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The Mercury Standards, Post-Supreme Court – Still in Effect, Still Protecting Americans

rp_640px-Oblique_facade_2_US_Supreme_Court.jpg

Supreme Court of the United States

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) first proposed the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards back in 2011, at a news conference at Children’s Hospital with cheering children and families surrounding the speakers.

They were cheering because the Mercury Standards were the single most important clean air measure of our generation – designed to protect Americans from some of the worst, most dangerous types of air pollution.

They still are.

This week’s disappointing Supreme Court decision, remanding the standards back to the D.C. Circuit Court for further analysis, has distracted from that fact.

But the fact remains – the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards are a suite of life-saving protections against some of the most health-harming substances emitted by coal and oil-fired power plants, including mercury, arsenic and other heavy metals, and acid gases.

Here’s What Happened

Coal- and oil-fired power plants are by far the largest emitters of these pollutants, which are dangerous to human health even in small doses. Mercury causes brain damage in children, metal toxics like chromium and nickel cause cancer, and acid gases cause respiratory problems.

This week, the Supreme Court held that EPA should have considered the costs of regulation when it made a threshold determination under section 112 of the Clean Air Act that it is “appropriate and necessary” to move forward with the first-ever national limits for these noxious emissions. It is now up to EPA to determine the best way to respond to the decision.

(The case was Michigan v. EPA. EDF was a party to the case. You can read the decision and the sharp dissent here.)

What does the Supreme Court ruling mean for the Mercury Air Toxics Standards?

Here are three important things you should know.

First — there is every reason to believe EPA can quickly amend its “appropriate and necessary” finding to address the Supreme Court’s decision, without affecting the substance of the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards themselves.

Importantly, the Court left it up to EPA to determine how to evaluate costs and how to weigh those costs against the benefits of regulation. As the Court’s opinion acknowledged, EPA has already conducted an extensive review of both the costs and benefits of the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards as part of the regulatory analyses most agencies carry out under Executive Order 12866. That analysis contains overwhelming evidence showing that the benefits of MATS far outweigh its costs.

According to EPA, the monetized benefits of the Mercury and Air Toxics are expected to be up to $90 billion per year.

That amount reflects the enormous health benefits Americans will get from the standards. EPA estimates that they will prevent 11,000 premature deaths, up to 4,700 heart attacks, and up to 130,000 asthma attacks each year.

There are substantial and additional non-monetized benefits associated with reduced exposure to mercury and other harmful pollutants regulated by the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards.

Moreover, in spite of the power industry’s claims, reducing these emissions has proven much less expensive than initially projected. Major power companies such as AEP, NRG, and FirstEnergy have been reporting to their investors that the costs of the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards are as much as 70 percent lower than they first estimated.

The bottom line is that the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards are an extraordinarily beneficial public health measure and are providing healthier, longer lives for millions of Americans at a fraction of the costs predicted.

Second — the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards can and should continue to be implemented while EPA amends its “appropriate and necessary finding.”

The Supreme Court’s opinion did not prohibit the implementation of the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards – and in the past, the appellate courts have often allowed Clean Air Act regulations to remain in place while EPA amends them to address technical or legal issues.  

In this case, a large majority of American power plants are already in compliance with the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards — in many instances because they have been upgrading pollution controls to comply with state emission standards or other Clean Air Act requirements.  M.J. Bradley & Associates recently estimated that about 70 percent of the U.S. coal fleet had installed pollution controls to comply with the standards by the April 2015 deadline. In addition, a substantial number of plants have received one-year extensions to this compliance deadline and are now working to install pollution controls by April 2016.

Given the importance of the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards to public health, and the overwhelming likelihood that EPA will be able to quickly address the Court’s decision, there is no reason that power plants should be allowed to delay installing pollution controls or cease operating already-installed pollution controls.

Third – the Supreme Court decision has no adverse implications for EPA’s Clean Power Plan – despite the wild claims being made by some opponents of these vital limits on carbon pollution from power plants.

The Mercury and Air Toxics Standards and the Clean Power Plan are based on entirely separate Clean Air Act authorities that reside in separate parts of the statute. The authority EPA is acting on to develop the Clean Power Plan expressly provides for the consideration of costs, and EPA has carefully taken costs into account in the Clean Power Plan in the manner required by the statute. Thus, claims that the ruling on the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards should somehow cast doubt on the legality of the Clean Power Plan are severely misguided.

Summing It Up

Marian Burton, president of the American Academy of Pediatrics, summed it up perfectly back in 2011, when the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards were first proposed:

Dirty air makes children sick … If you think it's an expensive process to put a scrubber on a smokestack, you should see how much it costs over a lifetime to treat a child with a preventable birth defect.

That’s why hundreds of thousands of Americans sent comments to EPA in support of the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards.

It’s why EDF and so many other health, environmental, and social justice groups will go back to the D.C. Circuit Court to defend the standards.

We’ll keep fighting to make sure the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards are fully implemented so we can realize the promise of the Clean Air Act — and make sure all Americans have safe, healthy air to breathe.

Also posted in Clean Air Act, EPA litgation, Health, Policy| Leave a comment

Urgency and Opportunity for Latino Leadership on Climate

Las Vegas -- Wikimedia Commons

Las Vegas — Wikimedia Commons

When I landed in Las Vegas last week, the weather was a broiling 108 degrees. Ouch.

I braved the Las Vegas heat for one of the most inspiring convenings of Latino leaders in the country, the Annual Conference of the National Association of Latino Elected Officials (NALEO). We had a chance to hear from established and rising Latino leaders, as well as from Presidential candidates, about the challenges facing Latino communities and the many paths forward for creating a brighter future.

What we did not hear about was a vision for places like Las Vegas, where summer temperatures are bound to get hotter and water will become even more scarce in the face of climate change. In fact, there was no formal conversation about what climate change means for the U.S., and specifically for Latinos.

Here’s the short version of the missing conversation on climate: climate change presents challenges to everyone but it is having, and will continue to have, a disproportionate impact on Latinos in the United States.

To illustrate, let’s look at the three states that house more than half the Latinos in the US:

  • California, and the state’s majority Latino population, is facing its fourth year in historic drought that’s been exacerbated by climate change.
  • This summer, Texas experienced unprecedented flooding, nearly canceling out the state’s prior state of drought, in a demonstration of the kind of extreme weather linked to climate change.
  • Florida’s real estate and freshwater is already threatened by initial increases in sea-level rise, which are also eroding the state’s beaches.

There are more than 28 million Latinos facing climate threats in these three states alone. That does not count the millions of other Latinos nationwide who will face extreme heat and longer wildfire seasons in the Southwest this summer. It does not account for all 49 percent of Latinos nationally who live in coastal communities and will face more frequent and intense hurricanes and flooding. It also does not account for the full 14 percent of Latino kids diagnosed with asthma, who will face greater challenges to managing this condition due to more days with unhealthy levels of smog.

That was the bad news. It points to the fact that our leaders should not ignore the impacts of climate change on the Latino community. As climate impacts the air we breathe, threatens water we use for drinking, swimming, farming, and fishing, and even endangers our health, leaders at all levels need to take a proactive stance to protect our communities by addressing climate change.

Here’s the good news — the support is already there to act on climate. National polling has shown that 63 percent of Latinos think the federal government should act broadly to address global warming, while 8 in 10 Latinos want the President to curb the carbon pollution that causes climate change.

There are also some great opportunities hidden among the challenges. For example, today’s clean energy economy is creating more jobs than the fossil fuel economy. Jobs in the clean energy economy also offer higher wages to a wide range of workers, relative to the broader economy.

Which brings me back to Vegas. While there was no formal climate change discussion on the program, Latino environmental leaders from around the country were sparking conversations in the halls about conservation, climate change, and la comunidad. Advocates from New Mexico's Hispanics Enjoying Camping, Hunting, and Outdoors talked with conference guests about the importance of protecting our public lands. Colorado's Nuestro Rio shared their work protecting the Colorado River and our bond to this precious resource.

EDF also played a role, teaming up with GreenLatinos, Green 2.0, and Nuestro Rio to host a reception and highlight the importance of addressing climate change at a national level. Nearly everyone we spoke with about our work was interested in hearing about solutions and how to do more.

As we participated in conference events last week, Pope Francis reminded us that we “have the duty to protect the earth and ensure its fruitfulness for coming generations.” Latino communities, and our leaders, are no exception. We have a duty to address climate change — protecting our families, our children, and our climate is something we cannot afford to gamble on.

Also posted in Clean Power Plan, Extreme Weather, Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Jobs, Partners for Change, Science| Comments are closed

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.

Also posted in Health| Comments are closed

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 Health| Comments are closed

Young People Want Action on Climate Change

By Ben Schneider, Director of Communications, Defend Our Future

It is a conclusion reached time and again, in survey after survey: Young people support climate action more than any other age group.

That is a point worth reiterating given the recent findings highlighted in a poll from Harvard’s Institute of Politics. Quite simply, that poll runs counter to many other polls that we have seen on this topic. Several polls over the last year, including one conducted by the Washington Post, found that young people support climate action more than any other age group – with 80 percent support from 18-39 year olds, 71 percent from 40-64 year olds, and 55 percent from those 65 and older. A spread of 25 points between oldest and youngest sure seems like an age gap to me.

The Post wasn’t alone in their findings. Here are two other polls that reached similar conclusions.

From an October 2014 poll by Democracy Corps and NextGen Climate: "Two thirds of millennials view climate change as a serious threat that requires action now or in the years ahead, 14 points higher than non-millennials. And an overwhelming 3-to-1 ratio believe that the federal government should be doing more, not less, to address the problem.

Comparing Climate Change Attitudes of Millennials and non-Millennials[1]

NG chart

Source: Democracy Corps and NextGen Climate October 2014 poll

Or take a look at this October 2014 poll from the University of Texas at Austin. They found that 68 percent of voters under 35 said they were more likely to vote for candidates that support reducing carbon emissions and other actions that can help mitigate climate change.

Comparing Under 35 and Over 65 on Climate and Environment Views

UT chart

Polls like these, that show young people care about climate change and want to do something about it, are common. And it is easy to understand why: young people are seeing the earth warm as they come of age – 2014 was the hottest year in the modern record, according to NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. And they know the consequences of climate change will become more severe in the years and decades to come.

We need to act on climate. Thankfully, young people agree.

[1] The data on Millennials are from on a survey of 1,000 respondents aged 18-34 in Colorado, Iowa, New Hampshire and Florida (250 per state). The data on non-Millennials are from a nationwide survey.

Posted in News| Read 1 Response

A Win for Cleaner Air and a Stronger Economy: Court Dismisses Challenges to Fuel Efficiency and Greenhouse Gas Standards for Big Trucks

Source: Flickr/MoDOT Photos

Source: Flickr/MoDOT Photos

Today, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Washington D.C. Circuit dismissed challenges to America’s historic, first-generation standards to improve fuel efficiency and reduce greenhouse gas emissions from large trucks and buses.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Department of Transportation (DOT)  standards are based on common sense, highly cost-effective technologies that will make our nation’s fleet of large trucks and buses more efficient while also reducing harmful, climate-destabilizing pollution, limiting our dependence on foreign oil, and saving money for both truckers (in the form of lower fuel costs) and all Americans (in the form of lower shipping costs).

These cross-cutting benefits have won broad-based support for the standards — including support from America’s truck and engine manufacturers, from states, and from public health and environmental groups.

In response to President Obama’s announcement of these first generation standards in 2011, many of these organizations sent letters of support. Here are just a few examples:

Cummins Inc. recognizes the benefits for the country of a National Program to address greenhouse gases (OHOs) and fuel efficiency from medium and heavy-duty trucks and buses. Cummins fully supports the adoption of such a National Program and welcomes this opportunity to be a partner in helping to advance that goal.
Cummins Inc.

[Daimler] is committed to working with EPA and NHTSA, the states, and other interested parties to help address three of the most pressing issues facing the U.S. today and into the future: greenhouse gas reductions, fuel efficiency improvements, and increased energy security.
Daimler Trucks North America

These standards apply to vehicles manufactured between 2014 and 2018. That means they are now in their second year of effectiveness, and they are driving technological innovations that are cleaning our air and helping American truck manufacturers to thrive. Through October of 2014, sales of fuel efficient trucks were 20 percent higher than their 2013 levels. 2015 is projected to be even stronger, with forecasts suggesting it will be the third strongest year ever for truck sales.

Martin Daum, president and CEO of Daimler Trucks North America, put it succinctly:

[These standards] are very good examples of regulations that work well.

That is very good news, because the President has announced that EPA and DOT will soon issue second-generation greenhouse gas and fuel efficiency standards for large trucks. We anticipate that those standards will be proposed late this spring or early in summer.

Many of the same companies that stood with the President in announcing a blueprint to develop the second phase standards also collaborated on the first generation clean trucks standards. Among those supporting the President’s announcement of second phase standards are major U.S. manufacturers and fleets such as Conway, Cummins, Eaton, Wabash National, Waste Management and the American Trucking Association.

The second generation standards will create an important opportunity to further reduce greenhouse gases and enhance the fuel economy of our nation’s trucks.

EDF is calling on the Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Transportation to set new standards for heavy trucks that cut fuel consumption by 40 percent in 2025 compared to 2010. That equates to an average of 10.7 miles per gallon for new tractor-trailer trucks. Technology solutions are available today to meet the goal, and strong standards will further drive innovation.

In fact, Daimler Trucks North America may have provided the best example yet of our future potential with its entry in the Department of Energy Super Truck program. Daimler announced that its team has:

[A]chieved 115 percent freight efficiency improvement, surpassing the Department of Energy program’s goal of 50 percent improvement.

Daimler’s truck registered 12.2 miles per gallon recently – a leap above the six miles per gallon typical of pre-2014 trucks.

Rigorous second generation standards will also secure critical benefits:

When Americans stand together, we can forge big gains in strengthening our economy and protecting our environment.

Also posted in Cars and Pollution, Clean Air Act, Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Policy| Comments are closed
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