Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Bush readies more deregulatory pollution moves; EPA accused of Fascism!?

As we struggle to cope with the aftermath of the ugly vote on the economic rescue package (while others labor to differentiate Sarah Palin from Tina Fey), we note that matters involving air pollution generally remain well off the front page. However, there are still a few items worth keeping an eye on.


In recent days, there has been much made of the ugly repercussions caused by deregulation in the financial world. So you’d think perhaps the word deregulation might be considered a dirty word. Not, apparently, within the Bush EPA.

We have learned that the EPA is planning to move forward with several key plans to relax pollution controls. The idea is to make it easier for electric power plants to burn coal. The result would be more dirty air in and around national parks and more global warming pollution. We are told that these moves are being demanded by Bush political appointees in DC.

In one instance, the EPA would relax requirements for power plants and other industries that seek to local near national parks and wilderness areas. Rep. Henry Waxman’s (D-CA) Government Reform Committee has blasted the proposal because it could degrade air quality. http://oversight.house.gov/story.asp?ID=2094

Despite this criticism, we are informed that Bush politicos want the rule made final. We are told it will go to the White House Office of Management and Budget for review shortly.

In a related matter, Bush appointees also want to proceed with a rule that would permit more coal burning by weakening new source review requirements. This big deregulatory move has been thrown into some confusion by the federal appeals court decision which struck down the so-called Clean Air Interstate Rule. (Under the cockeyed Bush EPA theory, CAIR would have been close enough for government work, thus permitting the added pollution caused by the weakening of new source review.) Despite the court decision, we have been told that Bush political appointees would still like to proceed with the NSR change. Waxman’s panel found that this rule change would cause more greenhouse gas emissions. http://oversight.house.gov/story.asp?ID=2137

It would be a scandal if the Bush administration moves ahead with this plan, given we now know that greenhouse gases are building up in the atmosphere more quickly than predicted. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/09/25/AR2008092503989.html?hpid=moreheadlines

Of course, these aren’t the only pollution deregulatory moves waiting in the wings. Among other things, look also for additional changes to NSR aimed at helping the oil and other manufacturing industries, as well as a rule designed to promote more burning of hazardous waste. http://www.reginfo.gov/public/do/eAgendaViewRule?ruleID=287108


In light of these pending deregulatory moves, it is nothing short of astonishing to see the EPA accused of “Fascism” for contemplating future actions to limit greenhouse gas emissions. See, for example, at http://www.capmag.com/author.asp?ID=425

These denunciations appear in an online publication known as Capital Magazine, which is published by something called “Bahamas 2000 Ltd.” The magazine looks for financial support by stating “if you enjoy what you read feel free to piss off a communist and send a donation to support this website.” http://www.capmag.com/company/index.asp

Well, there you have it.

One of the co-authors of these jeremiads is a visiting associate professor of political science at Duke University. http://www.classicalideals.com/

One wonders whether there is some connection to the double-talking corporate Duke, or to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which has issued its own florid denunciations of the EPA.


Finally, if you have understandably been distracted, an update on the new John McCain ads attacking Joe Biden over the coal issue.

As you may know, last week Biden was seen on youtube saying "No coal plants here in America" and "We're not supporting clean coal." http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iJ55UzAsp6M

If you look at the whole clip, you will see that Biden seemed pretty reasonable to be concerned about dirty coal plants being built in China. A fraction of that deadly pollution does end up in the U.S., affecting breathers here (as well as making it more difficult to limit worldwide carbon emissions.) Biden did not note that much of the Chinese-burned coal is actually shipped there by the U.S.-based Peabody Energy.

But the McCain campaign quickly jumped on those comments to produce radio spots in Colorado, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Virginia touting “clean coal” (Which, of course, is a term subject to varying interpretations.)

Here's the Colorado script: ANNCR: Clean Coal is important to America. And to
Colorado. For Coloradoans, coal means thousands of jobs. Economic growth. More
affordable electricity. For America, coal means energy independence. And clean
coal means cleaner air. But Obama-Biden and their liberal allies oppose clean
Listen to Joe Biden. JOE BIDEN: "No coal plants here in America".
"We're not supporting clean coal". ANNCR: No coal plants in America? No jobs in
Colorado? No energy independence for America?
It's no surprise. After all,
Obama-Biden and their liberal allies opposed off-shore drilling. Congressional
liberals blocked off-shore drilling putting special interests, before our
Obama-Biden and their liberal allies. Too risky for our jobs, our
economic future. Paid for by McCain-Palin 2008 and the Republican National
Committee. JOHN MCCAIN: I'm John McCain and I approved this message.

The McCain Campaign also rushed to set up a group called the Coalition to Protect Coal Jobs http://2008central.net/2008/09/23/mccain-press-conference-call-to-announce-coalition-to-protect-coal-jobs/

The Obama campaign has noted that McCain (known as a nuclear advocate) himself previously made comments suggesting he, too, wouldn’t cry if coal went away.

For example, at a 2000 hearing, he responded to a Sierra Club witness that “I would not disagree with you that in a perfect world we would like to transition away from coal entirely. But there is certainly, at least from my understanding, there is a dramatic difference in the effects of the so-called dirty coal in a broad variety of ways as opposed to the cleaner coal.” [Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, Hearing On Reductions in Greenhouse Gases, 9/21/2000]"

Clean Air Watch, of course, is not involved in electoral politics.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Top EPA official: can't recall anyone inside EPA who recommended that EPA reject Cal ghg waiver

Just in case you missed it, a fascinating exchange this morning at a hearing before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.

Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) cross-examined Robert Meyers, principal Deputy Assistant Administrator for air pollution at the US EPA, about EPA’s decision to reject California’s attempt to enforce its greenhouse gas standards for motor vehicles.

Under Whitehouse’s patient cross – one of the best I’ve seen in some time – Meyers conceded he didn’t know of a single person within EPA who had recommended that EPA Administrator Steve Johnson reject California’s request to enforce the standards.

As Whitehouse continued to press Meyers about how Johnson reversed course and rejected the waiver after a White House meeting, Meyers suddenly acquired amnesia (as well as a desperate need to confer with an agency lawyer, rather like a mob figure mulling whether to take the Fifth).

“I’m not sure I can remember” said Meyers, “with that much detail.”

Committee Chair Barbara Boxer (D-CA) accurately noted that “you’ve shown that what Mister Johnson told us [at a previous hearing] was not the truth.” Indeed.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Smokey Joe Barton strikes again! Kills effort to reduce power plant pollution

It may seem like a sideshow to the congressional battle over drilling, but tens of thousands of people may see their lives cut short by air pollution – and they have Joe Barton to thank.

Yesterday Congressman Barton (given the moniker “Smokey Joe” by the Dallas Morning News for his efforts on behalf of polluters) blocked efforts in Congress to advance a compromise plan to reduce power plant emissions. The compromise, put together by Senator Tom Carper of Delaware and Congressmen John Dingell and Rick Boucher, was designed to codify the first phase of the Bush EPA interstate air pollution rule (the so-called “clean air interstate rule” or CAIR) struck down by a federal court.

The Carper-Dingell-Boucher plan also would have taken away the so-called “coal bonus” that the Bush administration inserted into the rule to reward coal-burning companies such as Southern Company. (Among other things, this would have had the effect of reducing costs to Texas electricity consumers compared to the original CAIR plan.) The plan was also designed to trigger more aggressive long-term pollution reductions than contained in the original Bush plan. (The Bush administration spent considerable energy in recent weeks trying to sidetrack this more aggressive long-term strategy.)

Southern Company had vigorously opposed the Carper-Dingell-Boucher initiative because the company got greedy. It did not want to lose that coal bonus. (Of course, the head of Southern Company is also chair of the influential power industry lobby, the Edison Electric Institute http://www.eei.org/newsroom/press_releases/080617.htm ).

And EEI is a major contributor to Barton, the Texas Republican who is the “ranking member” of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. So is the coal lobby, the National Mining Association: http://www.opensecrets.org/politicians/contrib.php?cycle=2008&cid=N00005656

Because there are only a few working days left in Congress, Dingell and Boucher hoped to proceed under a streamlined process that required Barton’s cooperation.

But yesterday Barton said no deal. As reported in this morning, Environment and Energy Daily, Barton said he wanted to spend time in the next Congress “thoroughly reviewing not only the CAIR regulations, but the entire Clean Air Act.”

So there you have it. Barton, who in the past has introduced legislation to weaken the Clean Air Act, now is holding the CAIR fix hostage. He wants another crack at weakening the Clean Air Act.

The result, according to the EPA, will be thousands of premature deaths, as well as heart attacks, emergency room visits and lost work days. This, of course, will include significant public health damage in Barton’s own state – and will make it harder for Texas and other states to meet national clean air standards.

So don’t be fooled by Southern Company lobbyists. The villain in this saga is Joe Barton.

Monday, September 15, 2008

New EPA sulfur dioxide science assessment is bad news for coal and oil

US EPA scientists have quietly released a new scientific assessment of the dangers posed by sulfur dioxide (SO2) in the air:


It’s very clear from the scientific evidence that tougher pollution standards are needed to protect people with asthma, children, and senior citizens. In particular, the EPA assessment points to the need for a new short-term standard to limit sulfur dioxide emissions.

This is an argument for further cleanup of existing coal-fired power plants, as well as an argument against building new coal-fired plants.

Not surprisingly, the electric power and oil industries have already begun tossing up arguments against any effort by EPA to set tougher new standards. (Oil refining is another source of sulfur dioxide emissions, as are the paper and smelting industries, among others. For some comments, see at http://www.regulations.gov/fdmspublic/component/main?main=DocketDetail&d=EPA-HQ-OAR-2007-0352 )


The EPA’s “integrated science assessment” concludes that

Collectively, the human clinical, epidemiologic, and animal toxicological data
are sufficient to conclude that there is a causal relationship between
respiratory morbidity and short-term exposure to SO2. Observed associations
between SO2 exposure and an array of respiratory outcomes, including respiratory
symptoms, lung function, airway inflammation, AHR, and ED visits and
hospitalizations from the human clinical, animal toxicological, and
epidemiologic studies, in combination, provide clear and convincing evidence of
consistency, specificity, temporal and biologic gradients, biological
plausibility, and coherence.
Human clinical studies consistently demonstrate
respiratory morbidity among exercising asthmatics following peak exposures (5-10
min) to SO2 concentrations ≥ 0.4 ppm, with respiratory effects occurring at
concentrations as low as 0.2 ppm in some asthmatics. In the epidemiologic
studies, the SO2-related respiratory effects were consistently observed in areas
where the maximum ambient 24-h avg SO2 concentration was below the current 24-h avg NAAQS level of 0.14 ppm (see Tables 5-4 and 5-5). Potentially susceptible
and vulnerable subgroups include asthmatics, children, older adults, and
individuals who spend a lot of time outdoors at increased exertion levels.
In addition to respiratory morbidity related to short-term exposure to SO2,
studies of other health outcomes and exposure durations were also evaluated in
this ISA. The evidence is suggestive of a causal relationship between short-term
exposure to SO2 and mortality. The evidence linking short-term SO2 exposure and
cardiovascular effects, and morbidity and mortality with long-term exposures to
SO2 is inadequate to infer a causal relationship.

The American Lung Association has long argued that EPA should set a new short-term standard to protect those living near power plants and other sources of SO2 emissions. The EPA last reviewed the air standards for sulfur dioxide in 1996. The agency has announced a schedule under which it would propose a new standard (or, improbably, propose no change in current standards) by next July. http://www.epa.gov/ttn/naaqs/standards/so2/data/so2_review_plan_final_10-09-07.pdf

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Updates: Chamber of Commerce launches new scare campaign, and more

What would a return to Congress be without a new scare campaign by the US Chamber of Commerce, whose board of directors includes such folks as Duke Energy CEO Jim Rogers as well as officials from Southern Company, Consol Energy, PNM Resources, Peabody Energy, and Chrysler, among other rogues? http://www.uschamber.com/about/board/all.htm

And there they go again! (See below.)

This is a continuation of the chamber’s ugly scare tactics. This is aimed at scaring Congress into repealing EPA authority to limit greenhouse gas emissions. Executives from some of the companies noted above claim they care about global warming and want to do something about it. (You will recall, of course, that the chamber actively opposed efforts in Congress to limit greenhouse gas emissions.)

Well, what would DC be without hypocrisy?

Care to CAIR? Senators Tom Carper of Delaware and Lamar Alexander of Tennessee will host a roundtable this Thursday, Sept. 11 on strategies and options for Congress in dealing with multi-pollutant legislation. They also plan to discuss what action Congress should take in the near term to deal with the demise of the so-called Clean Air Interstate Rule. There are VERY few working days left in Congress. As you know, there are various competing plans, including one being shopped by the White House.


Scientific Scrutiny: EPA has appointed a new chair of its independent clean air science advisory committee – Dr. Jonathan Samet, currently with the Bloomberg School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins University. Samet is a very respected scientist. He replaces Rogene Henderson, chair of the scientific panel the past four years, who has been sharply critical of some decidedly un-scientific decisions by EPA Administrator Steve Johnson. Her term is expiring.

From: U.S. Chamber of Commerce [mailto:hill_letters@uschamber.com] Sent: Tuesday, September 09, 2008 11:46 AMSubject: U.S. Chamber of Commerce - Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPR) to regulate greenhouse gases under the existing Clean Air Act (CAA)

Chamber of Commerce OF THE United States of America

R. Bruce JostenExecutive Vice PresidentGovernment Affairs

1615 H Street, N.W.Washington, D.C. 20062-2000202/463-5310
September 9, 2008
TO THE MEMBERS OF THE UNITED STATES CONGRESS: The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the world’s largest business federation representing more than three million businesses and organizations of every size, sector, and region, strongly opposes the options set forth in the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPR) to regulate greenhouse gases under the existing Clean Air Act (CAA). Last month, the Chamber urged Congress to enact legislation preventing the trigger of CAA regulation, and Representative Blackburn recently introduced H.R. 6666 to accomplish this goal. Over the next month, the Chamber will educate members of Congress and the public about the different options EPA is weighing and the impact those options would have on businesses, should EPA continue down its path of regulation. Starting today, the Chamber will transmit daily summaries of the methods EPA believes it can use to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from cars, trucks, planes, trains, boats, office buildings, refineries, pipelines, boilers, landfills, manufacturing plants, tractors, lawnmowers, motorcycles, schools, hospitals, breweries, bakeries, farms, and countless other sources, as well as radical new standards for the design and operation of those sources. The first of these daily summaries is attached. The Chamber urges Congress to enact legislation prohibiting EPA from regulating greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act. Sincerely, R. Bruce Josten

Thursday, September 04, 2008

At long last, EPA approves lawn mower/small engine standards

For those of you who have followed this long-running saga: the US EPA today has finally approved its long-delayed standards to clean up new lawn mowers and other small gasoline engines. An announcement should be imminent. (See below from EPA.)

As you may recall, these standards were cleared by the White House Office of Management and Budget on August 18, after more than two months of review. http://www.reginfo.gov/public/do/eoReviewSearch;jsessionid=0a65171430d6f3bf770a27794c70987d83e9788e17f0.e38Nch4NbhuNa40Lah4PbxuPaN0Ne6fznA5Pp7ftolbGmkTy

With much of the East wheezing under Code Orange alerts, these standards couldn’t come too soon. http://airnow.gov/index.cfm?action=airnow.fcsummary&sortby=todayfc&order=desc&stateid=0

These standards are a real rarity: something quite positive from the Bush administration on air pollution.

These engines may be small, but they are big polluters. This rule is an important step towards cleaner air in smoggy communities across the nation.

These standards will prevent premature deaths and sickness caused by air pollution.

What took them so long?

-----Original Message-----
From: Stout.Alan@epamail.epa.gov [mailto:Stout.Alan@epamail.epa.gov]
Sent: Thursday, September 04, 2008 12:22 PM
To: Stout.Alan@epamail.epa.gov
Subject: EPA Concludes Nonroad SI Final Rule

The EPA Administrator has signed the final rule to set new emission
standards for Small SI and Marine SI engines, equipment, and vessels.

The final rule also includes technical amendments for a wide range of
engines and vehicles covered by EPA standards.

The rulemaking documents have been posted on the EPA websites noted
below. You should note the following points of contact to follow up on
the various aspects of this rule:

Marine SI: Mike Samulski; 734-214-4532; samulski.michael@epa.gov
Handheld Small SI: Phil Carlson; 734-214-4270; carlson.philip@epa.gov
Nonhandheld Small SI: Alan Stout; 734-214-4805; stout.alan@epa.gov
Technical amendments: Alan Stout; 734-214-4805; stout.alan@epa.gov
We will be working with the Office of the Federal Register to publish
the final rule. The publication date will likely be around October 9.
Alan Stout

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

EPA: DOT doesn't have a clue about gas prices

EPA: Transportation Dept off base on fuel estimate

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Environmental Protection Agency says another arm of the Bush administration may be low-balling the economic benefits of increasing fuel economy standards for cars and trucks.

Echoing criticism previously voiced by Democrats and environmentalists, the EPA said in comments filed with the Transportation Department that the department would have been better off using higher estimates for future gasoline prices when it proposed increasing the average fuel economy of all vehicles to 31.6 miles per gallon by 2015.

The proposed fuel economy increase was based in part on estimates that gas would range from $2.04 a gallon to $3.37 a gallon, averaging $2.42 a gallon in 2016.

"EPA has several concerns with the methodology used to determine the relative benefits and costs of the alternatives analyzed," Susan Bromm, director of EPA's Office of Federal Activities, said in a letter last month to DOT....

Congress last year required the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration — an agency within DOT — to set mileage standards at the "maximum feasible" level each year, reaching a minimum of 35 mpg by 2020, a 40 percent increase over current standards.

If the highway administration uses a higher estimate for gas prices in its analysis, it could make a more cost-effective case for raising the requirements beyond 31.6 mpg by 2015.

Gas price estimated by NHTSA "are more optimistic than I think any reasonable person would be in this era," said Frank O'Donnell, president of Clean Air Watch.