Selected tags: Air Pollutants

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

American Electric Power v. Connecticut

The most important thing about this [Supreme Court] decision is that it buttresses the foundation for EPA to do its job,” said Environmental Defense Fund President Fred Krupp. “The Supreme Court strongly underscored EPA’s responsibility under the law to address climate pollution that threatens the health and well-being of our nation.”

The United States Supreme Court ruled Monday in American Electric Power v. Connecticut that because the Environmental Protection Agency has the authority and responsibility to regulate global warming pollution that endangers American health and welfare, a lawsuit asking for court-imposed limits on power plant emissions brought under the federal common law of nuisance must be dismissed.

The Court found that because Congress had granted EPA the authority to regulate greenhouse gas pollution in the Clean Air Act, EPA’s authority “displaces” the federal common law in this area. This ruling reaffirms EPA’s Congressionally mandated responsibility to tackle global warming pollution and power plant emissions that threaten the integrity of Texas climate and air and the health of Texas citizens.

The nuisance case was brought by the states of California, Connecticut, Iowa, New York, Rhode Island, and Vermont, as well as the City of New York and several land trusts against the nation’s five largest emitting power companies. These companies include AEP, Southern Company, Xcel Energy, Cinergy, and TVA. Power plant smokestacks are the single largest source of carbon pollution in our nation, responsible for nearly 40 percent of all U.S. emissions. Read More »

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

TCEQ Study Suggests that Flare Emissions Could be Larger Than Reported

EDITOR'S NOTE: The final draft report was released May 24. Download the PDF here.

A soon-to-be released key flare emissions report could help answer the question of why Texas air toxics concentrations are higher than those reported through industrial emission inventories.

Footage of flare emissions captured by advanced monitoring technology at facility in Texas. The video was presented by TCEQ at the Hot Air Topics Conference on Jan 13, 2011 in Houston, TX. Flare is described as being oversteamed, resulting in reduced destruction efficiency and increased emissions.


Across the state, there are 1,500 flares registered with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. The “flaring” or burning of excess gases using these flares has been accepted industrial practice for combusting routine waste gases as well as for combusting large volumes of gases that may result from plant emergencies, such as those that could lead to a facility explosion. Air quality experts have long held that an increase in flare pollution has been a significant contributing factor in escalating smog levels and toxic “hot spots,” particularly in fenceline communities. Read More »

Posted in Air Pollution, Environmental Protection Agency, Flare emissions, TCEQ| Also tagged , , , , | Comments closed

New Rule Expected to Dramatically Reduce Hazardous Power Plant Emissions

Perhaps next week we’ll all be able to breathe just a little bit easier with the much- anticipated Wednesday, March 16 announcement of a new Air Toxics Rule.

The Environmental Protection Agency will announce a rule that will, for the first time, limit hazardous emissions from our nation’s power plants. These pollutants threaten the health of every American with annual emissions of more than 386,000 tons of dangerous air pollution like mercury, acid gases, heavy metals and even radioactive materials.

Unlike criteria air pollutants – like ozone and particulate matter – there are no current national ambient air quality standards for air toxics. This means that there’s no regulation on the amount of harmful air toxics that can collect in our air, water, or wildlife. Once in the environment, many of these toxic compounds are there forever.

While we have yet to learn all of the implications from harmful exposures to air toxics, we do know that some of the most serious health effects are most severe in infants and young children and include brain damage, learning disabilities, behavioral disorders, and impaired vision and hearing. We also know that reducing exposures can reduce risk, and that reducing risk is the best and most immediate way to protect human health. Read More »

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

A New Paradigm for Managing Air Pollution?

For several years, many within the scientific community have discussed a streamlined approach to regulating the multitude of air pollutants poisoning our air. In 2004, the National Research Council suggested that we “Strive to take an integrated multipollutant approach to address the most significant exposures and risks” and “foster control strategies that accomplish comprehensive reductions in the most cost-effective manner for all priority pollutants.”

As a result of these recommendations, as well as the growing interest from regulators and the regulated community to manage air pollutants more effectively, the Environmental Protection Agency and Health Effects Institute co-hosted a three-day panel discussion this week in Chapel Hill, NC titled: EPA’s Multipollutant Science and Risk Analysis: Addressing Multiple Pollutants in the NAAQS Review Process.

Why was this meeting important?
This workshop marked the first official forum convened to address the scientific challenges associated with developing a multipollutant strategy to reduce criteria air pollutants. Read More »

Posted in Environmental Protection Agency, Particulate Matter| Also tagged , , , , | 1 Response, comments now closed

Help TCEQ Clean Up Air Pollution Hotspots: Your Comments Needed Before Next Week’s Deadline

In December I commended the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality for its proposed guidance on better agency protocols and formal processes to delist polluted areas currently on the Air Pollution Watch List (APWL) in Texas. APWL areas are the hotspot areas of pollution around the state where the concentrations of specific pollutants exceed the state’s own health-based guidelines.  The deadline for the public to comment on the agency proposal is Jan. 24, so I’m encouraging readers again to take that next step in following through on efforts to reduce air toxics in Texas.

Simply follow these steps (also listed on the website):

  • All comments should reference the APWL protocol and be addressed to Ms. Tara Capobianco;
  • Send an email to APWL@tceq.state.tx.us; or
  • Send via mail to Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, Office of the Chief Engineer, MC-168, P.O. Box 13087, Austin, Texas 78711-3087.
  • [Do you live in an APWL area? Find out if you live in a pollution hotspot by reviewing the most recent table of Air Pollution Watch List areas. More information on air toxics and AMCVs can be found on the TCEQ site.]

As mentioned previously, here are some ideas that you might want to encourage TCEQ to consider:

  • Increase the number of air monitors in hotspot areas. (Monitor coverage in some of these areas can be too sparse, which is a problem in facility-dense areas like the Houston Ship Channel with hundreds of industrial facilities operating in a large area.) Read More »

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

Texas vs. The EPA: A Paradox

Over the past several weeks, Texas has done everything in its power to block EPA measures intended to ensure protection from greenhouse gas pollution emitted from large sources in Texas.  With the Federal Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C. expected to make an imminent decision regarding Texas’ latest challenge to EPA’s protective measures, we thought it would be helpful to identify what is at stake:

  • On April 2, 2007, the Supreme Court found that greenhouse gases are air pollutants covered by the Clean Air Act.   As of January 2, 2011, the Clean Air Act requires that large emitters of greenhouse gas pollution obtain permits applying the best technology available to control their greenhouse gas emissions.
  • EPA gave all states, including Texas, notice that state permitting programs must address significant emissions of greenhouse gases and Texas alone has chosen not to act. Read More »

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