Monthly Archives: June 2012

Supreme Court Ruling And Interconnectedness

In a landmark decision, the United States Supreme Court today upheld the constitutionality of the Obama Administration’s Affordable Care Act of 2010.

In the official opinion, Chief Justice John Roberts wrote:
Today we resolve constitutional challenges to two provi­sions of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act 2010: the individual mandate, which requires individuals to purchase a health insurance policy providing a mini­mum level of coverage; and the Medicaid expansion, which gives funds to the States on the condition that they pro­vide specified health care to all citizens whose income falls below a certain threshold . . . The Affordable Care Act’s requirement that certain in­dividuals pay a financial penalty for not obtaining health insurance may reasonably be characterized as a tax. Be­cause the Constitution permits such a tax, it is not our role to forbid it, or to pass upon its wisdom or fairness.

President Obama praised the long-awaited decision saying that the American people “understand that we don’t need to re-fight this battle over healthcare.” He then added, “It’s the right thing to do, that we got 3 million young people who are on their parents’ health insurance. It’s the right thing to do to give seniors discounts on prescription drugs. It’s the right thing to do give 30 million Americans health insurance.”

Today’s news certainly impacts state and federal laws, hospital operations, individual insurance decisions and more. However, whether you are for or against the ruling, it’s worth noting that Texas’ ongoing air pollution struggles particularly impact the underprivileged and currently uninsured, who may put off lung-related medical or hospital visits due to financial limitations. And with a number of Texas facilities poised to expand, such as Exxon’s Baytown facility, Dow Chemical Co., and Chevron Phillips Chemical Co., we should be reminded that the issues of health insurance, air pollution and disease are interconnected and that we can do a better job of protecting human health.  Protecting human health from air toxics is especially important in Texas as one of every three citizens in Texas lives without health insurance, causing the Texas Medical Association to dub Texas the “uninsured capital of the United States.” More than 6.3 million of our citizens – including 1.2 million children – lack health insurance coverage, which translates into lives with “far-worse health status than their insured counterparts” and the creation of “significant problems in the financing and delivery of health care to all Texans.”


Ultimately, we all pay the price. Poor air quality simply makes things worse for those uninsured and battling lung illnesses such as chronic bronchitis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or asthma. For asthma sufferers alone, inpatient hospitalization charges totaled more than $446 million in 2007 according to the Asthma Coalition of Texas, which also states that most of these hospitalizations were “preventable with proper asthma management.”

Of those admissions, how many without health insurance could have avoided a hospital trip given proper asthma management beforehand? How many other citizens with pollution-related illnesses forego early medical treatment due to lack of insurance? Finally, how much do we all pay for those hidden costs like missed workdays and lost productivity?

If you want to learn more about the implications of the Affordable Care Act to public health, the American Public Health Association is hosting a webinar on July 5 to discuss what the ruling means for the country.

Posted in Air Pollution / Comments are closed

Court Upholds Historic EPA Actions, Rebukes Texas' Lawsuits To Undermine Health Protections


This morning the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit issued a unanimous opinion affirming EPA’s protective carbon pollution standards issued under the Clean Air Act.  The Court upheld EPA’s science-based finding that greenhouse gas emissions endanger public health and welfare (the “Endangerment Finding”) and the Clean Car Standards.    The court also dismissed petitions challenging the requirement for large industrial sources to install modern cost-effective solutions to address greenhouse gases and EPA's common sense approach to inoculate small sources.  

Today’s ruling underscores what we have long known — that EPA’s climate protections are firmly grounded in science and law and will help secure a healthier, more prosperous future for all Americans.

EDF's press statement is appended below. 

The court's opinion is unanimous, strong, and emphatic.  Unfortunately, the lawsuits to obstruct these vital protections were brought by Texas and others. In today’s opinion, the court thoroughly rebuked those, like Texas, who attack science and obstruct progress in reducing climate pollution, noting “[t]his is how science works. EPA is not required to re-prove the existence of the atom every time it approaches a scientific question.”

Environmental Defense Fund, together with a large coalition of states and environmental organizations, intervened in defense of the clean air protections. Those protections include:  

  • The Climate Pollution Endangerment Finding, in which EPA – following the Supreme Court’s order in Massachusetts v. EPA – determined that climate pollution endangers human health and welfare on the basis of a rigorous review of the extensive body of climate science.
  • The Clean Car Standards, which establish cost-saving fuel efficiency and greenhouse gas emissions standards for passenger cars and light trucks. The standards are supported by U.S. auto makers and the United Auto Workers union, among others. They will save Americans thousands of dollars at the gas pump by enabling families to get more mileage out of each gallon of gas. They will also help break our nation's addiction to imported oil and will cut the amount of dangerous pollution from vehicles.
  • Carbon Pollution Limits for Big New Power Plants and Industrial Sources (the Timing and Tailoring Rules), in which EPA is phasing-in requirements for use of the best available cost-effective pollution controls, starting with new, large industrial emitters (like power plants) while shielding smaller emitters.
Posted in Air Pollution, Clean Air Act, Clean Car Standards, Environment, Environmental Protection Agency, GHGs, Oil / Read 1 Response

ERCOT’s Three-card Monte Trick For Grid Reliability

(Credit: Arnie Levin)

First we have enough generating capacity, but next year is the problem; now that next year is upon us it’s really the next few years that are the issue. The Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), grid operator for most of Texas, foresees potential electricity shortages. Clearly the risk is real, but when?  This year? Two years from now? Reports swirl by, some only weeks apart, showing different numbers and contradicting previous reports. Are we seeing a bureaucratic version of Three-card Monte?

During last summer’s drought, demand peaked on August 3, using more than 68,000 megawatts. ERCOT’s stated goal is to maintain a 13.75% reserve margin in generating capacity. Their latest report shows the state’s electrical grid will fail to meet the target reserve margin as soon as 2014, two years from now.  A report in early May actually shows that this summer ERCOT will fail to meet that target as well, although it isn’t stated explicitly.

Meanwhile EPA is meeting with ERCOT and the nation’s other grid operators to develop an implementation timeline for the new Maximum Achievable Control Technology (MACT) air toxics rule, which should begin this fall. Utilities have three years to implement the new rules…unless the three-year timeline threatens grid reliability. Then utilities can get a fourth year…unless grid reliability is still threatened. Then utilities have a full five years to comply.

Concerns about grid reliability are very real, but they are due to power companies deciding to hold off on constructing new power plants while prices are so low.  Unfortunately some state leaders and utilities have seized on these ERCOT reports, and are shifting their conclusions in an attempt to delay rules that have been in the works for years, and in some cases decades.  The new EPA standards will dramatically cut mercury, heavy metals, acid gas and other emissions from power plants. The public health benefits to our state will be enormous, especially for Texas children who breathe air tainted by power plant emissions. The cost of unwarranted delay is a price Texas should not have to pay.

Posted in Air Pollution, Drought, Environmental Protection Agency, MACT Rule / Comments are closed

Proposed Soot Standards Long Overdue

Last week, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency proposed health-based air quality standards for microscopic particulate pollution, one of the deadliest and most dangerous forms of air pollution. Inhalation of these tiny particles results in severe health impacts, including premature mortality, aggravation of respiratory and cardiovascular disease, changes in lung function and increased respiratory symptoms. If finalized, these proposed health protections will provide a long-term framework for securing cost-effective emission reductions in these health-harming pollutants from the largest source sectors.

Fine particulate matter (PM2.5) comes from highway dust, diesel exhaust, power plant emissions, wood burning and other air pollution sources, and consists of dirt, soot, aerosols, metals, acids and other microscopic particles.

EPA proposes reducing the current annual PM2.5 limits of 15 micrograms per cubic meter to levels within a range of 13 to 12 micrograms per cubic meter.

As I told the Houston Chronicle, this proposal is a “huge deal” and long overdue. The data on PM2.5 is even more compelling than the data for ozone. Simply stated, it’s one of the worst air pollutants endangering public health.

Unfortunately, it took court action to prompt release of these proposed standards. The Clean Air Act requires EPA to review its particle pollution standards every five years to determine whether revisions are necessary, demanding that the agency issue standards protecting public health “with an adequate margin of safety.” However, because the EPA did not meet its five-year legal deadline for standards review, a federal court ordered the agency to sign the proposed particle pollution standards by June 14, 2012.

EDF has worked with the American Lung Association, Earthjustice, and National Parks Conservation Association to strongly advocate for last week’s proposed action. In 2006, EPA rejected the recommendations of its own Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee on the level of protection necessary to safeguard Americans from particulate pollution in accordance with science and the law. The resulting standards were successfully challenged in the federal court of appeals for the D.C. Circuit by the American Lung Association, Earthjustice, Environmental Defense Fund, and the National Parks Conservation Association. The court instructed EPA to take corrective action in light of the extensive scientific evidence of human health harms.|

Now that the proposed PM2.5 standards have been announced, EPA will accept public comment for 63 days after the standards are published in the Federal Register. EPA will hold two public hearings (Sacramento, CA and Philadelphia, PA) in July with issuance of the final standards by December 14 this year.

The science is clear and the health implications clearer. If finalized, the new standards will prevent 35,700 premature deaths, 2,350 heart attacks, 23,290 visits to the hospital and emergency room, 1.4 million cases of aggravate asthma and 2.7 million days of missed work or school due to air pollution-caused ailments.

Although long overdue, we look forward to implementation of the final PM2.5 standards, strengthening public health, enabling us all to breathe just a bit more deeply.

Posted in Air Pollution, Clean Air Act, Environmental Protection Agency, MATS, Particulate Matter / Tagged | Read 2 Responses

Diesel Emissions Officially Classified as Carcinogenic

Credit: Mark J. Terrill- AP file

Though the cancer risks from exposure to diesel emissions have been known for many years, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), a part of the World Health Organization (WHO), officially announced that diesel emissions were carcinogenic to humans. The agency cited the robust body of scientific literature on the issue and stated that diesel emissions were associated with lung cancer and bladder cancer. WHO estimates that cancer kills 7.6 million people worldwide, and is the leading cause of death globally in 2008. Of all cancers, lung cancer is the most lethal, and accounted for 18 percent of all cancer deaths, the agency said.

Such findings should raise awareness about diesel exhaust as an important public health threat – a threat equivalent to secondhand smoke, according to the WHO. Kurt Straif, director of the agency’s department evaluating cancer risks, told the Associated Press that "It's on the same order of magnitude as passive smoking” and that these results could mean “another big push for countries to clean up exhaust from diesel engines."

The agency stated in a news release that there had been mounting concern about the cancer-causing potential of diesel exhaust, particularly based on findings in epidemiological studies of workers exposed in various settings. This was reemphasized by the March 2012 publication of results from the U.S. National Cancer Institute/National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health study of occupational exposure to such emissions for underground miners. That study showed an increased risk of death from lung cancer in exposed workers.

The public health impacts from these findings are immense. Large populations are exposed to diesel exhaust everyday, whether through work or ambient air. Trucks, trains and ships are among the leading emitters of diesel engine fumes.

At EDF, we have long understood the correlation between transportation exhaust and cancer-causing air pollution. Our work to educate and influence policies for replacement of aging school bus engines and port drayage truck engines, just to name a couple of initiatives, has helped improve fuel efficiency and reduce harmful emissions in Texas.

The alarm bell has been rung. Governments worldwide now need to ramp up efforts to reduce diesel emissions exposure for people everywhere.

Although the United States currently requires diesel engines “to burn much cleaner than they did even a decade ago,” we need to keep pressing ahead to replace the older, dirtier engines out there with newer, cleaner ones. Our health depends on it.

Posted in Air Pollution, Clean Car Standards / Read 1 Response

Today’s Transportation Plans Drive Tomorrow’s Emissions Reductions

Skeptics do not deter Renault and Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn from sticking to his prediction that electric cars will make up 10 percent of the market by 2020. Speaking Tuesday at an industry breakfast in New York, Ghosn – known as “Mr. 7-11” for the late nights he works –maintained his documented “bullish” stance on the future of these zero-emissions vehicles, with Nissan helping to lead the charge with on-schedule production of the Leaf, the world’s first mass-produced electric car.


As if lending support to Ghosn’s prediction, China intends to have 5 million electric vehicles on its roads by 2020. The country already has plans for battery charging stations along six major highways in Shanghai and Zhejiang, providing further proof of the necessity of public-private partnerships to propel green transportation technology.

Seeing immense opportunity in such countries, Nissan didn’t wait around. Ghosn once said, "If you're going to let developing countries have as many cars as they want – and they're going to have as many cars as they want one way or another – there is no absolutely alternative but to go for zero emissions. And the only zero-emissions vehicle available today is electric . . . so we decided to go for it.”

We applaud efforts like these from innovators and visionaries doing their part to drive clean technology forward. While some believe it “bold and crazy,” we believe it is indeed possible to green the entire transportation system, which includes an eventual transition from fossil-fueled power plants to renewable-energy power plants. The realities of climate change leave us no choice but to be smart by reducing carbon dioxide emissions, along with other emissions contributing to harmful air pollution.

Cleaner Transportation, Cleaner Air in Texas

One of the comments Ghosn made during Tuesday’s speech involved the concept of having strong roots, and that “you cannot be global unless you are strong local.” Along those lines, I thought it important to highlight some of our “local” efforts to clean up harmful Texas air emissions through various transportation initiatives:

  • EDF is proud to have played an important role last year in helping the Houston region obtain $3.1 million in funding related to diesel emissions reduction. Each year, diesel engines emit 7.3 million tons of smog-forming nitrogen oxides (NOx) and 333,000 tons of soot. This pollution is linked to thousands of premature deaths, hundreds of thousands of asthma attacks and millions of lost workdays. Some of the funds will repower marine vessels operating in the Houston-Galveston and Corpus Christi areas. Engines on tug boats and harbor crafts will be repowered with new, cleaner engine technology. Other funds will offset the costs of burning cleaner fuel when the ships are close to shore in the Port of Houston.
  • At a Drayage Truck Fair last year, EDF joined representatives from the Port and the Houston-Galveston Area Council (HGAC) offering information about programs available to help truckers obtain low-interest loans toward the purchase of newer, cleaner vehicles. More than 3,000 drayage trucks help move containers to and from the Port of Houston, making trucking one of the largest sources of port pollution. Just this year, 32 trucks have been disbursed and 70 other applications are currently under review. Programs like these can significantly help reduce emissions from older, dirtier diesel truck engines.
  • Our efforts to increase awareness about state funds for replacing aging, dirty school bus engines helped lead to more participating schools. Through the end of the 2011 calendar year, 7,086 buses had been retrofit, 650 buses had been replaced, and several other projects (e.g., clean fuels and idle reduction) had been successfully implemented in Texas. We told parents that if their children were riding to school in buses built before 2007, the air they were breathing inside the bus could contain more than five to ten times higher the diesel pollution found outside the bus. We highlighted the fact that money was available to make these older school buses cleaner at no cost to the districts themselves.
  • This year EDF released the report, “The Houston Barge System: A Review of Operations and Opportunities,” outlining the combustive as well as evaporative emissions associated with barges operating in the Houston region, while also identifying opportunities for establishing emissions reduction targets. The information from this study will help determine the most effective and efficient pollution control strategies for the maritime freight industry and should be used as a guide to develop policies that improve Texas air quality.

Through these and other ongoing initiatives related to transportation, EDF continues to help improve air quality providing further support for that bold, crazy concept: greening the entire transportation system.

Posted in Clean school buses, Electric Vehicles, Houston / Comments are closed