Monthly Archives: January 2013

A Tribute To EPA Leader Lisa Jackson

Source: Wikipedia

Since 2009, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson has led the charge toward providing clean air protection, putting into place historic standards that will ultimately help save thousands of lives and prevent hundreds of thousands of asthma and heart attacks.

Last month, after Administrator Jackson announced that she would be leaving the Environmental Protection agency, President Barack Obama praised such actions made under her tenure:

Over the last four years, Lisa Jackson has shown an unwavering commitment to the health of our families and our children. Under her leadership, the EPA has taken sensible and important steps to protect the air we breathe and the water we drink, including implementing the first national standard for harmful mercury pollution, taking important action to combat climate change under the Clean Air Act, and playing a key role in establishing historic fuel economy standards that will save the average American family thousands of dollars at the pump, while also slashing carbon pollution.”

EDF President Fred Krupp echoed similar sentiments in a recent statement:

It has been an honor to work with Lisa Jackson. During her tenure as EPA Administrator, America has taken strides toward cleaner air, a smaller carbon footprint and a healthier environment . . . Most importantly, EPA helped set a path for us to begin to meaningfully fight climate change by completing the Greenhouse Gas Endangerment Finding, and then started us down the path towards addressing greenhouse gases by proposing carbon pollution standards for new power plants.”

Since 2010, Texas Clean Air Matters has covered many of these historic EPA successes, giving praise where genuinely due. In “Court Upholds Historic EPA Actions, Rebukes Texas' Lawsuits To Undermine Health Protections,” for example, we wrote that the 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.” In “Court Upholds Sulfur Dioxide Standards” we hailed an appellate court decision affirming EPA’s standards, designed to protect American families from harmful, short-term sulfur dioxide (SO2) exposure.

Just last month we praised EPA in “Houston Exceeds Health Standards for Particulate Matter: More Work Ahead” for releasing new soot standards, a move that will help secure healthy air for millions of Americans, including those in Houston where existing soot levels already exceed the new limits.

As Administrator Jackson departs, we wish to thank her for the enormous strides made toward improving America’s air quality under her leadership, and to issue a call for the next administrator to earnestly continue the admirable legacy that she leaves.

We leave you with a short list of EPA’s official* clean air milestones made during Administrator Jackson’s tenure:

  • Finalizing Clean Air Standards for Industrial Boilers, Incinerators and Cement Kilns

In December 2012, EPA finalized changes in Clean Air Act standards for boilers and certain incinerators, providing important public health protections. While providing flexibility to industry for implementation, the standards will avoid up to 8,100 premature deaths, prevent 5,100 heart attacks and avert 52,00 asthma attacks per year in 2015.

  • Setting New Health-Based Standards for Fine Particle Pollution

In December 2012, EPA established the annual health standard for fine particle pollution (PM2.5), including soot, at 12 micrograms per cubic meter. Fine particle pollution can penetrate deep into the lungs and has been linked to a wide range of health effects, including premature deaths, heart attacks and strokes as well as acute bronchitis and aggravated asthma among children. Read More »

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

EDF Works With Stakeholders To Develop Recognition Program For Top Performing Ports/Terminals

Last October, Environmental Defense Fund co-hosted a workshop with the American Association of Port Authorities (AAPA) on performance metrics at ports. On Thursday, January 17, a group of thought leaders from the October workshop gathered to memorialize the workshop and discuss how those metrics might be used to highlight top performing ports with regard to environmental performance. The meeting specifically focused on air pollution as related to the movement of containers at large ports.

The diverse set of participants represented some of the nation’s largest ports, including Port of Long Beach, Port of Seattle, Virginia Ports Authority, Port of Houston Authority, Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, Jacksonville Port Authority as well as the Environmental Protection Agency, AAPA, and the Coalition for Responsible Transportation. Discussion ranged from typical terminal performance metrics currently in place at ports to cutting edge environmental initiatives that are underway as well as considerations on how to be inclusive of differences in port size and management/operational structures.

As the collaborative process of developing a recognition program for top performing ports and terminals moves forward, EDF and other stakeholders will be reaching out to additional constituencies to ensure that the group develops an environmental performance toolkit that balances local needs and circumstances while addressing industry-wide challenges. We envision that the performance metric toolkit will encompass a variety of modes and sectors of activity at ports, including ships, heavy-duty trucks, cargo handling equipment, rail, and harbor craft. Many ports currently have programs that mitigate emissions from these sectors and the toolkit is anticipated to serve as a foundation for highlighting top environmental performers in the field.

As supply chain sustainability becomes a more visible concern, federal health-based air quality standards are strengthened, and the Panama Canal expansion presents new opportunities for the shipping industry, we expect that the effort to establish environmental performance metrics will help drive efficiency and environmental improvements at ports. Together, with our stakeholders, we look forward to continuing the dialogue and building an effective tool for port sustainability and environmental recognition.

Posted in Panama Canal, Ports, Transportation| Comments closed

GHG Permitting Program Running Smoothly In Texas, Thanks To EPA

This is the second of a two-part series on greenhouse gases and the part Texas plays.

(Source: NRDC)

Last month, we wrote about The Convention on Climate Change conference (COP18) and the importance of reducing greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) in Texas, a state whose GHG emissions are comparable to those from “131 railcars worth of burning coal.”

Indeed, such emissions increasingly have the potential to threaten our way of life as the climate continues to change. Just this month, a draft report from the National Climate Assessment and Development Advisory Committee says that evidence of climate change can already be seen around the world, including Texas. According to the report, there is “strong evidence to indicate that human influence on the climate has already roughly doubled the probability of extreme heat events like the record-breaking summer of 2011 in Texas and Oklahoma.”

Because it’s been well documented that Texas contributes a disproportionate share of the nation’s GHGs when compared to other states, we welcome the news that after one year, the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) GHG federally implemented permit program is on its way to becoming a national model and a good starting place for Texas should the state ever regain management of the program.

Background

Under the federal Clean Air Act, states have the authority to regulate facilities that emit air pollution, including GHGs. In December 2010, after Texas refused to issue GHG permits to facilities in the state, EPA stepped in and created a federal implementation plan for GHG permits whereby facilities could apply to EPA directly for their GHG permits. Had EPA not stepped in to issue the permits, several new facilities across the state would have not been allowed to operate.

Unsurprisingly, industry leaders and even Texas officials balked at the move and filed lawsuits in retaliation. The biggest criticism was that such action would hurt business. However, since EPA began issuing GHG permits in 2011, most facilities have begun the process of reducing emissions to comply and business as usual continues.

Update

According to EPA staffers, the GHG permit program is well under way and shaping up to be a national model. The program includes agency transparency, public participation, scientific rigor and solid process. Since EPA took over the program, such elements have ensured the approval of numerous facility applications in Texas.

Another positive outcome of EPA’s management of the program has been the establishment of best emissions control technologies. EPA staffers say that a number of the approved permits could easily be considered some of the best model permits in the country. Sometimes, stronger controls are implemented than a company may have proposed on day one. Implementing this program has been a learning process and ultimately has the potential to benefit similar programs around the nation, as well as safeguarding public health through improved air quality.

The process hasn’t been perfect – the biggest issue so far has been that incomplete applications can delay the permit. EPA is working to educate applicants on the process, and delays have been reduced coming into the new year.

They said it couldn’t be done. When EPA first took over the program, critics predicted the move would shut down business. That didn’t happen. Permits are being issued. There haven’t been any closures. Facilities are up and running and bringing forward the best control technologies.

Bottom line: Companies are able to do the job they need to do while reducing harmful emissions. EPA stepped in to issue air permits when the state would not, enabling businesses to comply with federal regulations, and ultimately helping Texas to thrive economically while also doing its part to help combat climate change.

 

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

Energy Crunch: Saving Energy In Texas Schools Is A Win-Win

The Texas Legislature is back in session, and there will be, as always, a lot of discussion about how to fund schools. The school system in our state seems to be chronically short of funds to meet the demands of our growing state and its children.

But while the state-level politicians discuss, some school districts are taking matters into their own hands where they can. In the summer 2012, the Houston Independent School District (HISD), the seventh largest school district in the U.S. and the state’s largest, hosted a student through the EDF Climate Corps program. The program trains graduate students to find energy savings in their host institutions or companies. The Climate Corps fellow at HISD found several potential projects to help save the district money. For example, HISD has approximately 1,000 temporary buildings. The fellow found that if all the trailer-type temporary buildings’ lighting and wall air conditioning units and box heaters were upgraded and had insulation installed, at an upfront cost of $453,000, the district would realize over $62,000 in annual savings, nearly 700 kilowatt hours in annual electricity savings, and an annual reduction of approximately 400 metric tons of carbon dioxide. And that’s just one project!

The student’s work built on the findings of an audit funded through the State Energy Conservation Office (SECO) in 2007, which estimated that with recommended upgrades, HISD could cut its annual energy costs by $15 million!

Since the 2007 audit was performed, Houston voters have approved two bonds to help upgrade their school district, including one in November 2012. In the last bond vote, they approved, by a margin of nearly 2:1, a $1.89 billion bond to replace and repair 40 schools in HISD. In recent years, HISD has committed to ensuring all new and future buildings meet Leadership in Energy and Environment Design (LEED) standards for green building.

In 2009, the Texas Legislature passed Senate Bill 300, which was signed by Governor Perry. It requires school districts to develop long-term energy plans. It leaves it up to the boards of trustees of the individual school districts to determine if they want to submit the plan to SECO to help finance measures for plan compliance. There is no way to determine which school districts have developed plans or are implementing them. This Legislature could require school districts to report to SECO or could establish some minimum standards for building new school facilities or renovating existing ones.

Nationwide, schools spend more than $6 billion on energy costs, and the US Department of Energy National Renewable Energy Lab estimates that most schools could save about 25 percent of that by implementing smart energy measures.  Those savings could pay 40 million new textbooks, 30,000 new teachers or 1.5 million new computers every year.

Some relatively simple measures such as daylighting (using windows and skylights to bring in natural light) have a double benefit—in addition to saving the average middle school tens of thousands of dollars in energy costs, daylighting technologies are also proven to improve students’ academic performance. One study in North Carolina showed that students who attended daylight schools scored up to 14 percent better on tests than the equivalent non- daylight school students. Smarter energy technologies and conservation measures lead to lower electricity costs, but also to lower maintenance costs, better indoor air quality, and free up money that can be used on other necessities, such as hiring teachers or buying more computers.

There is often an upfront cost to installing these energy efficiency technologies (although many conservation measures, such as turning off vending machine lights require no cost and only save money), but in most cases, school districts are in a good position to take advantage of several financing options. SECO operates the LoanSTAR program, which uses a revolving loan mechanism to fund energy efficiency projects for public buildings, including those in school districts. SECO also operates the Texas Cool Schools grant program, which helps Texas schools lower their operating costs by purchasing new and more energy-efficient heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems.

Performance contracting is another way to finance upfront costs for schools. Under performance contracts, contractors pay the upfront costs, which are recouped through a portion of the resulting savings, and even guarantee net savings for the building owner.

As we start this new Legislative Session in Texas, and parallel debates happen about our impending energy crunch and how to fund schools, doesn't it make sense to merge these two issues? Help our school districts reduce energy costs (and in the process improve indoor air quality, student performance, and water efficiency) and enable them to spend their money on improving education, and reduce stress on the grid. Don’t the schoolchildren of Texas deserve that?

Posted in Energy Efficiency, Houston, Texas Energy Crunch| Comments closed

Dallas Fort-Worth Breathes Easier Following EPA’s Decision On Wise County Ozone Petitions

Just in time for the holidays, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) delivered a valuable gift to residents of the Dallas-Fort Worth area: the promise of stronger protections against the harmful public health and environmental impacts of ground-level ozone (the main component of smog).  Specifically, EPA announced on January 7 that it has decided to deny 19 petitions filed by the state of Texas and other parties last summer — all demanding that the agency reverse its determination that Wise County, Texas contributes to high ozone levels in nearby Dallas-Fort Worth (EPA’s responses were signed December 14, 2012).  EPA’s action means that polluters in Wise County will have to do their fair share to reduce ozone levels in Dallas-Fort Worth, which have been among the worst in the country for many years.  Because of the importance of this issue to the public health of Texans, EDF has already taken steps to defend EPA’s action in Federal court.

Background

Ozone pollution has long been regulated under the Clean Air Act because of the tremendous hazards that ozone poses to public health and the environment.  High ozone levels lead to respiratory distress and disorders; decreased lung function; increases in emergency room visits and sick days; and more.  To address the serious problem of ozone, the Clean Air Act provides a multi-step process for ensuring that all areas of the country achieve acceptable ozone levels.  First, EPA must establish nationwide air quality standards for ozone (called National Ambient Air Quality Standards), which are required to be strong enough to protect public health with an adequate margin of safety.  Second, EPA must designate which areas of the country meet those standards, and which do not.  Lastly, states are required to submit plans for achieving and maintaining compliance with EPA’s ozone standards — with especially strict requirements for areas that currently do not meet the standards.

EPA last updated its ozone air quality standards in March 2008. The revised standard requires that average ozone concentrations over an 8-hour period remain at or below 75 parts per billion (ppb) — a level that is more protective than the previous standard set in 1997, but still significantly higher than the range of 60 to 70 ppb recommended by EPA’s own Scientific Advisory Committee.  EDF has consistently advocated for a stronger ozone standard, and has even taken EPA to court over this issue together with other public health and environmental organizations.  At the same time, EDF has also fought hard against attempts to weaken the 2008 ozone standards or stop their implementation.

Designation of Wise County

On May 21, 2012, EPA issued a regulation designating 45 areas of the country as out of compliance with the 2008 ozone standards – including a group of ten counties in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, which had long failed to meet the earlier and less stringent ozone standards.  For the first time, however, the Dallas-Fort Worth designation also included Wise County, Texas, due in large part to emissions of nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds from a recent boom in oil and gas production in the area.

As EPA explained in a detailed technical analysis, Wise County was included in the Dallas-Fort Worth ozone designation because of the county’s contribution to unhealthy levels of ozone.  Among other things, EPA found that ozone monitors less than half a mile from the county line were recording unhealthy levels of ozone; that Wise County emits some of the highest levels of ozone-forming pollution in the 19-county area surrounding Dallas-Fort Worth; and that the prevailing winds on high-ozone days are responsible for bringing that pollution from Wise County to the nearby city.

Ensuing Litigation and Requests for Reconsideration

EPA’s determination was reached after a lengthy process during which the state of Texas and other stakeholders had ample opportunity to submit comments and data on Wise County’s contribution to ozone in Dallas-Fort Worth.  However, this didn’t stop the state, some local governments, and various oil and gas producers and trade associations from trying to stop the designation of Wise County by filing a total of 19 petitions asking EPA to reverse its decision.  The state of Texas, Wise County, and four industry parties also filed legal challenges to EPA’s determination in the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals — and EDF responded by moving to intervene in defense of EPA’s action.

EPA’s Denial of Reconsideration and Next Steps

In detailed responses to the petitions, EPA reaffirmed its analysis of Wise County’s contribution to the local ozone crisis and offered rebuttals to each of the major arguments advanced by the petitioners.  EPA’s responses confirm that the designation of Wise County rests on the best available science.  EPA’s action is also an important advance for public health — ensuring that polluters in Wise County will do their fair share to address ozone pollution in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, and that the important protections of the Clean Air Act extend to ozone-contributing areas and sources that have been overlooked in the past.

We hope that the parties challenging the Wise County designation will ultimately decide to demonstrate leadership by becoming part of the solution to the air quality challenges facing Dallas-Fort Worth.  In the meantime, vital work remains to be done to defend EPA’s actions in court: the ongoing D.C. Circuit challenges to the original designation of Wise County, which were suspended while EPA processed the reconsideration petitions, are likely to resume in a matter of weeks.  In addition, EPA’s decisions on the petitions may provide fresh fodder for additional legal challenges in the D.C. Circuit.  EDF’s legal team stands ready to vigorously defend EPA’s decision in the months ahead.

Posted in Air Pollution, Dallas Fort-Worth, Environmental Protection Agency, Ozone| Comments closed

NERC Demands Action From ERCOT To Keep The Lights On In Texas

Last week was a busy one in Texas, with the beginning of the 83rd Legislative session attention was focused on incoming lawmakers, both seasoned and freshmen, and the opportunity that only happens every two years to address serious issues in Texas including water scarcity, education, tax issues, and of course energy issues.

So it's understandable that no one seems to have noticed a strongly worded letter to the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) from the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) last Monday demanding more action to ensure electric reliability in Texas, and asking ERCOT to report back to NERC by April 30 on additional actions taken.  NERC isn't some federal boogey man either; it's a corporation founded by the electric industry to create commonly accepted standards for electric reliability across North America, usually through voluntary compliance.  President Bush's Energy Policy Act of 2005 gave the corporation "the authority to create and enforce compliance with Reliability Standards," which is where this letter comes into play.

In their 2012 report, NERC highlighted ERCOT as the only region in North America that was not maintaining adequate electric reserves to meet demand, and with this letter they made it very clear that the actions taken to date have not done enough to mitigate that risk.  In the letter, NERC President Gerry Cauley notes that the PUC and ERCOT are continuing to address energy reliability issues, but finds that "solutions have not yet sufficiently materialized to address NERC’s reserve margin concern."

Cauley goes on to say that "it is still unclear to us how ERCOT intends to mitigate issues that may arise on the current trajectory and when new resources may be available to meet growing demand."  So according to the corporation whose membership consists mostly of utilities, grid operators, large and small customers, and electric regulators, the actions that the PUC and ERCOT have taken at this point are not enough to ensure we'll have reliable electric supply, risking blackouts as soon as this summer.

As lawmakers settle into Austin for the next few months they'll certainly be paying close attention to this issue, though many have indicated they would prefer that ERCOT and the PUC develop the solutions to this problem.  Cauley's letter serves as notice that the PUC and ERCOT need to be more aggressive if they want to ensure a reliable supply of power in Texas.  Certainly both agencies are putting serious time and effort into keeping the lights on in Texas, including effort so expand existing demand response programs, but NERC clearly thinks they need to be doing more.

All of this reminds me of the Texas drought: a year ago it was a huge looming crises, but a break in the weather took everyone’s mind off of the drying rivers and lakes, even though they never really recovered.  Lately the drought has been back in the news as Texans realize that we're basically in the same place that we were in 2011.

No one could accuse ERCOT or the PUC of sitting idly by or pretending this risk isn't real. However, they have yet to send a strong enough signal to the market to spur investors in demand response or any other resources to develop new projects.  About the only thing that has been done is the extension of the federal production tax credit for wind energy, which has wind developers racing to build new projects in Texas.  The concern is that the solutions they've begun work on to date may not get us to where we need to be by this summer.

This letter is a reminder that the energy crunch hasn't gone away, things are not likely to change in the near term if serious action isn't taken soon. That is a risk we can't afford to take given a looming drought, a growing economy and a stagnant electric market.  NERC has asked ERCOT to report to them on their progress by April 30, near the end of our biennial legislative session, and one in which the critical PUC/ERCOT sunset legislation is expected to pass, maybe legislators should consider a similar request.

Posted in Demand Response, ERCOT, Texas Energy Crunch| 2 Responses, comments now closed
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