Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Clean Air Watch report: free carbon credits would extend life of old coal-burning power plants

As Congress continues to debate what to do about global warming, we have published a new report on one of the biggest political roadblocks -- coal-burning electric power companies.

The results are pretty sobering:

--nearly three-quarters of existing coal-burning power plants (72%) were built in the 1970s or earlier.
--the average age of existing coal-burning plants is nearly 35 – and would be close to 40 before any controls were required under the legislation under investigation.
--giving away free carbon emission permits or “allocations” to coal-burning power plants would not only boost the profits of plant owners, but would extend the life of the coal-burning plants themselves.

It’s almost as if we would be creating some sort of reverse Social Security program for big polluters: instead of encouraging them to retire, we’d be encouraging them to keep working – and polluting.

The entire report is on our main website at http://www.cleanairwatch.org/Documents%20&%20Reports/Americas_Aging_Power_Plants.pdf

NIH: Smog hurts overweight people more

An interesting report today from the National Institutes of Health. It found that overweight people suffer more from smog.

http://www.niehs.nih.gov/news/releases/2007/ozone.cfm

It comes as EPA Administrator Steve Johnson prepares to make a critical decision about national smog standards. (EPA is under a court order to issue final standards by March, but Johnson is expected to make an internal decision well before then, to give his staff time to write up an explanation.)

Business groups, led by the National Association of Manufacturers, are aggressively lobbying against tighter new standards.

This study is further evidence that current smog standards are too weak to protect peoples' health.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Is Peabody Coal secretly an ally of Hugo Chavez?

See at http://dotearth.blogs.nytimes.com/2007/11/20/is-hugo-chavez-smiling-over-kansas-or-coal

EPA head sounds like one of the Nixon Watergate conspirators

In case you missed it, there was a remarkable exchange the other day, as the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee put EPA Administrator Steve Johnson under oath.

The main purpose of the hearing was to examine EPA’s failure to consider the need to limit carbon dioxide from electric power plants.

But it veered into the California car question – and the efforts by the federal Transportation Department to lobby against California’s effort to enforce its greenhouse gas standards for motor vehicles.

A key question at the Nov. 8 hearing was – to paraphrase the Watergate story (sorry, I am dating myself, but I did help with a book on that topic many moons ago) who in the administration know about this lobbying effort, and when did they know it. (It became widely known after Rep. Henry Waxman blew the whistle.)

The exchange starts on page 51 of the transcript http://oversight.house.gov/documents/20071115145634.pdf as Rep. Diane Watson (D-CA) asks Johnson if he discussed the issue directly with Transportation Secretary Mary Peters.

“…I do not recall any specific discussion,” said Johnson.

“…I don’t recall any discussion of lobbying,” Johnson added when Waxman noted the EPA chief appeared to be dodging the question.

…”I don’t recall having any discussion on that topic with anyone at the White House,” Johnson insisted.

A few moments later (page 64 of the transcript), Waxman noted that Johnson appeared to be reading a canned answer in response to the barrage of questions.

“Were you briefed by your lawyer how to say things so that you wouldn’t be committing perjury?” asked Waxman.

Johnson dodged that one also. Not even a modified limited hangout.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Chrysler to White House: rein in EPA attempts to set greenhouse gas standards for cars

Well, I guess this was inevitable. Now Chrysler lobbyists have joined the ranks of those going to the White House and seeking to influence upcoming EPA rules designed to reduce oil use and greenhouse gas emissions. See below.

Perhaps not a shock, but Chrysler would like to limit EPA’s authority. It suggests that EPA “abstain” from attempting to set carbon dioxide standards for passenger vehicles (“abstain!?” – curious wording, don’t you think? As if EPA were some hormone-crazed teenager), or at least make sure EPA standards would require nothing more than Transportation Department fuel economy standards.

Though we expect the Bush administration is planning to issue effusive press releases about its upcoming proposal – despite its thumping defeat last week in federal court over fuel economy standards -- I’d argue that the recent lobbying by car and oil companies shows just how much we need Congress to step in and set unequivocally tougher standards.


http://www.whitehouse.gov/omb/oira/2000/meetings/675.html

Meeting Record Regarding: "20-in-10"
Date: 11/15/2007
-->
Name
Affiliation
Client (if applicable) -->
Art Fraas
OMB/OIRA

Kevin Neyland
OMB/OIRA

Rich Theroux
OMB/OIRA

Amy Farrell
CEQ

Paul Argyropoulos
EPA/OTAQ

Barry Felrice
Chrysler

Kathleen Hennessey
Chrysler

John Bozzella
Chrysler

Friday, November 16, 2007

Was the acid rain cleanup program really a success?

AIR POLLUTION: Acid rain program hits low-emission milestone -- EPA

Katherine Boyle, E&ENews PM reporter

A U.S. EPA program aimed at reducing power plant emissions of acid rain-forming air pollutants had its most successful year ever in 2006, the agency said in a report released today.

Sulfur dioxide (SO2) emissions from electric power generators dipped below 10 million tons for the first time ever, the report says, attributing the drop to early compliance with the Clean Air Interstate Rule (CAIR), high fuel prices, and federal and state actions.

Meanwhile, nitrogen oxides (NOx) emissions have fallen more than 3 million tons since 1990, the report says.

Electric power generation accounts for about 70 percent of nationwide SO2 emissions and more than 20 percent of NOx emissions. Both pollutants help the formation of fine particles that negatively affect human health and build up regional haze. NOx also joins other compounds to form ground-level ozone. Both contribute to the acidification of lakes and streams.

Frank O'Donnell, president of Clean Air Watch, lauded the power sector's progress but said more needs to be done. "The one actual most significant thing they never mention is that we didn't solve the acid rain problem," he said. "Literally, we're making progress, emissions are less and the cost is less than anyone thought [it would be], but they didn't solve the problem."

The Acid Rain Program was established through the 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments and uses a market-based, cap-and-trade system to reduce SO2 emissions. The Clean Air Act assigns companies an SO2 emissions allowance based on their historical fuel consumption and emissions prior to the start of the program. Businesses that use less than their allotment are allowed to bank unused credits for another year. NOx is regulated through rate-based limits.

EPA allocated more than 9.5 million SO2 allowances during 2006, along with more than 6.1 million banked allowances. Although companies could legally emit 15.7 million tons of SO2, they emitted 9.4 million tons, a 40 percent drop from 1990 levels.

The power sector reduced its SO2 emissions by 830,000 tons compared with 2005. It achieved many of those cuts by reducing heat input through fueling plants with natural gas instead of oil and installing scrubbers, the study says.

Ohio cut its emissions the most, slicing more than 123,000 tons from the state's 2005 levels, the report says. The study also notes the agency has had nearly 100 percent compliance from power plants.

'Cautionary tale'

Strict emission requirements under CAIR, which addresses transport of fine particles and ozone, will keep companies on track in terms of emission reductions despite their stockpiled allowances, O'Donnell said. "If the interstate rule is having an effect, logically you would see a further drop," he added.

In 2010, the number of allowances will be fixed at 8.95 million under Title IV of the Clean Air Act Amendments.

That number may need to fall even further, O'Donnell said. "I'd leave it up to scientists to tell us exactly, but clearly [we need] lower levels than were set in the 1990 acid rain program," he said.

"That was to a large extent a political compromise that ultimately didn't solve the acid rain problem."

While he acknowledged the success of the market system, O'Donnell described the acid rain program as a "cautionary tale to those in Congress who are debating global warming."

"If they compromise too much," he said, "it won't solve that problem either."

Although EPA's report hails the decreased acidification and improved water quality in U.S. lakes and streams, O'Donnell said sometimes regulators can get "balled up in talking about the wonders of the market."

You can't "forget the ultimate goal is to solve environmental problems," he said. "You can have the best market in the world and still have dead lakes. Does that mean it was successful? I'd say not quite."

China's Environmental Protection Administration also announced this week that the country reduced sulfur dioxide emissions by 1.8 percent in the first three quarters of 2007 by installing pollution-cutting technology at its coal-fired power plants.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Oil industy visits White House on fuel rule; enviros fight back

Yes, they’ve done it again. As the US EPA gets closer to proposing new rules aimed at reducing oil use, the oil industry is ramping up its lobbying efforts at the White House. The most recent oil industry meeting took place on Nov. 8 (see below). It appears the oil industry is particularly upset at the notion that companies might have to pay penalties for failure to meet a new low-carbon fuel standard. The nerve of those environmental radicals in the Bush administration!

Environmental groups, of course, are ready to battle on these issues also. We sent a letter late yesterday to EPA Administrator Steve Johnson.

We want EPA to grant California’s waiver to enforce its greenhouse gas standards for motor vehicles. We also want EPA to make sure that new carbon standards achieve real emission reductions. And we think it is high time that EPA factored in carbon emissions when considering permits for new coal-burning electric power plants.

http://www.whitehouse.gov/omb/oira/2000/meetings/672.html

Meeting Record Regarding: "20-in-10"
Date: 11/ 8/2007
-->
Name
Affiliation
Client (if applicable) -->
Kevin Neyland
OMB/OIRA

Paul Argyropoulos
USEPA/OMQ

Elizabeth Stolpe
Shell

Khary Cauthen
API

John Medley
ExxonMobil

Nathan Frey
OMB/OIRA

Michael Leister
Marathon Petroleum

Jennifer Brosnahan
DOT

Arthur Rypinski
DOT/OST

Jerry McPhee
Occidental Petroleum

Tome White
DOE

Brian McCormack
WH/SIEA

Karen St.John
BP America

Alfonse Mannato
API

Job Serebrov
USDA-Office of General Counsel

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

It's Wicked Wednesday in the heartland, and more


Wicked Wednesday: We all know coal is a dirty business, but this item may touch new dirty depths:

Peabody Energy, the nation’s biggest coal producer, is gagging (as if on coal dust) to explain how and why it tried to covertly underwrite sleazy ads that have appeared this week in Kansas newspapers. http://cdn.travidia.com/rop-ad/5297807

As noted in today’s Washington Post (too bad the editors buried the piece http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/11/06/AR2007110602098.html ) and a New York Times blog yesterday http://dotearth.blogs.nytimes.com/2007/11/06/burning-coal--a-patriotic-duty-in-kansas/ Peabody is the main money behind “Kansans for Affordable Energy” – official sponsor of the ad, which shows Russian President Vladimir Putin, Venezuelan President Hugo Chaves and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and asks: “Why are these men smiling?”

The ad claims it’s because Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius blocked air pollution permits for two coal-fired electricity plants. It alleged this would mean “Kansas will import more natural gas from countries like Russia, Venezuela and Iran.”

The claim, of course, is utter bs. But it shows just how dirty the politics are getting as the nation wrestles with the global warming problem. By the way, our friend and Gristmill blogger Dave Roberts may have been the first one to flag this outrage, on Monday http://gristmill.grist.org/. Thank you, Dave!

**

Covert Co-op? Another co-sponsor of the ad was the Sunflower Electric Power Corp., which is owned by six rural electric cooperatives. Sunflower, of course, is the outfit whose permit application was rejected. But on the company’s web site http://www.sunflower.net/ , Sunflower does tout the dirty ad campaign – while not ‘fessing up to its role in the matter. Geez!

Could it be that the Kansas co-ops are also smarting at the special deal that rural electric co-ops in Montana and Virginia got in the Lieberman-Warner global warming bill? (You may recall that co-ops in those states received a special “pilot program” deal that we calculate will be worth more than four billion dollars in free emission credits.) The special deals were cut, apparently, to make it easier for Senators John Warner and Max Baucus to support the controversial legislation.

The full Senate Environment and Public Works Committee will hold its first hearing on the bill tomorrow morning, starting at 9:30. http://epw.senate.gov/public/index.cfm?FuseAction=Hearings.Hearing&Hearing_ID=014aa1c1-802a-23ad-4ff8-31639b62a16c A second hearing is scheduled for Nov. 13.

We can’t wait to see the reaction of several senators – including Tom Carper (who wants the legislation, appropriately, we believe, to cover other power plants pollutants in addition to carbon dioxide) and Hillary Clinton, who announced her support for a 100% carbon auction program this week (in contrast to the multi-billion dollar free credit giveaway in the Lieberman-Warner bill.)

**

O-boy: As you know, presidential candidate John Edwards took a shot at the Lieberman-Warner bill last week because of the credit giveaway. And now a key energy adviser to rival Barack Obama is reiterating his candidate’s support for a 100% auction program. (Dave Roberts flagged this also.)
http://my.barackobama.com/page/community/post_group/ObamaHQ/CnHL#extended

“Obama’s proposal requires all polluters to pay. If you’re a polluter in this country you can no longer pollute for free. You have to pay,” noted Obama adviser Madhuri Kommareddi.“This is where the auction comes in. The government isn’t going to say, ‘this is how much you have to pay.’ Instead, we’ll let the market decide the price by allowing companies to purchase credits in an auction….

“What’s important to note is that we’re implementing a 100% auction of cap-and-trade credits. This has the same effect as carbon tax—because it raises the costs of polluting and everyone has to pay. The benefit of this is that it’s more flexible and market driven."

**

Clean cars: In cased you missed it, this week Colorado announced a new climate action plan, including a clean-car program that will mirror the California greenhouse gas vehicle standards. That marks the 17th state to move forward with the California plan, whose fate rests in the hands of the Bush Administration.

At the White House, car-company lobbying continues, with the most recent documented visit coming from the folks at Porsche. http://www.whitehouse.gov/omb/oira/2000/meetings/670.html Their zippy cars aren’t exactly known for superior gas mileage or low greenhouse gas emissions.

Even though this was apparently a meeting to discuss upcoming US EPA standards, the White House blundered and described it as a meeting about “fuel efficiency” – perhaps a tip-off to the legally careless Bush attitude about these matters.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Hillary Clinton calls for 100% carbon auction

For those of you who are following the greenhouse gas battle closely, please note that Senator Hillary Clinton unveiled her energy plan today – and called for a 100% auction of carbon permits, as well as an 80% greenhouse gas reduction by 2050. http://www.hillaryclinton.com/files/pdf/poweringamericasfuture.pdf

Clinton noted the 100% auction was necessary to make sure that “utilities and other companies do not obtain a windfall.” (Yes, we have been saying this for many months.)

In doing this, Senator Clinton basically matched the ideas put forth by her top Democratic rivals. But it puts her in an interesting situation as the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee races to take action on the compromise Lieberman-Warner plan before the upcoming U.N. meeting in Bali.

Does Clinton ignore her own plan and go along with the compromise, which would give many billions of windfall dollars away to the biggest polluters? (The bill also includes those special deals for Senators Max Baucus and John Warner – you remember, the rural electric co-op deal that was quietly slipped into the latest version of the bill). Or does she stick to her guns?

This is an interesting development in the plot along the bumpy Road to Bali.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Congressional Budget Office: free carbon credits=windfall polluter profits, and pain for consumers

Very perceptive testimony to Congress yesterday by the Congressional Budget Office.

http://online.wsj.com/public/resources/documents/CBO-testimony1101.pdf

It makes for very interesting reading given it was presented at the very time the Senate Lieberman subcommittee was racing to adopt a plan that would give many billions of dollars away to the biggest polluters. (Perhaps the appropriate response to the latter should be the sound of one hand clapping.)

The CBO confirms what we have been saying: that giving free emission credits to coal-burning companies or other industries could result in “windfall profits” – and added pain for consumers, especially those “at the lower end of the income scale.”

In other words, giving away free emission credits helps big business and hurts the hapless consumer.

The macroeconomic costs of giving emissions away could be more than double the cost of auctioning them, according to the CBO.

CBO also noted that a carbon tax would likely be a more efficient way to deal with the global warming problem (and CBO does believe it is a very large problem that should be dealt with) than the more politically fashionable cap-and-trade approach.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Edwards slams Lieberman-Warner bill, "massive corporate windfall"

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

November 1, 2007

CONTACT:Colleen Murray919-636-3203

EDWARDS STATEMENT ON GLOBAL WARMING LEGISLATION IN THE SENATE

Chapel Hill, North Carolina – Senator John Edwards released the following statement on the Lieberman-Warner bill that was passed earlier today by a subcommittee of the Senate Committee on the Environment and Public Works:

“Global warming is a crisis. Every month, the evidence mounts that decisive action is urgently needed. At long last, global warming legislation is moving in the Senate.

“But we cannot be limited in our approach by the armies of lobbyists from big oil companies and other special interests. The critical question is simple: are we going to do everything climate science says is needed to save our planet? The Lieberman-Warner bill says no. Worst of all, it gives away pollution permits to industry for free – a massive corporate windfall – instead of doing what is right and selling them so that we can use these resources to invest in clean energy research and help regular families go green.

“Ending global warming won't be easy, but it is time to ask Americans to be patriotic about something other than war. If we take the necessary steps, we can emerge from the crisis of global warming with an economy built on clean, renewable energy and more than 1 million new jobs.”
-30-

EPA inspector general: agency clueless about toxic pollutants

EPA’s Office of Inspector General is out with a tough report about the agency’s approach toward toxic air pollutants – particularly the urgent need to obtain better information about actual public exposure to cancer-causing contaminants.

http://www.epa.gov/oig/reports/2008/20071031-08-P-0020.pdf

The inspector’s office verified something that we have noted before: The public is often not aware of the true risk it faces from chemicals in the air. That’s because the government does not always have accurate information.

The inspector’s office earlier had urged EPA to require that states actually report toxic emission data. EPA blew off this recommendation. “EPA’s planned actions do not sufficiently address the problems identified and we consider the issues unresolved,” the report notes.