Climate 411

In Philadelphia, a Strong Show of Support for Cleaner Cars and Cleaner Air

In the first opportunity for the public to comment on EPA’s proposed Tier 3 standards, the message was clear – people want cleaner air.

Tier 3 is the term the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is using for its proposed national vehicle emissions and fuel standards. They are designed to reduce the soot, smog and other types of dangerous pollution that come from the tailpipes of our cars and trucks.

You can find extensive details about the Tier 3 standards in my most recent post.

Yesterday, EPA held the first of two public hearings on Tier 3 in Philadelphia.

My colleague, Caroline Paulsen was there to add her voice in support of the proposed standards. Here’s her eyewitness report:

It was an impressive turnout at the Sonesta hotel in Philadelphia, where EPA held the hearing, and most people in the large crowd were there to testify in favor of the proposed Tier 3 gasoline and vehicle standards.

It was a very busy day, with back-to-back five-minute testimonies starting at 10:00 a.m. During the five to six hours that I was there, only two people testified against the Tier 3 standards, so those are promising odds for us.

I was struck by the incredible range of people testifying in favor of Tier 3. Among the many people I noticed there were doctors and other health experts, business leaders, religious leaders, state government officials and moms – as well as environmentalists, of course. People were there representing General Motors, Chrysler, Honda, Mercedes Benz, the Auto Alliance and the Global Automakers. The American Lung Association and the American Thoracic Society were there, along with the Sierra Club, NRDC, and the Union of Concerned Scientists. The Consumers Union and the Blue Green Alliance were represented as well – all of them supporting the Tier 3 standards and the vast benefits we can expect from them.

I was especially impressed by the testimony I heard from a doctor at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital. Dr. Gary Emmett talked enthusiastically about the need to cut air pollution for the sake of the asthma patients he sees every day, and about how low-income and minority populations often suffer the most from air-pollution induced illnesses like asthma.

When it was my turn to testify, I talked about how the Tier 3 standards will prevent thousands of deaths each year, and will provide billions of dollars in public health benefits— all for about a penny a gallon.

I talked about how America’s passenger cars and trucks are the second largest source of the nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds that form ozone, better known as smog. Our cars and truck also emit more than half of all carbon monoxide, and contribute significantly to particulate matter pollution. The Tier 3 standards will allow us to make huge strides towards cleaning up that pollution.

I ended by saying that Environmental Defense Fund is proud to join the auto manufacturers, the auto workers, the emissions control technology industry, the health experts, the environmental organizations, the state and local air pollution control agencies, the consumer groups, and the public who all agree that cleaner passenger cars and trucks are an important step forward for a healthier and stronger America.

All in all, it was inspiring to be there representing EDF.

You can read Caroline’s full testimony here.

EPA will hold a second public hearing in Chicago next week. Check back for an update on that.

I’m happy that Caroline was in Philadelphia to voice EDF’s support of the proposal. And you can add your voice to the hundreds who are supporting cleaner cars and cleaner air. You don’t have to go to Chicago to testify in person — you can send an email to EPA instead. EDF’s web page is designed to make it easy for you to stand up for the Tier 3 standards.

So join us in support of this important proposal. Thank you.

Posted in Cars and Pollution, Clean Air Act, Health, Policy / Read 1 Response

Tier 3: What It Means and Why It Matters

By now, you’ve probably seen lots of news headlines talking about the proposed updated Tier 3 standards.

Tier 3 is the shorthand term for national vehicle emissions and fuel standards that will help us make big strides towards cleaner, healthier air. They are designed to reduce the soot, smog and other types of dangerous pollution that come from the tailpipes of our cars and trucks.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) just announced the proposed standards to enthusiastic responses from everyone from health advocates to automakers (including EDF, of course).

What exactly are the Tier 3 standards, and why are they so important? Here are answers to some common questions:

What’s the story behind the Tier 3 standards?

Cars and trucks are one of the biggest sources of air pollution in America. For years, EPA has been looking for ways to reduce the pollution associated with those motor vehicles.

In 2000, they created standards that would attack the air pollution problem at two of its sources at the same time – by reducing impurities in gasoline, so what you put into your car is cleaner, and by improving cars’ emission systems, so what comes out of your car is cleaner.

They called these standards Tier 2.

Now, EPA is proposing to update the standards. The new, improved version – called Tier 3 – will keep the proven approach of treating vehicles and fuels as an integrated system.

Starting in 2017, the new proposal would strengthen the earlier standards in order to reduce the pollutants from both gasoline and auto emissions standards in the most cost-efficient ways possible.

The proposed Tier 3 standards are also designed to work in harmony with America’ new clean car standards, which will improve fleet-wide fuel efficiency in new cars to 54.5 miles per gallon by the year 2025, and with California’s state standards, which are already stricter than the national average.

How exactly would the Tier 3 standards work? 

Cars and light trucks are the second largest emitters of oxides of nitrogen and volatile organic compounds in the U.S. Those are the primary pollutants that form ozone.

According to EPA, the proposed Tier 3 standards would slash the level of those pollutants by 80 percent.

The proposed Tier 3 standards would also establish a 70 percent tighter particulate matter standard. Particulate matter, more commonly known as soot, is one of the most dangerous types of air pollution. It has been linked to asthma attacks, bronchitis, heart attacks and other types of heart and lung diseases.

The proposed Tier 3 standards would reduce other noxious types of air pollution as well, including carbon monoxide, benzene and butadiene. They would reduce fuel vapor emissions to near zero.

At the same time, the proposed Tier 3 standards would reduce the amount of sulfur in gasoline by more than 60 percent, to no more than 10 parts per million of sulfur on an annual average basis by 2017.

Lower sulfur levels in gasoline will allow vehicles to run more efficiently.

It also means we’ll see immediate benefits once the proposed standards go into effect in the year 2017. That’s because older cars that are already on our roads will emit less tailpipe pollution –right away — thanks to the cleaner gasoline. (The cleaner emissions systems will be built into new cars, and we’ll see those additional benefits emerge more gradually as Americans buy those cars to replace their old ones).

What are the benefits of Tier 3?

Tier 3 would be good for public health and for the economy

By the year 2030, EPA estimates that Tier 3 would:

  • Prevent up to 2,400 premature deaths every year
  • Prevent 3,200 hospital admissions and asthma-related emergency room visits every year
  • Prevent tens of thousands of cases of respiratory illnesses in children every year

EPA also estimates that by 2030, Tier 3 would prevent 1.8 million lost school or work days each year, and would provide total health-related benefits worth up to $23 billion per year.

How much will Tier 3 cost?

We can reduce tailpipe pollution and provide healthier, longer lives for millions of Americans for less than a penny per gallon of gas.

How will America’s gasoline standard compare to other countries?

The proposed Tier 3 standards for sulfur levels in gasoline are similar to levels that are already required – and being achieved – in Europe, Japan, South Korea, and several other countries (as well as California, here in the U.S.).

Do businesses support Tier 3?

Many businesses do support updating the standards, including automakers and the emissions control industry.

Tier 3 would provide greater regulatory certainty for automakers; a national standard means the auto industry can build a car that can be sold anywhere in the country.

On the day the proposed standards were announced, Michael Stanton, president and CEO of the Association of Global Automakers said:

We have been anxiously awaiting this rulemaking because it is good for the environment and will help harmonize the federal and California programs for both vehicles and fuel …  With 15 million new vehicle sales a year, automakers need predictable national fuel quality at the retail pump. Ultra-low sulfur gasoline is already available in California, Europe, and Japan and will enable automakers to use a broader range of technologies to meet the significant environmental challenges facing the industry.

Gloria Bergquist, Spokeswoman for Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers said:

This is a big step forward for this country to catch up to the clean fuels available in other industrialized nations. Automakers have already reduced vehicle emissions by 99 percent, and we’re working to go further while also delivering high quality, affordable vehicles to our customers.

And the United Auto Workers said:

This is one of the most cost-effective ways for us to get cleaner and healthier air while strengthening our domestic auto sector and creating thousands of new jobs … The proposed rule is a win for our economy and a win for public health.

Who else supports Tier 3?

Even before EPA unveiled its proposal, state and local officials, national recreation groups, health groups and the public – as well as the automakers and the emissions control industry — all announced their support for updating the standards.

EPA has compiled a list of what all those supporters are saying. It’s a very long list. You can read it here.

What happens next?

EPA will hold two public hearings about the proposed Tier 3 standards, the first on April 24th in Philadelphia and the second on April 29th in Chicago.

EDF will be sending experts to testify at both those hearings, and we’ll report back from them. EPA will also begin accepting public comments soon.

Where can I learn more?

Check out EPA’s website. And check back here for updates.

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

It’s Just Business (but FirstEnergy Blames Its Decisions on Clean Air Rules)

Twice in the last two weeks, FirstEnergy has announced it will shut down old coal-fired power plants – then tried to blame those business decisions on the clean air rules that protect us all from toxic pollution.

First, at the end of January, First Energy announced it would retire six coal-fired power plants in Ohio, Pennsylvania and Maryland.

The company blamed those closures on new EPA regulations that will protect us from mercury, acid gases and other toxic air pollution – but FirstEnergy is going to retire the plants by September 1 of this year.

The compliance deadline for the new EPA rules isn’t for at least three years (2015 — with possible extensions to 2017). 

What’s more, FirstEnergy announced a decision to switch some of those six units from full-time to seasonal operation, and to temporarily mothball others, more than 16 months ago — before EPA even issued its proposal for the new rule.

Clearly, there’s more to the story than just EPA regulations.

Then, this week, First Energy announced it will close three more old coal plants in West Virginia. The company once again tried to pin the blame on EPA.

But the three plants in question were built between 1943 and 1960. They were built while Presidents Roosevelt, Truman and Eisenhower were in office. The oldest was built while we were still fighting World War II.

The plants are not closing just because of clean air regulations. They’re closing because they’re aging and inefficient, and because they are facing competition from natural gas.

Many factors contribute to the new utility investment cycle. They include:

  • Age – 59% of America’s coal fired power plants are over 40 years old, with many over 60 years old.

According to former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell:

In 1970, the [Clean Air Act] required that new sources meet tight emissions standards. At that time, it was assumed that electrical utility units had an average lifetime of 30 years.

  • Competition from Natural Gas – with increasing natural gas supplies and lower prices, the market is shifting to more efficient combined cycle natural gas generators over old, inefficient coal plants.

One industry analyst told the Wall Street Journal:

Inexpensive natural gas is the biggest threat to coal. Nothing else even comes close.

  • Low utilization –the older units are often small, inefficient, and operated only part-time. From a business perspective, it is not cost effective to keep paying the fixed costs needed to maintain them for limited operation. Energy efficiency and demand response programs are far more efficient ways of meeting these energy needs.

In its press release announcing the closings of the three West Virginia plants, First Energy itself points out:

[T]hese plants served mostly as peaking facilities, generating, on average, less than 1 percent of the electricity produced by FirstEnergy over the past three years.

  • Health and the Environment – it is not surprising that these old, inefficient power plants are also disproportionately higher emitters of pollutants, and often have not had modern pollution control equipment installed.

We have information and graphics to illustrate this issue on our new fact sheet.

Business decisions in the utility sector are complex. Don’t let plant owners use our health protections as a scapegoat for their choice to retire old coal-fired power plants.

Posted in Clean Air Act, Economics, Energy, News / Comments are closed

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

Landmark Climate Bill Passes Senate Committee!

This post is by Mark MacLeod, Director of Special Projects, Climate and Air Program, Environmental Defense.

Climate Vote 2007

This post is part of a series on the work of the Environmental Defense Action Fund to enact an effective climate law. You can help by writing to Congress.

Last night the Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee passed the Lieberman-Warner Climate Security Act (CSA) of 2007, a comprehensive climate change bill that would set mandatory caps on U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. This landmark vote brings us one step closer to passing national climate legislation. (See my previous post for more on the legislative process.)

Read More »

Posted in News / Read 2 Responses

How a Bill Moves Through Congress

This post is by Mark MacLeod, Director of Special Projects, Climate and Air Program, Environmental Defense.

Operation Climate Vote

Part of a series on the work of the Environmental Defense Action Fund to enact an effective climate law. You can help by writing to Congress.

Lieberman-Warner Climate Security Act of 2007 (CSA) is the most promising climate change legislation we’ve seen yet. You may have heard that it’s "out of subcommittee" and "scheduled for mark-up on December 5th". But what does that mean?

The legislative process is complicated, but here is a basic overview of the process this bill is following, known as "regular order".

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Posted in Climate Change Legislation / Read 3 Responses