Thursday, August 27, 2009

GE brings good things to... GE!

An interesting story in the Washington Examiner on GE's lobbying efforts in DC:

Obama administration moving forward on climate

As the nation mourns the loss of Senator Kennedy and we await Senate action on climate (likely delayed by the healthcare issue), the wheels continue to turn within the Obama administration.

This week, the White House (at long last) began its review of upcoming greenhouse gas standards for motor vehicles along with tougher fuel efficiency standards. A government web site notes the review by the Office of Management and Budget began on Tuesday Aug. 25.

You may recall the Obama administration announced its deal with the car industry and the state of California last May. It’s high time they put these new standards into place.

The review suggests that EPA is nearing a final “endangerment” finding that global warming emissions threaten health and the environment. That decision – the right response to the big Supreme Court decision on global warming -- may be interpreted by some as a polite reminder to the Senate that it cannot ignore the climate issue. The EPA finding could be the starting point for additional administrative action on climate if the Senate fizzles.


A related item under current OMB review: final EPA greenhouse gas reporting rules, explained here:

The FY2008 Consolidated Appropriations Act, which was signed into law on December 26, 2007, authorized funding for EPA to “develop and publish a draft rule not later than 9 months after the date of enactment of this Act, and a final rule not later than 18 months after the date of enactment of this Act, to require mandatory reporting of greenhouse gas emissions above appropriate thresholds in all sectors of the economy of the United States.” The accompanying joint explanatory statement directed EPA to "use its existing authority under the Clean Air Act" to develop a mandatory greenhouse gas reporting rule. The joint explanatory statement went on to say that "The Agency is further directed to include in its rule reporting of emissions resulting from upstream production and downstream sources, to the extent that the Administrator deems it appropriate.” Accordingly this rulemaking would establish monitoring, reporting, and recordkeeping requirements on facilities that produce, import, or emit greenhouse gases above a specific threshold in order to provide comprehensive and accurate data to support a range of future climate policy options

As some of you may know, the oil industry met with the White House earlier this month to raise concerns about the rule:


Finally, something of a sleeper: a cautionary note from the EPA that pumping carbon dioxide underground could damage groundwater aquifers that supply drinking water. The basic concern, as an excellent story in today’s Energy Daily points out, is that “if carbon dioxide injected underground were to migrate to shallow aquifers, concentrations of arsenic and other heavy metals in the groundwater could increase and thus contaminate the water. “ Oh, that.

Capturing and pumping this stuff underground, of course, is, as Energy Daily notes, is “seen as crucial to the continued use of coal for electricity generation in a carbon-constrained regula­tory environment.”

Here is some relevant background, including EPA’s new “notice of data availability” and the interesting research by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory:

Friday, August 07, 2009

Coal lobby says a quarter of a trillion dollars in freebies is not enough

When it comes to chutzpah, you’ve got to hand it to the coal lobby.

Here it is, ready to walk away with literally hundreds of billions of dollars from the House-passed climate bill. It’s at the center of a lobbying scandal involving forged letters to members of Congress. And now it has the audacity to demand an even bigger payoff from taxpayers as the Senate scrutinizes climate legislation.

An excellent – and rather shocking – piece yesterday in Greenwire noted that

Coal's biggest lobbying group is launching a $1 million campaign to win support from Senate Democrats, an effort that employs the same public relations firm ensnared by a scandal over forged letters to Congress.

American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity (ACCCE), an alliance of coal and utility companies, hired Alexandria, Va.-based Hawthorn Group for the new effort. Hawthorn worked for the coal group earlier this year, coordinating outreach on the House climate bill. During that project, Hawthorn subcontractor Bonner & Associates sent at least three members of Congress a total of 12 fraudulent letters purporting to be from groups opposed to the legislation…

Coal received many provisions it sought in the House bill but is pressing for more in the Senate.

Coal interests want a provision in climate legislation that would limit how much businesses must pay for carbon dioxide emissions under a cap-and-trade program. Coal also wants financial support for research into ways to capture carbon emissions and sequester them underground. And the industry wants to slow down the pace of the cap, which in the House bill tightens over time.

There is probably no need to re-hash the lobbying scandal. We hope that Rep. Ed Markey’s investigation will get to the bottom of it.

As we tried to remind people yesterday , the Hawthorn Group boasted earlier this year that it had manipulated both politicians and the media to believe there was public support for something it called “clean coal.” (Show us where it is.)

And since the coal lobby (which includes coal-burning power companies such as Duke Energy and American Electric Power Company and Southern Company ) is now demanding even more ransom from the Senate, it might be worth taking a moment to consider how much money it would make from the House legislation that it now considers inadequate.

Clean Air Watch estimates that the coal lobby would receive more than a quarter trillion dollars in economic value between 2012 and 2030 under the House legislation. Yes, that is not a misprint – the word is trillion. The total includes the value of carbon permits given for free to coal-burning electric companies, “bonus” allowances for carbon capture and sequestration, free permits given to “merchant” coal plants and other freebies.

But you don’t need to take our word for it. An independent body such as the Congressional Budget Office or the GAO should examine the issue. We hope someone in Congress will press for such an unbiased analysis.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Look out, "King Coal" -- EPA staff urges tough new standards for sulfur dioxide

Look out, “King Coal.” You may be winning hundreds of billions of climate bucks in Congress (money, by the way, that could and should go to residential consumers.)

But EPA;s career staffers are recommending that the agency set a tough new air quality standard to limit sulfur dioxide – one of the primary components of coal burning.

Please note the final EPA staff assessment of this issue, quietly published online this week:

I particularly want to commend your attention to pages 396-397, in which the EPA staffers argue that the scientific evidence “most strongly” supports a standard that would limit one-hour average concentrations to no more than 50-75 parts per billion. (This is within the range previously endorsed by EPA’s outside science advisers.) The EPA staff said higher levels could be justified if some of the scientific evidence is ignored. There is no one-hour standard today. See table regarding current annual and 24-hour standards .

If the EPA sets a standard at the lower end of the recommended range, it calculates that 54 counties (mainly in the Southeast and Midwest), home to 43.5 million people, would be out of compliance. See chart on page 388. These, of course, are areas where coal-burning power plants dominate.

The message here is clear: EPA standards could prompt the need to clean up many of the still-filthy coal-burning power plants.

These recommendations come as members of Congress appear to be falling all over each other to give hundreds of billions of dollars away to coal-related concerns and boast about their fealty to allegedly “clean coal,” while coal is at the center of a new lobbying scandal.

Sulfur dioxide, of course, is especially dangerous for children, senior citizens, and those with asthma and heart problems: ,

EPA is under a court agreement to propose new standards by Nov. 11 of this year and to set final standards by June 2, 2010.

Monday, August 03, 2009

Clean Air Watch testimony on EPA NO2 proposal

My name is Frank O’Donnell and I am president of Clean Air Watch, a non-profit, non-partisan clean air watchdog organization.

Thank you for the opportunity to speak today. I will be very brief and I hope to the point.

I think you know Clean Air Watch has long praised the diligent efforts of EPA’s professional staff, even when staff appeared to be hamstrung by political appointees from the prior administration who all-too-frequently appeared to put politics ahead of science.

We are glad today to renew our praise for the career staff even as we welcome an administration that is willing to listen to science – and to EPA’s science advisers.

Let me put this issue into a little context:

The news has been dominated in recent weeks by health care reform. The need to protect more people. To reduce costs. To cut down on emergency room visits.

Dirty air is the forgotten topic when it comes to health care reform. It will cost a lot less to keep people out of the emergency rooms. And one way to do this is to reduce dangerous nitrogen dioxide pollution.

There’s also been prominent news about the flu and flu shots. Nitrogen dioxide can make you more susceptible to the flu. So one way to help with the flu issue is to reduce dangerous nitrogen dioxide pollution.

And most of us, of course, remain anxious about the economy. Cleaning up dirty air is good for the economy. And an obvious way to do this is to reduce dangerous nitrogen dioxide pollution.

This issue is a test for how the Obama administration’s EPA will deal with national clean air standards.

The Bush administration failed miserably. All too often it ignored the science – and the agency’s own science advisers.

By contrast, we think the new EPA is on track for a passing grade with its proposal for nitrogen dioxide. But it’s a long way from an A+ when it comes to protecting kids with asthma and other breathers. We think it’s probably more like a B or C right now, depending on the range you’ve put forward.

We’d like you to get that grade up. We think kids with asthma deserve no less than A+ public health protection.

Specifically, we agree with the position advanced by the American Lung Association. We believe that the EPA should:

• Set a one-hour standard of 50 ppb or below. We believe a short-term standard at that level would better protect children with asthma and keep them out of hospital emergency rooms.

• Strengthen the annual average standard to protect against harm from long-term exposure. We believe you adopt the California annual average air quality standard for NO2, which is 30 ppb, as compared to the current federal standard of 53 ppb.

• Set up the roadside monitoring network to detect the problem where it is likely most serious. We do urge you to keep that regardless of the level of the standard. The level of the standard must depend on what is necessary to protect human health, not on the existence of a monitoring network.

Thank you.