Tuesday, December 20, 2016

EPA Takes First (Cautious) Step to Crack Down on Smog from Big Trucks

The U.S. EPA today took a cautious first step to crack down on smog-forming emissions from big trucks.

The agency responded to a petition from the South Coast Air Quality Management District and a number of other state and local governments that have identified big diesel trucks as a major source of ozone-forming emissions.  These states and localities are begging EPA to set tougher standards to limit smog-forming nitrogen oxides emissions from new big trucks.

Here is EPA's notice and a little background EPA takes step to deal with big truck smog .

We applaud the EPA’s decision to move forward, and we encourage the new Trump administration to embrace this initiative as its own.  We have read comments from both the President-elect and his choice to head the EPA saying they want to focus on efforts to provide clean air.

Tougher truck pollution standards would do exactly that.  They would bring cleaner air and better health nationwide. Fewer NOx emissions would not only mean less smog but less fine-particle soot.  So, fewer asthma attacks, less premature death.

Big trucks are among the largest under-controlled sources of smog.  The EPA last set truck pollution standards when Bill Clinton was President. So it has literally been 16 years since standards have been tightened and technology has improved since then. 

We think an update of truck pollution standards is long overdue, particularly since big diesel trucks remain an important source of ozone.  As you probably know, some industries and states have complained about tougher national ozone air quality standards set last year.  New truck standards would be an important tool to help states either meet or make real progress towards meeting those critical health standards. 

It is regrettable that state and local governments had to push the EPA to do something it should have already done. 

Thursday, December 08, 2016

Scott Pruitt: Beware the Lessons of History — and Read up on Anne Gorsuch Burford

President-Elect Trump’s appointment of Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt to head the Environmental Protection Agency vividly brings back to mind an equally controversial EPA head from a different era.  

Thirty-five years ago, President Ronald Reagan appointed Anne Gorsuch to run the agency.  Like Trump, Reagan had inveighed against what he viewed as excessive federal regulation.  

''Government is not the solution to our problem,'' President Reagan told the nation in his first inaugural address.  ''Government is the problem.’'  And a prime target was the EPA, which, among other things, had set national smog standards detested by the oil industry.  

Enter Anne Gorsuch.  

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

R.I.P. Leon G. Billings, Legislative Lion and Backstage Author of Clean Air and Clean Water Acts

Clean Air Watch is most sad to report the passing of our former boss and colleague, Leon G. Billings, who suffered a stroke earlier this week.  You may recall he recently co-authored a piece we published here Setting the Record Straight on Clean Air .

He was a true legislative lion -- and in many respects author of so much of modern environmental policy that has come under recent attack. Our prayers and thoughts go out to his family.

Friday, November 11, 2016

UPDATE: Trump transition guy withdraws over lobbying restrictions

[This earlier post has been updated, below.]

As we all know the transition is in full swing. It caught our eye that one of the key figures — Michael Catanzaro — has been tasked with the “energy independence” portfolio.

He is being described, correctly, as an energy “lobbyist.”  http://nyti.ms/2eKpUmV

But he is much more: He has worked for Senator Inhofe, former House Speaker Boehner, and even as a a political appointee within the Bush EPA and the White House Council on Environmental Quality.  http://bit.ly/2fXf56T and http://bit.ly/2g2NGiT and http://bit.ly/2fE3wgT

(You will note he cut his D.C. teeth as a reporter for the late “Prince of Darkness,” Robert Novak.)

Clean Air Watch likely would not agree with him on much.   But don’t write him off as a mere lobbyist or underestimate his understanding of D.C.

UPDATE: Catanzaro withdrew because of Trump lobbying restrictions, according to Politico http://www.politico.com/blogs/donald-trump-administration/2016/11/lobbyists-leave-trump-transition-team-ethics-rule-231641

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Guest Post: Conserving Energy through the 'Internet of Things'

[From time to time, Clean Air Watch publishes guest posts we believe are of general interest.  We hope you enjoy this piece by Beth Laurel.]

Using Automation and the IoT to Conserve Energy

There has, undoubtedly, been tremendous progress in society’s attention and recognition of climate change. We are within the midst of a turbulent time, fighting an uphill battle against development, pollution, well-funded fossil fuel companies and out-of-touch government bureaucracy. The possibilities afforded by IoT technologies, however, have begun to allow everyday individuals to explore new avenues for improving energy efficiency in their own homes. Not only do these systems aim to improve the user's ability to reduce energy expenditure, they are also designed to connect with each other through a single easy-to-use interface, creating a more complete picture of consumption overall. 

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

UPDATE on Failed CASAC Coup

You may recall a few weeks back we reported on an industry effort to put a pal on a key EPA science panel attempted CASAC Coup .

We are happy to report the coup attempt failed.

Despite industry pressure, the EPA appointed Donna Kenski of the Lake Michigan Air Directors Consortium.  A very good choice of a very well-qualified candidate.

As you might guess, the polluter crowd is crying.  Whiners  W-a-a-a-a-h.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Guest Post: A Response from the Authors of Struggling for Air

[Editor's note: We recently published a critique of the book Struggling for Air by two key staff authors of the 1970 Clean Air Act: Billings-Jorling letter . We are pleased today to publish a response, below, by the book's authors. We would encourage you to read the book -- and the subsequent correspondence.]

September 13, 2016

Dear Mr. Billings and Mr. Jorling,

We were very sorry to hear of your dissatisfaction with Struggling for Air, as we are great admirers of your work and of the major public health victories you made possible. While we respect your opinions, we do feel that several of your criticisms are the result of misunderstandings regarding the content and intent of our book.

Friday, September 09, 2016

Guest Post: Setting the Record Straight on the Clean Air Act

--by Leon G. Billings and Thomas C. Jorling

[Editor's note: a recent book by two academics, Struggling for Air, was critical of the content and process associated with the writing of the 1970 Clean Air Act.  The book has prompted the following open letter by two people intimately involved with the law's drafting.  I should note that I worked for Mr. Billings for about a decade, some years after his federal service.  He has never received sufficient credit for his service -- or for a law that has produced such dramatic success. (If it's so bad, why are the big polluters always trying to change it? See Dirty-AirBnB.)  But let the letter below speak for itself.  UPDATE: About two months after this piece was published, Mr. Billings died of a stroke. See the following obituary in the New York Times New York Times obituary on Leon Billings]

Earlier this year, in a book entitled, Struggling for Air, the authors to whom this letter is addressed included observations, conclusions and innuendo that misrepresented the actions, questioned the motives and insulted the authors of the Clean Air Act of 1970. 
Their allegations appear to be based on publications by academics who were not involved in the legislative process and had no access to the debates which shaped the Clean Air Act.  The fundamental premise of Struggling for Air, that there was a “grandfather clause” in the law, has no basis in fact.  It is simply false. 
 As the principal staff authors of the 1970 Act, we believe it important to respond to set the record straight and to properly present the actions of the great men who we served.  Please feel free to share this and to respond.  Leon was the staff director for Senator Edmund S. Muskie from 1966-1978 and Tom was Minority Counsel for Senator John Sherman Cooper from 1968-1972. [Note: Jorling was later New York State Environmental Commissioner under Governor Mario Cuomo.] 

Monday, August 29, 2016

Is the Dirty-AirBnB Crew Trying to Stage a CASAC Coup?

Recently, we reported on Dirty-AirBnB, an effort by key lobbyists and polluters such as Koch and ExxonMobil to block new smog standards and weaken the Clean Air Act through campaign contributions to a Texas congressman. bit.ly/2asMtxD

Now some of those key players seem to be shifting their offensive to a different battlefield -- this time in concert with a controversial Texas scientist. In an excellent story you might have missed, Greenwire on Friday noted the "rare" campaign to place an industry-friendly state scientist on a key EPA clean air panel.

The scientist, Michael Honeycutt, is the chief toxicologist with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.  He has been a fierce critic of tougher public health standards for ozone, or smog.  http://bit.ly/2bNgZlN   In the process, he has become a darling for the oil and gas industries.

And now the love is really starting to show!

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

UPDATED: EPA expected to issue truck rule... but what about the issue of truck smog-forming emissions?

As many of you know, the U.S. EPA, by as soon as today, is expected to issue final rules designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from future big trucks.  This is a very big deal and something that will cause much celebration in environmental group circles. 

However, I do want to remind you there is a related issue we are tracking and most interested in: smog-forming nitrogen oxides emissions from big trucks. As you may recall, 11 state and local government agencies have formally petitioned the EPA to set tougher NOx standards for big trucks. http://bit.ly/2buZsgT   Public health groups have joined in that call. 

As we have learned with this summer’s numerous smog alerts, ozone is not just a California problem. We need additional tools to make sure everyone can breathe safely.

And big truck pollution is something that can and must be reduced. Indeed, without tougher truck controls, big trucks will become the biggest source of smog-forming NOx emissions in the Mid-Atlantic and the Northeast within the next few years.  

We don’t expect EPA will respond to that state/local petition in its greenhouse rule, but we hope the agency will at least acknowledge the issue — and respond favorably to the petition in the near future.  

UPDATE: In the final rule, EPA promises to "engage with stakeholders" on possible NOx standards.  See pages 99-104 

Saturday, August 06, 2016


Recently, we published a report, Dirty-airbnb? http://bit.ly/2azHubG which investigated the ties between Koch Industries and other polluters and an effort in Congress by Rep. Pete Olson (R-TX) to delay smog cleanup and generally weaken the Clean Air Act.

Olson spokeswoman Melissa Kelly told Greenwire that our investigation was "offensive and wrong."

We are continuing to monitor these issues, and discovered a new connection: Koch is also the principal financial backer of a so-called "Leadership PAC" run by Olson called the "Freedom Matters PAC."

This is basically a legal slush fund through which Koch (and a few other contributors) dish out cash which then is re-gifted to other candidates for office.

Tuesday, August 02, 2016


A Clean Air Watch Investigation

Did the Koch Brothers, ExxonMobil
 and Friends Rent a Texas Congressman
 — in a Gambit to Relax the Clean Air Act?

[“Beware of the dark side…. If once you start down the dark path, forever will it dominate your destiny.” 
— Yoda, Return of the Jedi]

It’s often said that special interests with ready cash can “buy” politicians, including members of Congress.  The issue came up during the Republican presidential debates when Donald Trump, accused of buying elected officials, readily agreed that he expected a favorable response from politicians who had taken his money (Trump also argued that he was just playing by the rules of a “broken” system.) :http://bit.ly/2a3GHjE

Similarly, we recall a businessman friend bitterly complaining he had to pony up cash that would be bundled and given to then-Senator Hillary Clinton so that she would be receptive to that business’s legislative concerns.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Clean Air Watch Urges EPA to Retain Plan to Monitor for Dangerous Pollution Near Major Roads

Clean Air Watch has filed the following comments protesting a proposal by the U.S. EPA to rescind requirements to monitor near major roadways for dangerous nitrogen dioxide pollution:

June 24, 2016

Docket ID No. EPA-HQ-OAR-2015-0486

Clean Air Watch, a national not-for-profit clean air watchdog organization, sincerely appreciates the opportunity to comment on the proposed Revision to the Near-road Nitrogen Dioxide Minimum Monitoring Requirements, which was published in the Federal Register on May 16, 2016 (81 Fed. Reg. 30224).

Clean Air Watch respectfully opposes EPA’s proposal to remove the requirement for near-road NO2 monitoring stations in Core Based Statistical Areas (CBSAs) having populations between 500,000 and 1,000,000 persons.

EPA argues that since monitored levels at larger cities have not exceeded its 2010 NO2 ambient air standard, that there is no problem and thus no need to look for it.

This is a specious argument for the following reasons:

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Guest Post: Ontario's Ambitious Plan to Conquer Climate Change

Periodically Clean Air Watch accepts guest posts that we think are of general interest.  Today's post on climate change is by Beth Laurel.
On June 8th, Ontario formally announced the release of its ambitious new plan for long-term environmental sustainability. The Climate Change Action Plan, which builds upon efforts put into motion earlier this spring via legislation known as the Climate Change Mitigation and Low-Carbon Economy Act, aims to drastically reduce greenhouse gas pollution while helping businesses and families in the province make the shift towards a low-carbon economy. 

Though the case has been (convincingly) made time and again that actions mitigating climate change are by far less expensive than options adapting to the impact, politicians continue to trend towards short-sighted solutions. The substantive policy programs enacted by Premier of Ontario and her colleagues encourage hope that Ontario’s “landmark” leap will drive other Canadian provinces and world nations to take action to strengthen the environment for the future.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Quick Update: House Panel Approves Polluter Plan to Radically Weaken Clean Air Act

A quick update to our most recent post:

Today, in a party-line vote, the House Energy and Commerce Committee approved legislation that would radically weaken the Clean Air Act in order to save money for the oil industry and other polluters.  It was painful to watch this live.

Among other things, this bill, sponsored by Rep. Pete Olson (R-TX) would:

--Demand that the federal government mislead the public about dangerous air pollution.
--Overturn a Supreme Court ruling -- unanimous and written by Scalia, no less! -- which held that national air quality standards should be based only on health science, not cost or "feasibility."
--Grant amnesty to new sources of pollution (how do you spell "fracking") in polluted areas.
--Subject the breathing public to added years of dirty air.
--Ignore public health protect from dirty air when the air is "stagnant."
--Delay scientific reviews of existing air pollution standards.

To sum it up: the oil industry and other big polluters are trying to pay Congress off to get industry off the hook and relieve it of the responsibility of cleaning up. And industry wants to take away the public's right to know if the air is actually clean -- or not.

The legislation is expected next to head to the full House of Representatives, where it likely will be rammed through as it was here.  Anyone at the White House ready to talk veto yet?

Friday, May 13, 2016

Olson Thanks Koch for Advice and Support on Smoggy Skies Bill


[Of course, this is a spoof, but…]

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today Rep. Pete Olson (TX-22) publicly thanked Koch Industries for its advice and generous financial support as the House Energy and Power subcommittee acted to move his bill H.R. 4775, The Smoggy Skies Act, to the next step in the legislative process.

The bill would permanently undermine the Clean Air Act as a public health law in the interest of saving money for the financially strapped oil industry and other corporate contributors.

Among many other things, the bill would demand that the federal government lie to the public about when dirty air is dangerous.  It would reverse a landmark Supreme Court decision. And it would legalize dirty-air days when the air is “stagnant.”

“My lobbyist friends were VERY clever in writing this up,” Olson observed. “Particular thanks go to my benefactors at Koch Industries and their guiding lobbyists. Koch has not only given me a generous stipend of $5,000 so far this election cycle, it has sprinkled an additional $79,500 this cycle among other Republican members of the subcommittee who voted for this legislation. I assure those few colleagues of mine left out that you will be taken care of.”

Monday, May 09, 2016

Disappointing (Except, Perhaps, to VW): EPA Wants to Scale Back Monitoring for Car and Truck Pollution

This is terribly disappointing news.

The US EPA has very quietly proposed scaling back efforts to monitor car and truck pollution near roadways.  The pollution at issue is nitrogen dioxide — the very sort of emissions at the center of the Volkswagen scandal.  

EPA has proposed to reverse plans to monitor for the pollutant near roadways of cities between 500,000 and 1,000,000 people  https://www3.epa.gov/airquality/nitrogenoxides/actions.html

EPA had promised in 2010 to beef up the monitoring as part of a plan to update national air quality standards for the pollutant, which comes from, among other things, cars, trucks and coal-burning. The beefed-up monitoring was one of EPA’s biggest selling points in an otherwise lackluster decision.

EPA is claiming now that preliminary monitoring at bigger cities shows these additional monitors aren’t needed.

HOWEVER:  There is increasing evidence that nitrogen dioxide is more dangerous that previously acknowledged.  Even the EPA recently admitted

There is now stronger evidence for a relationship between long-term exposure to NO2 and respiratory effects, particularly the development of asthma in children. Results suggest that short-term exposure to NO2 may be associated with cardiovascular effects and premature mortality and that long-term exposure may be associated with cardiovascular effects, diabetes, poorer birth outcomes, premature mortality, and cancer

Well, if you don’t look for a problem, you won’t find it.  Volkswagen might like this news. But we expect something better from EPA. 

Monday, April 18, 2016

Who Wants More Smog... and Wants the Government to Lie About When Air Pollution is Dangerous?

Who favors more smog?  And who wants the government to lie about when air pollution is dangerous?   Who favors pretending that smog is benign when the air is stagnant, when it's hot, or when it doesn't rain a lot?  The industry coalition, below, which sent the following letter to Congress.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Health groups assail dirty-air legislation that would radically weaken Clean Air Act

Please note the attached letter from public health groups about pending legislation -- subject of a congressional hearing tomorrow -- that would radically weaken the Clean Air Act.

Friday, April 01, 2016

April Fool's Day came early in Colorado -- and the state's governor is one of the fools

Could Denver Become the New Smog Capital of America? 

April Fool’s Day came a day early in Colorado, where the state government is locked in a bitter and apparently partisan battle over the so-called Clean Power Plan designed to reduce carbon emissions from power plants.  As you know, the U.S. Supreme Court put a hold on these landmark standards, but many state governments are still moving ahead with planning.

One place where all hell is breaking loose is Colorado, where Republicans are hell-bent on defunding state planning efforts.  As has been reported, these miscreants would strip money away from the state’s air quality planning agency.


Enter Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper, who has defended the Clean Power Plan and — of course — wants to keep that money.  Well and good.  But is Hickenlooper making a deal with the devil to achieve that?

Friday, March 18, 2016

Guest Post: Five Clean Energy Advancements and Trends We're Thankful For

[Clean Air Watch periodically accepts guest posts that we think might be of general interest.  Today's post is by Alex Yackery]

Renewable energy is a hot topic these days as more homeowners and business owners are taking advantage of clean energy to be environmentally and fiscally responsible. Here is a list of the top 5 advancements and trends we are thankful for.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Guest Post: Is Nuclear Energy Crucial for Clean Air?

[Clean Air Watch periodically publishes guest posts that we think are of general interest. Today's post on nuclear power by guest blogger Beth Laurel is controversial, to say the least.  Even though the Clean Power Plan has been stalled by the U.S. Supreme Court, the issue remains relevant. Clean Air Watch would entertain contrary views on this volatile subject.]

Nuclear Energy: Crucial for Clean Air

As greenhouse gas emissions further accelerate the effects of global climate change, our continued reliance on fossil fuels becomes increasingly problematic. 

Discussion of clean and sustainable energy sources generally focuses on the utility of solar and wind, such as with media coverage of Elon Musk’s SolarCity and Google’s investment in wind farms in Africa. Often notably absent, however, is a mention of nuclear power - a reliable, clean source of energy that already contributes nearly 20 percent annually to US energy consumption.

The new Clean Power Plan -- stalled this week by the Supreme Court, but still on the books -- sets goals for reducing US dependence on fossil fuels and increasing research and funding for developing a low or zero carbon grid based entirely on renewable energy sources. But any credible effort to reduce carbon emissions must include nuclear power – a controversial but consistent and renewable source of clean energy.

Tuesday, February 02, 2016

Why Volkswagen's Cheater Emission Crimes Are Worse than We Knew

There is fresh evidence that Volkswagen's dangerous emissions are worse than we knew -- especially for children and others with asthma.

The evidence comes in a new U.S. Environmental Protection Agency report summing up the latest science about nitrogen dioxide pollution -- the very sort of noxious emissions that have spewed (and continue to spew) from VW's cheater tailpipes. Link to new EPA report .

The bottom line: exposure to nitrogen dioxide pollution is much worse than we realized even a half-dozen years ago.

And, to be fair, Volkswagen is not the only culprit.  This report also underscores the need for tougher national emission standards for big-rig trucks -- something that the state of California and Northeastern states have been advocating.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Guest Post: Check It Out! Top 10 Benefits of Going Solar

[Clean Air Watch periodically accepts guest posts that we believe are of general interest -- or that we just plain like!  Today's guest post on solar energy is by Alex Yackery. Clean Air Watch has no financial connection to any company mentioned below and does not specifically endorse any product.]

Nowadays going green is in a trend that has really caught on to save the environment, not to mention you can save money by choosing a greener lifestyle.

Solar power is a popular way for homeowners to lower their carbon footprint. Federal and local incentives have made going solar easy and affordable. In fact, qualified homes can switch to solar with $0 down and save right away.

Going solar has never been easier!