Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Expert harpoons inflated oil industry cost claims about cleaner gas... while enviro groups blast dirty-air legislation

A few interesting updates as a House committee holds a hearing this morning on oil-industry inspired dirty-air legislation.

As you may recall, the oil industry has done its traditional job of drastically overstating the possible costs associated with an environmental standard (in this case, upcoming EPA lower-sulfur, lower-smog gas standards -- which, by the way, haven't even been proposed yet).

An industry expert is tearing apart those oil industry cost projections this morning. See his testimony here:

The expert, George Schink of the Navigant consulting firm, notes that the oil industry has buried a key fact in its own study -- that cleaner gas would cost on average only 2.1 cents a gallon even under assumptions that basically double the cost! (EPA has noted that the standards will cost only a penny a gallon. Traditionally, EPA adds various bits of flexibility to rules like this to soften any cost impact.)

This testimony calls into question the credibility of the oil industry -- and rightly so! The oil companies read the old book How to Lie With Statistics. Fortunately, Schink is calling them on their dirty-air duplicity.

Meanwhile, nine groups, including Clean Air Watch, have blasted the dirty-air legislation drafted by Rep. Ed Whitfield (R-KY), which no doubt was inspired by and probably ghost-written by oil industry lobbyists. We note that, among other things, the legislation would this bill would "fundamentally undermines" the Clean Air Act. We pointed this out last week when the legislation first emerged from the oil company computers

Here is a text of the new letter:

March 28, 2012

The Honorable Ed Whitfield
Subcommittee on Energy and Power US House of Representatives Washington, DC 20515

Dear Chairman Whitfield,

Our organizations are writing to express our opposition to the Gasoline Regulations Act of 2012, which would delay vital Clean Air Act protections applicable to the largest polluters, diminish crucial public health benefits for all Americans, and will have no discernible impact on gas prices. The bill has far-reaching, adverse health and environmental impacts, including, among others, fundamentally altering ozone public health protections and delaying a protective Tier 3 clean air program for passenger vehicles.

The bill mandates consideration of costs in the determination of ozone health-based air quality standards, overturning 40 years of clean air protection in America. The bill would thwart the intent of a unanimous, bipartisan Senate, which in 1970, plainly required the Administrator to establish standards that “are requisite to protect the public health with an adequate margin of safety.” The bill would also overturn a unanimous Supreme Court decision, where the Court, in an opinion by Justice Antonin Scalia, concluded that the Clean Air Act was clear in its requirement that health-based air quality standards be based solely on health science. The Clean Air Act already thoroughly allows for consideration of economic factors, including cost and feasibility, in implementing pollution control strategies to achieve clean air. By including cost in the standard-setting process, this bill would fundamentally undermine these health-based protections, preventing American families from knowing whether the air they breathe is safe.

The bill also seeks to delay updated emission performance standards for petroleum refineries and a protective Tier 3 clean air program for passenger vehicles, which would significantly cut emissions of nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide, and volatile organic compounds, translating into more than 400 avoided premature deaths and 52,000 avoided lost workdays each year.[1] The cleaner gasoline needed to secure these clean air benefits would cost less than a penny a gallon – contrary to the erroneous, fear-based claims being made by the petroleum refining industry and its allies about the costs of cleaner, healthier air.

This bill fundamentally undermines these and other health-protective measures, damaging the ability of communities to maintain healthy air and resulting in additional

[1] NACAA, Cleaner Cars, Cleaner Fuel, Cleaner Air: The Need for and Benefits of Tier
3 Vehicle and Fuel Regulations; October, 2011.

sickness and premature death. We cannot afford to delay these vital clean air protections for millions of Americans.

Center for Biological Diversity
Clean Air Watch
Environmental Defense Fund
League of Conservation Voters
Sierra Club
Southern Environmental Law Center
Union of Concerned Scientists

cc: Members, Subcommittee on Energy and Power

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Republican "gas price" bill would repeal heart of the Clean Air Act, reverse unanimous Supreme Court decision

I realize there has been a flurry of activity on the energy/environment front, especially with the President’s tour, but I want to make sure the following item remains on your radar:

As part of its effort to make obvious political hay over gas prices, the majority (Republican) side of the House Energy and Commerce Committee has released a “discussion draft” of gasoline price legislation that is scheduled to be the subject of a March 28 hearing.

The draft is an obvious oil industry wish list, no doubt straight from the computers of the American Petroleum Institute. It would block EPA from setting several key rules (including low-sulfur gasoline, greenhouse gas standards for refineries and a new national air standard for ozone, or smog) pending an inter-agency study dominated by agencies that historically have often been hostile to EPA and its mission.

But it is the final page I want especially flag for you:


In revising or supplementing any national primary or
secondary ambient air quality standards for ozone under
section 109 of the Clean Air Act (42 U.S.C. 7409), the
Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency
shall take into consideration feasibility and cost.

This provision is an attempt to drive a stake into the heart of the Clean Air Act. As you may recall, the Clean Air Act calls on EPA to set national air quality standards based on science alone, without regard to cost, in part so the public can know if the government is telling the truth about the air we breathe. (Cost is a big factor, of course, when it comes time to achieve those science-based standards.)

Industry groups, especially oil, have been fighting for more than 30 years to gut this part of the law because they obviously believe that would be to their advantage. Many of you will recall this issue went to the Supreme Court, which ruled unanimously in 2001 that EPA is not permitted to consider costs when setting national air quality standards. Here is the 2001 supreme court decision

So the Republican “draft” would not only be a direct attack on the heart and lungs of the Clean Air Act, it would repeal a unanimous Supreme Court ruling. Please don’t hesitate to get in touch if you want to discuss.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

EPA punts on acid rain problem

It comes as no great shock – though it is disappointing – that the US EPA has declined to set tougher new clean air standards aimed at reducing the damage caused by acid rain.

The EPA announced today that it is not changing current so-called “secondary” air quality standards for sulfur oxides and nitrogen oxides despite admitting that scientific evidence show that current standards are too weak.

Secondary standards, as you probably know, are designed to protect against environmental damage from dirty air, as opposed to health impacts that are meant to be covered by “primary” air quality standards. EPA did note, accurately, that sulfur oxide and nitrogen oxides emissions have fallen during the past 30 plus years.

Was this yet another decision shaped by election-year considerations?

Last year, EPA’s science advisers concluded current standards aren’t good enough to protect acidification and other impacts on water bodies, and urged EPA to set a new multi-pollutant standard:$File/EPA-CASAC-11-005-unsigned.pdf

…the ISA, REA and draft PA [EPA technical documents] demonstrate that adverse impacts to aquatic ecosystems are also occurring due to deposition of NOx and SOx. Those impacts include acidification and undesirable levels of nutrient enrichment in some aquatic ecosystems. The levels of the current NOx and SOx secondary NAAQSs are not sufficient, nor the forms of those standards appropriate, to protect against adverse depositional effects; thus a revised NAAQS is warranted.” (Russell and Samet, December 9, 2010, EPA-CASAC-11-003)
..overall CASAC finds that the Policy Assessment provides relevant scientific information needed for consideration in revising the secondary NAAQS for oxides of nitrogen and sulfur. We trust that our comments are useful to you and your agency in developing a proposal for a multipollutant NAAQS.
EPA’s own staff assessment called into question the adequacy of current standards:$File/NOx+SOx+PA+FINAL-main.pdf

… staff concludes that currently available scientific evidence
and assessments clearly call into question the adequacy of the current standards with regard to deposition-related effects on sensitive aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems, including acidification and nutrient enrichment. Further, staff recognizes that the elements of the current standards --indicator, averaging time, level and form – are not ecologically relevant, and are thus not appropriate for standards designed to provide such protection. Thus, staff concludes that consideration should be given to establishing a new ecologically relevant multi-pollutant,
multimedia standard to provide appropriate protection from deposition-related ecological effects of oxides of nitrogen and sulfur on sensitive ecosystems, with a focus on protecting against adverse effects associated with acidifying deposition in sensitive aquatic ecosystems.

News notes: Lung Assn poll supports clean air... while scoundrels in Congress try to exploit gas prices

There is an interesting new poll out this morning from our pals at the American Lung Association

As you can see, the survey displays strong support not only for the Clean Air Act and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (while verifying other surveys that show voter contempt for Congress), but finds that voters support new carbon emission standards, stricter boiler standards and stricter standards for gasoline and tailpipe pollution from motor vehicles.

Interestingly, the Lung folks “oversampled” voters in several states: Maine, Ohio and Pennsylvania. Perhaps it is just a coincidence that Susan Collins (R-ME) – who acted so tremendously in the last Congress by teaming with Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) to champion the very progressive “cap and dividend” climate legislation – has promoted efforts to delay toxic standards for industrial boilers. This new poll suggests she is out of touch with her constituents on that issue. As one might guess, the carbon power plant issue has been a sometimes thorny one for Democratic Senators from Ohio (Sherrod Brown) and Pennsylvania (Bob Casey) . Our interpretation of this poll: buck up, boys!

Ironically, the polling comes out as the Obama White House continues to sit on a new EPA proposal to limit carbon emissions from new power plants and appears to have stifled an EPA effort – which the President himself called for – to reduce the sulfur content of gasoline in order to reduce smog and enable new motor vehicles to meet tougher tailpipe pollution standards.

As one of our friends noted yesterday, the White House timidity and indecision in these matters (Prince Hamlet seems alive and well in Washington. Or, perhaps today, in Oklahoma) has only encouraged scoundrels on Capitol Hill – the same folks held in suitable contempt by voters – to press for more weakening of clean air controls. Among these, Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) who yesterday floated the dangerous and illegal idea of granting waivers of gasoline pollution standards as a device to lower prices. Dirtier gasoline would translate into more smog, more health damage, and more trouble for states trying to protect their citizens from dirty air. The Clean Air Act does permit limited waivers in the case of emergencies but not simply to meet political objectives.

Also emboldened by White House weakness, we have read many reports that Rep. Ed Whitfield (R-KY) is readying new “gasoline price” legislation that could block EPA from moving forward not only with clean-gas standards but with much-needed improvements to national air quality standards for ozone.

As Prince Hamlet put it, “How now? A rat?”

Friday, March 16, 2012

The witness list is out as Sen. Carper examines crucial EPA mercury/toxic standards for power plants

DATE: March 16, 2012
CONTACT: Emily Spain (202) 224-2441 or
Mary Kerr (EPW) 202-224-8832




HEARING: "Oversight: Review of the Environmental Protection Agency's Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS) for Power Plants"

WASHINGTON – Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), Chairman of the Subcommittee on Clean Air and Nuclear Safety, will convene a hearing to review the Environmental Protection Agency's upcoming electric utility air pollution requirements to address air toxics.

10 AM

LOCATION: EPW Hearing Room
406 Dirksen Senate Office Building
Washington, DC

WEBCAST: Webcast will be available at starting at
10 AM

WITNESSES: (Order subject to change)

Panel 1

The Honorable Gina McCarthy
Assistant Administrator for the Office of Air and Radiation
US Environmental Protection Agency

Panel 2

Robert M. Summers, Ph.D.
Secretary of the Environment
State of Maryland

William Lambert, PhD
Director, Epidemiology and Biostatistics Track, Oregon MPH Program
Head, Division of Epidemiology
Department of Public Health and Preventive Medicine
Oregon Health & Science University

Rob James
Avon Lake City Council, Ward I
Avon Lake City Hall

Harry Alford
Nation Black Chamber of Commerce

Vickie Patton
General Counsel
Environmental Defense Fund