Friday, August 31, 2007

Senator John Warner's decision to retire: how might it affect global warming legislation?

Senator John Warner (R-VA) announced this afternoon that he will retire at the end of this term next year.

His retirement probably takes the wind out of the sails of any effort to pass major global warming legislation in this Congress. (Warner has been working with Lieberman on a bipartisan plan, but it will be tough for a lame duck to pull more Republicans into the effort.)

Thursday, August 23, 2007

US EPA: It's safe to live near a refinery (IS IT?!)

The US EPA came out with a pretty stunning announcement this morning, proclaiming that it’s safe to live near a refinery.

The agency said it would not update toxic pollution standards for refineries because “risks to human health and the environment are low enough that no further controls are warranted.” (See below.)

This would come as pretty shocking news to folks who actually live near refineries.

EPA’s declaration came in response to a lawsuit by my friends at Sierra Club and Our Childrens Earth Foundation.

This decision will underscore the perception that the Bush administration is pretty cozy with the oil industry.


News Brief If you need more information on this subject, call the listed Press Officer For Release: (Washington, D.C. ? Thursday, Aug. 23, 2007) U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) EPA Evaluated Air Toxics Risks from Petroleum Refineries, Seeks Comment on Additional Emissions Reductions Contact: John Millett, (202) 564-4355 / A recent analysis by EPA on the risks from air toxics emitted from petroleum refineries found that the risks to human health and the environment are low enough that no further controls are warranted. Based on the results of the analysis, EPA is proposing two options for controlling air toxics emissions from refineries. The first option requires no additional emissions reductions because the risks are acceptably low.
As a second option, EPA is proposing requiring additional emissions reductions for certain storage vessels and wastewater treatment units. Under this alternative, EPA projects that refineries could reduce air toxics emissions by about 1,000 to 4,600 tons per year from 153 facilities. The agency estimates this alternative could cost up to $1.1 million or save up to $4.0 million nationwide each year by reducing product loss. EPA is seeking comment on both options. EPA analyzed the petroleum refinery emissions as part of a Clean Air Act requirement that the agency examine potential risks that remain after implementation of standards known as maximum achievable control technology (MACT) standards. MACT standards require industrial facilities to reduce emissions of toxic air pollutants. EPA issued the MACT standard for petroleum refineries in 1995. The rule reduces nationwide emissions of air toxics from petroleum refineries by an estimated 53,000 tons per year. EPA has issued 96 MACT standards covering 174 industry sectors. Those rules reduce air toxic emissions by an estimated 1.7 million tons per year. EPA will accept public comment on its proposal for 60 days following publication of the proposed action in the Federal Register.
For more information on the rule:

Thursday, August 16, 2007

The Washington Post on carbon offsets

Cost of Saving the Climate Meets Real-World Hurdles
By David A. Fahrenthold and Steven Mufson

Washington Post Staff WritersThursday, August 16, 2007; Page A01

On the Internet, erasing your role in climate change seems as easy as ordering a DVD -- and cheaper than a cup of coffee a day.

With a click, a credit card and $99, visitors can pay a Silver Spring nonprofit group,, to "offset" a year's worth of greenhouse-gas emissions. Whatever the customer put into the atmosphere -- by flying, driving, using electricity -- the site promises to cancel out, by funding projects that reduce pollutants.

Sites such as this one, offering absolution from the modern nag of climate guilt, have created a $55 million industry that once would have been beyond the greenest of imaginations. The market for "voluntary carbon offsets" now encompasses dozens of sellers and thousands of buyers, including individuals and corporations.

But in some cases, these customers may be buying good feelings and little else....

Critics say that offset sellers usually have good motives. But the market is confusing enough that, this month, the Federal Trade Commission said it would look into whether consumers are being adequately protected.

"It's just like the Wild West," said Frank O'Donnell of the group Clean Air Watch. "There are no controls, no standards."

(the full story at )

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Generals in trouble over religious video that also featured the head of EPA

An update on an item from a few months ago
in which we noted that Steve Johnson, the head of EPA, was a prominent though only vaguely identified player in a promotional video by a religious group.

Some generals were also in that video -- and now they are in hot water.

The Defense Department's inspector general has found that four generals and three other military officers improperly participated in that fundraising video for an evangelical Christian group, inappropriately offering support for the religious organization while appearing to operate within the scope of their official government duties, according to a 47-page investigative report.

In that video, EPA's Johnson notes he welcomes people to come to his office early in the morning for Bible study. He is apparently less open, however, to those carrying notebooks. According to the Fresno Bee, he kept the media out of a meeting to discuss Fresno's notoriously bad air: .

Ontario protests Cheney dirty-air plan

Dick Cheney has struck another blow for bad foreign relations.

Cheney's plan (officially promoted by the US EPA) to weaken pollution controls on coal-fired power plants has drawn another protest from the government of Ontario.

As you may recall, the EPA has proposed to create a major new loophole for power plants by permitting them to INCREASE the actual amount of pollution they spew out, as long as they don't increase the RATE of pollution.

In the real world, of course, breathers suffer from actual pollution. And there's been far too much pollution this week as those coal burners grind away to keep air conditioners running.
(You may also recall the US Supreme Court rejected a similar scheme promoted by the coal-burning Duke Energy.)

Ontario notes accurately that the Cheney polluter-protection plan would "weaken an important enforcement mechanism for reducing air pollution in our common airshed." It added that the "transboundary flow of pollution into Ontario from these sources endangers the health and welfare of citizens of our Province."

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Around the horn: industry alliance visits White House over EPA toxic information collection plan, and more

A few quick items as much of the nation wheezes under heat and pollution alerts.

Risky Business: You’d think business groups might be happy at the prospect that the US EPA wants to streamline information gathering about industrial toxic pollution. Then why did a collection of industry groups – including chemical, oil and pharmaceutical – visit the White House the other day to raise holy heck? Based on the materials they left behind (the information is all at ), they still think EPA wants too much information.

And they think EPA ought to be permitting the companies themselves to vet EPA information before moving ahead with tougher toxic pollution standards. That is, unless EPA is using information supplied by the companies in the first place.

This all involves an EPA effort to improve methods for assessing "residual risk" from toxic air pollutants emitted by 22 industrial sectors, and streamlining data collection and analysis to help determine whether certain industries should be more tightly regulated. EPA has a lackluster record when it comes to setting these toxic pollution standards.

The agency has said it wants to merge data collection efforts for two Clean Air Act requirements -- residual risk assessment and technology reviews -- for the affected industry groups, which include oil and gas producers, refineries, natural gas distributors, polymer and resin manufacturers and pharmaceutical makers.

The industry visit came as EPA moves forward with such a toxic review for various polymer and resin makers. See at

Enforcement Encore? We noted last week that, despite a lot of high-level White House meddling, EPA career enforcers are still diligently trying to do their best.

And what do you know? -- They brought a big case this week against six coal-fired power plants that spew out dirty air in the Chicago area. Yes, EPA is charging that these facilities are so flagrantly violating the law that they can’t even meet the Dick Cheney test! Perhaps more such cases will be brought in the future. No matter where you draw the line, some companies will cross it.

Coal Calamity? There’s been a fair amount of press in recent weeks about the demise of planned coal-burning power plants. And another one bit the proverbial dust yesterday – at least for now. A Kentucky judge ruled that state regulators need to do more work on a planned Peabody Energy coal burner.

This is a big victory for our friends at Sierra Club and Valley Watch.

In a related note, the Ceres coalition has put together an interesting new presentation which notes that energy efficiency is likely to become a key path for meeting energy and greenhouse gas goals.


California Still Dreaming: Catching up on some old business: Late last week, U.S. Senate Republicans blocked an attempt by Democrats seeking quick passage of legislation to force the EPA to speed up its decision on California’s greenhouse gas motor vehicle standards. Senator Chris Dodd (D-CT) asked for unanimous consent for passage of the bill (S 1785) which cleared the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee July 31. It would demand that EPA issue a judgment by Sept. 30 on California’s request to enforce the vehicle standards. Sen. John-I’ll-do-anything-to-promote-ethanol Thune (R-SD) objected. Not exactly an auspicious sign for California.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

More on the revival of enforcement at EPA,1,4738454.story

August 7, 2007

EPA cites coal plants
Utility's 6 Illinois sites release too much soot, U.S. says

Michael Hawthorne, Tribune staff reporter

After years of declining to act on complaints from elected officials and neighborhood activists, federal regulators are cracking down on six coal-fired power plants that are some of the biggest contributors to dirty air in the Chicago area.

In documents made public Monday, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency accused Midwest Generation of extending the life of its aging power plants, including five in Chicago and the suburbs, without installing pollution controls required under the Clean Air Act.

The agency also cited the company, a subsidiary of California-based Edison International, with releasing too much soot, or microscopic air pollution that can trigger asthma attacks and cause lung disease, heart problems and early deaths.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Are there any honest people left at the EPA?

Actually, quite a few.

Here's a look at EPA's enforcers, who are still diligently fighting to do the right thing despite political pressure from above.

Smoking gun evidence that the White House is tampering with EPA smog plan

EPA's regulatory docket (EPA-HQ-OAR-2007-0225) contains smoking gun evidence that the White House Office of Management and Budget is tampering with EPA's smog proposal -- in an effort to weaken it on behalf of big polluters.

In one document, for example, EPA reports back to OMB that it has agreed to the White House demand that EPA analyze the weaker standard of 79 parts per billion:

0.079 ppm will be included in a subsequent version of the RIA (end of July 2007).

Our friend, Vickie Patton with Environmental Defense, noted in recent testimony to the Senate that OMB also demanded in several recent proposals that EPA pretend -- contrary to science -- that ozone does not kill people.

White House tampers with EPA smog plan

EPA’s long-awaited cost-benefit analysis of its smog plan is finally out. And it bears out some of our concerns – namely, that the White House is tampering with the EPA proposal in an effort to undermine it.

Here is an executive summary of the regulatory impact analysis:

In it, the White House Office of Management and Budget has tampered with the EPA proposal in two distinct ways:

1) OMB demanded that EPA analyze a weaker standard than the agency has proposed. (EPA proposed a range of between 70 and 75 parts per billion; OMB demanded that EPA also analyze a weaker level of 79;

2) OMB has also forced EPA to consider a range of benefits – including the assumption that reducing people’s exposure to ozone brings no benefit in form of reduced deaths. The biggest public health benefits come from reduced deaths. OMB has manipulated the numbers to make it appear as if the benefits of cleanup could be much lower than they really are. Keep in mind that EPA’s independent science advisers agreed with other scientists that the science is clear – ozone kills. For OMB to pretend that it doesn’t is a clear sign that it is trying to weaken EPA’s proposal. And EPA’s proposal was ALREADY weaker than the unanimous recommendation of EPA’s science advisers. OMB’s strategy is clear: make it appear as if cleaning up the air will cost a lot, but bring uncertain benefits. That is sure to fuel industry opposition to a tougher standard.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Attorneys general to Pelosi: suggested fuel economy plan could mess with California greenhouse gas program

The attorneys general from 13 states and their counterpart from the City of New York wrote to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi today, warning that a possible CAFÉ amendment to the upcoming House energy bill could disrupt the greenhouse gas program for motor vehicles adopted by California and 12 other states.

Led by California Attorney General Jerry Brown, the AGs warned that the plan circulated by Reps. Baron Hill (D-IN) and Lee Terry (R-NE) “contains troublesome language that may be used to eliminate existing Clean Air Act authority to address global warming, including California’s greenhouse gas emission standards.”

They could have added that it appears to be a trojan horse plan cooked up by the car companies.

It’s unclear at this point if there’s going to be a vote on this.

Here is the full letter:

it was signed by the attorneys general from

New Mexico
Rhode Island
And the Corporation Counsel for the City of New York