Monthly Archives: July 2013

Protecting the Planet: A Report from the International Conference on Mercury in Edinburgh

(EDF’s Mandy Warner co-wrote this post)

This week, experts in science, policy, and industry are meeting in Edinburgh, Scotland at the International Conference on Mercury as a Global Pollutant (ICMGP).

We are honored to join them to discuss international mercury science and policy, and to share EDF’s work on mercury.

The ICMGP has been held periodically for more than 18 years. It has become the pre-eminent international forum for formal presentation and discussion of scientific advances concerning mercury, and gathers between 700 and 1200 experts for the five-day conference and exhibition.

This year’s conference will be of particular importance, because this year will launch the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Global Legally Binding Treaty on Mercury — which can provide much-needed global action on mercury.

This year, UNEP has also released its new report, Global Mercury Assessment 2013 – Sources, Emissions, Releases and Environmental Transport.

So this year’s meeting is perfectly timed to celebrate the release of the report AND the launch of the international treaty — and most important, to discuss how to put the treaty into practice. It will be a great opportunity for policymakers and scientists to collaborate on solutions that address worldwide mercury emissions.

It is well-known that mercury is an extremely toxic metal.

Mercury primarily exists in three chemical forms in nature: elemental mercury, oxidized mercury and methylmercury.

Methylmercury is the most neurotoxic substance that builds up collects in our aquatic foodchains.

About 400,000 children are born in the U.S. each year with so much mercury in their blood that healthy brain development is threatened.

As they grow, these children’s capacity to see, hear, move, feel, learn and respond is compromised.

While some forms of mercury are deposited near the emissions source, other forms — such as gaseous mercury — are stable in the atmosphere for approximately a year. Gaseous mercury can be deposited far from its source, even thousands of miles away – which is why it has global impacts.

The U.S. is leading the way to reduce mercury emissions from a variety of sources, including coal-fired power plants — the largest remaining source of mercury in America.

The Mercury and Air Toxics Standards for power plants are in place thanks in part to strong support from EDF members, and from our partners in the environmental, health, faith, environmental justice, and business communities.

Power companies are working now to meet emission standards by spring 2015, by installing American-made technology.

EDF has helped advance mercury policy at the state and national level in the U.S. over the past several decades.

During the development of the recently finalized Mercury and Air Toxics Standards, we provided technical comments and testimony; worked with EPA, states, companies; collaborated with both Republicans and Democrats in Congress to defend protective standards; and worked through the courts to advance strong mercury standards.

Our partner organizations like Moms Clean Air Force have helped engage diverse voices from across America, and bring new constituencies to the forefront of the national policy discussion on air pollution and toxics.

We now have the privilege of highlighting the U.S. experience reducing mercury and advancing technology solutions in the power sector to this important international scientific and policy forum.

We hope to forge new partnerships to advance an international solution to mercury pollution that can protect the health not only of Americans, but people across the globe.

Posted in Health, International, Policy, Science / Comments are closed

Climate Change Imperils Human Health

Health organizations have made it clear that climate change is a health issue.

American Lung Association has said:

[S]cientists warn that the buildup of greenhouse gases and the climate changes caused by it will create conditions, including warmer temperatures, which will increase the risk of unhealthful ambient ozone levels.

Climate change will impact many facets of human health in the U.S. through worsened air quality, increased transmission of infectious diseases from insects, and increased impacts from extreme weather.

These climate impacts will affect our health, daily lives, and our pocketbook.

Numerous health organizations have recognized the impact climate change is having on human health, and the need for action to mitigate emissions and assist with adaptation.

Here’s a look at what some leading health organizations and their representatives have to say about climate change and human health.

American Academy of Pediatrics journal publication:

Anticipated direct health consequences of climate change include injury and death from extreme weather events and natural disasters, increase in climate-sensitive infectious disease, increases in air pollution-related illness, and more heat related, potentially fatal, illness. Within all of these categories, children have increased vulnerability compared with other groups.

American Lung Association website:

Scientists warn that the buildup of greenhouse gases and the climate changes caused by it will create conditions, including warmer temperatures, which will increase the risk of unhealthful ambient ozone levels. Higher temperatures can enhance the conditions for ozone formation. Even with the steps that are in place to reduce ozone, evidence warns that changes in climate are likely to increase ozone levels in the future in large parts of the United States.

World Health Organization fact sheet:

Climate change affects social determinants of health – clean air, safe drinking water, sufficient food and secure shelter.

American Medical Association news/opinion piece:

Climate change produces weather extremes on both ends of the temperature spectrum. In Maine… it’s expected to have a rising rate of heart attacks and problems related to extreme snow, ice and cold. [Furthermore], in Maine, that’s being seen in a marked increase of Lyme disease. Warmer and shorter winters mean that deer ticks die off in smaller numbers, which means more will breed.

Asthma and Allergy Foundation website:

Twenty-five million Americans, including 7 million children, have asthma, and 50 million Americans have allergies… They are more likely to sleep poorly at night, miss school or work, and risk hospitalization and even death because of the increasing environmental triggers due to climate change.

Despite these alarming emerging health-climate issues, I am optimistic about our ability to implement the needed climate solutions to reduce emissions and adapt to impacts.

Just last year, 40 percent of all new electric capacity built was wind power, more than any other source added.

States like Texas, Iowa, Illinois, Minnesota, Oklahoma, Kansas, Colorado and California are leading the way on wind power. The U.S. has now installed 60 gigawatts of wind, one-fifth of the world’s total wind capacity.

The economic benefits of wind power are clear. Wind energy companies pumped $25 billion into the U.S. economy in 2012 alone through new project investments, and the wind industry employs 80,000 people.

Other solutions, like energy efficiency, continue to advance each year as well.

Annual savings from electricity and natural gas efficiency programs in 2011 were 19% higher than in 2010. That’s a huge improvement, although enormous efficiency savings – savings that can reduce emissions and save consumers money — still remain on the table.

Our fate is in our own hands.

We can continue to make progress reducing emissions by implementing President Obama’s Climate Action Plan while growing a strong economy.

Making the choice to reduce climate destabilizing emissions will mean a better world for my seven-month old daughter, her generation, and the generations to come. And better air quality will mean my daughter can take full advantage of those long summer days we all enjoyed growing up.

We have a responsibility to take aggressive steps now in order to help stem the tide of the more severe climate impacts we know are coming.

Posted in Health, News, Science / Read 1 Response

The Next Step in Defending EPA’s Historic Greenhouse Gas Rules

EDF continues to defend the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) historic greenhouse gas rules, this time against a petition to the Supreme Court.

A broad coalition of groups just asked the High Court to deny requests to review the unanimous D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals’ decision upholding those vital greenhouse gas rules.

The groups that filed briefs yesterday are:

These four short and succinct filings responded to hundreds of pages of industry petitions attacking EPA’s greenhouse gas standards.

Our briefs emphasize that there is no reason for the Supreme Court to re-decide issues addressed twice in the last five years, or to take up questions of statutory interpretation that have been resolved for more than thirty years.

As EPA put it, the greenhouse gas rules:

Represent … an unexceptional application of settled principles of statutory construction and administrative law.

Nine petitioners have asked the Supreme Court to re-hear the case, and an equal number of amici – or “friend of the court” – briefs have been filed.

Our opponents have presented the Court with a smorgasbord of claims, ranging from challenges to the fundamental science of climate change, to spurious suggestions that EPA shouldn’t set standards for reducing carbon pollution from cars unless it can singlehandedly and in one fell swoop solve the problem of climate change.

The petitioners complain, as they have before, about permitting rules for heavy polluters that require power plants, refineries, and other large industrial sources to consider common-sense energy efficiency measures before building new plants or remodeling old ones.

These arguments are old and tired.

The Supreme Court has twice concluded, in Massachusetts v. EPA and AEP v. Connecticut, that the Clean Air Act applies to greenhouse gases.

The vehicle rules being challenged now will reduce carbon pollution by almost one billion tons and provide America with monetary benefits of up to 1.2 trillion dollars.

And most important – these rules will protect our lives and health.

As EPA notes, by reducing carbon pollution now, these rules help avoid:

[A]n increase in heat-related deaths; an increase in respiratory illness and premature death relating to poor air quality; an increased risk of death, injury, and disease relating to extreme weather events; and an increase in food- and water-borne diseases.

Arguments attacking EPA’s statutory interpretation of permitting rules could have, and in many cases were, unsuccessfully made more than thirty years ago.

EPA, the states, and our environmental coalition all conveyed the same message to the Court — the petitions are much ado about nothing.

Our opponents imply that thousands or millions of businesses may be affected by EPA’s greenhouse gas rules.

In reality fewer than 200 sources — all of them large polluters — applied for permits for greenhouse gas emissions in the first two years of the program, and only handful of previously unregulated sources — all large sources of carbon pollution — have required permits.

EPA’s rules are clearly working as they should – to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the biggest polluters.

We think that proves that the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals’ decision upholding the historic greenhouse gas rules are far from cert-worthy.

We hope the Supreme Court will agree, and decline to re-hear the case.

(You can read more about the greenhouse gas rules and find all the legal briefs, on our website)

Posted in Cars and Pollution, Clean Air Act, Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Policy / Comments are closed

The Tier 3 Vehicle and Fuel Emissions Standards: Benefits from Day One

The comment period for the Tier 3 vehicle and fuel emission standards has now closed and hundreds of thousands of Americans have weighed in to support these important, lifesaving clean air standards.

Many, many thanks to the almost 336,000 of you who submitted comments through EDF’s website or through our friends and colleagues’ websites.

Those friends and colleagues include numerous groups representing health care, the environment, faith, business, labor, and moms — and they’ve all stated their support of the Tier 3 standards.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) now has to get to work reviewing and responding to the comments and crafting the final standards.

We expect EPA will finalize the standards by the end of the year, enabling automakers to gear up to meet the standards.

Organizations representing domestic and international automobile interests were among the many groups I mentioned that submitted comments to EPA. Their comments demonstrate the ability of the industry to meet strong vehicle and fuel emission standards.

The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers and the Association of Global Automakers also commented on the benefits of strong Tier 3 standards — benefits that begin from day one:

“Sulfur inhibits the catalytic converter’s ability to reduce vehicle emissions, so lower sulfur at the pump means fewer exhaust emissions in the air. And because lower sulfur reduces emissions from all vehicles, the proposed sulfur reductions would achieve Day One benefits, immediately reducing emissions from every gasoline-powered vehicle on our roads, no matter how old.”

Labor groups like the United Auto Workers also weighed in:

“[Tier 3] standards will create jobs and are estimated to prevent thousands of deaths each year, in turn providing billions of dollars in public healthcare savings …We call for an immediate finalization of the proposed Tier 3 rules and the use of similar widely-beneficial regulations to ensure our commitment to creating the next generation of clean and efficient vehicles.”

A broad coalition of health organizations — including the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Heart Association, the American Lung Association, the American Public Health Association, the American Thoracic Society, the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, Trust for America’s Health, Healthcare Without Harm, and the National Association of City and County Health Officials – had this to say:

“These standards are urgently needed and will help protect the health of millions of Americans who continue to breathe unsafe air … Abundant scientific evidence exists on the health effects of ozone, particulate matter and other pollutants from tailpipe exhaust. Tier 3 standards will be effective tools to reduce such pollution and improve air quality.”

The broad support for these common-sense standards demonstrates, once again, the unique intersection of clean air as a value for diverse American citizens, communities and businesses – a value that will have benefits for all, from day one.

Posted in Cars and Pollution, Clean Air Act, Policy, What Others are Saying / Comments are closed

Supreme Court to review decision critical to cleaning up America’s air

(This post first appeared earlier today on EDF Voices)

On June 24, 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court decided to review the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals’ decision in a case called EME Homer City Generation. To anyone concerned about the quality of the nation’s air, this was very big news. Here’s why.

In EME Homer City, which the D.C. Circuit decided last summer, a divided court overturned the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule, one of the Environmental Protection Agency’s most important (and cost-effective) clean air programs. In their filing asking the Supreme Court to hear the case, the Environmental Protection Agency argued that “the court of appeals committed a series of fundamental errors that, if left undisturbed, will gravely undermine the EPA’s enforcement of the Clean Air Act.”

The stakes are high. Every year, the Cross-State Rule, if only it can be applied, will save up to 34,000 lives and $110 to $280 billion in net health benefits. Without it, millions of people and entire communities will remain exposed to dangerous levels of pollution.

EPA issued the Cross-State Rule in 2011 under the Clean Air Act’s “good neighbor” provision, which directs states to “prohibit” emissions that are carried downwind and contribute to unhealthy air pollution in neighboring states. If states do not live up to their good neighbor obligations, then the Clean Air Act requires EPA to step in. According to 2011 estimates, air pollution from neighboring states accounted for more than three-quarters of local air pollution in many areas struggling to comply with EPA’s health-based standards. As this data shows, millions of Americans are breathing unhealthy air that originates in neighboring states.

The Cross-State Rule helps address this problem by reducing harmful smokestack pollution from power plants, which can drift for hundreds of miles and adversely affect distant communities. Despite its enormous health benefits and relatively small compliance costs, numerous power companies and several states challenged the Cross-State Rule in the D.C. Circuit. Numerous parties then joined the case in support of EPA and the Cross-State Rule, including: several states and cities that are adversely affected by interstate pollution; three major power companies; and EDF, along with some of its public health and environmental allies.

After the D.C. Circuit struck down the Cross-State Rule, Environmental Defense Fund, along with the American Lung Association, Clean Air Council, Natural Resources Defense Council, and Sierra Club filed a petition seeking Supreme Court review, which the Supreme Court granted along with EPA’s petition.

The Supreme Court, we believe, should reverse the decision of the D.C. Circuit and restore the clean air safeguards of the Cross-State Rule.

This will safeguard the air quality of millions of Americans who depend on EPA to protect them from pollution that comes from beyond the borders of their own states. No wonder, when EPA called for the Supreme Court to review EME Homer City, they warned that, should the decision stand, it would “seriously impede the EPA’s ability to deal with a grave public health problem.”

Posted in Clean Air Act, Health, Policy / Comments are closed