Monthly Archives: December 2010

Early Christmas Gift from EPA: A Commitment to Cleaner Air for America’s Children

Great news, today, for anyone who wants cleaner air.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) just announced a settlement agreement to establish national emission standards that will address the greenhouse gas pollution from new and existing fossil fuel power plants.

The agreement follows litigation launched in 2006 by a wide variety of parties — including EDF — after EPA refused to address greenhouse gas pollution in establishing national emission standards for power plants. EPA’s 2006 action was based on an interpretation of the Clean Air Act rejected by the U.S. Supreme Court.    

U.S. power plants are one of the single largest sources of airborne contaminants. They discharge more than 30 percent of all global warming pollution in America, about 40 percent of our toxic mercury, and almost two-thirds of our sulfur dioxide (which transforms into deadly fine particulate pollution and contributes to acid rain).

Now, EPA will establish new standards that will include the greenhouse gas emissions from the plant. EPA will issue a draft of the standards by July 26, 2011, and then take final action by May 26, 2012.

The announcement was immediately cheered by people across the country — including EDF’s own Fred Krupp, who said in a statement:

EPA’s commitment to address the dangerous, climate-disrupting pollution from power plants through common sense national standards will provide important environmental protections and will create economic certainty for vibrant new investments.

Along with EDF, the other parties to today’s settlement agreement are: the states of New York, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington; the Commonwealth of Massachusetts; the District of Columbia; the City of New York; Natural Resources Defense Council; and Sierra Club.

And in more good news, EPA also announced a settlement agreement to address pollution limits for refineries today. That proposal is due by next December, and final action is due in 2012.

Posted in Clean Air Act, Greenhouse Gas Emissions, News / Read 2 Responses

Attacks on EPA Led by Group that is Linked to Owner of Largest Private U.S. Coal Reserves

EDF General Counsel Vickie Patton reveals how the state of Texas and Big Coal are prime movers behind a legal campaign attacking EPA’s greenhouse gas pollution cuts for smokestacks and tailpipes.

On December 10, the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia rejected a request that it stay the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from implementing some common sense rules to curb greenhouse gas emissions.

Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) and its allies worked for months to help defeat that request.  Our allies included the Attorneys General of 19 states, numerous business organizations, and other environmental groups like Natural Resources Defense Council, the Sierra Club, and Earthjustice.

The attempt to shackle EPA was supported by the Coalition for Responsible Regulation, the state of Texas, and powerful groups like the National Petrochemical and Refiners Association. They are the prime movers behind a legal campaign to invalidate every national greenhouse gas pollution control measure that has been adopted to date.

Last year, in December 2009, an attorney representing the Coalition for Responsible Regulation sent an email to Texas government officials. EDF obtained that email [PDF] through the Texas Open Records Act. The email encouraged a legal challenge to EPA authority under the Clean Air Act, and requested that Texas and the Coalition:

“begin the coordination process”

But who, or what, is the Coalition for Responsible Regulation?  It appears to be closely linked to the largest private owner of coal reserves in the country.

The Coalition’s purpose, according to its articles of formation, is:

“To pursue such administrative and judicial avenues as appropriate to ensure that the Clean Air Act is properly applied to greenhouse gases.”

But “properly applied,” in this instance, means NOT applying our clean air laws to greenhouse gas pollution.

State records show that all three members of the Coalition’s board of directors share the same Houston address as the Quintana Minerals Corporation – though none of the Coalition’s incorporating papers mention the company. Bloomberg Businessweek says that one of those members, Charles H. Kerr, has been an executive with the Quintana Minerals Corporation since 1983.

Quintana Minerals is owned by Corbin Robertson Jr. and his family. It is the nation’s largest private holder of coal reserves.

Robertson is a contributor to  Texas politicians like Gov. Rick Perry, Attorney General Gregory Abbott and U.S. Rep. Joe Barton (who memorably apologized to BP for the White House’s investigation of the Gulf oil spill) — politicians who are committed to hobbling an EPA that uses rigorous science to regulate harmful pollution.

According to the Washington Post, Robertson has also joined forces with H. Leighton Steward (a well-known climate change denier) to campaign against climate science through two peculiarly named pressure groups — “CO2 is Green” and “Plants Need CO2.”

The Appeals Court ruling on December 10 temporarily freed EPA to fulfill its mandate, under the Clean Air Act, to protect human health and the environment by cutting harmful forms of pollution. EPA will start by limiting greenhouse gas emissions from new power plants and factories on January 2.

Also, EPA’s clean car standards will require lower emissions from new automobiles, which will get better mileage as a result. The new standards will cut America’s oil consumption and help the auto industry grow. American automakers, in their own filing to the court, said the attempt to stop EPA from implementing their new standards:

“would result in tremendous hardship” to the entire industry.

But sensible EPA actions like these are under continuing legal (and, with the new Congress, legislative) threat from the Coalition and its allies.

In fact, Texas has already jumped to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, in New Orleans, to again ask for an immediate stay on implementation of EPA’s greenhouse gas rules. EDF and its allies are moving quickly to oppose this request.

Posted in Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Policy / Read 2 Responses

There They Go Again, Part Two: Mercury Controls on Power Plants

“And they said it couldn’t be done …”

When it comes to cleaning up pollution, never underestimate the power of innovation.

Five years ago, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) faced a court deadline to regulate mercury pollution from power plants. Mercury is a potent neurotoxin that harms brain development in fetuses and growing children. But some in the utility industry argued that the technology was not available to achieve rigorous pollution reductions.

In 2005, EPA accepted those claims and issued a weak rule — one that was later thrown out by a federal appeals court.

EPA will take up the issue of the toxic pollution discharged from power plants soon — this coming March. Hopefully, they will keep in mind that industry pessimists who said it could not be done were wrong.  Fast-moving innovation is delivering cost-effective mercury reductions right now, while growing America’s clean air technology industry. So this time around, EPA should not listen to the “sky is falling” claims — and should move ahead with rules that will protect Americans’  health. 

Here’s more about the 2005 mercury rules:

Coal industry claims ACI technology isn’t feasible

Coal-fired power plants are the largest human-made source of mercury emissions in the United States. In 2004 and 2005, EPA considered several means to reduce power plant mercury emissions. The protective solution to implement the Clean Air Act would have required each coal-fired power plant to reduce mercury emissions by 90 percent through Activated Carbon Injection (ACI), a control technology that had been used in the waste-to-energy industry for many years and was already being successfully used by coal-fired power plants by the early 2000s.

But some members of  the coal-fired utility industry claimed that ACI technology was many more years away from full-scale deployment, and projected that it would be 2018 before ACI could be feasibly installed at most power plants:

  • A spokesman for the Electric Reliability Coordinating Council urged EPA to use “realistic assumptions about the current state of mercury control technology.” (Nesmith, Jeff, Rules on Mercury to Be Fine-Tuned, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, April 30, 2004, p. A6.)
  • An official with Indianapolis Power & Light Company stated “If we can get a man to the moon, I’m sure we can get to 90 percent [mercury reduction] over time, just not now.” (Webber, Tammy, EPA Orders Industry to Cut Mercury by 70%, Indianapolis Star, March 16, 2005, p. A1.)
  • EPA’s final rule mirrored industry claims:  “Although EPA is optimistic that such controls may be available for use on some scale prior to 2018, it does not believe that such controls can be installed and operated on a national scale before that date.”

ACI technology proven feasible and cost-effective

Utility industry pessimists were wrong about the feasibility, scalability and cost of using ACI to reduce mercury pollution from coal-fired power plants. After EPA issued its weak rule (the one that was thrown out in court), many state and local governments stepped up to the plate and required power plants to protect public health from mercury pollution. Responding to the demand created by these state and local controls, companies have delivered cost-effective mercury control technology that is performing even better than hoped for.

As of June 2010, a large number of coal-fired power plants have ordered or installed mercury control technology — so many that, combined, they generate more than 62,000 megawatts of electricity, which is enough to serve more than 60 million American homes. Here’s a list of all those plants. Overwhelmingly, they have chosen to install ACI technology — the same kind that Clean Air Act pessimists dismissed five short years ago as unrealistic and impractical.

The Government Accountability Office reports that ACI systems have become even more effective at removing mercury from flue gas as they have been deployed in the electric utility industry. The GAO says, “Data from power plants shows that these boilers have achieved, on average, reductions in mercury emissions of about 90 percent” — and that applies to a variety of coal types burned in different boiler configurations. The GAO also says that this magnitude of reduction can be expected from the boiler configurations used at nearly three-fourths of the coal-fired utility boilers in the U.S.

Costs and benefits of ACI technology

ACI technology has turned out to be an efficient and affordable pollution control, and the cost of capturing mercury from power plants has dropped dramatically.

According to the Department of Energy’s National Energy Technology Laboratory, the 2008 cost to capture a pound of mercury was 1/6 the 1999 price. Advancements in the sorbents used to remove mercury have allowed ACI to be used for a wider range of coal qualities than was expected in 2005 (read more in this GAO report [PDF].) ACI systems now cost a fraction of other air pollution control devices.

“But there they go again …”

In spite of all the powerful evidence that mercury controls are available and highly cost-effective in protecting human health, some industry voices continue to argue against requiring them.

For instance, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce — ignoring the facts — still claims that mercury control solutions are not available.

Some in the utility industry persuaded EPA to bet against mercury control innovation the last time around, and as a consequence, EPA set policies that recklessly failed to protect human health. But state action and a nimble U.S. clean air technology industry has proven, yet again, that America can innovate to deliver the pollution reductions we need to protect our health and the health of future generations.

Now we need EPA to carry out the law to ensure all Americans are protected by clean air standards addressing toxic mercury from power plants.

Posted in Energy, Policy, Setting the Facts Straight / Read 1 Response

Economic Benefits from EPA’s Power Plant Pollution Rule — New Report

We already know that EPA’s proposed rule to reduce power plant pollution in the eastern U.S. is good for public health. An analysis prepared for Environmental Defense Fund (using EPA methodologies) shows that the sulfur dioxide and nitrous oxide emissions from eastern power plants are associated with as many as 60,000 deaths, 3.1 million lost work days, and 18 million acute respiratory symptoms each year — and that’s due to particulate pollution alone. 

But there are also economic benefits to EPA’s proposed clean air protections, as evidenced in a new report called “Expensive Neighbors: The Hidden Cost of Harmful Pollution to Downwind Employers and Businesses.”

This important report reinforces BOTH the health and economic benefits of EPA’s proposed Transport Rule. Once again, we see that public health and environmental protection benefit the economy. We should stop being surprised by this. Since its adoption, the Clean Air Act has provided at least $30 in benefits for every dollar of investment, and our national gross domestic product has grown by 207 percent.

The bottom line: EPA should finalize the transport rule now.

The new report was authored by Charles J. Cicchetti, Ph.D., a Senior Advisor to Navigant Consulting. It was co-sponsored by the Clean Air Council, the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia, the Chester Environmental Partnership, and Eddystone Residents for Positive Change. Third party review and feedback was provided by the Academy of Natural Science’s Center for Environmental Policy, and by A. Myrick Freeman III, the William D. Shipman Professor of Economics Emeritus at Bowdoin College. 

You can read the entire report here.

Posted in Economics, Health / Read 1 Response

Debunking Clean Air Scare Tactics: Part One, Acid Rain

There they go again. Economic meltdown. Higher consumer costs. Massive job losses. These are among the predictions of doom surrounding EPA’s current and forthcoming round of clean air protections. If they sound familiar, they should. Time and again, from the enactment of the Clean Air Act in 1970 to today, prophets of doom have predicted that disastrous consequences would flow from cleaning the air we all breathe. And time and again, those dire predictions have been wrong. The Clean Air Act has protected American health and our environment for decades while our economy has grown. It is a legislative success story that continues today.

This series will examine what the naysayers have said about Clean Air Act protections and how those wild predictions compare to the statute’s actual record of protecting Americans from toxic air pollution and its devastating effects on human health and the environment. We start with the acid rain program in the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990.

Part One: The Acid Rain Program

These maps compare annual wet sulfate deposition at the time of the 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments and today's deposition levels, depicting the extraordinary progress that has been made. Source: NADP data.

Predictions of Doom

Twenty years ago, and twenty years after enacting the modern Clean Air Act, Congress took up the matter of acid rain, which was devastating ecosystems across the East and Northeast. Acid rain is caused by air pollution including sulfur dioxide emissions from coal-fired power plants. For the first time ever, the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990 used the groundbreaking tool of a market-based cap and trade system to reduce sulfur dioxide emissions.

Industry fought the acid rain program with scare tactics throughout the legislative debate, warning that it would wreak havoc on the economy:

  • The Edison Electric Institute predicted the Clean Air Act Amendments would cost the electric utility industry up to $4.5 billion a year.
  • The Business Roundtable projected the total economic cost would be $104 billion a year.
  • American Electric Power Company warned of “the potential destruction of the Midwest economy.”
  • In an editorial that dismissed the scientific case for reducing acid rain, the Atlanta Journal and Constitution warned that “Americans can expect their power bills to skyrocket for nothing.”

Protecting our Health and Environment

Twenty years later, peer-reviewed EPA studies required by the Clean Air Act show that sweeping public health benefits have resulted from the reductions in air pollution achieved under the 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments. While the legislative debate about acid rain focused on environmental harm, public health reaped great benefits because sulfur dioxide pollution from power plants forms not only acid rain, but also particulate pollution that is particularly dangerous to breathe.

EPA estimates that the pollution reductions achieved under the 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments will in this year alone:

  • Save 160,000 lives,
  • Avoid 130,000 cases of acute bronchitis and 130,000 heart attacks,
  • Prevent 86,000 emergency room visits,
  • Keep children in school and prevent 3,200,000 lost school days and
  • Keep workers on the job and prevent 13,000,000 lost work days.

These profound public health benefits are paired with dramatic reductions in sulfate deposition, and damaged environments have begun to recover from the ill effects of decades of acid rain.

Costs and Benefits

Not surprisingly, the cost of achieving the tremendous public health and environmental benefits of the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990 were a fraction of industry forecasts, and significantly below EPA’s own projections. In 1990, power companies predicted that reducing sulfur dioxide pollution would cost $1000-$1500 per ton and electricity prices would increase up to 10% in many states (Factsheet, Committee on Energy and Commerce, Industry Claims About the Costs of the Clean Air Act [PDF], June 16, 2009). In fact, the actual pollution reduction cost has been between $100 and $200 per ton for most of the program, and electricity prices fell in most states. Acid rain has been dramatically reduced and the limits on sulfur dioxide pollution were met faster and at a strikingly lower price than anyone expected in 1990.

The benefits to public health and the environment outweigh these costs many times over. EPA’s analysis of the costs and benefits of the Clean Air Act projects that in 2020 the benefits of the 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments will exceed the costs of compliance by a factor of 30 to 1. Studies by the Office of Management and Budget and private researchers support these conclusions as well.

The predictions of doom in 1990 overlooked the power of American innovation unleashed by the goals of the Clean Air Act Amendments and the market-based system Congress established to achieve them. Unlike previous programs that specified what pollution controls must be used, the acid rain program set enforceable and descending limits on total pollution, but let industry experiment, innovate and find the most cost-effective means to lower pollution. These results are a striking rebuke to the critics who said it could not be done.

Posted in Health, Policy, Setting the Facts Straight / Read 10 Responses