Thursday, January 22, 2009

How the economic recovery plan falls short

Dear friends,

A few thoughts below on major shortcomings in the economic recovery plan, approved this week by the House Appropriations Committee.

--Frank O’Donnell
Clean Air Watch


But first, a quick review of relevant headlines:

New evidence that the Antarctic is warming

Reports that glaciers are melting so fast that some could vanish by mid-century

Official word that 2008 was one of the warmest years on record, despite the recent cold snap

And a report in the New England Journal of Medicine which confirms that reducing particle soot pollution will let people live not only healthier, but longer lives.

With these vividly in mind, here are a few major shortcomings in the House committee-passed economic recovery bill.

Although the plan does include money for “green” initiatives, it could – and should – do more. It’s a real opportunity to make headway against global warming and deadly air pollution, while boosting the economy. Let’s hope it doesn’t become an opportunity missed. This may not be an exhaustive list, but here are three things that would improve the plan:

More for diesel cleanup

Most obvious, perhaps, is the need to clean up diesel pollution. It’s a three-fer: creating jobs, reducing soot emissions that shorten our lives, and eliminating black carbon emissions that help cause global warming. The New England Journal of Medicine piece alone ought to be enough to prompt Congress to move as rapidly as possible to reduce the threat of diesel soot pollution. Especially because there are assembly lines, now quiet but ready to rev up, at various companies that make pollution control devices. The House bill would include $300 million for this effort. As you may recall, a broad alliance – with groups as diverse as the American Lung Association and the American Trucking Associations – is calling on Congress to boost that to $1.5 billion. This is a no-brainer.

Clarify energy efficiency standards for building and renovation projects

The proposed stimulus package contains huge amounts of funding for new building and renovation projects – much of which is meant to increase energy efficiency in public buildings. For example $16 billion is dedicated to public housing retrofits and $6.9 is designated for block grants to local governments for weatherization and energy efficiency projects. However the actual language of the stimulus bill completely lacks energy efficiency criteria, benchmarks, or targets.An estimated one billion square feet of building will be built or renovated using stimulus dollars. Without using more efficient building practices, this amount of space translates to about 158 trillion BTU’s of energy consumption annually. Assuming a 50/50 split between new building and renovation, half of that amount will be added to total US energy consumption and the other half will be fixed until the renovated buildings are renovated again. (These are estimates by Architecture 2030, a non-partisan group advocating increased energy efficiency in building simple language to the bill to give funding preference to more energy efficient projects would encourage states and contractors to use energy efficient building practices, saving money in energy costs in the long-term, and dramatically reducing our energy use and carbon emissions.

More for transit

As my friends at NRDC point out , most of the transportation money in the bill likely will go to highways – with the potential for more sprawl and more pollution. (Sprawl, of course, will make it that much more difficult to meet any goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions.) More investment is needed in rail and public transit.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Markey to become chair of House environment panel

A big development today, as Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA) declares he intends to take over the chairmanship of the House Energy and Commerce Committee's subcommittee on Energy and the Environment. Markey disclosed this in today’s Boston Globe:

This is a very significant development, and one that should enhance the prospects for good global warming legislation in this Congress.

Markey will be bumping Rep. Rick Boucher (D-VA), a nice guy but one wedded to protecting the interests of the coal industry. Markey’s move is part of a changing of the guard in Congress that began when Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) deposed Rep. John Dingell (D-MI) as chair of the full Energy and Commerce Committee.

And this, by the way, is also good news for Waxman. As chairman of the full committee, Waxman needs someone with juice to stake out a position to his political left. Markey is just the person to do this. He is, of course, also close to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

The change is expected to be ratified today at a meeting of the House Democratic Caucus.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Pelosi: we've got the votes on global warming...but we might not take a vote this year!

From Environment & Energy Daily:

CLIMATE: Pelosi says House can pass cap and trade, but timetable is uncertain (01/06/2009)

Darren Samuelsohn, E&E senior reporter

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said yesterday that she has enough votes to pass cap-and-trade legislation aimed at curbing the effects of global warming but would not commit to holding a vote in 2009.

Speaking to reporters in the Capitol, Pelosi said she has sufficient backing in the Democratic-controlled House to move a cap-and-trade bill, but will not force the issue. "I'm not sure this year, because I don't know if we'll be ready," Pelosi said. "We won't go before we're ready."
Pelosi acknowledged the December deadline looming over U.N. negotiations toward a new international climate change agreement. "We're sensitive to Copenhagen and the rest of that," she said, referring to the Denmark capital that will host the next annual U.N. conference. "And it's a very high priority for me."

But Pelosi said she could not guarantee that President-elect Barack Obama would be able to sign a cap-and-trade law before Copenhagen.

Monday, January 05, 2009

New Year's news notes: the latest on "clean coal" and much more

Dear friends,

It’s a new year, but many of the unresolved issues still loom large. See a few thoughts, below. This is not meant, of course, to be a comprehensive list, but perhaps it can help as a starting point for tracking some relevant matters. And Happy New Year.

--Frank O’Donnell
Clean Air Watch


Reality check: We have all been bombarded for many months with propaganda about “clean coal,” which, as the industry spinners put it, is an “evolutionary term,” though not related to Darwin. But now another viewpoint is taking on a higher profile, as a “Reality Coalition” including Sierra Club, NRDC and the National Wildlife Federation roll out their own commercials on the topic:

Their key message: “in reality, there is no such thing as clean coal.” Quick – someone better tell the incoming President!


Speaking of dirty coal, we are closely following a story that initially broke before the holidays, about one of our favorite miscreants, Duke Energy. As the Evansville Courier & Press puts it, “A federal judge has ruled lawyers for Duke Energy misled jurors about one of its witnesses during a trial on whether the utility company broke federal clean air laws at power plants in Indiana and Ohio.”
Not the same Duke headed by Jim Rogers, who tells everyone how so very concerned he is about global warming -- while lobbying against CO2 limits?!


Yes, slickster Rogers gave the maximum campaign contributions both to McCain and Obama:

And, obviously, Obama will face many tests and choices going forward. Here’s one a bit under the radar, but perhaps worth watching. The US EPA will soon name a new panel of science advisers on the topic of ozone, or smog. (Yes, the Bush team did botch the most recent review of national smog standards – by ignoring EPA’s scientific advisers. But it’s time to being the review of science yet again.)

And one candidate for the smog science panel is Peter Valberg, who happens to work for a consulting company called the Gradient Corporation. Basically he’s a well-educated hired gun. And he is noted for working for clients including the electric power industry. For example, he recently gave “expert testimony” in a case involving pollution from the Tennessee Valley Authority. (Not the notorious “ash slide” Kingston facility, which, by the way, once received a specific pollution control exemption from Congress, courtesy of then-Senator Howard Baker.)

Valberg’s resume also notes that he has worked for the diesel engine industry and “Prepared critiques of the U.S. EPA and California EPA health assessment documents on the potential carcinogenicity of diesel exhaust and ambient air particulate matter.”

Will Obama permit EPA to name an industry hired gun to a critical science panel? Or, perhaps, will the Bush administration appoint this science panel before it leaves office? This is one we are watching very closely.


Speaking of diesel pollution, one of the unresolved questions when Congress broke for the holidays was whether diesel cleanup would become part of the “green” economic stimulus package. Ten key senators – including Boxer, Inhofe, Carper, Clinton and Voinovich – have written in favor of the idea. The letter speaks for itself, but we also believe it would be an excellent idea.

Another thing on Obama’s agenda, presumably, will be to reverse the odious memo by outgoing EPA chief Steve Johnson, disavowing EPA authority over greenhouse gas emissions. Some of our friends are expected to go to court this week to speed up this reversal.


Electric power plants (and diesel engines) are also key sources of nitrogen dioxide pollution. And later this week, EPA’s Johnson is supposed to sign an “advanced notice” on how he intends to proceed on new national air quality standards for nitrogen dioxide.

The current annual average standard was set in 1971 and has not been updated since then. New clinical and epidemiology studies show respiratory problems with short term exposures. A stringent new short-term standard is needed to protect the health of people with asthma. But EPA also needs to keep an annual standard to protect people from chronic exposure. EPA’s own scientists recently called for a short-term standard. See at

The highest concentrations of NO2 are found on roadways and near roadways. Unfortunately, pollution monitors are rarely set up to measure the worst problems, so we also need to have monitors set up where they can detect the problem.
And finally, for now, some sobering holiday reading material worth noting. One is an excellent front-page story in the Washington Post by our friend, Dave Fahrenthold, on the failure to clean up the Chesapeake Bay.

Another is a new book, Smogtown, by Chip Jacobs and Bill Kelly (who for many years was a spokesman for California’s South Coast Air Quality Management District). The book is a painful account of efforts – going back to the 1940s – to reduce smog in the Los Angeles area.

Like Dave’s story about the Bay, the book contrasts the gushingly optimistic pronouncements by public officials about how they will quickly solve “the problem” with the grim reality as viewed in hindsight.

These stories may be worth keeping in mind as our political leaders declare that “clean coal” and other strategies and technologies will bring a relatively quick and painless solution to global warming.