Monthly Archives: October 2011

It Makes Dollars & “Sense” To Capture Air Emissions

This blog was written by Susanne Brooks and was originally posted on EDF's Energy Exchange blog.

Oil and gas exploration and production is rapidly expanding across the U.S. due to technological developments that have made extraction of previously untapped unconventional resources such as shale gas feasible.

In fact, shale gas production “has gone from a negligible amount just a few years ago to being almost 30% of total U.S. natural gas production.”

But national clean air standards covering these activities have not been updated since 1985 in one case and 1999 in another. They are limited, inadequate, and out of date, particularly given recent technological advances in this area.

This poses a serious problem, since exploration and production activities emit numerous hazardous air pollutants and other airborne contaminants that threaten human health and the environment. Communities across the country are paying the price, suffering from air pollution in the absence of protective, comprehensive standards.

In July, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed new nationwide safeguards to reduce air pollution from upstream oil and gas production activities. Recently, the public was given a chance to express their opinions on the issue at three hearings held in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Denver, Colorado, and Arlington, Texas. EDF testified at all three. (Public written comments will be accepted through October 31th and EPA is required to issue a final rule by February 2012. You can submit comments online, via fax or through the mail. In your correspondence, please be sure to reference Docket Number EPA–HQ–OAR–2010–0505; FRL–9456–2.)

I testified at the EPA hearing in Pittsburgh where compelling concerns were raised by many in the communities hard hit by air pollution impacts. People in communities across Pennsylvania expressed concern that adequate protection from dangerous pollution in their home state is simply not in place. Some pleaded with the EPA to finalize new standards, others expressed anger that EPA has not done so already, and many fear that the new standards won’t be tough enough to keep their families safe.

The individual who testified before me declared that when it comes to our health and that of our children, the costs of cleaning up harmful pollution should not factor into EPA’s decision-making. He got a standing ovation.

Of course, the hearing also featured industry representatives, some of whom echoed the position of the American Petroleum Institute (API) calling for more time to comment on the proposed standards and to delay their implementation.

Yet, the truth is that the proposed EPA rules will standardize many practices and technologies already being used in states such as Colorado and Wyoming, and elsewhere by natural gas companies. Further, these practices and technologies reduce gas losses, which results in greater recovery and sale of natural gas, and thus increased economic gains. The return on the initial investment for many of these practices is sometimes as short as a few months and almost always less than two years. In these tough economic times, it would seem wise to eliminate waste, save money, and reduce environmental impact.

Based on EPA estimates of natural gas losses, industry lost more than $1 billion in profits in 2009 due to venting, flaring and fugitive emissions. The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO), with supporting data from EPA, estimates that around 40% of natural gas estimated to be vented and flared on onshore federal leases could be economically captured with currently available control technologies. Recouping these losses could increase federal royalty payments by $23 million annually, at a time when revenue is desperately needed.

The industry can demonstrate their commitment to bringing natural gas to market in an environmentally sound way by using best practices, acknowledging the benefits of these safeguards, and being proactive in helping them get adopted.

And, while EPA’s proposed rules are a great start, there is room for improvement (for more details, see EDF’s preliminary analysis of the regulations). Bottom line: it is critical that stronger clean air standards move forward. They are vitally important to protect human health and the environment.

At the EPA hearing in Pittsburgh, the public demanded that EPA require industry to be more vigilant about health and safety, and reduce their environmental impact. Considering the potential increased revenue of capturing more gas, advocating for strong clean air rules makes both dollars and “sense.”

Posted in Natural gas, Oil / Comments are closed

Broad Support for Cleaner Cars — Except from Some in Congress

This commentary was originally posted on EDF's Climate 411 blog.

At a Congressional hearing last week, some members of Congress sought to undermine historic fuel economy and greenhouse gas standards that will save Americans money at the gas pump, help break our addiction to foreign oil, strengthen our economy, and reduce harmful pollution.   

 The shrill attacks on those historic standards were in sharp contrast to the broad support for cleaner cars, including support from the U.S. auto industry.

Automobile manufacturers have intervened to support the standards in the Federal Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C.  In recent filings in federal court, the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers and the Association of Global Automakers have characterized these standards as:

valid, mandated by law, and non-controversial

(That's from a D.C. Circuit Court filing from September 30, 2011 — Brief for Intervenors Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers and Association of Global Automakers, Coalition for Responsible Regulation v. EPA, Docket Number 10-1092

The State of Texas and its allies, along with an industry group representing coal mining interests, have sought to topple the landmark clean car standards.  The automakers — those directly regulated by the new standards –have forcefully countered that, if legal challenges are successful in overturning EPA’s clean car standards, it "would result in tremendous hardship to their companies" and that the associated costs would be “substantial."

(Those two quotes above are both from court documents: the first is from the same brief I already cited, and the second is from a November 1, 2010 filing with the same D.C. Circuit Court: Intervenor Alliance for Automobile Manufacturers' and Association of International Automobile Manufacturers' Opposition to Motions for Stay, Coalition for Responsible Regulation v. EPA, Docket Number 10-1092).

The Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) standards govern greenhouse gas emissions, and not just fuel economy. That means EPA’s measures will create business opportunities throughout the vehicle supply chain.

Honeywell, a leading global manufacturer of air condition systems, filed an amicus brief in support of EPA’s standards, noting that :

technologies for reducing the United States’ carbon footprint have the potential to create the kind of ‘green jobs’ that are a priority for America in the 21st century

(That's another quote from a D.C. Circuit court filing, this time from September 8,2011: Amicus Brief of Honeywell International, Inc., Coalition for Responsible Regulation v. EPA, Docket Number 10-1092). 

Honeywell recognized the possibility that innovative technologies spurred by these emission standards have the potential to spread throughout the global economy, creating business opportunities for companies at the forefront of this technological innovation.  The automobile industry developed the catalytic converter in response to clean air measures, and, through commonsense regulations like these vehicle fuel economy and greenhouse gas standards, the United States can remain at the forefront of technological innovation in the global automotive market.   

These benefits are echoed by members of the small business community — eventual purchasers of the new, more fuel efficient vehicles. 

In a press release, Small Business Majority founder and CEO John Arensmeyer emphasized the importance of strong emissions standards, stating that:

 [s]mall businesses understand that to survive in this tough economy they need to innovate, and that strong fuel efficiency standards will assist them in doing so by helping them save money in their own business and creating new market opportunities

In fact, in a recent survey, small business owners overwhelmingly supported stronger fuel-efficiency standards for cars and light trucks, with 87 percent stating that it was critical for the U.S. to take action now to increase fuel efficiency.

 The benefits to covered business are, of course, just a portion of the environmental and economic benefits associated with EPA’s clean vehicle rule:

  • More fuel efficient vehicles will save consumers money.  American families will save more than $3,000 on fuel costs over the lifetime of a model year 2016 vehicle, and, for families financing a vehicle, the savings will be immediate. 
  • The standards are projected to cut gasoline consumption by 75 billion gallons
  • The standards are also projected to cut harmful global warming pollution by over 20 percent, avoiding 960 million metric tons of CO2-equivalent

As a result of these myriad benefits, EPA’s vehicle standards have strong support from a diverse coalition, including auto manufacturers, states, environmental organizations, and veterans organizations.  Members of the veterans’ organization Operation Free testified at public hearings across the country about the vital importance of EPA’s clean vehicle rules in breaking our addiction to foreign oil. 

Despite these significant benefits and the strong, broad-based support for vehicle greenhouse gas emission standards, some in Congress are attempting to topple these common-sense rules on the theory that doing so would ease burdensome regulation.  Ironically, overturning these regulations would have precisely the opposite effect – constraining business innovation, burdening cash-strapped consumers, and harming the environment. That’s a result that would benefit no one.

Posted in Air Pollution, Clean Car Standards, Environment, Environmental Protection Agency / Comments are closed

Rick Perry: The 21st Century Galileo?

At a campaign fundraiser in West Virginia last month, Governor Rick Perry talked climate change and science with attendees. At the event, Mike Stuart, Chairman of the West Virginia Republican Party said, “We have to base our views on real science, not junk science.”


 As part of an organization deeply rooted in science, I think it’s time we take a closer look at the Governor’s views on science and the scientific community, and evaluate what is being called ‘junk science’. Perry has said that a “secular carbon cult” is responsible for creating anxiety over the effects of greenhouse gas emissions on our planet. Perry also said of global warming, “The science is not settled on this. The idea that we would put Americans' economy at jeopardy based on scientific theory that's not settled yet, to me, is just, is nonsense. … Find out what the science truly is before you start putting the American economy in jeopardy."  

It’s hard to find out what the science truly is when the Governor’s appointees censor scientists who are discussing climate change. John Anderson, a professor at Rice University, recently revealed that Perry’s Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) deleted all references to climate change and sea-level rise from an article he wrote about the changes in Galveston Bay.

Let’s analyze ‘what the science truly is’ from a scientist’s perspective. According to a report produced by the Intergovernmental panel on Climate Change (IPCC) made up of 800 scientists from all around the world, the global sea level rose 6.7 inches in the last century due to melting ice caps. The rate in the last decade, however, is nearly double that of the last century. The 10 warmest years in global meteorological history have all occurred in the past 15 years. Glaciers and mountain snows are rapidly melting—for example, Montana's Glacier National Park now has only 27 glaciers, versus 150 in 1910. This is in addition to all of the extreme weather events we are experiencing including unprecedented wildfires, heat waves, and drought here in Texas, which is exactly the kind of impacts that scientists predicted that global warming would bring. Katherine Hayhoe, climate scientist and professor of atmospheric science at Texas Tech University, has said of global warming, “We have a very narrow window of time to do something meaningful about this issue, and that window is closing. Every year we go without a binding climate policy to reduce our emissions shrinks the chance we have of hitting lower emissions targets” [that can prevent large scale harm].

Perry has also likened his own position to Galileo "who was outvoted for a spell” and proclaimed  that “virtually every day another scientist leaves the global warming bandwagon." When asked for elaboration on the scientists leaving the global warming front, his office provided two dozen articles, almost none from or about actual scientists.

To the contrary, research confirms that 98 percent of climate researchers believe that the climate is changing faster than it has before and that humans are responsible for most of the recent warming tends. Andrew Dessler, a professor of atmospheric sciences at Texas A&M University – the governor’s alma mater – has refuted claims made by Perry regarding skeptics in the science community. Dessler stated, “There are only a handful of atmospheric scientists in the entire world who dispute the essential facts — and their ranks are not increasing, as Perry claimed.” In fact, the National Academy of Sciences, the independent group set up by Congress to answer questions on scientific controversies for the country, concluded in 2010, "Climate change is occurring, is very likely caused primarily by human activities, and poses significant risks to humans and the environment."

If you went to 100 doctors and 98 of them diagnosed you with cancer and said you should probably stop smoking cigarettes, but two doctors insisted that cigarettes were perfectly healthy, and that lump was probably not cancer, who would you listen to?  At one time even Big Tobacco could find a doctor or two to push junk science and politicians willing to support their industry for the right price.  I wonder whether Perry’s views on the environment have anything to do with the fact that he’s taken $11 million in campaign donations from the oil and gas industry since 1998? In a debate this fall Perry said he couldn’t be bought for a measly $5,000, but $11 million dollars might be a different story. 

Rather than Galileo, Rick Perry is like the handful of doctors in the 1960’s who, when faced with a consensus in the medicine that cigarette smoke caused lung cancer, continued to advocate in ads that people smoke Camel’s. These doctors fronted for cigarette companies for money. One wonders what caused Rick Perry to reject science and carry the water for big polluters.


Posted in Air Pollution, Environment / Read 2 Responses

This is our Planet on Steroids. Any Questions?

Wildfires and baseball don’t often come up in the same conversation, but perhaps they should. It’s October and the Rangers are the AL West Champions, yet many in Texas would rather talk about the weather than baseball.

In fact, according to cost estimates by the National Climatic Data Center, the $35 billion disaster tab makes 2011 the most expensive year ever for natural disaster cleanup and management–and we still have three months to go. Scientific evidence confirms that around the world, human-generated climate change contributed to and amplified record-setting heat waves, drought and fires, torrential rains and snowstorms. Baseball gives us a way to understand how heat-trapping pollutants “juice” the Earth’s atmosphere and increase the frequency and likelihood of extreme weather events. Simply put, climate change puts the weather on steroids.

By any measure, Barry Bonds was a great ballplayer: .298 lifetime batting average, seven MVP awards, 1996 RBIs. But the achievements most often associated with Bonds come with the caveat that he used performance-enhancing steroids. In his 13 professional seasons prior to 1999, when Bonds allegedly started juicing, he averaged 32 home runs per season, with a career-high of 46 in 1993. From 2000 to 2004 Bonds averaged 52 home runs a year — a 63 percent increase— and broke the single-season home run record in 2001 with 73 home runs.

Imagine you were a fan at a Giants game in 2001. Is there any way to tell that steroids specifically caused the home run you witnessed? No. Bonds had hit with power throughout his career, so a home run would not have been out of the ordinary. What is accurate, though, is that steroids increased the chances that he would hit a home run. And therein lies the connection between climate change and steroids and baseball. Just as an atmosphere loaded with greenhouse gas pollution increases the frequency and potency of extreme weather events, Bonds’ steroid use increased his muscle mass and extended his workout times. It made home runs more likely.

A common argument against climate change is the inherent variability of weather patterns. To be sure, cycles such as El Niño combine with the sun and myriad other natural factors to create weather, and intense weather events would occur without climate change. No climatologist denies this fact, just as no one denies Barry Bonds’ natural athletic ability. But research confirms that when an outside force (steroids) compounds existing natural variation (athletic ability), the intensity and frequency of extreme weather events (home runs) rise.

People routinely ask climate scientists if a specific event can be attributed to climate change. Such a conclusion has been considered impossible because of the various forces that combine to create weather events, both benign and catastrophic. What could be said with great certainty is that climate change alters how weather events unfold, increasing the frequency and intensity of extreme events. Now, however, climate change’s influence on weather is becoming so pervasive that the classic question no longer applies, says Dr. Richard Somerville, climate scientist and professor at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego."All weather events are now influenced by climate change, because they develop in a different environment than before."

No one can pinpoint which of Bonds’ home runs should be stricken from the record books due to steroid use. But the overall effect is clear: the legitimacy of his achievements is challenged constantly. For the planet and its people, the cumulative consequences of climate change will be more disastrous than a tarnished reputation.

Denial is not an option. Inaction will only mean more record-breaking disasters for Texas, even if the Rangers win the World Series. The time for action on climate change is now.

Posted in Air Pollution, Environment / Comments are closed

Recent Fire Near Dallas Re-enforces Concerns over Air Toxics Exposures

Source: Associated Press

A chemical plant fire blazed last week at a Magnablend Inc. facility in Waxahachie, Texas as workers mixed a toxic assortment of chemicals. The owner, Scott Pendery, initially gave vague comments about the types of chemicals produced in the plant. However, he later stated that most of what the plant produces is a cocktail of chemicals blended specifically to be used in hydraulic fracturing fluids, used to extract natural gas.   

Nearly 1,000 residents who live close to the chemical plants were forced to evacuate their homes. Ellis County emergency management officials issued a mandatory evacuation order for an apartment complex, an elementary school and a junior college.

Neither EPA officials nor the Waxahachie Fire-Rescue team were aware what Magnablend was producing at the plant. It is legal to blend fracking chemicals. However, federal law states that if enough dangerous chemicals are stored on site, the company must file a risk management plan. No such plan had been filed.

We do not yet know what effects the toxins from the fire will have on residents living close to Magnablend and the citizens on Waxahachie. Local, state and federal officials are currently conducting investigations. However, we do know that fires like these are only increasing the numerous health risks for individuals exposed to air toxics. A report by the EPA in 2006 found that 270 million Americans, or 90 percent of the nation, were exposed to air toxics at levels that increased their risk of cancer by more than the generally accepted risk level of one in one million. Additionally, communities near industrial facilities are often low-income and lack health insurance, and thus do not have the resources to cope with and recover from exposure to high levels of air toxics.

Source: Associated Press

While emission events from facilities like Magnablend continue to represent a serious health threat to Texas citizens, elected state officials should be advocating for stronger health protections as opposed to fighting against them. State Representative Joe Barton, who represents Waxahachie, has historically not been supportive of human health issues in the legislature. Earlier this year, Barton claimed at a congressional hearing that reducing emissions of toxic mercury, sulfur dioxide and soot would not bring health benefits. He stated that, although he is "not a medical doctor," he offered the "hypothesis” that EPA estimates of the benefits of its proposed air toxics rule are "pulled out of the thin air" because there is no "medical negative" to mercury exposure.

 Governor Perry also made statements recently about the air quality in Texas. He said, “We cleaned up our air in Texas more than any other state, during the decade of the 2000s.” Fact check debunked Perry’s statements and highlights the evidence that despite any improvement, Texas air quality still ranks among the most polluted in the country.

 Texas is a great state, and we shouldn’t let it burn down. Let’s work harder to protect it and the people in it.

Posted in Air Pollution, Natural gas / Read 2 Responses