Category Archives: Health

Cleaner Cars Trifecta: Benefits for Health, Businesses, and the Environment

A set of national clean car standards that have long been debated are, finally, a reality.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced those standards, commonly known as Tier 3, today.

The terrific news is that these rigorous tailpipe and cleaner fuel standards will deliver vital and swift health benefits for our communities and families.

Tier 3 is indeed a win-win-win for public health and the environment, the economy, and businesses.

EPA’s Tier 3 standards will provide benefits from day one by reducing dangerous pollutants in fuel.

They’ll cut even more vehicle and fuel emissions when the standards take full effect in 2017 – including reducing the levels of nitrous oxides, volatile organic compounds, air toxics, and fine particulate matter – better known as soot.

The health benefits at stake are so high that almost 500 health and medical professionals recently wrote to President Obama, urging prompt finalization of Tier 3 standards:

“Unhealthy air imposes the risk of serious health impacts on millions of Americans. We see those impacts on our patients’ health, in public health, and in our research.”

By 2030, the emission reductions from the tightened fuel and vehicle standards will prevent:

  • Up to 2,000 premature deaths
  • 2,200 hospital admissions and asthma-related emergency room visits
  • 19,000 asthma attacks
  • 30,000 upper and lower respiratory symptoms in children
  • 1.4 million lost school days, work days and days of minor-restricted activities

The monetized net benefits of the avoided health impacts are as much as $19 billion every year.

And we get all of this for the cost of well under a penny per gallon of gas.

It comes as no surprise then that the Tier 3 standards enjoy broad support among diverse stakeholders including car companies, manufacturers, environmental justice groups, health groups and medical professionals, labor, blue and red states, environmental groups, faith groups, and advocates for consumers.

Utah has had to confront its growing air pollution problem, and its leaders have expressed support for the Tier 3 standards and improving air quality. Republican Governor Gary Herbert reiterated Utah’s commitment in his January 29th State of the State address:

“…We will accelerate the transition to cleaner Tier 3 gasoline and the next generation of lower-emission vehicles. Because nearly 60 percent of our pollution during inversions comes from tailpipes, and the technology already exists to do something about it, there is absolutely no reason to wait. By taking initiative, we ensure these cleaner gasolines and lower-emission vehicles, which burn 80 percent cleaner than current models, are made available in Utah as soon as possible.” 

In addition to the public health benefits of the cleaner fuel and vehicles, Tier 3 standards will help many domestic businesses.

Emissions control technology makers will see growing business from implementation of the standards. Tier 3 will also help the auto industry meet greenhouse gas emission and fuel economy standards, and deliver its “cleaner vehicles” promise to America.

Many individual oil refiners have stated that Tier 3 will not materially impact their business. In fact, refiners in California are already producing ultra-low sulfur fuel.

In the fuel clean-up process at oil refineries, Tier 3 standards could create nearly 25,000 jobs in construction, as oil refineries modernize their facilities. The standards could also create more than 5,000 permanent operations jobs.

For every dollar invested in meeting the Tier standards we will receive up to 13 dollars in benefits.

This is a significant victory for cleaner air, and it would not have been possible without the tremendous efforts of the more than 47,000 of you who wrote to EPA in support of Tier 3!

I now have another favor to ask of you — please send a thank you note to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy and her team at EPA for their diligence in getting these life-saving standards across the finish line.

And my immeasurable thanks to all of you for your efforts in the fight for cleaner, safer air!

Also posted in Cars and Pollution, Policy | Comments closed

Super News in Crossing the Goal Line to Cleaner Cars and Healthier Air

This is a big week for major events, from State of the Union address last night to the Super Bowl this weekend.

But there’s one more milestone you might not have heard of yet — America is poised to make major progress in crossing the goal line to cleaner cars and cleaner gasoline.

The Tier 3 tailpipe and low sulfur gasoline standards are undergoing final review now at the White House.

Tier 3 standards will pave the way for a fleet of cleaner cars beginning in model year 2017 by reducing the emissions that contribute to dangerous soot and smog.

You can read more about what Tier 3 is and why it matters here.

Cars and light trucks are the second largest emitters of oxides of nitrogen and volatile organic compounds in the U.S. Those are the primary pollutants that form ozone.

According to EPA, the Tier 3 standards as proposed would slash the level of those pollutants by 80 percent.

By 2030, the Tier 3 standards will prevent 2,400 deaths every year, prevent tens of thousands of cases of respiratory illnesses in children, and provide total health-related benefits worth up to $23 billion per year.

The proposed Tier 3 standards would also establish a 70 percent tighter standard for particulate matter.

Particulate matter, more commonly known as soot, is one of the most dangerous types of air pollution. It has been linked to asthma attacks, bronchitis, heart attacks and other types of heart and lung diseases.

We need your help ensuring these clean air protections for our communities and families cross the goal line.

The Tier 3 standards enjoy wide support from states, businesses, public health associations, environmental groups, environmental justice organizations, and auto manufacturers.

Here are some of their comments:

The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers and the Association of Global Automakers said:

 Sulfur inhibits the catalytic converter’s ability to reduce vehicle emissions, so lower sulfur at the pump means fewer exhaust emissions in the air. And because lower sulfur reduces emissions from all vehicles, the proposed sulfur reductions would achieve Day One benefits, immediately reducing emissions from every gasoline-powered vehicle on our roads, no matter how old.

Labor groups such as the United Auto Workers have also weighed in with their strong support:

Upon full implementation, the proposed rule will reduce the amount of sulfur in our gasoline by two-thirds. This is one of the most cost-effective ways for us to get cleaner and healthier air while strengthening our domestic auto sector and creating thousands of new jobs.

A broad coalition of health organizations – including the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Heart Association, the American Lung Association, the American Public Health Association, the American Thoracic Society, the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, Trust for America’s Health, Healthcare Without Harm, and the National Association of City and County Health Officials – had this to say:

These standards are urgently needed and will help protect the health of millions of Americans who continue to breathe unsafe air … Abundant scientific evidence exists on the health effects of ozone, particulate matter and other pollutants from tailpipe exhaust. Tier 3 standards will be effective tools to reduce such pollution and improve air quality.

National Association of Clean Air Agencies said:

The emission reductions that would result from the Tier 3 program proposed by EPA will benefit the citizens in every state and locality across the country… State and local air pollution agencies are relying on EPA to adopt the Tier 3 rule.

Please join the hundreds of thousands of Americans who are lending their strong support to ensure these clean car standards cross the goal line and deliver super health benefits for our nation.

Also posted in Cars and Pollution, Clean Air Act, News, Policy | Comments closed

EPA Publishes Proposed Standards to Limit Carbon Pollution from New Power Plants

November of 2013 was the warmest November on record.

It was also was the 345th consecutive month (that’s almost 29 years!) with a global temperature above the 20th century average, according to the most recent data from NOAA.

So while some folks may be dismissing climate change because of the current blisteringly cold weather in parts of the U.S., we are still very clearly seeing the long-term trend of warming that experts at leading scientific and government agencies (like NASA and many, many others) agree is occurring.

This long-term trend of warming and the serious consequences at stake underscores the need to address carbon pollution now.

Here’s some good news on that front:

Today, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) published its proposed standards to limit carbon pollution from new power plants in the Federal Register.

There are currently no national limits on carbon pollution from power plants, the single largest source of this pollution in the United States.

The standards published today will help ensure that we get our power from cleaner sources, and that we reduce climate-destabilizing pollutants like carbon dioxide.

Cleaner power means healthier lives for millions of Americans.

We are learning more and more about the impact of climate change on human health. From increased asthma attacks to disease and sanitation concerns, a changing climate will have a significant impact on Americans’ health now and in the future.

  • In one recent study, Harvard researchers found that high temperatures correlated with more hospital visits for five conditions including kidney, glandular, and urinary tract problems; accidents; and self-harm.
  • In another study, researchers found that those suffering from allergies or asthma are likely going to have to cope with earlier pollen seasons for some allergenic species in a changing climate.

Health groups, states, moms, environmental groups, and businesses have all expressed support for common-sense limits on carbon pollution. About four million Americans have written to EPA in support of carbon pollution standards for power plants.

This opinion piece from the American Medical Association may best sum up the health risk if we don’t act:

If physicians want evidence of climate change, they may well find it in their own offices. Patients are presenting with illnesses that once happened only in warmer areas. Chronic conditions are becoming aggravated by more frequent and extended heat waves. Allergy and asthma seasons are getting longer. . . . Rising air and water temperatures and rising ocean levels since the late 1960s have increased the severity of weather, including hurricanes and droughts, and the production of ground-level ozone. That means more asthma and respiratory illnesses, more heat stroke and exhaustion, and exacerbation of chronic conditions such as heart disease.

Fortunately, we have the technology to meet our clean energy and human health goals, and EPA’s standards will play a key role in getting us there.

Cost-effective, low-carbon energy solutions are being deployed across the country now. They are creating homegrown, good jobs while protecting Americans health and prosperity.

In fact, ALL of the new electric power that came online in November in America was from renewable energy.

In 2012, wind power was:

[T]he number one source of new U.S. electric generation capacity for the first time—representing 43 percent of all new electric additions and accounting for $25 billion in U.S. investment.

However, there are opposition forces working to derail EPA’s efforts to address carbon pollution.

We need all of the support we can muster to ensure EPA goes forward with its commonsense standards that will help ensure the healthier, clean energy future we know we must achieve for the sake of our children and grandchildren.

Please tell EPA you support a clean energy future for our children

Also posted in Clean Air Act, Greenhouse Gas Emissions, News, Policy | Comments closed

EDF Goes to Court to Defend the Mercury and Air Toxics Rule

Last week, at the same time that the Supreme Court was considering states’ good neighbor obligations to protect  the health of residents in downwind states by controlling pollution from sources within their own states, the Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit was hearing challenges to the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Mercury and Air Toxics rule.

The Mercury and Air Toxics rule is a major public health rule that is the result of a decades long effort to ensure power plants clean up the mercury, acid gases, and toxic metals that are released into our environment from burning coal.

At the core of the case is one issue:

  • Did Congress intend to give power plants a sweetheart deal on air toxics when they passed the Clean Air Act Amendments in 1990?

Or:

  • Was Congress merely asking EPA to stop and check whether other programs that were passed at the same time might do enough to address the risks of toxic air pollution from power plants?

The 1990 Clean Air Act amendments did a great deal to strengthen our air pollution laws. In addition to limiting the pollution that led to acid rain and ozone, Congress tightened enforcement and monitoring requirements, and completely overhauled regulation of toxic air pollution to speed up and strengthen EPA’s previously slow regulation efforts on toxics.

In court last week, while counsel for the utility industry tried to suggest that Congress has intended an entirely separate, distinct, and less stringent toxics plan just for the utility industry, the court seemed skeptical, asking if this was just a political deal to give industry more time.

Power companies also argued that EPA should have taken cost into consideration when deciding whether to regulate them.

Both EPA and EDF’s counsel give an apt response –the cost of control technology isn’t relevant to deciding whether EPA should regulate toxic pollution from power plants. Instead, cost is taken into account when setting the pollution standards – either indirectly, by looking at what industry has already installed (and thus what is cost-effective), or directly, when setting standards that go “above the floor” of what has already been achieved by the best performing plants in the industry.

The coalition defending the rule is extraordinarily broad:

  • Lawyers for Massachusetts spoke on behalf of their own state and for Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Maryland, New York, North Carolina, Rhode Island, Vermont and the District of Columbia,.
  • Calpine and Exelon gave a view from inside the industry, pointing out to the court that petitioners were trying to use the rule to game the system so that the dirtiest plants could remain dirty.
  • EDF’s counsel, Sean Donahue, spoke on behalf of a broad coalition that included NAACP, American Lung Association, American Nurses Association, NRDC, Sierra Club, and host of other environmental and public health associations. (Click here for a list of the parties in both the Mercury case and the Cross-State case)

Each year, between 300,000 and 600,000 American children are born with methylmercury blood levels high enough to impact their brain development.

All fifty states in the U.S. have fish-consumption advisories because of mercury.

Many states cannot meet water quality advisories based on deposition of mercury from air pollution.

Many power companies have found implementing the rule to be cheaper and easier than expected.

Regulating mercury from power plants carries health benefits that may be up to ten times greater than the costs, and realizes a promise Congress made to Americans more than twenty years ago with the Clean Air Act amendments.

Let’s hope the D.C. Circuit agrees that getting mercury out of the air is one of the best gifts we can give our kids.

Also posted in Clean Air Act, News, Policy | Comments closed

Global climate change can make fish consumption more dangerous

Hundreds of thousands of babies are born in the U.S each year with enough mercury in their blood to impair healthy brain development. As they grow, these children’s capacity to see, hear, move, feel, learn and respond can be severely compromised. Why does this happen? Mostly because a portion of mercury emitted from local power plants and other global anthropogenic sources is converted to methylmercury, a neurotoxic and organic form of mercury that accumulates in fish.

In addition to poisoning human diet, mercury continues to poison the Arctic. Despite a lack of major industrial sources of mercury within the Arctic, methylmercury concentrations have reached toxic levels in many arctic species including polar bears, whales, and dolphins because of anthropogenic emissions at lower latitudes.

Relationship between mercury exposure and climate change: In its latest report to policymakers, the International Governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has made it clear that climate change and local high temperatures will worsen air pollution by increasing concentrations of ozone and PM2.5 in many regions. However, no scientific body has collectively assessed the potential impact of changing climate on mercury, a dangerous pollutant that contaminates not just our air but our soils and waters (and as a result human and wildlife’s food supply).

After attending this summer’s International Conference on Mercury as a Global Pollutant (ICMGP) in Edinburgh (Scotland), I don’t have good news. In the past few months, I have talked to several leading scientists who do research on different aspects on mercury cycle and they all seemed to agree with many recently presented and published peer-reviewed studies (see a selected list below): Climate change can significantly worsen mercury pollution. Even if global anthropogenic emission rate of mercury was to somehow be made constant, climate change can make fish-eating more dangerous because of the following:

Enhanced inorganic mercury release into waters — A combination of the following climate-related factors can lead to the release of higher amounts of mercury into waters:

  • Climate change (i.e., increased local precipitation under warmer conditions) will cause more local direct deposition of the emitted inorganic mercury on our lakes and ocean as compared to deposition under colder and dryer conditions.
  • Run-off (i.e., flow of mercury over land in a watershed that drains into one water body) an indirect but primary means by which mercury enters our local waters, will also increase under warmer and wetter conditions.
  • Extreme events (storms, hurricanes, forest-fires, tornadoes and alternating wetting-drying cycles) will cause erosive mobilization of inorganic mercury and organic matter in soils and release it into coastal and open waters where it can get methylated.
  • Thawing of the enormous areas of northern frozen peatlands may release globally significant amounts of long-stored mercury and organic matter into lakes (including those in the Arctic), rivers and ocean.

Enhanced Methylmercury production from inorganic mercury: In addition to increased release on inorganic mercury into the waters, the inorganic mercury might also have higher chances of getting converted to methylmercury.

  • In the open ocean, methylmercury is produced in regions known as “oxygen minimum zones”. Increased carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere will cause higher primary productivity  which will widen the existing ocean’s oxygen deficient zones leading to enhanced production of methylmercury.
  • Continued melting of permafrost will release organic matter which naturally contains high concentration of aromatic structures (structures similar to benzene rings). These kinds of organic matter have been shown to enhance the production rate of methylmercury.

Enhanced methylmercury bioaccumulation in the fish:

  • For a given amount of methylmercury in the water, there are various factors that control the concentration and bioaccumulation of methylmercury in the food chain. In a given water body, bigger fishaccumulate more methylmercury than smaller fish. Because of climate change, oceanic temperatures will be higher and higher temperatures have been shown to increase the metabolic growth rate and size of fish. Therefore, for a given amount of inorganic mercury emitted in the atmosphere or water, more methylmercury will accumulate in the fish (consequently, increase human exposure to methylmercury) as climate change becomes more severe.

These research results combined with the recent reports on higher genetic susceptibility of some people to mercury poisoning suggest that in order to protect human and wildlife health from negative effects of methylmercury exposure it is essential to swiftly enact and implement stringent laws to reduce both global mercury and greenhouse emissions from all major sources including coal power plants.

Governments across the globe now recognize that mercury is an extremely toxic metal that harms health of millions of children and adults every year and have moved forward with an international treaty to address this toxic pollution, called the Minamata convention. The Minamata convention was recently opened for signatures after 4 years of negotiations. The treaty will come into effect as soon as the 50th nation ratifies it. It has already been signed by 93 nation-states. I am happy to note that United States has been the first nation to ratify the treaty. We await , however, ratification from 49 more countries before the treaty can go into effect.

As an organization, EDF has been educating consumers and seafood businesses about mercury in seafood via our EDF Seafood Selector by doing quantitative Synthesis of Mercury in Commercial Seafood for many years. We also have expertise on the scientific, legal, and stakeholder processes that laid the groundwork for implementation of Mercury and Air Toxics Standards in the U.S; the health and economic implications of these emission standards; and the current state of technology available to reduce emissions from power plants in the U.S.

Thanks to your strong support, the U.S. has taken action to reduce mercury from power plants, the largest domestic source of mercury pollution. While many power plant companies are moving forward with investments to reduce mercury pollution, we need you to continue making your voices heard because the mercury standards (MATS) are still being challenged in the court from time to time.

References

  1. Kathryn R. Mahaffey, Robert P. Clickner, and Rebecca A. Jeffries (2009) Adult Women’s Blood Mercury Concentrations Vary Regionally in the United States: Association with Patterns of Fish Consumption (NHANES 1999–2004) Environ Health Perspect. 117(1): 47–53.
  2. Goacher, W. James and Brian Branfireun (2013). Evidence of millennial trends in mercury deposition in pristine peat geochronologies. Presented at the 11th International Conference on Mercury as a Global Pollutant; Edinburgh, Scotland.
  3. Dijkstra JA, Buckman KL, Ward D, Evans DW, Dionne M, et al. (2013) Experimental and Natural Warming Elevates Mercury Concentrations in Estuarine Fish. PLoS ONE 8(3): e58401. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0058401
  4. Webster, Jackson P. et al. (2013) The Effect of Historical and Recent Wildfires on Soil-Mercury Distribution and Mobilization at Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado, USA. Presented at the 11th International Conference on Mercury as a Global Pollutant; Edinburgh, Scotland.
  5. Blum et al (2013) Methylmercury production below the mixed layer in the North Pacific Ocean Nature Geoscience 6, 879–884
  6. Stramma, Lothar (2010) “Ocean oxygen minima expansions and their biological impacts,” Deep Sea Research Part I: Oceanographic Research Papers. 57: 587–595
  7. Bjorn, Erik et al. (2013) Impact of Nutrient and Humic Matter Loadings on Methylmercury Formation and Bioaccumulation in Estuarine Ecosystems. Presented at the 11th International Conference on Mercury as a Global Pollutant; Edinburgh, Scotland.
  8. Bedowski, Jacek et al. (2013) Mercury in the coastal zone of Southern Baltic Sea as a function of changing climate: preliminary results. Presented at the 11th International Conference on Mercury as a Global Pollutant; Edinburgh, Scotland.
  9. Grandjean, Philippe, et al. (2013) Genetic vulnerability to MeHg. Presented at the 11th International Conference on Mercury as a Global Pollutant; Edinburgh, Scotland.
  10. Qureshi et al (2013): Impacts of Ecosystem Change on Mercury Bioaccumulation in a Coastal-Marine Food Web presented at the 11th International Conference on Mercury as a Global Pollutant; Edinburgh, Scotland.

Also posted in Policy, Science | 2 Responses, comments now closed

D.C. Circuit Court Rejects More Protective Ozone Standards

(This post originally appeared on our Texas Clean Air Matters blog)

I’ve written extensively about the potentially grave health effects of ground-level ozone (smog) and the need for stronger standards to address ozone pollution.  In 2008, the EPA set a national standard for ozone at 75 parts per billion—despite the fact that the nation’s leading medical societies and the EPA’s own Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee (CASAC) warned that the standard was not stringent enough to protect Americans from adverse health effects.  A number of U.S. cities and counties petitioned the EPA to amend the standards to sufficient levels.  EDF joined the call for common-sense ozone standards, partnering with the National Resources Defense Council, American Lung Association, National Parks Conservation Association, Appalachian Mountain Club and Earthjustice to press for a more protective standard.

Last week, a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit rejected petitions for a more protective air quality standard for ground-level ozone.  The decision is deeply disappointing and in direct contradiction of ample scientific evidence showing the health hazards of ozone pollution at levels below the current standards.

Reasonable ozone standards are of particular importance to Texans.  Ozone tends to form from vehicle tailpipe emissions on hot sunny days—so it’s no surprise that a typical Texas summer day is a perfect incubator for ozone gas.  Texas has some of the highest ozone levels in the nation.  The American Lung association identified a number of Texas cities and counties as ozone danger areas—including Houston and Dallas, two of the largest cities in the United States.

Millions of Texans are exposed to dangerous ozone levels every summer.  Ozone can cause inflammation of the lungs, making breathing difficult or painful.  Increased lung irritation from ozone exacerbates asthma, emphysema, bronchitis and other respiratory diseases—increasing the risk of asthma attacks and other dangerous respiratory events.  Just a short period of moderate ozone exposure can push breathing problems over the edge; a 2010 study in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology reported a 19% increase in ICU admissions on higher ozone days.  Another study published in Environmental Research Letters linked short-term exposure to ozone with increased hospital emissions among the elderly.  And in Houston, researchers have demonstrated a significant increase in risk of heart attacks within just a few hours of exposure to ozone.

While today’s decision declined to establish a reasonable, protective standard on national ozone levels, the EPA should move forward with stronger standards as it conducts its legally-required review of the 2008 standard.  There are a number of proven, cost-effective solutions to protect Americans from the dangers of smog.  The EPA should mitigate ozone pollution at the source by finalizing the “Tier 3” tailpipe emission standards, which would have significant benefits for Texans and save billions in healthcare costs going forward.  At the same time, the EPA should strengthen emissions standards for other sources of ozone like oil and gas development activities and coal-fired power plants.

Texas’ combination of steady oil and gas development, hot summers, and millions of cars on the road increases the potential for generation of harmful levels of ozone. The Clean Air Act is our strongest lever to protect public health from the impacts of pollutants like ozone.  I am confident that the latest assessment of the standard will result in a standard that better reflects the scientific literature and more adequately protects public health.

Also posted in Clean Air Act, Policy | Comments closed

Protecting the Planet: A Report from the International Conference on Mercury in Edinburgh

(EDF’s Mandy Warner co-wrote this post)

This week, experts in science, policy, and industry are meeting in Edinburgh, Scotland at the International Conference on Mercury as a Global Pollutant (ICMGP).

We are honored to join them to discuss international mercury science and policy, and to share EDF’s work on mercury.

The ICMGP has been held periodically for more than 18 years. It has become the pre-eminent international forum for formal presentation and discussion of scientific advances concerning mercury, and gathers between 700 and 1200 experts for the five-day conference and exhibition.

This year’s conference will be of particular importance, because this year will launch the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Global Legally Binding Treaty on Mercury — which can provide much-needed global action on mercury.

This year, UNEP has also released its new report, Global Mercury Assessment 2013 – Sources, Emissions, Releases and Environmental Transport.

So this year’s meeting is perfectly timed to celebrate the release of the report AND the launch of the international treaty — and most important, to discuss how to put the treaty into practice. It will be a great opportunity for policymakers and scientists to collaborate on solutions that address worldwide mercury emissions.

It is well-known that mercury is an extremely toxic metal.

Mercury primarily exists in three chemical forms in nature: elemental mercury, oxidized mercury and methylmercury.

Methylmercury is the most neurotoxic substance that builds up collects in our aquatic foodchains.

About 400,000 children are born in the U.S. each year with so much mercury in their blood that healthy brain development is threatened.

As they grow, these children’s capacity to see, hear, move, feel, learn and respond is compromised.

While some forms of mercury are deposited near the emissions source, other forms — such as gaseous mercury — are stable in the atmosphere for approximately a year. Gaseous mercury can be deposited far from its source, even thousands of miles away – which is why it has global impacts.

The U.S. is leading the way to reduce mercury emissions from a variety of sources, including coal-fired power plants — the largest remaining source of mercury in America.

The Mercury and Air Toxics Standards for power plants are in place thanks in part to strong support from EDF members, and from our partners in the environmental, health, faith, environmental justice, and business communities.

Power companies are working now to meet emission standards by spring 2015, by installing American-made technology.

EDF has helped advance mercury policy at the state and national level in the U.S. over the past several decades.

During the development of the recently finalized Mercury and Air Toxics Standards, we provided technical comments and testimony; worked with EPA, states, companies; collaborated with both Republicans and Democrats in Congress to defend protective standards; and worked through the courts to advance strong mercury standards.

Our partner organizations like Moms Clean Air Force have helped engage diverse voices from across America, and bring new constituencies to the forefront of the national policy discussion on air pollution and toxics.

We now have the privilege of highlighting the U.S. experience reducing mercury and advancing technology solutions in the power sector to this important international scientific and policy forum.

We hope to forge new partnerships to advance an international solution to mercury pollution that can protect the health not only of Americans, but people across the globe.

Also posted in International, Policy, Science | Comments closed

Climate Change Imperils Human Health

Health organizations have made it clear that climate change is a health issue.

American Lung Association has said:

[S]cientists warn that the buildup of greenhouse gases and the climate changes caused by it will create conditions, including warmer temperatures, which will increase the risk of unhealthful ambient ozone levels.

Climate change will impact many facets of human health in the U.S. through worsened air quality, increased transmission of infectious diseases from insects, and increased impacts from extreme weather.

These climate impacts will affect our health, daily lives, and our pocketbook.

Numerous health organizations have recognized the impact climate change is having on human health, and the need for action to mitigate emissions and assist with adaptation.

Here’s a look at what some leading health organizations and their representatives have to say about climate change and human health.

American Academy of Pediatrics journal publication:

Anticipated direct health consequences of climate change include injury and death from extreme weather events and natural disasters, increase in climate-sensitive infectious disease, increases in air pollution-related illness, and more heat related, potentially fatal, illness. Within all of these categories, children have increased vulnerability compared with other groups.

American Lung Association website:

Scientists warn that the buildup of greenhouse gases and the climate changes caused by it will create conditions, including warmer temperatures, which will increase the risk of unhealthful ambient ozone levels. Higher temperatures can enhance the conditions for ozone formation. Even with the steps that are in place to reduce ozone, evidence warns that changes in climate are likely to increase ozone levels in the future in large parts of the United States.

World Health Organization fact sheet:

Climate change affects social determinants of health – clean air, safe drinking water, sufficient food and secure shelter.

American Medical Association news/opinion piece:

Climate change produces weather extremes on both ends of the temperature spectrum. In Maine… it’s expected to have a rising rate of heart attacks and problems related to extreme snow, ice and cold. [Furthermore], in Maine, that’s being seen in a marked increase of Lyme disease. Warmer and shorter winters mean that deer ticks die off in smaller numbers, which means more will breed.

Asthma and Allergy Foundation website:

Twenty-five million Americans, including 7 million children, have asthma, and 50 million Americans have allergies… They are more likely to sleep poorly at night, miss school or work, and risk hospitalization and even death because of the increasing environmental triggers due to climate change.

Despite these alarming emerging health-climate issues, I am optimistic about our ability to implement the needed climate solutions to reduce emissions and adapt to impacts.

Just last year, 40 percent of all new electric capacity built was wind power, more than any other source added.

States like Texas, Iowa, Illinois, Minnesota, Oklahoma, Kansas, Colorado and California are leading the way on wind power. The U.S. has now installed 60 gigawatts of wind, one-fifth of the world's total wind capacity.

The economic benefits of wind power are clear. Wind energy companies pumped $25 billion into the U.S. economy in 2012 alone through new project investments, and the wind industry employs 80,000 people.

Other solutions, like energy efficiency, continue to advance each year as well.

Annual savings from electricity and natural gas efficiency programs in 2011 were 19% higher than in 2010. That’s a huge improvement, although enormous efficiency savings – savings that can reduce emissions and save consumers money — still remain on the table.

Our fate is in our own hands.

We can continue to make progress reducing emissions by implementing President Obama’s Climate Action Plan while growing a strong economy.

Making the choice to reduce climate destabilizing emissions will mean a better world for my seven-month old daughter, her generation, and the generations to come. And better air quality will mean my daughter can take full advantage of those long summer days we all enjoyed growing up.

We have a responsibility to take aggressive steps now in order to help stem the tide of the more severe climate impacts we know are coming.

Also posted in News, Science | 1 Response, comments now closed

Supreme Court to review decision critical to cleaning up America's air

(This post first appeared earlier today on EDF Voices)

On June 24, 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court decided to review the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals’ decision in a case called EME Homer City Generation. To anyone concerned about the quality of the nation’s air, this was very big news. Here’s why.

In EME Homer City, which the D.C. Circuit decided last summer, a divided court overturned the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule, one of the Environmental Protection Agency’s most important (and cost-effective) clean air programs. In their filing asking the Supreme Court to hear the case, the Environmental Protection Agency argued that “the court of appeals committed a series of fundamental errors that, if left undisturbed, will gravely undermine the EPA’s enforcement of the Clean Air Act.”

The stakes are high. Every year, the Cross-State Rule, if only it can be applied, will save up to 34,000 lives and $110 to $280 billion in net health benefits. Without it, millions of people and entire communities will remain exposed to dangerous levels of pollution.

EPA issued the Cross-State Rule in 2011 under the Clean Air Act’s “good neighbor” provision, which directs states to “prohibit” emissions that are carried downwind and contribute to unhealthy air pollution in neighboring states. If states do not live up to their good neighbor obligations, then the Clean Air Act requires EPA to step in. According to 2011 estimates, air pollution from neighboring states accounted for more than three-quarters of local air pollution in many areas struggling to comply with EPA’s health-based standards. As this data shows, millions of Americans are breathing unhealthy air that originates in neighboring states.

The Cross-State Rule helps address this problem by reducing harmful smokestack pollution from power plants, which can drift for hundreds of miles and adversely affect distant communities. Despite its enormous health benefits and relatively small compliance costs, numerous power companies and several states challenged the Cross-State Rule in the D.C. Circuit. Numerous parties then joined the case in support of EPA and the Cross-State Rule, including: several states and cities that are adversely affected by interstate pollution; three major power companies; and EDF, along with some of its public health and environmental allies.

After the D.C. Circuit struck down the Cross-State Rule, Environmental Defense Fund, along with the American Lung Association, Clean Air Council, Natural Resources Defense Council, and Sierra Club filed a petition seeking Supreme Court review, which the Supreme Court granted along with EPA’s petition.

The Supreme Court, we believe, should reverse the decision of the D.C. Circuit and restore the clean air safeguards of the Cross-State Rule.

This will safeguard the air quality of millions of Americans who depend on EPA to protect them from pollution that comes from beyond the borders of their own states. No wonder, when EPA called for the Supreme Court to review EME Homer City, they warned that, should the decision stand, it would “seriously impede the EPA’s ability to deal with a grave public health problem.”

Also posted in Clean Air Act, Policy | Comments closed

The Cost to Meet Clean Air and Environmental Standards Comes Down (Again)

It is almost getting old for us to write about this … but it needs to be repeated.

As power plant pollution control projects continue, we are seeing – yet again — that the cost of meeting clean air standards, like the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards for power plants (MATS), has fallen.

Unfortunately, that hasn’t stopped some major power companies and other opponents from trying to undermine clean air and environmental standards.

However, this past quarter American Electric Power (AEP), NRG, and FirstEnergy each told their investors that their anticipated costs for meeting environmental standards dropped.

As you can see on our chart, AEP has lowered its estimated costs of following environmental standards by half, from a high of $8 billion down to $4 to $5 billion.

AEP was the top emitter of mercury, carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxide, and sulfur dioxide in 2011 among the top 100 power producers in the U.S.

And … AEP is a leader in the lawsuit to halt the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards.

As our chart also shows, FirstEnergy has lowered their cost estimate for complying with the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards by nearly 70 percent.

FirstEnergy’s estimate dropped from a high of $3 billion down to $925 million (which is $50 million lower than they estimated last quarter).

FirstEnergy was the sixth highest emitter of mercury in 2011 among the top 100 power producers, and is also challenging the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards in court.

The third company on our chart, NRG, has lowered its costs for complying with environmental standards from $730 million to $530 million, a reduction of more than 25 percent.

NRG was the fourth highest emitter of mercury in 2011 among the top 100 power producers.

These three companies are just a few of the power companies that have decreased their cost estimates for complying MATS and other environmental standards in recent years.

The tens of billions of dollars in expected health benefits from the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards has not decreased, though.

The Mercury and Air Toxics Standards will provide crucial emission reductions of toxic pollutants including mercury, acid gases, sulfur dioxide, and chromium.

It will save thousands of lives every year, prevent heart attacks and asthma attacks, and help protect the hundreds of thousands of babies born in America every year who are exposed to unsafe levels of mercury in the womb. And that is priceless.

It’s important that we keep in mind these misguided “sky is falling” claims about environmental compliance costs as EPA carries out its responsibilities under the nation’s clean air laws to address carbon pollution from power plants.

The time tested history of the Clean Air Act is quite the opposite – the sky is clearing, and at far less than the costs predicted by industry.

Also posted in Clean Air Act, Economics, News, Policy | Comments closed
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