Selected tags: cleanair

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

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

State Campaign Drives Home the Point: Do Your Part

We Texans love our cars. Statewide, we drive more than 644,882,192 highway miles every day. That love affair comes at a price though in the form of poorer air quality.

To help clean up our air by inspiring changes in driving behavior, Texas Department of Transportation recently kicked off its annual “Drive Clean” campaign and plans to give away a 2012 Ford Fusion Hybrid, donated by the Dallas Cowboys Football Club.

While industry contributes significantly to our state’s air problems, personal vehicles are also a major source of pollutant emissions. These rising emissions can cause us to lose billions of dollars in federal funds and more importantly, add to the rising costs of treating lung disease, one of the fastest-growing causes of death in the United States.

All of us share some accountability for worsening air pollution. Currently, nine Texas areas do not meet clean air quality standards: Austin, Beaumont-Port Arthur, Corpus Christi, Dallas-Fort Worth, El Paso, Houston-Galveston-Brazoria, North East Texas, San Antonio, and Victoria.

However, there are ways we can all chip in and do our part. Straight from the campaign website, here are five easy tips that collectively, can really make a difference in our Texas air quality:

1. Keep your vehicle in top shape. Proper and timely maintenance of your car or truck will conserve fuel and reduce emissions. Read More »

Posted in Air Pollution| 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

New Collaborative Efforts to Help Clean Up Port Pollution

EDF Staffers Marcia Aronoff (from left), Mark MacLeod, and Elena Craft (far right), join Gina McCarthy, assistant administrator for EPA's Office of Air and Radiation, at today's SmartWay press conference in South Carolina.

Today’s press conference in Charleston, S.C., marked another successful milestone toward reducing trucking emissions and improving local health in and around our nation’s ports.

Together with the Coalition for Responsible Transportation, Environmental Defense Fund and the Port of Charleston announced an agreement today to join forces with the Environmental Protection Agency on a new goods movement initiative called the U.S. EPA SmartWay Drayage Program. This program builds a partnership between the retail industry and the trucking and port communities, among other stakeholders, to solve a critical health and environmental challenge: how to reduce harmful air emissions from port trucks.

Dray trucks, typically older and more polluting than long-haul trucks, operate in and around port areas and represent one of the largest sources of port diesel emissions. Consequently, EDF appreciates EPA’s significant efforts in developing tools and funding opportunities that will help secure better environmental performance of trucks that operate at these ports.

We also appreciate the strong leadership from our nation’s top retailers in committing to hire trucks that meet specific environmental performance standards. In a statement released today, Target’s Director of Import Operations and President of the CRT said, “This partnership will generate private sector investment in clean technology, improve the environmental quality of our nation’s port communities and demonstrate the commitment we have made as the shipping industry’s leaders to emissions reductions.”

As you’ve read on this blog before, EDF has been working with CRT for some time now on a “clean trucks initiative” building a partnership between the retail industry and trucking and port communities. Such collaboration, often including port authorities, truck owners, retailers, local agencies and more, is cropping up at ports across the U.S. helping drivers meet new requirements.

The launch of a similar effort was just made today in Maryland, for example. The University of Maryland Environmental Finance Center and the Mid-Atlantic Regional Air Management Association have created the Mid-Atlantic Dray Truck Replacement Program, which will offer financial support to replace trucks serving the Ports of Baltimore, Virginia, Philadelphia and Wilmington.

Complex issues require collaborative solutions. As the hazards of air pollution and the effects that air pollutants on human health become more evident, creative partnerships are necessary to solve the most difficult environmental challenges like port truck emissions.

The real victory in such partnerships is the immediate and lasting health benefits for the people who live in and around U.S. ports. Fewer deaths, fewer asthma attacks, fewer lost workdays and schooldays, and reduced health care costs are just a few of the rewards that we can look forward to as a result of our collective efforts.

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

White Stallion Air Permit: Setting the Matter Straight

Earlier this month, guest blogger Allison Sliva expressed approval for a court decision that effectively withdrew an air permit application to build a proposed coal plant (White Stallion) in Matagorda County.

EDF had filed a legal document called a “Motion to Remand” based on White Stallion's use of two different site plans in applying for permits with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The plans differed vastly in the locations of emissions sources, and changing emissions sources can affect the permits compliance with Clean Air Act standards and TCEQ rules.

Now, even though White Stallion “intends to move forward with its construction plans,” new approval from TCEQ should not be considered automatic as one might infer from an article this week in the Houston Chronicle:

“The plant's developers, Houston-based Sky Energy, already have a permit from the state for air pollution and need one from the Army Corps of Engineers to deepen the Colorado for barge traffic.”

Yes, White Stallion received a permit from TCEQ. Yes, it was remanded. And yes, even so, TCEQ rules allow developers to depart from an approved site plan with the “submission of an ‘as built’ report” that does not require public notice.

However, the people’s right to know is the crux of the matter at hand. As State District Judge Lora Livingston wrote in her legal decision, “meaningful public participation in the permit approval process would be effectively eliminated” should the permit not be sent back for review given the site changes.

People have a right to know what’s going on in their backyards, especially those in Matagorda County and nearby Houston, where hazardous coal plant emissions will impact air quality. TCEQ should give the application review due diligence, with a fair and open process. The court has decided, not to mention that fundamentally it’s the right thing to do.

Posted in Air Pollution, TCEQ, Texas Permitting| Also tagged , , , | Comments closed

Political Outreach Generates Mutually Beneficial Outcomes

Isabelle Silverman is an attorney in the New York EDF office and focuses on clean air, transportation and diesel issues.

Have you ever visited New York City and noticed black smoke billowing out of chimneys? Did you wonder why this was happening?

I work on a high floor in a New York City office building and a few years ago, began wondering just that. So I contacted a consultant and found out that about 10,000 residential, commercial and institutional buildings burn highly polluting grades of heating oil (No. 4 and No. 6 oil), which causes the black smoke. No. 6 oil is also referred to as “residual fuel” as it is the bottom of the barrel – leftover after the refining process.

Pursuing further, we at EDF decided to find out how much pollution was created by these 10,000 dirty oil buildings. After researching the issue, we wrote and released a 2009 report, The Bottom of the Barrel: How Dirty Heating Oil Harms our Health and Pollutes our Air, showing that the dirty oil buildings were responsible for more soot pollution than all the cars and trucks combined in New York City.

In addition, we launched a web page with an interactive map showing every dirty oil building’s address. EDF also approached Mayor Bloomberg personally and the Mayor’s Sustainability Office recommending that permits for the dirty oil boilers be phased out as fast as possible. These actions put the issue on the map – literally.

For the first time, building owners realized that they were burning dirty oil when they could be burning much cleaner natural gas or regular heating oil. Natural gas being significantly cheaper than oil even presented a business opportunity when switching fuel. When combined with efficiency measures, building owners can reduce their heating fuel costs by more than 40%. Read More »

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