Friday, February 29, 2008

EPA rejection of California: seems written in GM boardroom

After more than two months, the Bush administration today finally articulated its legal case for rejecting California's greenhouse gas standards for motor vehicles.

The argument is at

It reads like something written up in the boardroom of General Motors or a law firm working for car companies. It even cites arguments made by the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers as justification for the decision!

It’s a phony argument designed to protect the auto industry. It’s typical of the Bush administration to dump out bad news like this on a Friday to minimize media coverage.

Johnson contends that California’s problem with global warming is not “compelling and extraordinary.” Clearly, Johnson hasn’t spent much time in California! Doesn’t he know the simple scientific fact that hotter air causes more smog?

His claim stands in sharp contrast with the conclusion of EPA’s own technical experts, who found that California had identified significant environmental and public health issues in their request, and addresses particular effects on California – noting the effect of climate change on several conditions, such as snow melt, agriculture, coastal erosion and ozone. Remember – California doesn’t have to argue that its problem is “unique,” only that it is compelling. The law requires opponents (ie, the car companies that Johnson cites) to prove that California is wrong.

The argument here draws a distinction between “local” or “regional” pollutants and “global” pollutants, and argues, basically, that reducing greenhouse gases in California won’t affect overall levels all that much.

This is a reprise of an argument that the Bush administration made before the Supreme Court in the Massachusetts v. EPA case. The Supreme Court rejected the Bush argument then. Courts will reject this phony argument also.

Monday, February 18, 2008

GM Exec: global warming is "crock of ****"

With attitudes like this, no wonder GM is in the toilet, despite its Chevy Volt concept car, at the right.

With thanks to the gristmill blog for first flagging this:

Bob Lutz, General Motors’ vice chairman and chief car guru, says what really turns him on is “doing the unexpected”–acting “contrary to the conventional wisdom, forcing people to re-think their beliefs.” Maybe that’s why Lutz, who made his name developing behemoths like the V-10 Dodge Viper, is so sold on the fuel-efficient new Chevrolet Volt, which will run on a lithium-ion battery and could go on sale by 2010. “The Volt thrills me because it’s the last thing anybody expected from GM,” the ex-Marine said at a private lunch in Arlington today. If you’re into cars or the car business, jump to read more of Lutz’s contrarian beliefs.

During a closed-door session with several journalists at the Cacharel restaurant, Lutz declared that:

–Hybrid cars like those made by Toyota “make no economic sense,” because their price will never come down, and diesel autos like those touted by Chrysler are also uneconomic. The only place in Europe that diesel-driven cars are big, he said, is where diesel fuel is half the cost of regular gasoline; in most places there, the costs are comparable and diesel has little market penetration.

Global warming is a “total crock of ****.” Then he added: “I’m a skeptic, not a denier. Having said that, my opinion doesn’t matter. (With the battery-driven Volt), “I’m motivated more by the desire to replace imported oil than by the CO2 (argument).”

Friday, February 15, 2008

More smog at the White House: the National Taxpayers Union comes a calling

We predicted recently that more interest groups would be lining up at the White House to protest any effort by the US EPA to set tougher smog standards. And the special interest parade goes on: the National Taxpayers Union, a group with ties to ExxonMobil and heaven knows who else, went in yesterday with a plea that the White House stop the EPA in its tracks.

Yes, they used a tired old cliché, proclaiming that tougher smog standards would constitute a “hidden tax.” Oh, please! Can’t a guy who used to work for the Kit Bond for Senate Committee do better than that?


It would be easy to counter that dirty air is a tax on our lungs. And that people get sick from dirty air, pushing up the costs of things like Medicare and Medicaid (and harming taxpayers in the process). And that with people dying from dirty air, those of us who remain have to pay more for government spending.

By the way, ExxonMobil has given financial support to NTU’s sister organization, the National Taxpayers Union Foundation.

What a coincidence that ExxonMobil also sent a lobbyist into the White House recently to oppose tougher standards.

Prepare for more visitations from other groups linked to ExxonMobil, the National Association of Manufacturers, and other industry groups opposed to cleaner air.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Behind the scenes: smog struggle

Less than four weeks now until the US EPA announces its decision on whether to change current national standards for ozone, or smog. And things are getting VERY interesting behind the scenes.

Officially - according to the White House Office of Management and Budget website - EPA has not yet transmitted its plan to the White House for review. The truth is, EPA is obviously in active give and take with OMB already. See more on this below.

The Bush administration is just trying to keep the details of this matter as secret as possible. (Some in the business world have been told that EPA is pushing a tougher new standard, though weaker than that recommended by EPA's science advisers.)

Despite the efforts at secrecy, some information is creeping out as EPA puts information in its official regulatory docket. (You can see this for your self at then docket number EPA-HQ-OAR-2005-0172. )

Kudos to Dawn Reeves of Inside EPA for spotting a docketed e-mail in which an OMB staffer named Heidi R. King sought information to support a miniscule change in the current, outmoded smog standard.

In other words, OMB is fishing around for information that would support basically making no change in the current standard.

The EPA docket, by the way, is starting to include some other pretty interesting material. For example, Wisconsin Senator Herb Kohl writes to EPA and appears to endorse the views of the state branch of the odious National Association of Manufacturers. (Shame on you, Herb! This is one of the naughtiest things you've done since you fronted for the Briggs & Stratton lawn mower engine people when they were fighting against pollution standards.

Also, the views of the Agriculture Department, which doesn't want EPA to change the current standard in part because of the smog problems caused by biofuels (which the Ag Department promotes because its mission is to increase money for farmers.)

Of possible interest also is the list of staffers within the Bush administration who have been tasked with reviewing the EPA plan. Our favorite reviewer is one Indur Goklany, who has worked in the past for various polluter-funded alleged think tanks. In fact, just last week the Cato Institute was touting a new report he authored which appears to oppose efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Goklany has also been known to say a kind word or two about the banned chemical DDT

Finally (for now) an interesting list of those who met personally with EPA Administrator Steve Johnson on the smog issue right before Christmas (as Johnson was preparing his recommendation to share with the White House. One meeting included such heavy weights as Tom Kuhn of the Edison Electric Institute, "Governor" John Engler of the National Association of Manufacturers, Dave McCurdy of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers and Jack Gerard of the American Chemistry Council. All, presumably, were arguing against tougher standards, as were agricultural interests noted at a separate meeting. These included the Renewable Fuels Association, the Corn Refiners Association and the National Corn Growers. The final attachment also includes health, environmental and state advocates who met separately with Johnson. Most argued for tougher standards - actually, for Johnson to follow the recommendations of his own science advisers.

Friday, February 08, 2008

Setback for toxic coal burners

Federal appeals court strikes down pro-industry Bush mercury rule

Here's the decision:

This is not a shock. It's been commonly assumed in D.C. that the Bush administration acted illegally in trying to pretend that mercury is not a toxic air pollutant when it comes out a power plant smokestack. But the legal system grinds along slowly.

Despite this decision, mercury cleanup will remain on the slow track because the Bush crowd will continue foot dragging.

This decision is a strong argument for Congress to step in -- and pass the power plant legislation introduced by Senator Tom Carper of Delaware.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Biofuels bombshell, and more...

A couple of quick news notes as we wend our way towards Valentine’s Day. (We are not expecting cards from most of those mentioned below.)


Biofuels bombshell: we understand a biofuels bombshell is coming today!

A study to be published this afternoon in the publication Science which – I am reliably told – is going to make corn-based ethanol look mighty dirty from the perspective of emissions. In fact, we are told this new research could prompt a “paradigm shift” in how we look at “biofuels,” which got a heckuva deal out of the recent energy legislation, as both parties got in a bidding battle for the farm vote.

Bottom line of this study: biofuels could produce more greenhouse gas emissions than gasoline.

(It will not get into the fact that the corn lobby has also been to the White House to protest any effort by the EPA to set tougher smog standards.
Who would’ve thought that the corn lobby would make common argument with Exxonmobil? They are!)

Get ready for BIG CORN to start trash talking about this very credible new research. We will have more on this later today.


Smoking Again: Rep. Joe Barton of Texas, once dubbed “Smokey Joe” by the Dallas Morning News for his fealty to cement factories and other smokestack industries, has been pretty quiet since the Democrats took over Congress.

But he’s starting to light up again at the prospect of global warming legislation. The Morning News reports today that Barton

has assembled a task force to "fight the Democrats" by challenging climate science and the impact of coal regulations on rates and energy independence, according to a December memo he sent to fellow Republicans.

"There is this sense that with the Democrats back in the majority, the environmentalists are such a powerful force that they can ram some of these things down the throat of the economy," said Mr. Barton, the ranking Republican on the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

"When push comes to shove, I don't believe a majority of the House and Senate will pass it," he said.

Smokey Joe may be peaking a bit too soon. There doesn’t seem to be a rush on in the Senate to schedule floor time for the Lieberman-Warner climate bill, which makes us wonder what is going on behind the scenes…

Where are they now? One Bush administration official who received a great deal of prominence for seeking to undermine clean air controls – William Wehrum – has also been pretty quiet since he left government service. But our friends at the Center for American Progress Action Fund have found out that Wehrum is back to making mischief – in Kansas, of all places. Wehrum is promoting state legislation seeking to overturn a Kansas decision to block expansion of a coal-burning power plant. Thank heaven some of these folks are consistent!
Smog lobby: Speaking of polluters, the smog lobby sometimes known as the National Association of Manufacturers is back at work “rallying opposition” to any effort by the US EPA to set tougher national smog standards, according to an excellent story yesterday in Greenwire. (A decision is due by March 12 under a court order and there’s a buzz in some industry circles that EPA chief Steve Johnson may be pushing for some improvement in the current standards, perhaps as a last-ditch effort to salvage his sorry reputation.) As part of this effort, NAM has commissioned a new study aimed at scaring folks in such areas as Cincinnati, Atlanta, Baton Rouge, New Orleans, Indianapolis and Salt Lake City. (Those areas might be threatened with clean air! NAM claims that clean air would ruin local economies.) It’s the same kind of scare tactics that the smog lobby has used in the past. News note: dire warnings like this have invariably been proven wrong. The air has improved even as the economy has grown.
Diesel development: BNA’s Daily Environment Report notes today that the Senate Environment and Public Works committee yesterday approved la bill (S. 2146) “that would allow the Environmental Protection Agency to include diesel emissions reduction projects as restitution in settlements of civil environmental enforcement actions.” Why is this important? Thousands of Americans are still dying every year from exposure to diesel exhaust. In bygone years, the US EPA used to include diesel pollution cleanup projects as part of the restitution required of polluters brought to justice for violating clean air requirements. But in 2006, EPA stopped doing this, citing an obscure law. (I can supply you with more, if needed.) The new bill, sponsored by Senator Tom Carper of Delaware, would once again permit EPA to include diesel cleanup projects in enforcement projects. Bravo – this is a very good idea. It’s hard to find a more cost-effective way to clean up the air than cleaning up the millions of existing diesel engines out there.