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.
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. http://blogforcleanair.blogspot.com/2008/12/what-is-clean-coal.html 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: http://www.thisisreality.org/#/?p=facility
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.” http://www.courierpress.com/news/2009/jan/03/dukeenergygoing-backto-court/
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: http://www.opensecrets.org/pres08/search.php?cid=ALL&name=Rogers&employ=Duke&state=%28all%29&zip=%28any+zip%29&submit=OK&amt=a&sort=A
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 http://www.epa.gov/ttn/naaqs/standards/nox/s_nox_cr_rea.html
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. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/story/2008/12/26/ST2008122601782.html
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). http://www.lasmogtown.com/ 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.