needed firewall between the analysts and the financier arms of the company.)

Even so, doesn’t this make those within Citi who finance coal look a little out of step?

Some of the most interesting language from the report (our emphasis added):

Downgrading Coal

We are downgrading Coal stocks across the board. After maintaining a positive view on Coal thus far into 2007, we are growing more concerned that datapoints are failing to translate into utility stockpile drawdown as NatGas has taken further share in power generation. At the same time, prophesies of a new wave of Coal-fired generation have vaporized, while clean Coal technologies such as IGCC with carbon capture and Coal-to-Liquids remain a decade away, or more.

Stubbornly high stockpiles defer the "day of reckoning" into 2008 Our sense is that Coal has missed a critical time window, which potentially throws any recovery out-of-phase, with implications that could last for a year or more. If stockpiles remain elevated into autumn, they are likely to remain so, thus perpetuating the contract/pricing standoff with the utilities into 2008 – at which point election politics are likely to turn progressively more bestial for Coal. Candidates are already stepping up to "ban Coal," while company productivity/margins are likely to be structurally impaired by new regulatory mandates applied to a group perceived as landscape-disfiguring global warming bad-guys. We expect Coal prices to rise, but for earnings to falter.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Ethanol surge could harm Chesapeake Bay


U.S. ethanol proponents have encouraged bringing local production to non-traditional ethanol markets, but there are environmental downsides that need to be considered, according to a just-released report by a Mid-Atlantic coalition, which focused on water quality in the Chesapeake Bay.

There are approximately 15 corn-based ethanol plants under construction or planned for the Mid-Atlantic region, which will collectively produce 1 billion gal/yr, according to the report by the Mid-Atlantic Regional Water Quality Program. Approximately 370 million bushels/yr of corn would be needed to provide the feedstock for the ethanol plants - more than 1.5 times the current regional production of corn, the report noted.

Therefore, the region's farmers are likely to increase corn planted in the Bay watershed by 500,000 to 1 million acres over the next few years, the report found. But the increasing corn production and accompanying higher demand for fertilizer could mean more pollution run-off from the fields to the local water tributaries, eventually finding their way to the Chesapeake Bay and beyond, noted the report. "...[I]ncreased corn production could result in an additional 8 million-16 million pounds of nitrogen pollution and 0.8 million-1.6 million pounds of phosphorous pollution annually," it found.

At the same time, the states encompassing the Bay (Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia) have pledged to a 110 million pound reduction in annual nitrogen pollution.

"This study is a warning sign that corn-based ethanol carries some real environmental baggage," said Frank O' Donnell, president of Clean Air Watch.

"We could be exchanging one problem - imported oil - for another -- pollution of critical water bodies," he added. The fertilizer run-off can also contribute to so-called "dead zones" in water bodies, whereby the nitrogen and phosphorous feed algae blooms. In turn, the algae consume oxygen that wildlife needs to survive in the water....

The study's findings are "not a big surprise," added Frank Maisano, a spokesman for refiners. "We've been seeing the unintended consequences of ethanol manifest itself in many ways," including higher prices for popcorn, steaks and tequila, he added.

Friday, July 13, 2007

How should states spend clean air and traffic improvement money?

And is New York's Mayor Bloomberg on the right track?

For the answers, see the live debate on CNBC at

Monday, July 09, 2007

Ahead this week: a Bingaman surprise? The White House red pen at work on smog...and more

With Congress returning from its patriotic break, there is a very busy week ahead. We won’t try to catalog everything, but do want to point out a few highlights.

Bingaman’s Bash: There is word that Senator Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) may unveil revised global warming legislation as soon as this Wednesday, and – brace yourself – that it may be praised by some of the big coal-burning electric power companies. Bingaman and those who’ve worked with him (Senator Arlen Specter, R-PA) may co-sponsor) deserve credit for continuing to try to move the issue forward – and trying to move the middle-ground position towards something more progressive.

But be on the alert if any coal burners offer praise. This is complicated stuff, but here are some things to look for:

--Will the plan grandfather dirty old power plants – and offer free credits to power companies based on past emissions? (See our report on this issue at and hang onto your wallet.)

--Will it contain a “safety valve” that permits emissions above a designated emissions cap? (Environmentalists have been very critical of this feature in an earlier Bingaman bill.)

--Are future targets contingent on actions by other countries? (In other words, a potentially big loophole.)

--And are there provisions that would permit future conventional coal-burning power plants to receive emission credits? (Some of you may recall the big issue involving TXU over this.) Stay tuned.

Dingellmentia? On the other side of Capitol Hill, Rep. John Dingell (D-MI) sounded off yesterday on the topic of global warming. In an interview with C-Span, Dingell said he plans to propose major taxes on gasoline and industrial carbon dioxide emissions in an effort to show Americans would reject paying high costs to limit greenhouse gas emissions. "I sincerely doubt that the American people are willing to pay what this is really going to cost them," he said. There’s leadership for you.

Eco-Hypocrite: One company that has touted itself as a leader on global warming – General Electric – is continuing its lobbying campaign against proposed US EPA standards to reduce deadly diesel train fumes.

In comments filed with last week with EPA, GE (having the audacity to put a picture of a green-tinted train on the cover!) charged that pollution-reducing catalysts will poop out and thus not enable companies like GE to meet pollution standards not slated to take effect for a decade. (The catalyst makers – the Manufacturers of Emissions Control Technology, heartily dispute this.)

GE really ought to be ashamed of itself – and its arrogant hypocrisy. Please let us know if you want a copy of the GE comments.

Smog Censors: One reason we care so much about the train standards noted above is that the train fumes are deadly. This week, EPA Administrator Steve Johnson is slated to appear before a Senate subcommittee to discuss the status of EPA’s proposed new standards for ozone, or smog.

One of the key things to remember – and we hope this Senate panel is taking note – is that ozone kills. (See at ).
Indeed, there is pretty good evidence that EPA’s proposed standards would prevent at least 4,000 premature deaths a year – and that better standards would prevent even more deaths.

But the Red-Pen crowd at the White House Office of Management and Budget may be up to mischief. Earlier, EPA promised that by last week it would release its so-called regulatory impact analysis of the smog rule – which should spell out the benefits of reducing smog. But where is it?

We fear that OMB’s regulatory office – headed by “Smoggy” Susan Dudley – is fooling with this document in an effort to confuse Congress – and the public. OMB pulled similar censor-stunts on earlier EPA proposals on trains and on small engines. Let’s hope someone asks about this.

Toxic Transgressors: If you missed it, yesterday’s Washington Post contained a fascinating story by one of our favorite writers – Shankar Vedantam – on the possible link between exposure to toxic lead and criminal behavior.

The theory is that the neurotoxin lead causes impulsivity and aggression. Fortunately, we have eliminated most uses of lead (even NASCAR has stopped using it in gasoline following a campaign by Clean Air Watch, as the Orlando Sentinel reminded readers the other day.,0,7735634.story. So be prepared for more sedate NASCAR fans in the future…

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Smog Watch 2007: Relatively Positive News for June

We have some relatively positive news to report about smog problems around the nation in June.

Things are generally better than a year ago. In June air pollution monitors recorded unhealthful levels of smog an estimated 660 times, compared to about 1037 times in June 2006 and 950 in June 2005. (These are unofficial readings from state-run monitors recorded by our volunteers.)

Some of the improvements appear to be due to rains in Texas which washed some of the ozone away. Even so, it is heartening to see a long-term trend of improvement which we think can be ascribed to tougher pollution controls on electric power plants, cars and gasoline.

Interestingly, unhealthful smog levels were recorded in several states where that’s a rarity – Minnesota, Iowa and Kansas. Perhaps it’s because of the increased use of smog-forming ethanol in gasoline.

Please keep in mind that these statistics pertain to the 8-hour ozone standard set in 1997. The US EPA recently proposed tougher standards. And EPA’s science advisers believe the standards should be even stronger. So the real problem is actually worse than that described here.

A few quick statistics:

Unhealthful levels of smog (based on the 1997 standards) were recorded in 36 states plus the District of Columbia in June. See list below.

The highest single-hour smog reading (157 parts per billion) was recorded June 4 in the Houston area. San Bernardino County in California retains the dubious distinction of being America’s smoggiest area.

Here is the list of states with smog problems in June:

District of Columbia
New Hampshire
New Jersey
New York
North Carolina
Rhode Island
South Carolina
West Virginia

Monday, July 02, 2007

US EPA reaches settlement with dirty Ky power cooperative

The US EPA announced a settlement today in which the East Kentucky Power Cooperative, a coal-fired electric utility based in Winchester, Ky., will spend approximately $650 million on pollution controls and pay a $750,000 penalty to resolve violations of the Clean Air Act at its three plant.

This is a pretty significant settlement and shows that some enforcers at the EPA are still trying to do their jobs. Note, however, that the violations were so flagrant that this coop couldn't even pass the weaker Bush administration new source review requirements.

More at!OpenDocument