Selected category: Health

American Petroleum Institute Continues Its Long Campaign against Clean Air Standards

iStockphoto.com

I recently had the unfortunate experience of hearing a two-year-old suffer from an asthma attack. The nurses commented in passing how it was actually a great sign to hear the young child screaming, as it was more worrisome when children came in with asthma attacks and were unable to draw breath. As a mother of a two-year-old myself, hearing the terrified screams of this child was utterly heartbreaking.

This was the first time I've come face to face with a child suffering the effects of asthma – a terrible respiratory disease that is often exacerbated by air pollution. The thought of thousands of parents making preventable visits to the emergency room each year, desperate to get help for their children who are having asthma attacks triggered by smog or other air pollution, is gut wrenching. It’s also a poignant reminder of why we need to keep demanding more progress to clean our air.

Smog is primarily formed by emissions of nitrogen oxide (NOx) and volatile organic compounds (VOCs). The main sources of these emissions are power plants, oil and gas operations, and cars and trucks.

Setting smog limits to 60 ppb would, in the year 2025:

  • Prevent up to 7,900 premature deaths
  • Prevent up to 1.8 million asthma attacks among children
  • Prevent up to 4,100 cases of acute bronchitis among children
  • Prevent up to 1.9 million days when kids miss school
  • Provide up to $75 billion in public health benefits

Smog contributes to thousands of asthma attacks and other harmful health impacts every year – including early deaths. Pollution also blows into our national parks, harming wildlife and vegetation. EPA is required by law to re-evaluate each of our nation’s air quality standards every five years, ensuring our air standards are updated to reflect the latest scientific understanding of the impacts of pollution. Strengthening our nation’s outdated smog standards will help us continue the progress we’ve made in cleaning up our air, in line with what scientists and leading public health organizations have determined is needed to protect human health and the environment.

Unfortunately, the American Petroleum Institute (API), a trade association representing oil and natural gas industries, has launched a campaign against strengthened smog standards. In its ads, API claims our current standard is strict enough, despite the fact that an independent advisory committee of scientific experts concluded the opposite over seven years ago. Since that time, an even more extensive body of scientific research documents the harms of ozone to human health.

API is also claiming that strengthened smog standards will bring exorbitant costs to American families — this is based on an analysis roundly criticized by experts for its unrealistic assumptions and for the fact that it ignores the substantial economic benefits of reducing air pollution.

Sadly, this is nothing new from API. API has claimed time and again that clean air standards would be too costly and wouldn’t yield health or environmental benefits. For standards advancing low sulfur fuel and vehicles (Tier 3) API said:

The new EPA requirements could be devastating to consumers and communities across the nation  – Bob Greco, API Director of Downstream Operations, API press release, July 29, 2011.

API also claimed gas prices could rise up to 25 cents a gallon due to the standards. However, EPA and independent analysis by Mathpro projects that gasoline prices will increase by less than 1 penny per gallon due to the Tier 3 standards. EPA also found the standards would provide up to $13 in health benefits from every dollar invested. The Tier 3 Standards were finalized in 2014 with broad support from automakers and manufacturers, labor groups, health and environmental groups, environmental justice groups, moms groups, and numerous states.

Yet again with the smog standards, API is completely ignoring the fact that we have cost-effective tools at our disposal to meet strengthened smog standards. We also have policies underway that are already helping us get there, including tailpipe emissions reduction standards, and the proposed Clean Power Plan. We also know that there are emission reductions that are readily available right now. For example, some power plant units have installed advanced controls for NOx that have not been used consistently in recent years.

Nearly every step of the way to cleaner air in the past four decades, we have had to fight polluter interests that claim the costs will be too high, the economy will be ruined, or that our air is already clean enough. Time and again these claims have been disproven — our economy has grown as our air quality has improved due to clean air standards, and literally trillions of dollars in health and other benefits have accrued.

API's latest campaign against much-needed, long overdue, cost-effective smog standards is a continuation of the decades-long battle we have faced. We ask you to urge API to cease its campaign against the ozone standards and instead constructively engage in the process to reduce the pollution that harms millions of American families. Please help the children across America – each child — breathe cleaner air for life.

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New EPA Mapping Tool Sheds Light on Pollution Risk and Social Vulnerability

(This post originally appeared on EDF's Texas Clean Air Matters blog)

EPA is getting into the mapping game in a big way.

Just this week, they launched an environmental justice (EJ) mapping and screening tool called EJSCREEN, an online, publicly accessible index of environmental indicators based on location. It will be a tremendously helpful resource for the EJ movement.EPA's new mapping and screening tool will help advance environmental justice.

In the past, concerned citizens, researchers, and advocates would access national databases individually without the ability to bring multiple sources of information together in one clear and consistent platform. EJSCREEN was created to address that issue. It’s a significant milestone that puts environmental and demographic data at your fingertips and empowers you to learn about your community.

One of the major advancements in EJSCREEN is the combination of environmental risk and social vulnerability information. This intersection defines a critical element of environmental justice: communities that are at elevated risk of exposure to harmful pollution are often home to the elderly, low-income families and other vulnerable populations. Much of EDF’s work focuses on this intersection, such as our environmental health efforts to improve air quality at and near ports and freight hubs. These areas can be pollution hotspots, and they are often close to communities of vulnerable populations.

EJSCREEN will help areas like port communities better understand how environmental and social issues overlap – and shows the information by map. The tool combines a set of demographic indicators and a set of environmental indicators into an “EJ Index.” There is one index per environmental indicator and the index for a particular area is compared to regional, state, and national averages. The tool produces a profile report and a map of a selected area that provides the comparative analysis of a community.

You can use EJSCREEN to visualize your neighborhood or city, or to develop a better understanding of a community that may be affected by environmental risks. Although EJSCREEN does feature a comparison of the selected area to the state and nation, the tool should not be used to define or qualify an environmental justice community. Rather, EJSCREEN is designed to promote a better understanding of the intersection between risk and vulnerability for potentially impacted communities.

Texas in particular will benefit from EJSCREEN as demographic shifts and significant industrial activity carry implications for environmental justice concerns. Houston, for example, is an incredibly diverse city with many sources of potential pollution hotspots. Area residents will be able to use the tool and better interpret environmental risks in the context of the local population.

EJSCREEN is a major advancement, but EPA is already thinking about what may come next for the tool. Right now, EPA wants you, the public, to use and explore this interim version and provide input ahead of the next release in early 2016. That version is set to include a vital dataset for understanding environmental risks: the National Air Toxics Assessment (NATA). The inclusion of this valuable dataset on some of the most hazardous air pollutants will greatly enhance the ability of EJSCREEN to characterize the environmental risk faced by many communities.

The tool comes at an important time for EJ at EPA, as they are preparing to finalize their “EJ 2020” framework that will establish their plan for advancing environmental justice over the next five years. EPA is accepting public input on the draft framework through July 14.

EPA is democratizing data with EJSCREEN. The ability to draw in nationally consistent datasets on demographics and environmental risks and present accessible maps and reports will be a major benefit to communities of all types. EDF is excited to share in the enthusiasm for the release of the interim version of the tool and is looking forward to seeing an even better tool in the future. EJSCREEN can be accessed publically and freely at http://www2.epa.gov/ejscreen.

Image source: flickr/Cheryl

Also posted in News| Comments are closed

Déjà vu: Pushback to U.S. Clean Power Plan Reminiscent of 2011 Mercury Rule

By Susan Tierney,  Managing Principal, Analysis Group, Inc.

This post originally appeared on World Resources Institute's Insights blog.

Did you notice the massive blackout on April 16th, 2015?Reversed-GoldBackground

Actually, I didn’t either. That’s because the electric system didn’t falter. The fact that April 16th came and went without a reliability glitch was both nothing unusual and also a really big deal. Because history has a habit of repeating itself, it’s worth understanding why April 16th was a remarkable (and remarkably dull) milestone in electric-industry history.

The Origins of the Mercury and Air Toxics Standard (MATS)

Back in 2010, just under a third of all U.S. power-plant capacity burned coal to produce electricity. Many of those plants were emitting unhealthy levels of toxic air pollution, which forthcoming regulations from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) would limit. Critics of EPA’s rule doubted that manufacturers and installers could get enough pollution-control equipment into the market and on to power plants fast enough to meet the deadline under the new Mercury and Air Toxics Standard (MATS) – and that taking so much of the nation’s generating capacity off line all at once would inevitably lead to an unreliable electric system.

Before the EPA finalized its MATS rule at the end of 2011, countless groups published estimates of how many coal plants would retire due to the EPA regulations. The North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) warned that “with [the mercury rules] as the primary driver, the industry faces considerable operational challenges to complete, coordinate and schedule the necessary environmental retrofits.” Others, including opponents of the rule, argued that, in the name of reliability, the rule would need to be delayed.

In December 2011, EPA issued the final MATS rule, which gave owners of affected power plants until April 16, 2015, to either bring their plants into compliance with the new requirements or cease their operations.

That date passed two weeks ago without incident. The lights didn’t dim.

Why not? First, the EPA stood by its commitment (made in November 2011 by then-Assistant EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy in testimony to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the agency with responsibility for electric system reliability) that “In the 40-year history of the Clean Air Act, EPA rules have never caused the lights to go out, and the lights will not go out in the future as a result of EPA rules.”

Part of the reason for that is that the EPA is nowhere near as rigid or anti-business as many observers like to portray it. The final EPA rule gave power-plant owners the ability to request an additional year of time to comply, and allowed yet another year in unusual cases where continued operation of a plant would be needed for reliability. According to the National Association of Clean Air Agencies, as of March 2015, owners of 38 percent of the 460 coal-fired power plants affected by the MATS rule had requested additional time to comply and, of those, the EPA granted an extension to 95 percent.

Kentucky power plant. Photo by Cindy Cornett Seigle/Flickr

Second, the electric industry is already transitioning to rely less on coal, even without the MATS rule. Between 2011 and the end of 2014, 21.5 gigawatts (GW) of coal-fired power plants retired. The fact that these retirements occurred before the MATS deadline indicates that something other than EPA's regulations is driving the least-efficient and oldest coal plants into retirement.

Coal's ardent supporters may prefer to point the finger at EPA, but the truth is that market conditions are responsible: relatively flat electricity demand, increased supply from power plants using other domestic energy sources (natural gas, wind and solar), and price competition between natural gas and coal. Another 14.6 GW of power plants have retired or will retire in 2015. This total amount of coal-plant retirements (36.1 GW) falls at the mid-point of estimates made during the 2010-2011 period.

Third, the electric industry is dynamic. The market has responded to signals that additional electric resources are needed to replace old ones. Many projects have come forward: new power plants, upgraded transmission facilities, rooftop solar panels, energy-efficiency measures and energy-management systems. These varied responses are the norm, collectively maintaining reliability and modernizing the power system along the way.

That’s why there were no blackouts on April 16th, despite all the dire warnings.

History Repeats Itself

The reliability theme is re-emerging once again, as the states and the electric industry face the prospect of EPA finalizing its “Clean Power Plan” to control carbon pollution from the nation’s power plants. In anticipation of the final rules coming out this summer and of power plant owners having to comply with them by 2020, many observers are saying that the electric system's reliability will be jeopardized if the EPA goes forward as planned. The latest warning came last month with a new assessment published by NERC, calling for more time to allow the industry and the states to respond to the forthcoming carbon-pollution rules.

Such warnings are common whenever there is major change in the industry, and they're not without value: They play an important role in focusing the attention of the industry on taking the steps necessary to ensure reliable electric service.

But warnings lose their value when they are read as more than what they are. Notably, the reliability concerns currently being raised by some observers about EPA’s Clean Power Plan presume inflexible implementation, are based on worst-case scenarios, and assume that policy makers, regulators and market participants will stand on the sidelines until it is too late to act.

There is no historical basis for these assumptions. Reliability issues will be worked out by the dynamic interplay of actions by regulators, entities responsible for reliability, and market participants, all proceeding in parallel to find solutions.

EPA’s proposed carbon-pollution rule provides states and power plant owners with the means to prevent reliability problems by giving them a wide range of compliance options and plenty of operational discretion (including various market-based approaches, other means to allow emissions trading among power plants, and flexibility on deadlines to meet interim targets). And EPA Administrator McCarthy has stated repeatedly that her agency will write a final rule that reflects the importance of a reliable grid and provides the appropriate flexibility.

One of the best ways to assure electric reliability will be for states to actively avail themselves of the Clean Power Plan’s flexibility, rather than “just say no.” States that do not take advantage of this flexibility and then suggest that EPA’s regulations led to unreliable and uneconomic outcomes may be courting a self-fulfilling prophecy. The more states sit in the driver seat and figure out how to arrive at the emissions-reduction destination in a manner consistent with their goals and preferences, the more likely it is that they’ll accomplish them.

Also posted in Clean Power Plan, Energy, Greenhouse Gas Emissions| Comments are closed

Top policies to help Americans breathe easier, and what you can do

Source: Flickr/Kate Gardiner

A year ago, we joined our partners at the League of United Latin American Citizens on Twitter to ask U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy about the impacts of air pollution on our health.

Many of the questions participants raised focused on the connection between air quality and asthma.

In a follow-up to the event, McCarthy reminded us that while there’s no known cure for asthma, “understanding how indoor and outdoor air pollutants can trigger an asthma attack or episode is an important step in managing this condition.”

Fortunately, decision-makers are now considering several new policies that would decrease the number of asthma attacks and the severity of symptoms.

Cutting climate and air pollution

As global temperatures rise, more ground-level ozone, a key component of smog, builds up. This, in turn, leads to more frequent and intense asthma attacks.

To address these problems, the EPA is working on several measures to limit the pollution that causes climate change, worsens air quality and threatens our health. The agency is:

  • finalizing a rule to reduce emissions from power plants, the largest source of climate pollution in the United States.
  • working on a rule to limit climate pollution from oil and gas production. It would also reduce toxic chemical releases during the energy extraction process.
  • proposing a stronger ozone standard to reduce smog pollution and restore healthy air.
Reducing the threat of toxic chemicals

Many chemicals found indoors are also known or suspected “asthmagens,” environmental agents that cause or exacerbate asthma. These chemicals can affect us in our homes – or in any of the indoor areas where Americans spend about 90 percent of their time.

Today, we’re exposed to chemicals in everyday household products in large part because of a 40-year old chemical safety law that has failed to protect us. The law is so weak, in fact, that EPA can’t even regulate chemicals known to cause cancer.

Congress is therefore considering reforming the Toxic Substances Control Act. If a new bill passes, we will have better safeguards against many asthmagens.

Get involved

Asthma affects nearly 26 million people in the U.S., including 1 in 10 Latino children who currently suffer from asthma. An even higher proportion of Latino kids, 14 percent, have been diagnosed with asthma at some point in their lives. Unfortunately, this illness presents a particular concern for Latinos in our country.

Studies have also shown that Latino-Americans are less likely than non-Latino whites to be diagnosed with asthma, have an asthma management plan, or use a controller medication. As a result, Latino children are 40 percent more likely than non-Latino white children to die from this condition.

If you’d like to hear more about these topics, you can join us for our Latino Health and the Environment Twitter Town Hall Series.

First up is an Earth Day Twitter Town Hall, where McCarthy will be answering questions about environmental issues and human health, why the Latino community is disproportionately affected by climate change, and what we can all do to protect ourselves.

Then stay tuned in May for our second Twitter Town Hall, which will focus on the health impacts of toxic chemicals.

This post originally appeared on our EDF Voices blog.

Also posted in News, Policy| Comments are closed

Half a Million People across America Support Stronger Protections against Smog Pollution

Our friends at Moms Clean Air Force dropping off their smog comments at EPA

The comment period has now closed for the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) proposal to strengthen our national health-based smog standards, and we know one thing already:

Support for cleaning up our air has been tremendous and far-reaching.

More than half a million people from across our nation sent comments urging EPA to strengthen America’s health-based smog protections. And we’re so grateful to our dedicated members and activists for helping EDF collect more than 130,000 of those comments.

EDF strongly supports strengthening our public health standards for ground-level ozone—more commonly known as smog.

Smog contributes to a variety of health problems, including increased risk for asthma attacks, long-term lung damage, other heart and lung diseases, and even premature death. The most susceptible groups are young children and elderly adults.

But it isn’t just EDF – and it isn’t only environmental organizations — calling for cleaner air.

Leading medical associations, states, moms, and environmental justice organizations have highlighted the challenges their constituencies face from this pollution — and have voiced their support for tighter smog protections.

Here are just a few examples:

WE ACT for Environmental Justice said improved smog standards are urgently needed to protect the children in Harlem afflicted by smog pollution:

According to the New York Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, in 2012, children aged 0 to 4 in the Harlem [sic] visited the emergency room 280 times because of asthma. There is no doubt that children in Northern Manhattan are suffering disproportionately from asthma, which is exacerbated by the formation of Ozone and other social stressors.

Mom’s Clean Air Force also weighed in:

Parents have a right to know the truth about whether the air is safe to breathe… Smog standards that reflect current science will protect children from harmful air pollution.

The American Academy of Pediatrics said smog standards must be improved for the sake of children:

Simply put, children are different. They breathe faster. They spend more time outdoors, playing and being physically active. These combined differences mean that, at a given concentration of air pollution, children will be exposed to a higher dose. But their lungs are not fully developed until about 18 years of age. Children are thus at greatest risk from air pollution, because their increased physical activity, plus greater time spent outdoors, means that they are exposed to a higher dose of air pollutants.

In a 2014 joint letter to the White House Office of Management and Budget, Attorneys General  from New York, Maryland, New Hampshire, New Mexico and Rhode Island all expressed support for strengthening our nation’s smog standards, stating that smog pollution has been a persistent problem for their states:

The States [listed above] have been battling ozone pollution (smog) for decades… Although we have made strides to reduce smog levels that harm public health in areas such as New York City and that harm our natural resources in areas such as the Adirondacks, smog remains a persistent threat. Much of this pollution is generated in upwind states and carried by prevailing winds into our States.

Dozens of organizations, including EDF, submitted a letter urging EPA to issue strong standards:

EPA must protect the health of children, people with asthma and other lung diseases, older Americans and other sensitive and vulnerable populations.

The American Lung Association and the March of Dimes wrote an op-ed for CNN that discussed the serious health issues at stake and voiced support for strengthened smog standards:

Over the past several years, a number of studies have indicated a likely link between higher levels of maternal ozone exposure and poor health outcomes in infants, including changes in lung structure and function, low birth weight and neuro-behavioral abnormalities. Many of these health effects can be expected to have lifelong consequences… ​Strengthening the ozone standard to reflect the best current science will help save lives and protect our families, including pregnant women and their babies.

This broad support for stronger smog standards shows how much is at stake for all of us.

Our nation has proven time and again that, by working together, we can achieve pollution reductions in a cost-effective manner. Strengthening these life-saving standards now will help us continue, and build on, progress made in the past that has provided healthier and longer lives for millions of Americans.

Also posted in Clean Air Act, Partners for Change, Policy| Comments are closed

EDF and Many Others Defend the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards at the Supreme Court

Source: Daderot (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

On Wednesday (March 25th) EDF and a large group of allies will be at the U.S. Supreme Court as the Justices hear oral arguments on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Mercury and Air Toxics Standards.

EDF has been helping defend these life-saving standards since they were first challenged ­– and upheld – in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.

Why is EDF fighting for the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards?

Because they will save lives and protect our families and communities from the harmful effects of toxic air pollutants (including mercury, arsenic, and acid gases) emitted by the single largest source of such pollution in the U.S.: coal-fired power plants.

If you want to get all the legal details, you can read EDF’s brief – and all the other briefs in the case – on our website.

If not, here are two things you should know – points that jumped out at me from reading the many briefs filed in this case in support of the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards:

  • By significantly reducing toxic air pollution from its single largest source, the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards will help ensure that the air we breathe and the fish we eat are cleaner and safer.
  • These pollution reductions absolutely can be achieved. In fact, most of the power sector has already installed pollution control technology to comply with the standards.

This is an incredibly important case for public health. One sign of that is the unusually large number of groups who have submitted briefs in support of these life-saving clean air protections.

In addition to EDF, a broad coalition of states, cities, power companies, medical associations, and clean air advocates are parties to the case in support of the EPA.

And that doesn’t include many more leading experts and affected organizations that have filed amicus curiae briefs.

For those who don’t speak Latin, amicus curiae means “friend of the court.”

A Supreme Court case is not a popularity contest, and the Justices focus first and foremost on the facts and applicable law. But their consideration of a case is often helped when interested citizens or organizations file “friend of the court” briefs. These briefs can offer insights on important technical or scientific issues, show how a particular community might be affected by the Court’s decision, or provide differing perspectives than those offered by the parties to the case.

Fortunately, the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards have many “friends.”

They include: the American Thoracic Society (a group of more than 15,000 physicians, research scientists, nurses, and other healthcare professionals); leading pollution control experts; the Institute for Policy Integrity at NYU Law School; the Constitutional Accountability Center; the Union of Concerned Scientists; companies that manufacture technology for reducing air toxics from power plants; the National Congress of American Indians and a coalition of tribes and inter-tribal fish commissions; and a coalition of preeminent public health scientists led by Dr. Lynn Goldman, Dean of the Milken Institute School of Public Health at George Washington University.

Here’s a small sample of what these friends of the court have to say about the health effects of mercury and other air toxics from power plants:

Power plants emit acid gas, metals including mercury, lead, arsenic, cadmium, nickel, and chromium, and particulate matter that can penetrate deep into human lungs. All humans are susceptible to adverse health effects from these emissions, but pregnant women, fetuses, infants, children, elderly people, and people with preexisting health conditions are especially vulnerable.

(Amicus brief of American Thoracic Society at pages 2 and 3)

[I]t is reasonable to believe that any reductions in exposure that can be achieved will have benefits across the population. Even at low exposure levels, methylmercury can lead to reductions in IQ for developing children.  These deficits in IQ may not be clinically apparent in individual children, but on a population level they have cumulative impacts with large public health and economic consequences.

(Amicus brief of Health Scientists, Dr. Lynn Goldman, et al. at page 13)

The emissions harm Indian health, putting tribal members at unusually high risk for neurodevelopmental disorders, cardiovascular disease, autoimmune deficiencies, and other adverse health effects from methylmercury exposure. In addition, mercury emissions harm Indian culture, threatening longstanding traditions of fishing and fish consumption that are central to many tribes’ cultural identity. Finally, mercury emissions harm Indian subsistence, contaminating food sources that many tribal members depend on for survival.

(Amicus brief of National Congress of American Indians, et al. at page 4)

And here’s what other friends of the court say about the feasibility of the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards, and its implications for the power sector:

The experience of the states that have implemented mercury rules demonstrates that control of mercury emissions is possible with available technology and can be accomplished on a cost-effective basis and without compromising reliability. . . . [N]early 70 percent of total coal-fired capacity was either in compliance with the MATS or already had plans in place to achieve compliance at the end of 2012.

(Amicus brief of Experts in Air Pollution Control at page 32 and 34)

[Overturning MATS] would penalize those who responsibly sought to comply with the impending Rule and might be unable to recover their expenses for doing so, and would reward those who dragged their heels at the expense of public health.

(Amicus brief of Emission Control Companies at page 23)

This is a tremendous show of support for the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards from a broad and compelling group of leading experts and affected organizations.

In fact, this case is so important and involves so many parties that the Supreme Court has extended the usual amount of time allowed for argument. On Wednesday, the lawyers – including U.S. Solicitor General Donald Verrilli for EPA – will have 90 minutes to argue the case, instead of the usual hour.

We at EDF are proud to stand with EPA, with all our allies, and with the many “friends of the court” to present a forceful case for cleaner, healthier air to the nation’s highest court.

Also posted in Clean Air Act, EPA litgation, News, Partners for Change, Policy| Comments are closed
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