Tag Archives: epa

EPA Wins Yet Again — Soot Standard Upheld

In yet another win for the Environmental Protection Agency and environmental protection, the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia circuit sided with the government that it acted appropriately in making the health-based standard for soot pollution more restrictive in 2012.

At issue was the National Ambient Air Quality Standard for Particulate Matter of 2.5 Microns or less. In 2012, the EPA lowered the standard from 15 micro-curies per year to 12 micro-curies per year based on a preponderance of evidence that these tiny bits of soot can severely impact the heath of those with preexisting breathing conditions, particularly the very young and very old. Particulate matter, or PM, refers to combinations of fine solids, such as dirt, soil dust, pollens, molds, ashes and soot, that are formed in the atmosphere as a byproduct of gaseous combustion from such diverse sources as utility and factory smokestacks, vehicle exhaust, wood burning, mining, construction activity, and agriculture. 

According to the EPA, the revised standard would save between $4 billion to $9 billion annually by 2020 because of lower health costs and more productive employees, while costing just between $53 million to $350 million to implement. The vast majority of the country, or 99% of U.S. counties, would meet the revised air standard by the 2020 compliance date without taking additional action beyond what already is required under other clean air laws.

And who disagree? Well the US Chamber of Commerce and National Association of Manufacturers did, arguing the EPA lacked the scientific evidence to lower the standard.

Fortunately, good judgement prevailed, and once implemented these new regulations will make it a bit easier to breathe.

In Texas, the only county that currently violates this health-based standard is an area of Harris County. While TCEQ argues that this is due mainly to dust and sand from outside the area — including some from as far away as the Sahara — is is clear that local emissions from the port of Houston and from nearby refineries and motor vehicles also contribute to the pollution. Whether or not Harris County is ultimately declared non-compliant there are clearly actions that can be taken locally to lower soot pollution.

Sierra Club will continue to work to clean up the Port of Houston and also attempt to prevent new export terminals for coal and natural gas, which can also contribute to pollution.

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Could Supreme Court Decision Impact ERCOT’s Reliability Needs? ERCOT latest report suggests not.

While there are a lot of what ifs, the recent Supreme Court decision to uphold the EPA’s Cross-State Air Pollutant Rule (CSAPR) at first glance could impact future generation and operating reserves in ERCOT, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas. In fact, back in 2011, in response to a request from the Texas Public Utility Commission, a preliminary analysis from ERCOT found that anywhere from 1,200 MWs to 6,000 MWs of Texas fossil fuel generation might be subject to closure or mothballing because of the impacts of the rules, putting Texas electric reliability at risk, especially at times of high demand or extreme temperatures. While the ERCOT preliminary analysis was admittedly rushed, and made some big assumptions,  it did suggest the timing of implementation of those 2011 proposed rules was going to be challenging for Texas at certain times of year. 

Well three years later, there is continued good news for development of more electric generation in Texas. Just a few days ago, ERCOT released its latest System Planning Monthly Report (March 2014), again showing there is a healthy interest in investing in Texas’s electric market. The report states that ERCOT is currently tracking 230 active generation interconnection requests totaling over 58,100 MWs of power. Again leading the way in these requests are wind — roughly 27,000 MWs in all — natural gas — at roughly the same — and solar — at some 3,300 MWs of power. In fact, the latest planning report shows that installed wind within ERCOT has already reached 11,065 MWs, and the expected amount of wind of those with signed interconnection agreements would reach 19,777 MWs by the end of 2017. 

Some are sure to paint doomsday scenarios where EPA rules — supported by the US Supreme Court — send Texas into a spiraling electric reliability crunch. Those poor coal plants just can’t meet those pollution rules and stay open they will say. While there will be challenges, and there is a need to support strong ancillary services like demand response to keep the lights on, expected investments in both gas, but especially in wind and solar, should keep Texas’ humming along economically. With implementation of CSAPR, we should also get some relief from all that coal pollution. 

US Supreme Courts Upholds EPA’s Cross-State Pollution Rule; Eventually should lead to more controls on Texas coal plants

?????????????In the ongoing tussle between states like Texas that have taken an-anti EPA position, and the Obama Administration and the EPA, the EPA won the latest round, as the US Supreme Court reversed the US Court of Appeals and found that EPA was within its rights to issue a Cross-State Air Polllution Rule (CSPAR) that required “upwind” states to control soot and ozone-forming pollutants that impacted down-wind states. Under the EPA’s rule promulgated in 2012, Texas’s largest and dirtiest coal plants would have been forced to make major reduction in their pollutants which impact nearby states like Arkansas and Oklahoma. Several states, including Texas’s Governor Perry and Attorney General Greg Abbot, immediately intervened and won a victory at the US Court of Appeals. With this week’s ruling, that victory was short-lived.

While it is unlikely that the EPA rule under dispute will be adopted in exactly its current form, expect to see a new EPA proposed rule with a slightly different timeline sooner rather than later. That rule is likely to give states some flexibility but it will require deeper cuts in pollution from Texas’s oldest fossil fuel plants. Likely impacted will be the big coal plants owned by Luminant for example. That’s good news for Texans living near the plant or in nearby cities that suffer the pollution, and also for our neighbors in Louisiana, Arkansas and Oklahoma.  Afterall, it’s called the Good Neighbor Provisions for a reason!

If you want to read Sierra Club’s official position on this amazing legal victory — afterall we were one of many groups that filed a brief in support of the EPA — see this press release from national Sierra Club.

Court Upholds Air Safeguard that Would Prevent Thousands of Deaths from Toxics and Mercury

In a ruling that will help thousands of Texans subject to hundreds of pounds of mercury and toxics released every year to the atmosphere to the air by dirty coal plants in Texas, the US Court of Appeals upheld the US EPA’s Mercury and Air Toxics Rule of 2012. Below is a press statement. 

 

NAACP joined other clean air advocates in defense of this important protection

APRIL 15, 2014

WASHINGTON, D.C.  — 

 

Today the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit upheld the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s 2012 Mercury and Air Toxics Rule (MATS). Earthjustice represented the NAACP, the Sierra Club, Clean Air Council,and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation in the case.

MATS will annually prevent up to 11,000 premature deaths, nearly 5,000 heart attacks and 130,000 asthma attacks, and more than 540,000 missed days of work days. It will also protect babies and children from exposures to mercury than can damage their ability to develop and learn. The EPA has estimated that every year, more than 300,000 newborns face elevated risk of learning disabilities due to exposure to mercury in the womb.

Coal-fired power plants are the largest source of toxic air pollutants, and account for almost half of the nation’s mercury emissions. The Clean Air Act directed the EPA to set limits requiring the maximum achievable reductions in mercury, arsenic, lead, and the many other hazardous air pollutants that power plants emit no later than 2002. In 2012 after a decade of delay, the agency finalized the Mercury and Air Toxics rule. A group of industry and corporate polluters immediately filed a lawsuit challenging this rule.

The following are statements from groups who defended the Mercury and Air Toxics Rule:

Said Jacqueline Patterson, Director, Environmental and Climate Justice Program for NAACP:

“The NAACP applauds the D.C. Circuit Court for this important and historic decision. Civil rights are about equal access to protections afforded by law. Given the disproportionate impact of coal combustion pollution which negatively affects the health and educational outcomes as well as the economic wellbeing of communities of color, the Mercury and Air Toxics Rule is a critical tool for exacting justice. These standards provide essential safeguards for communities who have suffered from decades of toxic exposure.”

Said Chesapeake Bay Foundation Vice President for Litigation Jon Mueller:
“Mercury from power plants is a leading source of the pollution that has led to fish consumption advisories in rivers and streams around the country as well as here in the Chesapeake Bay region. Those contaminated fish put the health of many, including those who fish to feed their families, at risk,” said Jon Mueller, Chesapeake Bay Foundation Vice President for Litigation. “These new limits will reduce pollution and the associated human health risks, and is a legacy that we should leave to our children and future generations.”

Said Joseph Otis Minott, Executive Director, Clean Air Council:
“The court’s decision to affirm these long, overdue standards clearly demonstrates the importance of controlling toxic emissions while also rejecting the complaints of inconvenience raised by industry and corporate polluters. We applaud the court’s judgment and look forward to ensuring this critical rule is properly implemented.”

Said Mary Anne Hitt, Campaign Director for Sierra Club’s Beyond Coalcampaign:
“Coal- and oil-fired power plants are the largest source of mercury pollution that poisons our lakes and streams, as well as arsenic and other toxic metals and gases. By upholding the rule, the court has helped our country take a great step forward toward protecting our children from these dangerous pollutants.”

Said Earthjustice attorney Jim Pew:
“The emission limits upheld in court today have already won broad public support, and for good reason. Power plants’ toxic pollution takes a horrible toll on peoples’ lives and health, especially in low income communities and communities of color. By allowing this rule to take effect, today’s decision will help reduce that toll.”

 

CONTACT:
Maggie Caldwell, Earthjustice, (415) 217-2084
Michelle Nealy, NAACP, (202) 292-3384
John Surrick, Chesapeake Bay Foundation, (443) 482-2045
Ryan Knapick, Clean Air Council, (215) 567-4004, ext. 125
Anna Oman, Sierra Club, (202) 650-6061

Lone Star Chapter, Sierra Club tells EPA: Protect Texas children by lowering the ozone standard

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency began public hearings this week in North Carolina to consider whether to lower the national health standard on ground-level ozone. Formed on hot sunny days by emissions of volatile organic compounds and nitrogen oxide emissions– primarily resulting from the burning of fossil fuels in power plants, cars and industry – ground-level ozone directly impacts lung function and can lead to asthma, bronchitis, early death and a host of other health-related illnesses. Particularly at risk are the very young, the very old and those with preexisting health conditions.

Not surprisingly, filed public comments showed strong support among environmental and health advocates like Sierra Club and the American Lung Association for lowering the standard, while utilities, coal companies, the Texas Public Policy Foundation – an industry-funded conservative think tank – and even the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality said the science does not support lowering the ozone standard. A full copy of the Lone Star Chapter’s comments can be found here.

At issue is whether or not the EPA should lower the level of pollution in the ambient air  at which an area would be considered to be in violation of the national air quality standard. The current standard of 75 parts per billion – measured as an average over eight hours — was developed in 2008 under former President Bush, while the new proposed standard would range between 60 and 70 parts per billion and has been under discussion in the public, in the White House, in Congress and in court ever since.

 The Sierra Club filed extensive comments supporting lowering the standard to 60 PPB based on hundreds of peer-reviewed health studies showing children and others do exhibit reduced lung function and real health effects at a level of 60.

 If a standard of 60 were adopted, it is likely that all major urban areas in Texas – based on the last three years of ozone data – would fail to meet the standard, including Houston and Dallas – which are currently out of compliance with the standard – along with Austin, San Antonio, Laredo, Corpus Christi, Tyler-Longview, Waco, Beaumont-Port Arthur and El Paso. Even cities in the Lower Rio Grande Valley – generally far removed from large industrial sources – might violate such a standard. 

Though a new, lower standard would be challenging for most of the state to meet, no Texas citizen should have to breath outdoor air that is unsafe.  Fortunately, there are solutions. Within our cities, generally the largest amount of pollution that leads to high levels of ground-level ozone comes from vehicles. Texas can and should continue to clean up our cars and trucks by not only making sure we meet the federal standards for new vehicles but also by fully allocating the money from the Texas Emissions Reduction Plan, which provides grants to clean up older mobile vehicles. There will be nearly $1 billion of TERP funds that could be allocated to clean up our mobile sources of pollution when the Legislature meets again in 2015.

We also must take strong action against major point sources of pollution. According to the TCEQ’s 2012 Point Source Emissions Inventory, about one-third of all nitrogen oxide emissions from industrial sources in Texas come from coal-fired power plants. Nonetheless, out of the 32 boilers in Texas that burn coal that are not scheduled for retirement, 24 lack basic control technology known as Selective catalytic reduction (SCR), a type of scrubber which removes much of the nitrogen oxide pollution. These coal plants without modern pollution control belched more than 78,000 tons of nitrogen oxide into our airways, leading to higher ozone levels throughout Texas. We would note that a special case are the coal plants owned by Luminant, which are large and located primarily in areas that influence ozone formation in Dallas and Waco. In 2007, they were purchased by a holding company known as EFH, which made a commitment to add SCR on many of their units, including Martin Lake, but have thus far failed to do so. Collectively, the Martin Lake units contributed more than 11,500 tons of nitrogen oxide in 2012, the highest single source in the state. Requiring that all such units install modern pollution control on their stacks – or retire – could significantly reduce these emissions.

We must also implement new regulations to clean up emissions from oil and gas fracking activities. The Railroad Commission of Texas is permitting some 20,000 oil and gas wells every year, the majority of which are being fracked. The well completions, flaring and venting of gas, plus their operation, processing, transportation and storage of the oil and gas and related materials is literally leaking thousands of tons of nitrogen oxide and volatile organic compounds into the atmosphere, leading to the creation of more ozone over our city centers. This problem is particularly pronounced in San Antonio and Dallas-Fort Worth due to the fracking boom. Yet our air quality regulations are outdated to deal with this new source of pollution. Finally, while many of our cement plants have updated their control equipment, about half have not, and they are major contributors to ozone formation throughout Central Texas, contributing about 16,000 tons of NOx per year.

Other solutions include making future buildings more efficient, growing renewable energy and energy efficient appliances and retrofitting existing buildings. These solutions have not been fully explored in Texas.

Yes meeting a new ozone standard would be challenging, but if our leaders at the White House, in Congress, at the Pink Dome and at our own agency – the TCEQ – will actually work on solutions rather than delay implementing a lower standard– we can reduce ozone levels, improve health, save lives and create jobs.

Why I Protect Our Parks

REGIONAL HAZE – The last week in January I had the opportunity to travel to Oklahoma. As the apprentice focusing on regional haze, I found it important to actually lay eyes on one of the places that my work has been focused on over the past few months. 

Over the course of the week, I spent time with community residents, park lovers, and elected officials who all had a deep care and concerned for the Wichita Mountains National Refuge. I had the opportunity to present to the Lawton Fort Sill Chamber of Commerce, the Lawton City Council and federal employees at the Wichita Mountains National Refuge, urging them to act and ask EPA to deny the do-nothing Texas plan and implement stronger haze pollution standards for the sake of their beloved refuge. Even when I wasn’t in a formal meeting, I spoke with everyone and anyone who would listen to me about the haze pollution and excitedly people were engaged and empowered to learn and do more.

William (Bill) Cunningham, is a resident of Meers, OK. A small town just north of the Wichitas. Bill has been aware of the haze pollution for many years now and welcomed the opportunity to do an interview with State Impact – a local Oklahoma NPR affiliate – on his experiences and the impact that the haze has on the beauty of the Refuge. Bill took me on a hike up Mount Scott, the highest peak in the Wichita Mountains National Refuge. From the top, I was able to see the haze pollution first hand. If you ever travel to the Wichitas, I highly recommend taking the time to visit Mount Scott.

Top of Mount Scott

It does not matter which federally protected land you visit, you learn something new and experience your own connection with nature and the environment. On my last morning I took a hike around Lost Lake and I tried to picture the views obstructed by a white, smoky filter. In those quiet moments, with the wind howling in my ear and the view of the bison huddled in the horizon, I realized even more, why these parks and refuges are worth protecting. They are American treasures.

Send your fondness memory to EPA Today! Click Here! A little love to our national parks and refuges goes a long way. 

Feel free to contact me if you wish to learn more and get involved on this issue! Written by Sarah Sharif – sarah.sharif@sierraclub.org – (650) 862-8779 – Follow me on Twitter @Sarah0Sharif

Read previous blog on Haze Pollution to understand what is keeping our parks in the dark! 

Read the article that Bill participated in here to get the local perspective! 

Proposed EPA Regulation could force Cleaner Energy and Protect Health

In a world and nation where water and energy are two things our growing population is starving for, an issue that combines both is of the utmost importance. This is why I’d love to inform you about a recent regulation proposed by the EPA that would place limits on the amount and type of toxic metals and other pollutants that can be discharged by steam electric power plants (coal, oil, and natural gas) into our waterways. These regulations, dubbed Effluent Limitation Guidelines, will have the greatest effect on coal plants so I will address it as pertaining to coal henceforward.

Toxic waste discharged from power plant

Toxic waste discharged from a coal plant

This bill is extremely important in guiding the future state of human and environmental health as well as the phasing into cleaner sources of energy. It is going to be implemented but what has yet to be decided is which option out of four will be chosen to be implemented. “The four options are based on varying levels of treatment for seven different waste streams generated by the plants and differ in the stringency of the treatment controls to be imposed” said the congressional research service. There are allegations being made that the White House Office of Management and Budget is attempting to weaken the proposed standards in response to coal industry demands. The coal industry will obviously be fighting for the least strict regulations, which brings in the underdog, “we the people”, to stand up for more regulated water pollution.

I will now make a claim as to why it is so important that the strongest regulation (option 4 out of 4), which will reduce annual pollutant discharge by 2.62 billion pounds and reduce annual water usage by 103 billion pounds, needs to be implemented.

These regulations need to be in the strongest form possible because, as a study conducted  in North Carolina by Duke University revealed, coal plants have implemented scrubbers and other technologies to reduce the amount of toxic air pollution (coinciding with the Clean Air Act) but those pollutants are just ending up in the waste water that the coal plants produce, defeating the purpose of the “CLEAN” Air Act. The study also uncovered other disturbing information: the highest concentration of contaminants were found in a waste water pond that was being directly released into a primary drinking water source for Charlotte, North Carolina. After testing the water, the scientists found a couple of areas that exceeded the EPA guidelines for safe drinking water and aquatic life. These unhealthy levels were also found in two popular recreational lakes in the northern part of the state. This is just 1 example.

Why doesn’t the Clean Water Act regulate this water pollution problem?

For one, existing guidelines that limit the pollutants emitted into the water by coal plants have not been updated in over 30 years. Also, many regulators have said the Clean Water Act is inadequate because is does not mandate limits on the most dangerous chemicals in power plant waste and it is also claimed to have loopholes that the energy industry takes advantage of. In addition to that, 90% of 313 coal plants that have violated the Clean Water Act since 2004 were not fined or penalized by federal or state regulators, according to a New York Times Analysis of EPA records.

There is countless information that supports the need for this nation-wide water pollution regulation in its strongest form, so I proceed… Here is a link to fish consumption advisories in Texas due to water pollution. All the water bodies surrounding my hometown, including some I have previously caught fish in (and eaten), are polluted with the following advisory given for a couple: “Persons should not consume any species of fish from these waters”.  Although coal plants cannot be solely blamed for this (as it is hard to trace back pollution), they are definitely a large contributing factor. Some other unfortunate statistics found in a report produced by a coalition of environmental and clean water groups: “Of the 274 coal plants that discharge coal ash and scrubber waste water into waterways, nearly 70% (188), have no limits on the amount of toxic metals like arsenic, mercury, boron, cadmium, and selenium they are allowed to dump into public waters.” When you consider this pollution which produces horrible health effects such as reduced growth and development, cancer, organ damage, nervous system damage, and death, one begins to hope that policy decisions regarding this pollution are really going to be made on our behalf.

I digress from the smorgasbord of depressing health and environmental data on this pollution and focus on what this bill will do. It will:

1.  Set national standards that limit the amount of toxic chemicals discharged into our waterways by coal plants and is based upon technological improvements in the industry over the last 30 years.

2. Require coal plants to monitor and report the amount of pollution dumped into our waterways. (We deserve to know this!)

The strongest proposal is common-sense, affordable, and is already being used by some coal plants. This regulation will force coal companies to internalize the cost of pollution, justly relieving that burden from the health of our communities and precious water sources. If you feel strongly about this issue, make your voice heard! It will take a strong force to overcome the corporate interests that are going to fight their hardest for the lowest regulation for what they can dump into our waters.

Things you can do:

1. Make a meeting with your Senator or Representative to let them know you support the strongest regulations

2. Write a Letter to the Editor and submit it to your local newspaper

3. Educate your friends!

More information on the bill can be found here