Friday, October 31, 2008

Environmental leaders push back against biofuels bullies

For Immediate Release
October 31, 2008

Nick Berning, Friends of the Earth, 202-222-0748
Jonathan Lewis, Clean Air Task Force, 617-894-3788
Don Carr, Environmental Working Group, 202-939-9141

Biofuel Industry Effort to Undermine Global Warming Standards Criticized

* *
Environmental groups send letter to EPA calling on it to reject industry’s request and uphold the law

WASHINGTON, D.C.—Environmental groups delivered a letter <> to the Environmental Protection Agency today calling on it to meet its responsibility under the law and reject a biofuel industry attempt to weaken global warming standards for ethanol.

In the next few days, the EPA is expected to release calculations of greenhouse gas emissions caused by biofuel use. In an attempt to influence these calculations, the biofuel industry recently sent a letter <> to the EPA asking it to break the law and ignore congressionally mandated guidelines for how such emissions should be calculated. According to the energy bill enacted last December, indirect emissions such as land use change must be included in estimates of total greenhouse gas emissions.

Research shows that emissions from land use changes such as deforestation can cause greenhouse gas emissions from biofuels to be twice those of gasoline.

"It's telling that the biofuel industry and its supporters have become so accustomed to government handouts that they took offense when Congress asked for proof that federally subsidized ethanol and biodiesel will reduce greenhouse gas emissions," said Jonathan Lewis, an attorney for the Clean Air Task Force. "But research indicates that biofuel production contributes to global warming, and the United States can no longer support biofuels without regard to their environmental impact."

"The EPA must follow the law and account for all greenhouse gas emissions from biofuels," said Kate McMahon of Friends of the Earth.

"The industry’s attempt to pressure the EPA to disregard legally required standards is preposterous. Biofuels are making global warming worse. The EPA must take this into account."

"We are merely asking the EPA to accurately measure greenhouse gas emissions from every step in biofuel production. In times of tight budgets, taxpayers have the right to know if they are subsidizing fuel that makes the climate crisis worse. EPA should suspend the renewable fuels mandate unless it can clearly demonstrate that biofuels are effective in reducing greenhouse gas emissions," said Sandra Schubert, the director of government affairs at the Environmental Working Group.

The groups’ letter can be viewed here:

White House begins review of "dirty air in the parks" rule

Yes, friends, the race the on for the Bush administration to push out those 11th-hour, polluter-friendly rules.

And the latest to pop up is what the Bush EPA opaquely describes as the “increment modeling” rule. It is now under review by the White House Office of Management and Budget. : (We’ve been warning about this for the past month.)

As you may recall, this highly controversial rule would make it easier for electric power plants and other big smokestack sources of air pollution to site near national parks and wilderness areas. It would do this by changing the way companies estimate the impact of their pollution on the parks and wilderness areas – essentially to pretend there would be less damage than would really occur.

This is an extremely duplicitous rule change. (How many people know what “increment modeling” means?)

It really ought to be called the “dirty air in the parks” rule.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

While Bush administration stalls on mercury, states try novel cleanup approach

Northeastern states are pursuing a novel approach, attempting to use the Clean Water Act to demand reductions in airborne mercury emissions.

You have to stand up and applaud these folks.

But also marvel that the Bush administration has been so in the pocket of the coal-burning electric companies that it has come to this.

This ought to help build up some momentum for a good mercury control program by the next administration.

Press Release
Contact: Beth Card or Susy King, 978-323-7929,,
For Immediate Release
October 28, 2008

Northeast States Petition U.S. EPA to Control Out-of-Region Mercury Emissions

Utilizing a never-before-used provision of the Clean Water Act, seven Northeast states have triggered a mandatory process for the U.S. EPA to control the atmospheric deposition of mercury that makes fish throughout the Northeast unsafe to eat. The states filed a petition with Administrator Johnson under the Clean Water Act’s Section 319(g), which requires U.S. EPA to craft agreements to resolve multi-state pollution issues. The seven states—Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island, and Vermont—collaborated with the New England Interstate Water Pollution Control Commission (NEIWPCC) to prepare the petition. Section 319(g) of the law requires the U.S. EPA Administrator to respond to the petition by convening a management conference including all states that are significant sources of the mercury in Northeast waters. The purpose of the conference must be to develop an agreement among such states to reduce the level of pollution and improve the water quality of the New England states and New York State. This unprecedented multi-state action underscores the determination of the Northeast states to resolve the problem of contaminated fish and to address the main cause—mercury deposited in the Northeast from sources outside the region.

“With the filing of this petition, we are saying that the negative impact posed by atmospheric deposition of mercury from out-of-region sources cannot be allowed to continue unabated,” said Ronald Poltak, Executive Director of NEIWPCC. “As a region, we have chosen to address the problem with a comprehensive strategy that in part requires the federal government to play an active role in controlling mercury pollution and in the negotiation of an agreement that will allow the Northeast states to restore water quality and remove fish consumption advisories.”

In the Northeast, elevated levels of mercury in certain fish species have resulted in statewide fish consumption advisories covering more than 10,000 lakes, ponds, and reservoirs, and over 46,000 river miles in the region. The persistent need for these advisories comes despite nearly a decade of work within the Northeast that substantially reduced regional mercury emissions and discharges. Multiple research studies have shown that the majority of mercury in the states’ waters now comes from out-of-region sources such as coal-fired power plants, whose mercury emissions drift to the region on air currents and then fall directly into waterways or get carried by runoff into them.

“Since 1998 the Northeast states have been working aggressively to control our sources of mercury to the environment. We have reduced deposition from our own sources by over 70 percent between 1998 and 2002,” said Andrew Fisk, director of the Bureau of Land and Water Quality for the Maine Department of Environmental Protection. “All Northeast states have emissions controls on our utilities that meet our plan’s requirements for out-of-region sources. If it can be done in our states, it can be done in other states. We are asking for a stringent federal program that would require just that.”

The filing of the petition today is not the first time that the seven states have collaborated in a major move to address mercury contamination. In June 2006, they were among the 16 states that sued the federal government over the legality of EPA’s Clean Air Mercury Rule, which would have limited mercury reductions to 70 percent and delayed those until 2018. And in October 2007, the Northeast states submitted to EPA the Northeast Regional Mercury Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL), which like the petition was developed in conjunction with NEIWPCC. The TMDL stipulates the precise amount by which mercury arriving in the region from out-of-region sources must be reduced if the fish are to be safe to eat. Late last year, EPA approved the TMDL and endorsed the needed reductions, and earlier this year the states prevailed in federal appeals court when EPA’s Clean Air Mercury Rule was declared invalid. The petition brings the effort to a new level by describing precisely where the mercury is coming from and the first steps for controlling it.

“We look forward to sitting down at the table with EPA to develop an agreement,” said Fisk. “The goals are clear, and the technology needed to meet them is available. Let’s get to work so that our fish are safe to eat.”

Information on mercury pollution and the Northeast states’ reduction initiatives, the Northeast Regional Mercury Total Maximum Daily Load report and the §319(g), petition are available online at

The big polluter payoff, the return of Newt Gingrich, and more...

We’ve been reporting for the past month that the Bush administration is moving ahead with a big polluter payoff: final rules to gut the Clean Air Act’s new source review program that would enable coal-fired power plants to increase their emissions.

And finally the major media have caught up with us! (What – you didn’t believe us until several senators wrote a letter on this topic. O, ye of little faith…)

Anyway, this disgraceful plan is on the fast track, courtesy of the White House. You will recall the Bush administration used its Clean Air Interstate Rule as a figleaf to justify this major deregulatory step. (The theory was, yes, this could increase emissions at individual power plants, but that it wouldn’t matter if aggregate power plant emissions dropped over time. Well, that theory is now in the toilet. But the big payoff continues. After all, the clock is ticking towards the end of this deregulatory era…)

Kudos to the Washington Post for an excellent editorial on this topic today.


Other things looming:

With the economy floundering, elements of the ethanol lobby are trying a new scheme: the Omaha World-Herald reports that some ethanol companies have voted to hire former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and former key Bush administration aide Karen Hughes to lobby to increase the amount of ethanol that goes into regular gasoline.

Newt has always been the consummate phony on environmental issues. You may recall his efforts to roll back environmental protections back in the day when he had some power and wasn’t just an oversized talking head. So it wouldn’t be out of character for him to shill for ethanol if the money’s right… (By the way, there may be something of a rift within the ethanol world. Some of the more desperate companies are making this new pitch, while we hear that the Renewable Fuels Association may be inclined to follow the process in last year’s energy bill rather than try to circumvent the rules. We will keep following this. Note also that some of our friends met with the White House last week – a follow-up to an earlier meeting held with some ethanol promoters.


OMB has also begun reviewing a proposed EPA rule to require mandatory reporting of greenhouse gas emissions: No, the Bush administration didn’t suddenly go green. This was something required by earlier funding legislation.


Also on OMB’s plate, what could be a late gift to the oil industry.
EPA, following an environmentalist lawsuit, agreed to follow the law (!) and decide if tougher standards were required to prevent people from getting cancer from refinery fumes. The agency has proposed no additional controls under the theory that the cancer that’s out there is an “acceptable risk.” Oh?


One more thing – and maybe a positive. OMB has begun reviewing a final EPA rule aimed to keeping real-world emissions in check for big diesel trucks and off-road diesel engines. This is something similar to the dashboard warnings in cars that let us know if there’s a problem with the emission controls.


And a little sunshine. (Maybe.) Tomorrow in Florida, the state environmental regulation commission will take up the governor’s proposal to adopt California’s greenhouse gas motor vehicle standards. You can track the process at:

Quote of the month: in Jack Torry’s excellent piece in Sunday’s Columbus Dispatch, from our friend Dan Weiss with the Center for American Progress Action Fund. Dan noted that although Obama and McCain both support reductions in global warming pollution, that Obama wants to reduce the emissions through an auction of carbon permits, while McCain supports giving the permits away for free.

Notes Dan:
"Basically giving away the allowances would be a global-warming pollution bailout for the companies that caused the problem.” Yes!

Friday, October 17, 2008

Bush administration goes to bat for power polluters at Supreme Court

Trust the Bush administration's EPA to roll out bad news late on a Friday afternoon. They've done it again!

In this case, the Bush team is going to bat the Supreme Court for power polluters. The administration has asked the High Court to review a federal appeals court decision which struck down the administration's industry-friendly mercury standards for the electric power industry.

The appeals court was most acerbic, saying the the Bush rule had adopted “the logic of the Queen of Hearts, substituting E.P.A.’s desires for the plain text” of the law.

Cout watchers think there is little chance the Supreme Court will accept this case. It appears to be just a stall tactic by the Bush administration.

Did the White House step in and weaken the EPA lead standard on behalf of polluters?

An alert bit of spotting by Matt Madia of OMB Watch:

Thursday, October 16, 2008

New EPA lead standard: an improvement, but weaker than sought by agency's children's health advisory panel

The US EPA is tightening the national airquality standard for lead. But it is not tightening it as much asrecommended by the agency's children's health advisory panel. And the agency has ignored the advice of its science advisers, who had recommended the new standard be averaged over an hourly basis.

Also note the good move to require more monitors, thoughapparently state agencies could stop monitoring near industrial sites insome cases.Although this is a move in a more positive direction, many children will still face the risk of unnecessarily high levels of lead in their blood.

That is the judgment of EPA's children's health advisory panel. And children are the ones mainly at risk here.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Chamber of Commerce crybabies don't like criticism

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce sure loves to dish it out.

Remember the silly commercial it did attacking the so-called Lieberman-Warner climate bill?

But it turns out the Chamber can't take it when someone dares to criticize its positions.

In this case, the criticism came from our friends at the Natural Resources Defense Council, who found shortcomings in a Chamber of Commerce affiliate "blueprint" energy plan for the next President and Congress.

The Chamber is so thin-skinned that it replied with an ad-hominem slam against NRDC:

I particularly enjoyed this from the Chamber crybabies:
Maybe we should just turn off the lights and sit in the

The truth is, the NRDC folks were probably being too diplomatic, since the Chamber's house of horrors includes such odious -- and old -- anti-environmental plans as gutting the Clean Air Act's new source review plan (don't worry, boys, we hear the Bush team plans an 11th-hour push on that), repealing the big Supreme Court case on global warming (they tried that, but failed) and taking away the rights of California and other states to limit greenhouse gas emissions (another Bush policy we hope will be reversed by the next President).

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Bulletin: international group oks new pollution standards for ocean-going ships

We have just received very positive news from London, where our friend, David Marshall of the Clean Air Task Force, has been participating in the International Maritime Organization meeting on ocean ship pollution. David reports that there has been an agreement on new standards. See his statement below.


FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE For further information please contact:-

David Marshall, Clean Air Task Force,; Tel: 603-428-8114.

Thousands of Lives to Be Saved Each Year under New Shipping Pollution Accord

Environmentalists Urge Further Curbs on
Global Warming and Smog Emissions

(London, October 09, 2008)—Tens of thousands of lives each year will be saved under new air pollution control rules for marine ships adopted by the International Maritime Organization (IMO) in London today. But, according to environmentalists, more efforts need to be taken to curb smog and global warming emissions from ships.

“This is a great step forward for health and the environment” said David Marshall of the Clean Air Task Force (CATF), an environmental organization that participated in the IMO deliberations and commissioned a key study showing the health impacts of ships. “After a decade and a half of discussion and pressure from environmentalists around the world, the IMO has finally taken action to clean up shipping fuels. But more needs to be done to curb health- and climate-damaging emissions from ships.”

Marshall noted that the world’s oceangoing ships presently burn some of the world’s dirtiest fuel—more than 3,000 times dirtier than the fuel that is required to be burned in US and European diesel cars and trucks. These ships spew millions of tons of sulfur each year—almost 10% of the total sulphur oxides emissions, causing acid rain and forming deadly secondary fine particulates, a major threat to human health. Most of this pollution is emitted within 250 miles of shore and threatens the health of communities well inland.

A CATF-commissioned study by respected academic researchers, published in December 2007 in the American Chemical Society Journal Environmental Science & Technology and presented to the IMO by CATF and Friends of the Earth International (FOEI) estimates that ship emissions cause some 60,000 premature deaths throughout the world each year. A follow-up CATF-commissioned study also presented to the IMO showed that under a ‘no action’ scenario, shipping air pollution would be responsible for more than 80,000 premature deaths per year by 2012.

The decision follows a three-year debate .in which the US-based CATF and other environmental groups representing FOEI in the IMO process have been working to toughen the internationally binding standards for shipping emissions of sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, and deadly fine particles..

In the US alone, ship emissions cause several thousand heart attacks and bronchitis cases, as well as many thousands of new cases of exacerbated asthma and other upper and lower respiratory problems, and more than one hundred thousand missed workdays. These impacts cost society hundreds of billions of dollars annually. Poorer communities located near ports around the world are disproportionately affected.

While applauding IMO’s actions on sulfur emissions, CATF expressed disappointment over IMO’s failure to agree on any real reduction of nitrogen oxide emissions from the existing global fleet of over 90,000 ships. Marine ships emit about 15% of the world’s nitrogen oxides – which cause acid deposition, deadly fine particles, and ozone smog. Coastal states will need to take action on their own to reduce this type of shipping pollution on a national and regional basis., Marshall said.

With the sulfur issue behind it, the IMO turned its focus to efforts to reduce the global warming impacts of shipping. Ships not only emit toxic air pollutants damaging to human health, but also emit about 1 billion tons of carbon dioxide annually, or almost 3% of global emissions. Ships also emit roughly one hundred thousand tons of black carbon soot each year. Soot is also a potent global warming agent since it traps heat; its effect is greater in the Arctic, where it also deposits on snow and ice, speeding up the melting process by creating dark surfaces. CATF participated in the IMO’s discussions this week, urging delegates to adopt a comprehensive approach to reducing the global warming impact from ships as soon as possible.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Lead lobby makes 11th-hour White House pitch to undermine new air standards

This issue has been a little under the radar, but you may recall the US EPA is under a court directive to decide by next week (Oct. 15) if the current (and grossly outdated) national air quality standards for lead should be revised. (The answer is “Yes.” Clean Air Watch testified on this at an EPA hearing in June.)

And, as so happens as an issue like this comes down to the wire, the special interests are heading to the White House!

Please note (details below) that the battery lobby went last week to the White House Office of Management and Budget to plead their case. (Thanks to the ever-alert Matt Madia of OMB Watch for spotting this.)

They did the usual spouting about “questionable benefits” of reducing emissions. (In the process, they apparently urged EPA to break the law. The agency, of course, is supposed to set standards at a level sufficient to protect people’s health – not to consider costs and benefits.)

According to the materials they presented, the battery lobby protested that tough standards would mean the shutdown of battery recycling operations and possibly the illegal export of old batteries. (The latter is quite an ingenious argument, don’t you think?)

They also appeared to attack EPA’s independent science advisers, who unanimously urged much tougher new standards.

So the corporate scientists know more than the independent scientists? We hope the EPA will surprise us and pay attention, for once, to the advice of the agency’s independent science advisers

We do know, of course, that exposure to lead reduces one’s IQ, suggesting that some of our most noteworthy political figures have been exposed to quite a bit of the stuff.

A final note: pity the sole EPA person at this meeting who was surrounded not only by corporate lobbyists and consultants, but also by hostile representatives of OMB, the Department of Energy, the Council of Economic Advisers, and the Council on Environmental Quality. Somehow the Cheney guy missed this meeting – I guess because he was recently nominated to a bigger job.

Meeting Record Regarding: Lead NAAQS
Date: 10/ 2/2008
Client (if applicable) -->
Art Fraas

Heidi King

Joshua Goldman

Tom Grahame

Mark Cummings

Theresa M. Cirone
RSR Corporation

Russell Kemp
Association of Battery Recyclers
Robert Steinwurtzel
Bingham McCutchen
Association of Battery Recyclers
Terri Bowers
Gradient Corp.
Association of Battery Recyclers
Charlotte Skidmore

Charlotte Bertrand

Nancy Beck

Mike Clark

Kevin Neyland

Meeting material provided to OMB:Document 1 (2 pages, 51 kb)Document 2 (5 pages, 186 kb)Document 3 (15 pages, 574kb)

Dingell climate plan would punch California, other states

Here is a link to the new draft climate legislation released yesterday by Rep. John Dingell, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, and his colleague, Rep. Rick Boucher.

Some quick thoughts:

We are encouraged that Reps. Dingell and Boucher have finally produced something concrete with good long-term goals. (Though the short-term goals are completely inadequate.)

However, we are extremely concerned about “options” that would repeal the Supreme Court decision on global warming as well as kill state authority to set greenhouse gas standards for motor vehicles. See section 816.

One option would subordinate EPA authority over greenhouse gases to the more industry-friendly Department of Transportation. (Dingell tried this gambit in last year’s energy bill. House Speaker Pelosi swatted him down.) Another would eliminate EPA authority altogether. A third would eliminate the right of California to set greenhouse gas vehicle standards as well as the right of other states to set California standards.

These options are straight from the playbook of the Big Three. They appear to have been drafted in the boardroom of General Motors.

By presenting them as “options,” Dingell appears to be trying to defer the big showdown over this crucial issue.

But Dingell is making it clear: when it comes to climate legislation, it’s his way or the highway. And if he persists, it may end up being a road to nowhere.

One another big issue, the draft contains "options" on how carbon permits should be issued. It is clear that Dingell and Boucher want to give many billions of dollars of permits away for free to the biggest polluters, such as Duke Energy.

Little wonder that Duke quickly announced support for the bill, which it presumably helped write:

Canadian oil sands development threatens Great Lakes region

You may recall that the recent “economic rescue” package included incentives for production of oil sands. Environmentalists have expressed real concern about this pork provision.

And today, there is news that the environmental problems could be much worse – and more widespread – than previously realized.

New research sponsored by the University of Toronto warns that oil sands development will create a “pollution delivery system” – one that runs right to the Great Lakes Basin. This is a real eyebrow raiser.

Note release and contact for more information, below:

For immediate release

News Release
University of Toronto
Munk Centre for International Studies Program On Water Issues

Canada’s Oil Sands: Pollution Delivery to the Great Lakes?

New report and expert panel call for tougher refinery rules, more focus on health, air and water

TORONTO, October 8, 2008 – New transcontinental pipelines from Alberta’s oil sands and massive refinery expansions in the U.S. Midwest are creating a “pollution delivery system” that threatens air and water quality and human health in the Great Lakes Basin, expert panelists at the University of Toronto said today.

Piecemeal, poorly regulated, haphazardly planned refinery expansion to bring “dirty” bitumen‐based oil to the Midwest and Eastern Canada is not the economic or energy panacea its proponents claim, said participants at the University’s Program On Water Issues at the Munk Centre for International Studies.

“Research Indicates that the issue of what the oil sands do to the environment in the Great Lakes Basin – and its people – needs more public attention, greater policy focus and more consistent regulatory oversight, in Canada, the United States and by state governments and the Ontario government as well,” said Adèle Hurley, Director of the Program on Water Issues. “Pipeline and refinery expansions are taking place with too little oversight and too little information. We need to know and understand – and measure – how much additional pollution this will bring to the Great Lakes Basin, what it means for water quality, climate change, and acid rain, and how it will affect human health.”

The day‐long discussion began with a presentation from environmental writer David Israelson, whose paper, How the Oil Sands got to the Great Lakes Basin: Pipelines, refineries and emissions to air and water, was released today by the Program On Water Issues. His paper examined proposed and current increases in refinery expansion at numerous sites in “PADD II” – the United States Petroleum Administration for Defense District that encompasses the U.S. Midwest. His research included estimates of additional emissions to the region’s airshed, water use, the effects on water quality and increases in greenhouse gas emissions.

One refinery alone, British Petroleum’s facility in Whiting, Indiana (near Chicago), is contemplating a more than 60 per cent increase in refining Canadian “heavy” crude oil, predominantly from the oil sands. The increase in carbon emissions from the Whiting refinery process alone (before any of the refined oil is used as gasoline or other products) is the equivalent of putting more than 300,000 cars on the road per year.

“We need to slow down this exploitation of the oil sands,” Israelson said. “A lot of respected experts –not only environmental activists – agree. We need to be more consistent in recording and reporting refinery emissions, and we need a better understanding of how expanding refineries could affect the receiving end, here in the Great Lakes region. This is not the time to launch a marketing campaign about the oil sands; it’s time to get better answers to key questions about sustainability.”

For further information
Program On Water Issues 416‐946‐8919