Climate 411

A Great Day for Clean Air

Today, a bipartisan majority in the U. S. Senate voted down Sen. Rand Paul’s (R-KY) dirty air resolution, which would have allowed upwind states to dump air pollution on their neighbors.

The vote was 41 to 56 against the resolution.

Thanks to this vote, the Environmental Protection Agency will keep its authority to enforce the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule (CSPAR), which will save up to 34,000 lives each year.

Here’s what EDF’s Fred Krupp had to say:

Today, the U.S. Senate did the right thing and defeated a measure that would have put American lives and health at risk. We appreciate the stand taken by those Senators who voted against S.J. Res. 27.

Sen. Rand Paul’s resolution would have blocked the long-overdue Cross-State Air Pollution Rule, which protects American families from the smokestack pollution that drifts across state lines and causes thousands of premature deaths each year. Sen. Paul’s effort to undermine our clean air laws was misguided and dangerous.

Unfortunately, the attacks against our clean air laws continue in spite of today’s victory. In fact, Senators Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Dan Coats (R-IN) have already introduced other legislation to undermine the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule and another critical protection, the Mercury and Air Toxics Rule for power plants.

We need our Senators to continue to fight for clean air and public health, and defeat any and all legislation that would leave us vulnerable to mercury emissions and other dangerous air pollution.

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

A Bad Neighbor Bill Hits the Senate Floor

Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) will take his “Bad Neighbor” bill to the Senate floor tomorrow morning.

Sen. Paul’s bill (S.J. Res. 27) would undo the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule – also known as the “Good Neighbor” rule.

The Cross-State Air Pollution Rule (CSPAR) would protect downwind states from getting their neighbors’ air pollution dumped on them. It could save up to 34,000 lives a year – if it’s not stopped by Sen. Paul’s bill.

EDF President Fred Krupp said this about Sen. Paul’s decision to push his anti-clean-air measure in the Senate:

Senator Paul’s attempt to block the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule takes anti-government ideology to an extreme.  His bill would stop a long-overdue rule to protect American families from smokestack pollution that drifts across state lines — and causes thousands of premature deaths each year.  If polluters are allowed to continue dumping their pollution in neighboring states, we will all be in serious trouble.

Of course, EDF is not the only group that’s opposed to Sen. Paul’s measure. A group of more than a dozen of America’s leading health organizations sent a letter to the Senate urging them to support CSPAR.

We’ve posted about CSPAR — and Rand Paul’s misguided attempts to undo it – before, but if you want to know more about the issue, check out our fact sheet.

Posted in Clean Air Act, Health, News, Policy / Read 1 Response

Power to the Polluters: Rand Paul Is Eroding States’ Right to Clean Air

Senator Rand Paul (R-KY), in an attempt to forward his own narrow agenda, is attacking clean air and public health safeguards.

Sen. Paul has his sights set on the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule, also called the “Good Neighbor” rule.  Undoing this rule would mean that one state can continue to dump its pollution into another state, sickening its neighbors. It would mean undoing downwind states’ ability to meet public health standards for their own citizens.

The current rule, the one that Sen. Paul seeks to stop, builds on progress made under the Bush Administration to rein in power plant emissions of sulfur dioxide (SO2) and nitrogen oxide (NOx). This soot and smog pollution not only impacts the people living in the shadows of smokestacks, but also travels across the country — causing deaths in downwind states, as well as other serious adverse health impacts like heart attacks and severe asthma episodes.

The impacts from upwind air pollution fall hardest on children and the elderly, but they can affect everyone, including otherwise healthy adults.

This is part of the reason why the Bush Administration initiated the federal Clean Air Interstate Program (CAIR) in 2005. Although the Bush Administration approach was deemed inadequate by the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, it at least made progress cleaning up the air while the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) crafted a replacement.

In the summer of 2010, EPA proposed its replacement rule to address the Court’s concerns. Now, over a year later, the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule (CSAPR) is set to take effect in January.

In 2014, CSAPR will

  • save up to 34,000 lives
  • prevent 400,000 asthma attacks
  • avoid 15,000 heart attacks
  • improve air quality for over 240 million Americans.

The monetized value of the benefits from this rule is up to $280 billion per year, which greatly outweighs the costs of about $2.4 billion.

But Sen. Paul is trying to unravel this crucial public health safeguard. Paul’s Congressional Review Act (CRA) bill would throw out CSAPR and bar EPA from producing a substantially similar rule.

Some claim that the Bush-era CAIR rule would be left in place, but that assumption makes no sense and gambles with public health. CAIR has been deemed unlawful (indeed, fatally flawed) by the federal court of appeals, so you can bet that there will be no shortage of power company attorneys that seek to block any efforts to restore CAIR. Plus, whatever the ultimate legal outcome, American families need the new, better “Good Neighbor” rule to protect their health from out-of-state pollution.

Instead, the end result of Sen. Paul’s anti-clean air legislation will very likely be that we have no clean air protections in place across the eastern United States to limit the smokestack pollution that drifts across borders — and directly interferes with states’ power to restore healthy air for their citizens. Indeed, if Sen. Paul’s bill passes, some companies could decide to turn off already installed pollution control equipment, leading to an increase in emissions.

Sen. Paul’s action fails to consider some very important economic facts:

  • Many power plants already have pollution control technologies installed, or plans to install them.
  • This rule will provide up to $280 billion in benefits every year once in effect.
  • Undoing this rule will harm the many businesses that made investments in clean air technologies and cleaner generating sources.
  • Several companies are working hard to defend the “Good Neighbor” rule against legal attacks — most of which are being made by interests that have simply refused to make the sensible, long-term investments that the rule would require.

Sen. Paul’s colleagues in the Senate should also consider the job creation potential from CSAPR. Construction of a single wet scrubber to control SO2 emissions provides about 775 full-time jobs over the life of the project —  and Alstom, a global corporate leader in providing and transporting power, estimates that there will be around 100 such projects that result from CSAPR and the Mercury and Air Toxics Rule for power plants. This is not surprising given that implementing just the first phase of the earlier CAIR program led to an estimated 200,000 jobs in the air pollution control and measurement industry [PDF].

Incredibly, Sen. Paul’s own state would suffer the consequences of his bill. In addition to thousands of lives across the U.S., Sen. Paul’s bill would risk up to 1,404 Kentucky lives each year.

It’s clear that it is in the best interest of our health and the economy — both in Kentucky and across the eastern United States — to let CSAPR proceed as planned. The Senate should not yield to Sen. Paul’s extreme bill that puts polluters’ profit ahead of people’s health.

Posted in Clean Air Act, Health, News, Policy / Read 2 Responses

U.S. House Makes Underhanded Attempt to Gut Clean Air Protections

The U.S. House of Representatives is continuing its assault on public health by denying funding for the enforcement of longstanding protections against toxic air pollution. The funding bill and several amendments set to pass the House later today would effectively take the public health cops off the beat.

Under this bill, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and state air pollution agencies would no longer be able to enforce critical programs that protect the public.

Some of the more egregious examples include:

  • No funding for enforcement of limits on mercury pollution from cement kilns. Mercury pollution causes brain damage in young children.
  • An outright ban on any EPA regulation of methane, nitrous oxide, sulfur hexafluoride, hydrofluorocarbons, carbon dioxide or perfluorocarbons from stationary sources for whatever reason, including their impact on public health and ozone.
  • A sweeping prohibition on all work by the EPA to address carbon pollution, including a critical public right to know program that was set to give communities their first practical tools for identifying the biggest polluters.

This wholesale stripping away of EPA’s power to implement and enforce the Clean Air Act with respect to the most significant environmental challenge is unprecedented and underhanded. Recognizing that the public would reject an open repeal of core Clean Air Act provisions, and would not allow Congress to adopt a statute that told EPA “stop doing anything about climate change,” Congress is trying to do the same thing via language buried in a spending bill.

In language sweeping in scope and effect, Section 1746 of the appropriations bill would tie EPA’s hands and legally bar it from spending any money to do anything “due to concerns about possible climate change.” Think of it. What if Congress passed a law barring the Securities and Exchange Commission from regulating securities? Or required the Food and Drug Administration to approve unsafe drugs. Or kept USDA from inspecting meat?

These would be outrageous laws, but no more outrageous than this attempt, in an appropriations bill, to obstruct EPA from carrying out its statutory obligation to protect human health and the environment.

A closer look at Section 1746 reveals that it would:

  • Punch a gaping loophole into vital clean air protections that took effect in January, putting a hiatus on the requirement for new large emitters to incorporate cost-effective greenhouse pollution reduction measures into their construction blueprints.
  • Undermine the public’s right to know by precluding EPA from requiring the nation’s largest emitters to publicly disclose their greenhouse gas pollution, including establishing a prohibition on EPA enforcement of long-standing program adopted as part of the 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments requiring the public disclosure of greenhouse gas pollution from the nation’s fossil fuel fired power plants.
  • Put in place a stop work order on EPA’s consumer-based ENERGY STAR line of together with an array of effective voluntary partnerships to cut dangerous pollution such as the Natural Gas STAR program, the Methane to Markets program, and the coal-bed methane outreach program.
  • Place a gag order on all EPA activities “relating to” greenhouse gas pollution including scientific research, press releases, public statements, web site, work to advance new technologies, collaborative stakeholder processes to find common sense solutions, etc.
  • Put the brakes on EPA’s national emission standards being developed now for proposal in July that would be designed to deploy cost-effective, proven technologies to reduce greenhouse gas pollution from the nation’s largest polluters — fossil fuel power plants and refineries.

In addition, Sections 1742 and 1743 appear to be a major assault on state and tribal grant funding to carry out these vital clean air protections.

This bill is an all-out assault on the Clean Air Act and the longstanding public health protections it has provided for 40 years.

Posted in Clean Air Act / Read 5 Responses

There They Go Again: Oil Industry Opposition to Protecting Children from Toxic Lead Pollution

The Clean Air Act is under siege. Powerful voices claim that we cannot afford both clean air and a strong economy.   

There they go again.   

These are the same arguments that EPA opponents have been making since 1970. Even the most successful EPA clean air programs have been subject to these same attacks when they were first proposed — in court challenges and in repeated attempts to roll back public health protections over the years.  

“Sky is falling” claims from leaded gas proponents could have derailed protections for children’s health   

Few regulatory programs in history match the success of EPA’s removal of lead from gasoline. Yet even this effort faced the same type of pessimism and obstructionism that EPA faces today. From the beginning of the fight to take lead out of gasoline, the oil industry and the lead additive producers said it could not be done, and even that there was no need for it to be done. 

As the first of the energy shocks of the 1970s stretched gas lines around city blocks, oil industry representatives testified to EPA that the lead phase-down would cause them to lose profits, prevent them from funding future oil exploration, and make gasoline unaffordable. One lead additive manufacturer ran an ad in major newspapers claiming the lead phase-down would waste one million barrels of oil a day (the Washington Post ran an article about it on December 3, 1973.) Phillips Petroleum estimated that producing unleaded gasoline would consume between 300,000 and 600,000 barrels of additional crude oil a day and require from $8 to $15 billion in refinery capital investment (that’s from a Los Angeles Times story about a possible “Gas Octane War,” printed on December 30, 1974.)   

The oil and additive industries vigorously attacked both the sufficiency and validity of scientific studies that linked lead additives to harmful public health impacts. And they kept up these attacks until leaded gasoline was finally and definitively banned by regulations issued in the 1980s.   

In 1978, in 1982 and again in 1985 the industries that profited by selling tetraethyl lead tried to reverse the progress of the lead phase-down. Public health won out, but only after 15 years of defending against attacks by the companies who profited from lead pollution.   

What really fell? The amount of toxic lead in children’s blood   

We have all reaped striking benefits from EPA’s removal of lead from gasoline, as the level of toxic lead in the blood of American children dropped along with lead emissions to the air. EPA reports that between 1980 and 2009, lead levels in America’s air fell by 93 percent, largely as a result of EPA’s requirement to remove lead additives from gasoline.   

As the levels of lead measured in America’s air plummeted, so too did the level of lead measured in the blood of American children. In 2005, the Centers for Disease Control reported that blood lead levels had fallen 98 percent since it originally collected data from American children in 1976 through 1980. In that earlier period, more than eighty eight percent of children sampled had harmful blood lead levels. Public health experts attribute most of this stunning decline to the successful removal of lead from gasoline.   

Percentage of children 1–5 years old in the U.S. population with elevated blood lead levels   


EDF’s The Clean Air Act at 35 [pdf], page 6, data from CDC   

Lead is a neurotoxin that particularly harms children’s cognitive development and behavioral skills and also contributes to hypertension in adults and premature death. Avoiding these negative health effects has yielded tremendous economic benefits.   

In its exhaustive peer-reviewed study of the costs and benefits of the Clean Air Act between the years 1970 and 1990, EPA estimated that the single year 1990 mean monetized benefit resulting from the reduction of lead air pollution was more than $150 billion.   

Yet the lead additive industry valued its profits more than these health benefits. It took courage for EPA to face down the predictions of doom about taking lead out of gasoline. Our children are breathing healthier air today because EPA did its job and protected public health.  

Today, we need your help to prevent a new wave of attacks on vital clean air protections for our, and our children’s, health. Read more about how the same “sky is falling” claims are now being made about other types of toxic air pollution — like mercury. 

You might also want to read:  

Debunking Clean Air Scare Tactics: Part One, Acid Rain  

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


Posted in Clean Air Act, Health, Setting the Facts Straight / Read 1 Response

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