Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Bush answer to less driving? Slash clean-air programs!

As you know, high gas prices mean people are driving a little less. The Transportation Department confirmed yesterday that “vehicle miles traveled” fell by 3.7 percent in May from the previous year. http://www.dot.gov/affairs/dot10208.htm

A side effect, of course, is that people are paying less in gas taxes. (It seems like only yesterday, doesn’t it, that Presidential candidates McCain and Clinton were calling for a “gas tax holiday?”) And so less money is available for building highways, repairing bridges, etc.

And so what does the Bush administration propose to do about this? Why slash clean-air programs!

This is a short-sighted and deplorable way to deal with the situation.

We are told that Transportation Secretary Mary Peters today will unveil proposed “reforms” for consideration next year by Congress, when it takes up transportation legislation.

Among those “reforms,” we are told, includes elimination of a much-needed program to reduce congestion and clean up air pollution. (The Transportation Dept. boasts of it here: http://www.fhwa.dot.gov/environment/cmaqpgs/index.htm ) This program goes by the ugly acronym of CMAQ.

It was revised a few years ago by Congress, which ordered DOT to focus more spending on cleaning up dirty diesel engines – absolutely the most cost-effective use of such money. DOT, unfortunately, has basically tried to sandbag the program, and now wants to kill it altogether.

This would be a missed opportunity to clean up dirty diesel pollution and improve air quality across much of the nation.

We are told that DOT also may propose weakening or the Clean Air Act program aimed at making sure that transportation projects don’t worsen air quality. (Known in the jargon as conformity) and may seek to weaken the National Environmental Policy Act as well.

Under the Bush administration, DOT has often been viewed as an arm of the car industry. (You may recall that DOT lobbied Congress to try to block California’s attempt to enforce its greenhouse gas standards for motor vehicles.) Now it appears to be a leg of the asphalt lobby.

Fortunately, Congress will have the final say in this matter. Let’s hope they have more sense than “Polluter” Peters.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Duke lies through its smoke-stained teeth!

Like a lot of you, we are still reeling – and trying to evaluate the fallout from last Friday’s bombshell federal appeals court ruling that struck down the so-called Clean Air Interstate Rule.

As you know, the interstate rule was the foundation of the Bush administration’s air pollution policy, and that foundation was blown to smithereens. What’s next?

Before we get to that, we must pause for a second and look at the comments on this from the lead industry plaintiff, Duke Energy.

After the decision came down, Duke lied through its smoke-stained teeth, asserting to the news media (including the New York Times, Charlotte Observer, etc.) that killing the rule wasn’t its objective.

For example: “Our whole focus was not to overturn CAIR, but to make sure we got the appropriate number of allowances,” [Duke spokesman] Williams told the Observer.

But Duke’s agenda was exactly to overturn CAIR. It said so in its legal brief to the court. See page 34 of the Duke legal brief : “EPA's CAIR SO2 rules exceed EPA's authority and are arbitrary, capricious and an abuse of discretion. This Court should vacate them."

**
One of the most interesting pieces we’ve read on this is today’s story in Greenwire, in which former EPA Assistant Administrator Jeff Holmstead predicts a “huge mess” as a result of the decision. Reports Greenwire:

In an interview, Holmstead said it was too soon to see the full impact of
last week's court ruling. But he said the decision will likely result in work
stoppages at dozens of power plants where new air pollution equipment is being
installed to comply with what would have been CAIR's first round of
implementation next year.

While some air pollution projects that were near completion may proceed,
others almost certainly will be suspended, Holmstead said. And even some
finished projects may sit idle if there is no requirement that pollution levels
must come down.

"These companies have a fiduciary duty to their stockholders," Holmstead
said. "Let's say you're building a huge scrubber to comply with CAIR, and part
of your costs were going to be offset because you were going to sell allowances.
You no longer have to build a scrubber, and you also no longer have an allowance
market to offset your costs."

It has to be more than a trifle awkward for Holmstead. As Greenwire notes, he was the “primary architect” of the discarded rule. He’s also a registered lobbyist for Duke, though I don’t believe he was involved in the litigation.

**

States, the ball is in your court! As our friend and colleague, Vickie Patton of Environmental Defense Fund notes, the court noted that state governments still have the legal right to use the Clean Air Act (Section 126) to compel reductions in pollution from upwind states. (The now-defunct EPA rule was issued as a way to head off such petitions in the first place.) We would not be surprised to see some states move promptly to file petitions. They’d better!

More thoughts on the disgraceful Bush decision on global warming

A commentary at http://www.ourfuture.org/blog-entry/stonewall-steves-war-planet

Friday, July 11, 2008

The legal equivalent of a dirty bomb

It’s the legal equivalent of a dirty bomb: literally tens of thousands of Americans could see their lives cut short by dirty air.

A federal appeals court has struck down key elements of a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency clean-air rule designed to make sweeping reductions in air pollution from coal-fired electric power plants in the Eastern half of the nation. This was the signature air pollution control effort by the Bush Administration.

This is without a doubt the worst news of the year when it comes to air pollution. It is potentially disastrous news for public health. [See more reaction below from our friends with the Clean Air Task Force.]

The Bush administration needs to do more than file the obvious legal appeal: it needs to come up with a fix that is legally full proof. If the Bush administration isn’t up to the task, then Congress must step in and fix this mess. (The bi-partisan legislation introduced by Senator Tom Carper of Delaware is one obvious vehicle.)

Communities throughout the Eastern half of the nation will be at the mercy of deadly pollution that blows in from upwind states.

**

Details: when it announced the rules in March 2005, the EPA itself projected that they would prevent 17,000 premature deaths A YEAR. See at http://www.epa.gov/cair/ and http://www.epa.gov/cair/basic.html

The vast majority of those avoided deaths would happen because of reductions in electric power emissions of sulfur dioxide, which chemically convert to deadly fine-particle soot.

To quote from then-acting EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson, the rule “will result in the largest pollution reductions and health benefits of any air rule in more than a decade.” So you can see what we are losing.
**
from the Clean Air Task Force:

Clean Air Task Force Calls for `Urgent Fix’
For Flawed EPA Power Plant Cleanup Plan


(Boston, MA, July 11, 2008 ) -- The non-profit Clean Air Task Force today called on the Bush administration and Congress to make an “urgent fix” to an electric power plant cleanup plan struck down by a federal appeals court.

“Literally tens of thousands of Americans could die prematurely unless the government takes swift and decisive action to clean up power plants emissions,” noted CATF Advocacy Director Conrad Schneider.

The controversy involves the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s so-called “Clean Air Interstate Rule,” issued by the Agency in 2005, and struck down yesterday by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. See: http://www.cadc.uscourts.gov/bin/opinions/allopinions.asp

The rule was a political compromise aimed at reducing electric power plant emissions of soot and smog-forming sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides by about 70% in the Eastern U.S. by 2015. According to EPA’s analysis, the pollution reductions would prevent
13,000 premature deaths in 2010, 18,000 in 2015, and 22,000 premature deaths in 2020.

A coalition of electric power companies led by Duke Energy filed suit against the rules.

“This decision will leave tens of millions of Americans exposed to dirty air,” said Schneider. “It will mean avoidable death and disease.”

Schneider also noted that “many states and communities were counting on the EPA rules to help them comply with health-based clean air standards.”

He called on EPA to get to work immediately on reissuing a rule that complies with the Act, in order to “lock in critical health protections for millions of Americans.”

If EPA fails to act swiftly, Schneider urged Congress to “step in and protect the breathing public.” He noted that Senator Tom Carper (D-DE) has introduced bipartisan legislation to sharply reduce power plant emissions.

Some thoughts on EPA's "advanced notice" on climate

Today’s “advanced notice” reflects the heavy hand of the White House. Indeed, the head of the EPA -- Steve Johnson -- essentially disavowed his own agency's work! He is without a doubt the worst administrator of EPA in history. He is a creature of the White House, pure and simple. More on that below.

This plan doesn’t pass the smell test. It doesn’t even pass the laugh test. (Check the ludicrously low projections for oil prices if you don’t believe me!) This is nothing but an exercise in stall tactics. And it appears to be an effort to try slowing down cleanup efforts by a future administration more interested in environmental protection. Let's hope they toss this business into the circular file and actually do something.

The White House has turned EPA’s preliminary judgment on its head: as AP writer Dina Cappiello noted, EPA’s staff initially carved out a road map to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The White House has turned this into a road map to nowhere.

In theory, this advanced notice is supposed to alert affected businesses that future regulation is coming. And it was supposed to raise questions towards that end.

But EPA Administrator Steve Johnson has obviously prejudged the issue. He declared the Clean Air Act is the “wrong tool” to deal with this issue. He has passed the buck to Congress after the recent Lieberman-Warner debacle made it clear that it’s going to be very tough for Congress to come to an agreement.

And there are real procedural irregularities here: EPA has put the comments of other agencies – those obviously less interested in reducing global warming emissions – into this advanced notice. These are comments from the Office of Management and Budget and cabinet agencies that promote industry and agriculture -- all of them opposed to greenhouse gas limits. I believe that is unprecedented for EPA to showcase the views of other agencies in this manner, in effect Steve Johnson's effort to discredit his own staff! . And as our esteemed colleague, Vickie Patton of Environmental Defense Fund notes, "The senior EPA staff long involved in the development of the ANPR never saw the White House denunciations that Johnson put forward to justify his own utter failure to address the global warming crisis. Indeed, they are all dated within the last 2 days."

And this stands in stark contrast to how the Bush administration handled the recent proposal by the Transportation Department on fuel economy. In that case, EPA had more than 100 pages of comments to the plan. But EPA’s views were sent to the circular file.

So the Bush administration is happy to use this new process when it’s convenient – and when it’s used to block tougher environmental controls.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

CAL treasurer to feds: why have taxpayers subsidize coal?

Another big eyebrow has been raised about the use of tax-exempt bonds to finance new coal-fired power plants.

California State Treasurer Bill Lockyer has written to the US Treasury Department raising concern about the “financial and environmental risks new coal-fired power plants pose for investors, taxpayers and ratepayers.”

His letter echoes similar concerns voiced last month by New York City’s comptroller.

It also follows a recent decision by a Georgia superior court judge to revoke an air pollution permit for the state's first new coal-fired power project in 20 years, saying regulators should have considered the plant's carbon emissions when considering its environmental impacts.

Lockyer noted that the projected pollution from proposed new coal plants would "negate California's and other state's aggressive efforts to combat climate change."

Lockyer concluded that "the risks of coal-fired power plants merit a closer examination and timely action by the Treasury Department to avoid possible future losses by taxpayers."

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Cheney's office had hands all over Bush global warming policy

From the Washington Post:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/07/08/AR2008070801442.html?hpid=moreheadlines

...Frank O'Donnell, who heads the advocacy group Clean Air Watch, said the latest revelations confirm that the vice president has been steering the nation's environmental policy during President Bush's tenure.

"For years, we've suspected that Cheney was the puppeteer for administration policy on global warming," O'Donnell said. "This kiss-and-tell account appears to confirm the worst."

Thursday, July 03, 2008

SMOG WATCH ’08: Status report through June

STATES WITH SMOG PROBLEMS IN 2008 – THROUGH JUNE
Under new EPA standards of 75 parts per billion, averaged over 8 hours

Alabama
Arizona
Arkansas
California
Colorado
Connecticut
Delaware
District of Columbia
Florida
Georgia
Illinois
Indiana
Kentucky
Louisiana
Maryland
Massachusetts
Michigan
Mississippi
Missouri
Nevada
New Hampshire
New Jersey
New Mexico
New York
North Carolina
Ohio
Oklahoma
Pennsylvania
Rhode Island
South Carolina
Tennessee
Texas
Utah
Vermont
Virginia
Washington
West Virginia
Wisconsin
**
List of states with unhealthful air quality under “old” standard (84 parts per billion):

Alabama
Arizona
California
Connecticut
Delaware
District of Columbia
Florida
Georgia
Indiana
Louisiana
Maryland
Massachusetts
Mississippi
Nevada
New Jersey
New Hampshire
New York
North Carolina
Pennsylvania
Rhode Island
South Carolina
Tennessee
Texas
Virginia
Washington
**
The most bad-sir days (38) have been recorded at the Crestline monitor in San Bernadino, CA. The single worst day of pollution was recorded at Fresno, CA, on June 27, with an ozone reading of 132 parts per billion averaged over 8 hours.