Monthly Archives: August 2012

Why We Must Extend The Production Tax Credit For Wind Energy

Prior to the August recess, the U.S. Senate Finance Committee passed a 55-item tax extender package known as the Family and Business Tax Cut Certainty Act of 2012.  The bill is now up for consideration in the House Ways and Means Committee. Included in this package is a one-year extension of the Production Tax Credit (PTC) for wind energy. The PTC is sound economic, energy and environmental policy, and our congressional leaders would do well to support the package and the PTC extension when it comes up for a final vote.

Texas’ current success in wind energy development has been assisted by the PTC. The PTC provides a 2.2 percent tax credit per kilowatt hour of energy generated to private wind investors if their wind farms are developed, constructed and are producing. This program has increased private investment and development of wind energy, and has lead to an expansion of jobs throughout our country, but particularly in rural Texas.

With Texas being the national leader in wind installations and a manufacturing hub for the wind industry, wind farms have appeared throughout our state, and related jobs are in high demand. The wind industry provides quality and high-paying jobs, gives our state an economic boost and provides environmental benefits. Texas is the first state to reach 10,000 megawatts of wind energy installations, which power the equivalent of 2.7 million homes. The wind industry also provides land lease payments to local landowners in Texas to the tune of $31 million annually.  

Nationally, the wind energy industry supports 75,000 direct and indirect jobs, more than 400 manufacturing facilities, and is responsible for 35 percent of all new energy generation since 2007 – more than coal or nuclear energy combined.

The PTC and the tax extender package are not guaranteed to pass either the House or Senate. As uncertainty in this industry continues, developments and projects in Texas and around the country are at risk if Congress does not act quickly. EDF is asking Congress to support a tax credit that continues to help the wind energy industry grow into self-sufficiency.

Please contact your member of Congress today and ask for their support of the Production Tax Credit and the Family and Business Tax Cut Certainty Act.

Posted in Wind| 1 Response, comments now closed

Divided Court Blocks Vital Clean Air Protections

Clean air protections were threatened today with a U.S. Court of Appeals decision against the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) cross-state air pollution rule (CSAPR). The rule was estimated to reduce power plant emissions across state boundaries, saving up to 34,000 lives each year, preventing 15,000 heart attacks and 400,000 asthma attacks, and providing $120 billion to $280 billion in annual health benefits for the nation.

Issued under the “Good Neighbor” protections of the Clean Air Act, CSAPR would have reduced power plant sulfur dioxide emissions by 73 percent and oxides of nitrogen by 54 percent from 2005 levels across 27 eastern states and the District of Columbia. Current emissions and the resulting particulate pollution and ozone, more commonly known as soot and smog, harm public health both near the plants and hundreds of miles downwind.  As reported in a recent Houston Chronicle editorial, Texas emissions pollute the air of other states, including Louisiana, Illinois and Michigan, and that “our Texas air is in turn polluted by emissions from at least 12 other states.”

Tuesday’s ruling changes little about the facts on the ground in Texas. That is, cross-state air pollution from Texas will still be regulated under the – albeit somewhat weaker – Clean Air Interstate Rule (CAIR) adopted in 2005 during the Bush administration. Texas power plants must therefore comply with both the first phase of the CAIR that took effect in 2010 and the second-phase reductions that are required in 2015.

Still, as EDF General Counsel Vickie Patton stated in a press release, “The court’s decision significantly imperils long overdue clean air safeguards for millions of Americans,” adding that EDF would immediately seek corrective action. Senator Carper of Delaware might have explained the consequences of this ruling best though:

I'm very disappointed in the court's decision to vacate the Environment Protection Agency's Cross-State Air Pollution Rule.  The Cross-State Air Pollution rule – or "Good Neighbor" rule –was crucial for the health of citizens like those in Delaware, who live in a state that has cleaned up its harmful air pollution, but still are forced to live with their neighbor's dirty air.  This is the second time the courts have thrown out the Environmental Protection Agency's attempt to deal with interstate air pollution. I encourage the Administration to appeal the decision.  In the meantime, as Chairman of the Clean Air and Nuclear Safety Subcommittee in the Senate, I will be working with this Administration, the impacted states and my colleagues to ensure we find a swift solution to ensure all states do their fair share to clean up our air if that appeal is not successful." 

Background

The Cross State Air Pollution Rule was EPA's attempt to replace the CAIR, which also addressed interstate air pollution and was remanded by the same court in 2008 for failing to meet the protections outlined in the Clean Air Act. The CAIR will continue to stay in place as EPA deliberates on how to move forward.

Industry groups fought the rule claiming that the rule punished energy producers.

Posted in Air Pollution, Clean Air Act, Environmental Protection Agency| Comments closed

Pioneering Ozone Maps Empower Houston Residents

Matthew Tejada, Air Alliance Houston Executive Director

Guest Post By Matthew Tejada, Executive Director at Air Alliance Houston

Today Houston-area residents finally have a tool to help them take control over their own ozone exposure.

Air Alliance Houston, along with the University of Houston and the American Lung Association Plains Gulf Region, proudly launched The Houston Clean Air Network, a groundbreaking website featuring a first: real-time ozone maps.

This type of resource has been a dream of local public health and environmental experts for many years. The only way a person can protect their health from ozone was to totally avoid exposing their lungs to this dangerous pollutant, and now for Houston area residents there’s a resource that allows them to do exactly that.

Although individuals can check ozone values at monitor locations through various government agencies, the data available is not real-time and usually lags by 1.5 hours. This is important because ozone values can change quickly; thus, current data may not reflect actual exposure levels.

The new maps provide a unique visual representation of how the real-time ozone levels are moving throughout the Houston area. Displayed much like a weather radar map, the ozone “cloud” which the site displays animates movement and allows users to understand the temporal and spatial variation of ozone levels in their particular area.

The ozone moves in often surprising ways and sometimes neighborhoods that are close to each other have very different ozone readings. That information can allow sensitive groups to limit their exposure without giving up the outdoors all day during an ozone watch. Examples of how Houston residents could use this information include a runner deciding where to run – in Hermann Park or Terry Hershey Park – or a high school coach deciding whether practice should be held outside on the playing field or inside in the gym. Both decisions can now be made by accessing accurate, up-to-the-minute ozone information.

Ozone is a hazardous pollutant that poses a serious threat to human health and is found in consistently high concentrations in and around Houston. The health impacts that result from exposure to these high concentrations range from mild to severe, and place a burden on Houston’s economy both in productivity losses from adverse health effects and opportunity losses from individuals who choose to take their talents to other parts of the country with better air quality. With the introduction of this tool, individuals may now take control over their own exposure to ozone and reduce the associated health effects.

Sponsored by a three-year grant from the Houston Endowment, this valuable resource promises to change the way Houston-area residents view ozone and their individual exposure.

It is our sincere intention that this new site will benefit the thousands of people in the Houston area on a daily basis who suffer from a respiratory disease, as well as provide an important learning tool for teachers, students, parents, and children to understand how air quality affects their health.

Just as everyone checks the local weather to plan their daily activities, we hope that everyone will similarly check in with the Houston Clean Air Network to see current ozone levels and adjust their actions accordingly.

Posted in Air Pollution, Houston, Ozone| Comments closed

Texas Sunset Commission Identifies Major Opportunities for Improvement At The Port Of Houston

In a much-anticipated report on the management of the Port of Houston Authority (PHA), the Sunset Commission, as directed by the Texas legislature, identified several opportunities to improve aspects of port management, including accountability and stakeholder trust.

Credit: Air Alliance Houston

Released on August 3, the 95-page report includes a series of recommendations for improvement in a number of basic management and fiduciary areas at the port. [Note: The Authority has until August 17 to respond and final comments will be submitted during a public hearing on September 5.]

While the report reaffirms the Authority’s ongoing “responsibility as a government agency,” it also highlights a pervasive “lack of accountability.” Understanding that the port is a unique institution, PHA is criticized in the report for not following a number of best practices in either the private or public sector.

One example of the port not following best management practices includes a controversial development fund, which was “modeled after the way private businesses operated” at the time of its inception in 1949. Today, “the Authority does not set spending limits for travel or entertainment” even though many companies and other organizations enforce stricter controls on such expenditures. This issue highlights PHA’s complex role of straddling public sector responsibilities with private sector expectations.

The report also identifies that public stakeholder trust in the Authority has steadily eroded, and finds that PHA “lacks a proactive public engagement strategy” to rebuild that trust. While community relationships are identified as critical to advancing PHA’s mission, the report suggests that current efforts are not enough to meet the needs of concerned citizens or the port itself. PHA’s handling of the failed cruise terminal and the current Bayport expansion are explicitly cited as two instances of public outreach efforts overall characterized as “reactive”. Transparency at the Authority was mentioned as a key issue for many stakeholders and will become increasingly important as the port seeks to expand due to projected increases in container throughput and the Panama Canal expansion.

As EDF continues to work in partnership with PHA to reduce emissions from oceangoing vessels, trains, cargo handling equipment, and port trucks and improve Houston air quality, we are encouraged by this report’s findings and recommendations. Residential areas immediately neighboring port facilities, commonly known as fenceline communities, bear many of the public health impacts of port activities. The reforms recommended in this report will help amplify their voice and ensure that stewardship of public goods, including air, water, land, and funds, become factors in port decision-making. These reforms will also make PHA stronger and better equipped to handle the inevitable diverse pressures over the next several years.

Posted in Houston, Panama Canal, Ports| Comments closed

Emissions Should be Considered Alongside Expected Freight Increase

Credit: Mom's Clean Air Force

Texas isn’t the only state dealing with air quality issues.

In Georgia this week, I joined numerous experts working in a collaborative effort to develop cost-efficient strategies and solutions for reducing diesel engine emissions.

At this Southeast Diesel Collaborative (SEDC) 7th Annual Partners Meeting, the mix of federal, state and local government officials, together with NGOs, and private industry reflected a contemporary trend toward problem solving. That is, the more brainpower tackling a complex problem like air pollution, the more likelihood solutions can be found.

My presentation focused on the public health implications of diesel pollution and how we can accommodate the anticipated increase in goods movement while also reducing emissions and exposures. This topic, of course, parallels some of the very same issues we tackle right here in Texas.

Elena Craft at the Southeast Diesel Collaborative

Freight: Transportation’s Most Polluting and Fastest Growing Sector

For those who may not have read Marcelo Norsworthy’s July post, the capacity of the Panama Canal is set to double by 2014, allowing larger ships to transport goods. Projections by the Panama Canal Authority over the next 20 years has cargo volume growing at “an average of three percent per year, doubling 2005's tonnage by the year 2025.”

Freight movement has been identified as the most polluting as well as the fastest-growing transportation sector, and therefore a significant cause for concern. EDF’s position is that emissions reductions strategies should be a part of every freight planning exercise. Consider the following:

  • By 2020, 90.1 million tons of freight per day are expected to move throughout the United States, a 70 percent increase from 2002.
  • Freight emissions have increased almost 60 percent since 1990, more than double the growth rate of passenger travel emissions (27 percent).
  • The freight sector represents nearly 25 percent of transportation’s greenhouse gas emissions, or approximately 8 percent of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.

All About Health

Diesel emissions increase when freight traffic increases. Adverse health impacts will also be on the increase if strategies are not put into place to mitigate them. Diesel engine pollutants we are concerned about include particulate matter, nitrogen oxides, and other toxics, not to mention the increase in greenhouse gases.

The dangerous health costs of these rising diesel engine emissions include the shortening of 21,000 lives per year. Studies also demonstrate that people who work around diesel equipment, including truck drivers, railroad workers and equipment operators, are more likely to develop lung cancer than workers who are not exposed to diesel emissions.

A related Environmental Protection Agency report highlights the climate and health impacts of black carbon, a product of fossil fuel incomplete combustion and the most light-absorbing component of particulate matter.

It’s also estimated that for every dollar spent on reducing freight-related pollution, health and productivity benefits would be between $3 and $8 (USD).

Working Toward Solutions

As our readers know, we apply our efforts toward attainable solutions. Yes, the freight movement is expected to increase in coming years, not only along the Panama Canal and Southeastern United States, but also in Texas. And yes, air quality is expected to be a significant corresponding issue.

However, there are solutions under way, and many more on the horizon. One of the biggest solutions involves replacing older diesel engines with newer, less polluting ones   (heavy-duty engines are up to 60 times cleaner than they were just 20 years ago!)

Other solutions include cleaner fuels, better coordination across stakeholder organizations, engine replacement incentives, and improved fuel efficiency measures.

Some of the environmental initiatives under way at various ports around the nation include vessel speed reduction; the increased usage of low sulfur vessel fuel; diesel/electric tugs; locomotive retrofits; clean truck programs and more.

The bottom line: Reducing freight-related diesel engine emissions can be done in sync with the anticipated increase in the goods movement. It takes will, collaboration, and effort, but it can be done.

I’d like to extend a personal thank you to Rebecca Watts-Hull for organizing such a successful and thought provoking conference. As director of Mothers and Others for Clean Air, Rebecca is making a difference in the Southeast.

Posted in GHGs, Goods Movement| Comments closed

Exposure to Fine Particulates And Other Air Emissions For Shale Gas Workers

Credit: Live Trading News

Over the last couple of years we've seen a lot of debate on the impacts that shale gas operations can have on local and regional air quality and even on the climate.  But there's been less attention paid to the potential impacts to the workers who daily toil in and around the hundreds of drilling sites.  Fortunately, that's about to change.

Highlighting this very issue, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) recently released a Hazard Alert, identifying exposure to airborne silica as a health hazard to workers conducting hydraulic fracturing operations during recent field studies.

NIOSH is working to identify other potential health risks at drilling sites, acknowledging that there is a real lack of information on occupational dust and chemical exposures in this industry.

In a 2012 presentation, “NIOSH Field Effort to Assess Chemical Exposure Risks to Oil and Gas Workers,” Eric Esswein and other colleagues with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, state that little is known about the magnitude of potential chemical exposures, which could include not only silica, but diesel particulates, volatile organic compounds, hydrogen sulfides, acid gases, aldehydes and various metals.

Field studies are ongoing at 11 sites in five states, including Texas. NIOSH intends to identify processes and activities where chemical exposures could occur, characterize potential exposures to vapors, gases, particulates and fumes and depending on the results, recommend safe work practices and/or propose and evaluate exposure controls.

For now, immediate attention is focused on the respirable silica, present at higher than recommended levels at some drilling sites. Silicosis, the main danger associated with breathing silica dust, is an incurable lung disease that increases the risk of lung cancer. “Short term exposure at a high enough level can result in permanent damage,” said Robert Emery, a chemical safety expert with the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, in July State Impact coverage.

Esswein and colleagues highlight seven primary dust generation points at drilling sites, including site traffic, sand mover top hatches and transfer belts, blender hopper sand dropping, and more.

However, silica is just one of several chemicals used during the hydraulic fracturing process that can pose hazards at well sites, according to State Impact. “There are ‘biocides’ like chlorine used to kill slime in hydraulic lines . . . fumes from the hydrochloric acid used to clean cement out of the lines . . . exhaust from diesel trucks and generators.”

It’s worthwhile to note that NIOSH predicts other likely health hazards to include diesel particulates.  Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulates particulate matter (PM) under the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) and recently, the agency proposed strengthening the standards. In fact, the proposed revised standards – to be issued December 14, 2012 – would strengthen the annual “primary” fine particle standard to protect public health and would establish a separate “secondary” fine particle standard to protect visibility in urban areas. Though the PM NAAQS are established for the protection of public health across the country and not just at drilling sites, the new standard could result in additional monitors being placed in areas near high drilling activity.  These monitors would provide information critical to ensuring clean air protections from the harms of PM.

August 31 ends the public comment period on these proposed standards. For the safety of shale gas drilling workers, as well as for the protection of millions of Americans impacted by health concentrations of PM, we encourage you to voice your concerns by submitting your comments to the EPA before the deadline.

Together, we can ensure cleaner Texas air as well as increased vigilance paid to the health of shale gas workers.

Posted in Air Pollution, Natural gas, Oil| 1 Response, comments now closed
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