Thursday, December 18, 2008

News notes: Some challenges ahead for the new Obama green team -- and some suggestions

A few quick notes before many of you break for the holidays. (Clean Air Watch will remain on duty throughout.) These involve some of the major challenges that will be faced by the new Obama energy and environment team.


Renewable ruckus: The U.S. EPA was supposed to issue final “renewable fuel standard” rules by tomorrow under the 2007 energy law.

But the agency’s proposal hasn’t even come out yet.

It remains under review by the White House Office of Management and Budget. http://www.reginfo.gov/public/do/eAgendaViewRule?ruleID=293067 The BNA Daily Environment Report attributes the hangup to disputes about the impact of biofuels-related land use changes. Jonathan Lewis with the Clean Air Task Force can explain. jlewis@catf.us Also see http://www.catf.us/projects/climate/biofuels/20081031-Response_Letter_to_Johnson_re_RFS_ILUC.pdf

We hope EPA will do an honest assessment, and not cave in to political pressure from the corn crowd. (Some ethanol interests are also trying to bully EPA into pretending that higher levels of ethanol in gasoline than permitted today are “substantially similar” to today’s gas. BAD IDEA – unless you like more air pollution and damaged engines!)

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State suggestions: State and local air pollution regulators have weighed in with climate and other clean-air recommendations to the Obama transition team. Among the key ideas: approve California’s request to enforce its motor vehicle standards, and support the right of states to continue providing leadership in the climate battle. They also urge EPA to use its existing authority to make progress.

We ought to be very thankful for the state efforts – they’ve been the bright lights during the environmental darkness of the past eight years.

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Emeritus EPA exhortations: Some similar recommendations have come in from two former Republican heads of the EPA – Bill Ruckelshaus and Bill Reilly. They agree with the state agencies that the current Clean Air Act can be used to make progress. (Take that, Chamber of Commerce coxcombs!) These are all excellent ideas and may undercut what we anticipate will be some partisan Republican congressional opposition to Obama initiatives.

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Coal clash: In Kentucky, the group Valley Watch has noted it will challenge a plan by Peabody Energy to build a new coal plant that is “carbon capture ready.” (See release at bottom of this note.) This is one to watch as the new administration touts the idea of “clean coal” (whatever that means at a given moment.)

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Diesel dispute: Volvo has weighed in against the lobbying blitz by Navistar to delay upcoming diesel truck emission standards for nitrogen oxides. See at
http://www.volvo.com/trucks/na/en-us/news_and_events/news_releases/NewsItemPage.htm?ItemId=54972&sl=en-gb
Navistar went cheap on its choice of technology, and apparently can’t meet the new standards, though other diesel engine makers can – and will. We trust the Obama administration will reject Navistar’s noxious request.
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Awful Astroturf: Finally, this doesn’t really involve the Obama transition, but we’d like to commend a note by our friends at DeSmogBlog about the “Astroturf” effort run by Jim Sims, one of our favorite adversaries here at Clean Air Watch. It makes for a fun read:
http://www.desmogblog.com/policy-communications-inc-astroturf-shell-game
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Here is the Valley Watch release, noted above:

For Immediate Release 12/17/08 Contact: John Blair @ 812-464-5663

Valley Watch will challenge the latest proposal by Peabody Energy to build a synthetic gas plant in Muhlenberg County, KY. We will do that on both economic and environmental/health grounds.We are proud that we were able to win our previous fight with Peabody Energy over their proposed Thoroughbred Generating Station on the same site they have chosen to propose a syngas plant.We know that coal can never be made "clean" whether it is burned, gasified or turned into liquid fuels. There are enormous waste products created by each of those processes and "solving" an air pollution problem will create large scale solid waste and water pollution problems for people who live downstream, as Evansville and Henderson do.Further, for Peabody to claim that their new facility is "Carbon Capture Ready" is simply misleading since they claim they will only capture carbon when forced to do so by the federal government. This plant will emit millions of tons of CO2 that is "ready" to be captured. But Peabody expects the region to accept as a matter of faith a technology in its earliest stage of research as something here and now, while failing to even consider the enormous economic and environmental costs associated with that technology in the future. Also, it is almost a certainty they will resist any sort of carbon regulation, depending on their notable lobbying infrastructure to minimize their exposure to any carbon regulation, now or in the future.If their proposed plant were already in operation today, it would likely be shuttered due to the cost of natural gas, which is currently selling at a price about 65% of the most optimistic projections for just the production cost of the syngas they seek to produce. That is a serious obstacle to the deployment of this or other synfuel proposals.What investor is willing to take such a huge risk in a really tight financial market when the global demand for energy is sliding lower each day? Of course the answer to that is that Peabody expects that the federal government will ultimately pay for the capital costs of the plant they are unwilling to finance themselves.Further, the price of coal has skyrocketed over the last two years and unlike oil, has stayed high through at least the early stages of the global economic crisis. Coal, that was selling in the $25 to $30/ton range just a couple of years ago is now stabilized at $84/ton in the Illinois Basin where they wish to locate the new plant.Valley Watch will seek to coalesce with others who are concerned about the global climate crisis to form a coalition to fend off this proposal. It is our intention to doggedly monitor Peabody's filings with the Kentucky Division of air Quality as well as issues of solid waste, landfills and water pollution this plant will cause, if ever allowed to operate.Our efforts in similar matters in the past have paid large dividends for the health of people in Western Kentucky and Southwest Indiana. Just earlier this month we were happy to announce another victory when Indiana Gasification withdrew their petition for rate recovery from the docket of the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission for a plant in Rockport, IN. Nearly identical to Peabody's current proposal, that plant was stopped using conventional community organizing and making the investment community adequately aware of the risks and opposition which clearly increased financial risk an already risky venture.
Please fell free to contact me at any time over the next several years as this drama plays out.
Check out the Valley Watch website at: valleywatch.netJohn Blair
800 Adams AvenueEvansville, IN 47713
812-464-5663

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