Monday, September 29, 2014

That Was the Week That Was (TW3) for Clean Air

[With fond viewer memories of the late Ned Sherrin and David Frost]

It is so difficult in this breathless, breaking-news-tweet-every-moment era to put matters in perspective.
We are going to give this a shot in a brief look back at clean-air events during the week past.  This is not meant by any means to be all-encompassing, so please forgive any omissions.
Oops – carbon emissions have crept up!  Perhaps the best news for the White House in this Energy Department report was that it came out on Friday.
Sure, it showed encouraging trends for renewable energy, but it also showed energy-related carbon emissions went up during the first six months of this year, the second year in a row, up 6% since 2012.  That’s not how the “narrative” is supposed to go! As The Washington Post put it, “The Obama administration appears to be losing ground in its efforts to cut U.S. emissions of greenhouse gases.”
The White House spin machine probably was already steamed about the Associated Press “fact check” which found some “inconvenient truths” outright mistakes in the very nice speech that the President made to the United Nations.
All of which would seem to put even more pressure on the EPA to make good on its proposal to limit carbon emissions from power plants. It’s already received more than a million public comments – and now has been pressured to extend the comment period to Dec. 1.  Don’t you pity the people who actually have to read all the comments and prepare responses in preparation for the inevitable suits? (My family tells me I am wrong about that – that the federal pay is probably pretty generous for that sort of indoor work.)
Trying to dampen down some of the many complaints, EPA is already promising “changes” to the proposal.  But a lot of people are really still scratching their heads.  Politico reported – a bit dryly – that the proposal “is creating more than a little confusion for states and utilities.”
Outside the Beltway, the talk is far more blunt.  Consider this from a Jacksonville , FL symposium Thursday:

“I think the rule is illegal. I think the courts will almost certainly find it illegal,” said Jeff Holmstead, a former Republican appointee to the EPA and an attorney at Bracewell & Giuliani, where he leads a strategy group that advises and defends businesses facing environmental and energy-development challenges. 

Methane Mess

Perhaps if EPA needs to offset some of those carbon increases, maybe a crackdown on methane emissions from oil and gas?  Especially since so much of the climate plan hinges on more gas:

Fifteen senators last week urged swifter action to limit methane pollution:

Unfortunately, on Friday, EPA boss Gina McCarthy appeared to rain on the idea.  As Politico reported, “Climate activists shouldn’t expect any major new regulations to come out of the administration’s methane strategy, which McCarthy says will be out in the fall.”
So there.  By the way, is it a surprise that only 15 senators would sign such a letter?  Well, friends, that’s 15 more than the number of senators who’ve publicly urged EPA to follow the science in updating public health standards for ozone, or smog.

Smog Swirl
Speaking of smog… EPA’s McCarthy finally said something about the topic Friday, according to E&E news, pledging that EPA will meet a Dec. 1 deadline to propose a decision on a new standard. (It is always heartening news to hear that our government does not intend to defy a court order.)

 According to E&E:

The administrator acknowledged industry concerns about the cost of tightening the standard from its current level of 75 parts per billion, but McCarthy said her decision would ultimately be based on public health.

"I expect people will be anxious about it. They've always been; it's always been a lively debate," McCarthy said. "But I think I'm going to consistently try to remind people that what the U.S. is doing with our standard is making a scientific judgment about what a health level ought to be to keep people safe."

So that’s our cue to recall exactly what the EPA independent science advisers and professional (non-political) staff said about this. 

First, the science advisers, who not only said that keeping the current standard of 75 would be too weak but also that:

…The [science panel] advises that, based on the scientific evidence, a level of 70 ppb provides little margin of safety for the protection of public health, particularly for sensitive subpopulations... At 70 ppb, there is substantial scientific evidence of adverse effects as detailed in the charge question responses, including decrease in lung function, increase in respiratory symptoms, and increase in airway inflammation. Although a level of 70 ppb is more protective of public health than the current standard, it may not meet the statutory requirement to protect public health with an adequate margin of safety… the recommended lower bound of 60 ppb would certainly offer more public health protection than levels of 70 ppb or 65 ppb and would provide an adequate margin of safety. Thus, our policy advice is to set the level of the standard lower than 70 ppb within a range down to 60

And now, let’s hear from EPA’s own in-house technical experts:

The available scientific evidence and exposure/risk information provide strong support for considering a primary O3 standard with a revised level in order to increase public health protection, including for at-risk populations and life stages. Staff concludes that it is appropriate in this review to consider a revised primary O3 standard level within the range of 70 ppb to 60 ppb. A standard set within this range would result in important improvements in public protection, compared to the current standard, and couldreasonably be judged to provide an appropriate degree of public health protection…

In other words, keeping the current smog standard should NOT even be an option on the table.
At least, if EPA is going to base its decision on science, as opposed to politics.



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