Selected tags: Air Pollution

Energy Producers Capture More Today Than In "Good Old Days" But We'll All Benefit If They Do Better

In the frontier days of drilling in the 1900s, discoveries such as Spindletop in Texas and the Drake in Pennsylvania heralded a new era of energy for America. Back then, the gaseous by-product produced at the wellhead was considered a nuisance and flared (burned) or released into the air. Today, it's considered a valuable energy source and routinely harnessed, which results in economic and environmental benefits. Capturing gas cuts emissions that contribute to ground-level ozone, cause cancer, and contribute to climate change.

Given that it’s 2011, we’re way past the conditions of the 1900s. But, whereas the process of capturing natural gas as an energy source has come a long way, many improvements must still be made to ensure producers capture the maximum amount of natural gas “upstream” at wellheads and throughout the gas processing and transportation network.

Just because the gas can’t be seen doesn’t mean it isn't hazardous. In the last three years, new data shows that natural gas leaks might be twice as high as previously thought. This means that a lot more air pollution is fouling the air we breathe.

The pollution comes from equipment on-site (tanks, valves, compressor engines, flanges), at processing plants (where raw natural gas is purified for residential and commercial use) and throughout the pipeline system.

If you know anyone that lives near drilling sites — such as the Barnett Shale in Texas, the Marcellus Shale in Pennsylvania, Piceance and big chunks of Colorado and Wyoming — you’ve likely heard stories about their public health and environmental impacts.

EDF sponsored a study showing that the emissions produced by natural gas operations around Barnett Shale rival those from 4 million cars and trucks in the Dallas-Fort Worth metro area. Around the country, those who live nearby drilling sites have reported higher incidents of health concerns including respiratory and skin irritation, neurological problems, dizziness and headaches. And in some instances, elevated levels of benzene — a known carcinogen — have been detected.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has proposed rules that would require use of technologies and practices to capture more of the natural gas now being allowed into the air. These clean air standards are sensible, which makes you wonder why it’s taken a century to put these rules into place at the national level. It also makes you wonder why industry would fight them when they can capture more natural gas and bring it to market. Indeed, in addition to the health and environmental benefits of the rule, there are economic benefits.

A number of natural gas companies already use the practices that the EPA is proposing to cut methane and are touting the resulting economic benefits.

Similar requirements to those the EPA proposed have been in place in Colorado and Wyoming without adverse affects on companies’ profits. Who isn’t for a win-win solution?

I’ll be blogging more about this proposal in the coming days. Please get involved by writing to the EPA in favor of updated clean air protections. We also invite you to join us and share your thoughts with the EPA at the upcoming public hearings in: Pittsburgh, Sept. 27; Denver, Sept. 28; and in Arlington, Texas on Sept. 29. If you can't make the hearings, you can submit comments online until Oct. 24.

There's no better time than now to make your voice heard and show your support for clean air.

Posted in Air Pollution, Barnett Shale, Environment, Environmental Protection Agency, Natural gas | Also tagged , , , , , , | 4 Responses, comments now closed

Why Luminant Shouldn’t Get a Free Pass to Pollute

Yesterday, Luminant filed a motion in the DC circuit court to fight vital clean air rules that other utilities in Texas have been able to meet. Instead of working with EPA on a path toward cleaner air, Luminant abandoned recent talks with EPA and issued a press release that recused itself of responsibility, threatened possible plant closures and blamed EPA for potential job losses. Luminant's recent statement highlights a simple fact: closing plants is a business decision, plain and simple. Luminant isn’t closing these plants because of EPA regulations – that’s just their cover story.  They’re closing the plants because they did not begin to make reductions to meet the rule that anyone could see was coming.  The EPA just gives them a convenient way to shift blame. Moreover, Luminant is ignoring other viable alternatives to plant closures just to save some money in the short-term.  If anyone loses their job, they can blame Luminant’s management team for failing to plan accordingly to abide by the law.  We feel very bad for the workers whose company let them down. Read More »

Posted in Air Pollution, Environment, Environmental Protection Agency | Also tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Response, comments now closed

TCEQ Doesn't Let Science Get in the Way of Political Rhetoric

What was even more disappointing than the press release from the White House last week on the national ambient air quality standard for ozone was the statement issued from TCEQ on the matter. The statement was riddled with false assertions and incorrect information and appeared to be another example of the agency’s politically motivated campaign against the EPA. While others have blogged on the madness of this recent policy decision, I felt compelled to call out our own state environmental agency, the TCEQ, on the egregious manner in which they attempt to trample science.  A few of the falsehoods are debunked here:

TCEQ Myth #1

TCEQ claims that there is no compelling scientific reason to revise the ozone standard.  

Truth #1

The truth is that independent scientists convened on the Ozone Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee (CASAC) have said for years that the current ozone standard fails to protect human health, and have unanimously recommended that the standard be set within the range of 0.060–0.070 ppm. Letters from CASAC on March 26, 2007,  April 7, 2008 and March 30, 2011 unambiguously call for a standard within the range of 0.060–0.070 ppm.

In addition, in a letter to the President, 14 major health groups pleaded for a standard that was protective of human health and cautioned of the harms resulting from the interposing delays in issuance of the ozone national ambient air quality standard (NAAQS).

Even EPA Administrator has stated publicly that the current standard is “scientifically indefensible.” Read More »

Posted in Air Pollution, Environmental Protection Agency, Ozone, TCEQ | Also tagged , , , , , , , , , | 2 Responses, comments now closed

Texas State Environmental Agency Expands Air Toxic Hotspot Area

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) recently issued a public comment period and public meeting regarding the Galena Park Air Pollutant Watch List (APWL) area for benzene. The purpose of the APWL is to reduce air toxic emissions in areas of Texas where ambient air monitoring indicates a potential health concern.

Galena Park is listed on the APWL due to elevated annual average concentrations of benzene.  Benzene is a known human carcinogen – both the National Toxicology Program (NTP) and the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) have found sufficient evidence that high benzene exposure causes acute myeloid leukemia (AML).

Why the change?

Between 1998 and 2007, annual average benzene concentrations in Galena Park exceeded the long-term, health-based Air Monitoring Comparison Values (AMCV) of 1.4 parts per billion by volume (ppbv). In 2009, annual average benzene concentration at the Pasadena North monitoring site equaled the long-term AMCV of 1.4 ppbv.

TCEQ recently conducted a reevaluation of Galena Park and identified significant man-made benzene sources located outside of the current APWL boundary that are likely contributing to annual average benzene concentrations at the Galena Park and Pasadena North monitoring sites. As such, TCEQ is proposing to expand the Galena Park APWL boundary to include these sources of benzene. Read More »

Posted in Air Pollution, Environment, TCEQ | Also tagged , , , , , , , , , | Comments closed

Environmental Groups Re-assert Legal Efforts to Protect Clean Air

Following a series of delays in release of the ozone standard, several environmental groups have filed a motion with the DC Circuit Court to compel action from EPA. On August 8, 2011 the American Lung Association, Environmental Defense Fund, Natural Resources Defense Council, National Parks Conservation, and Appalachian Mountain Club filed the motion, requesting that the court establish a deadline for EPA to complete its reconsideration of the 2008 ozone standards. The motion claims that EPA’s national ambient air quality standards (NAAQS) for ozone do not comply with the Clean Air Act’s mandate that standards be strong enough to protect public health. Furthermore, the motion asserts that the Agency’s excessive and inexcusable delay in reconsidering such standards frustrates the Court’s prior orders.

Why did the groups take this action?

EPA’s national ambient air quality standards for ozone do not comply with the Clean Air Act. The Clean Air Act mandates that NAAQS standards be strong enough to protect public health with a substantial margin of safety to protect against adverse affects on public welfare.  The Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee (CASAC), the organization charged by the Act with advising EPA in setting NAAQS, has repeatedly stated that the ozone standard must be stronger than the .075 parts per million level adopted in 2008. The CASAC unanimously recommended that the standard be strengthened within the range of 0.06 to 0.07 ppm. EPA received this recommendation multiple times but has not moved to enact it.  By disregarding CASAC’s council, EPA fails to ensure that NAAQS standards are protective enough to safeguard public health, thus, not complying with the Clean Air Act. Read More »

Posted in Air Pollution, Environment, Environmental Protection Agency, Ozone | Also tagged , , , , , , , , | 1 Response, comments now closed

New Funds Bring New Hope for Cleaner Houston Air

Photo by Dan Kamminga. Some tugboats slated to receive new engines are more than 30 years old.

We are pleased to hear the news about possible new funds coming to Houston to help improve air quality.

Under the National Clean Diesel Funding Assistance Program, Region 6 of the Environmental Protection Agency recently recommended two Houston-based grant proposals for full funding:

  1. With a grant proposal titled “Clean Vessels for Texas Waters Part 1: Mostly Main Engines,” the Houston-Galveston Area Council asked for replacement of six main engines and one generator engine for local tug/tow boats.
  2. The Port of Houston proposal requested funds for fuel switching, which involves oceangoing vessels switching to cleaner, low sulfur fuels.

While the proposals have yet to be finalized, the EPA recommendations for full funding represent an important step toward an actual offer.

How Reducing Diesel Engine Emissions Helps
Public health is the number one reason we continually seek ways to reduce diesel engine emissions. According to the EPA, air pollution is linked to a number of health problems including: Read More »

Posted in Air Pollution, Environmental Protection Agency, Ports | Also tagged , , , , | Comments closed

No Coal Coalition Weighs in on White Stallion Court Decision

Allison Sliva is board chair of the No Coal Coalition/Matagorda County.

When I heard the news that EDF’s Motion to Remand was recently granted by Travis County Court Judge Lora Livingston, I was pleased on several fronts.

First, the decision halts, even if temporarily, a process of approving building facility plans that has tried to circumvent air quality laws designed to protect public health. Building this coal plant would bring with it serious air quality impacts for people in and around Matagorda County, not to mention the greater Houston area. Projected emissions from the plant will include 10 million tons of carbon dioxide, nearly 5,000 tons of sulfur dioxide, more than 4,000 tons of nitrogen oxide, nearly 1,800 tons of particulate matter and nearly 100 pounds of mercury.

This pause in the process should make everyone involved – especially the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality – think twice about the air impacts to present and future generations.

Second, the decision exposes a White Stallion action that might otherwise have gone unnoticed. TCEQ granted White Stallion an air permit after reviewing air dispersion modeling and testimony based on a site plan that White Stallion changed six days after the permit was issued. As EDF’s Jim Marston said, White Stallion “should be upfront with regulators about their intentions.”

Third, the decision renews public confidence in our legal system. As Judge Livingston wrote in her decision letter, “Without remand, meaningful public participation in the permit approval process would be effectively eliminated.”

Myself and members of the No Coal Coalition of Matagorda County thank you EDF for your due diligence in helping to set the record straight.  Our call to action now is to help gather the evidence needed to prove that the air pollution coming from White Stallion would violate the law as well as harm human health.

WHITE STALLION TIMELINE

Here is a timeline of the community efforts that Matagorda County residents and others have undertaken over the years to prevent a poorly planned, poorly placed and poorly designed coal-fired power plant from coming online. – Elena Craft

September 2008 – White Stallion files for an air quality permit from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. It proposes a 1,320 megawatt coal and petroleum coke-fired power plant to be located along the Colorado River eight miles south of Bay City in Matagorda County, in an ecologically sensitive area known as the Columbia Bottomlands. The proposed location is also 20 miles southwest of the Houston-Galveston-Brazoria region.

November 13, 2009 – In a letter from the Environmental Protection Agency to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Wetlands Section Chief Sharon Fancy Parrish recommended that an Environmental Impact Statement be conducted “for the proposed project to better access the substantial change to the human environment.” Read More »

Posted in Air Pollution, GHGs, Particulate Matter, TCEQ, Texas Permitting | Also tagged , , , | 1 Response, comments now closed

Guest Author Says Education Key to Solving Air Quality Issues

Deiedre Wright volunteers for Environmental Community Advocates of Galena Park to improve air quality for its residents.

There are more than 10,000 people living in Galena Park, an area on the north bank of the Houston Ship Channel, just east of the Houston City limits. Having lived there for 30 years, I have seen and personally experienced some of the worst air pollution in our state.

Yes, we live in an area known for its toxic industrial emissions and no, many do not have the luxury of moving, even though we are exposed daily to air that may be harmful to our health (Note: The median household income is around $31,000 per year.).

I’m not an air quality expert, but have learned over time that more could be done to improve the air we breathe in our community. My thoughts include:

  • More monitoring: In our area, there is a great need more air testing sites directly across from the ship channel. The closest monitoring site to Galena Park is more than a mile away from offending chemical plants and 18-wheeler traffic. I’ve never really understood the logic for this. If there is a need to know about Galena Park air quality, shouldn’t the monitors be in Galena Park?
  • More city action: Our city needs to do more to deter industry from harming citizens. Perhaps 18-wheeler traffic could be re-routed from the main street going through Galena Park. The trucks use that street as an entry point to the Port of Houston. Particulate matter could be reduced significantly should they be diverted onto a different road within the Port of Houston.
  • More industry action: Many of us believe that the most-profitable petrochemical companies do the least to truly help the communities they occupy. Whatever happened to giving back to your community?
  • More soil testing: Another concern is for those who plant vegetable gardens in their backyards or elsewhere within the community. The soil is not being tested for contaminants prior to planting and the result could be a non-healthy solution to what people may think is a healthy alternative.

Finally, more education is needed to raise awareness of these air quality issues. When communities are more informed, they come together to help find and demand solutions.

Posted in Air Pollution, Ports | Also tagged , , , | 1 Response, comments now closed

Environmental Protections are Health, Not Political Issues

Last month I wrote about a series of public teleconferences on additional charge questions from the Environmental Protection Agency, as it continues to reconsider the 2008 ozone standard. The evidence from more than 1,700 peer-reviewed scientific reports is clear (and continues to be reinforced with new science) in demonstrating that our current ozone standard is not protective enough of human health, and we at EDF continue to advocate for a strengthening of the standard. Just this week, during the second public teleconference in this series, I reinforced our position with formal comments.

Here are highlights from my testimony, with a few additions:

The Science is Sound
We appreciate the continued dedication of the CASAC (Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee) during the course of the 2008 ozone review through the present. To this day, as it continues to answer additional charge questions, the committee has not waivered in its opinion regarding the standard. CASAC remains strong, and has issued multiple statements indicating that the current ozone standard is unacceptable with regard to protecting human health. New research, including recent reports demonstrating significant increase in pulmonary inflammation in healthy individuals exposed to 60 ppb ozone, and clear evidence linking respiratory mortality with ozone exposure in a single pollutant model, serve to confirm this opinion and highlights the immediate need for a more health-protective standard. In other words, the science is sound. Read More »

Posted in Air Pollution, Ozone | Also tagged , , , , | Comments closed

Texan Health Still Jeopardized While $500 Million of Clean Air Funding Still Sits Unappropriated

It just seems anti-Texan. You wouldn’t expect a state that prides itself on individual rights and fiscal responsibility to collect taxes from citizens for air quality programs that it doesn’t fully fund. But that’s exactly what has been happening year after year in Texas, while some areas of the state suffer from worsening air quality (e.g., the Environmental Protection Agency just downgraded Dallas and Fort Worth air quality from moderate to serious).

In a recent post, “Budget Reductions Could Stymie Efforts for Cleaner Air,” former TCEQ Commissioner Larry Soward writes about the possibility of funds being dramatically cut from the state’s diesel emission reduction program, known as TERP (Texas Emissions Reduction Plan). He worries that the Texas legislature will use clean air funding to cover losses from other programs.

Given that Texas continues to have significant air quality challenges across the state, and that TERP was created as part of a legal, binding agreement with the EPA, it is hard to understand why the state would take actions that increase our legal liability, threaten human health, and send us backward in our efforts toward improving air quality.

Read More »

Posted in Air Pollution, Environmental Protection Agency, TCEQ | Also tagged , , , , , , | 3 Responses, comments now closed
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