Tag Archives: epa

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

“Save Big Bend” Retreat

As you may or may not know, Texas’s iconic and beloved Big Bend National Park and Guadalupe Mountains are being obstructed with Haze. You may be wondering, “Who is causing this Haze?” Coal plants and refineries are responsible for this obstruction. Under the Clean Air Act, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is required to reduce and eliminate this haze, however their proposed rule exempts Texas’s oldest and dirtiest power plants from installing readily available, modern pollution controls.

The Sierra Club has collected and sent thousands of comments to the EPA asking  for air pollution safeguards that would reduce haze. The EPA will not announce new haze rules until November, but the Sierra Club is still planning to keep the friendly pressure on the EPA.

You can help us! There are many ways you can help us with this campaign. Probably the funnest way you can help us is by coming on our retreat to Big Bend on May 11-13, 2012.

At the retreat we’ll do the following: 1) Strategize – we need to determine our strategy for convincing EPA to improve the proposed haze safeguard.  Our strategy sessions will include discussions on how we can use the press, social media, and organizing to reach our goals.  2) Training – media, communications, and organizing experts will provide short training sessions to empower us with the tools and knowledge we’ll need to win. In addition, we’ll hear from experienced activists who have been working to reduce air pollution at Big Bend for years. 3) Networking –we’ll provide opportunities for you to get to know the other “Save Big Bend”campaign volunteers.

We definitely need as much support and volunteers as possible if we want to protect our national parks from Haze. If you would like to volunteer and/or join us on our retreat, or if you have any questions, contact Stephanie Cole at  Stephanie.Cole@sierraclub.org or (512) 477-1729.

We hope you can join us!!

– Lauren Fedele, Beyond Coal Sierra Intern

Keep the momentum moving in Texas

There is a story behind everyone, including people who stand for a better environment and clean energy. What’s your story?

For me, seeing the devastating effects of the BP oil spill in the Gulf set off a chain reaction of thinking that piqued my interest in energy issues and led me to take action.  Everyone’s story is different, but it is important to remember that there is an entire nation waiting to see “greener” pastures.

The decision by the Obama administration to reject the Keystone XL pipeline may seem like a temporary victory, but it is a victory nonetheless.  It’s important to rejoice in our efforts, and to use the momentum to continue our fight against climate change.  When you see what the efforts of many can do, it becomes easier to remain optimistic, and to continue to push the envelope.

The EPA has been pushing for stricter air standards, which reflects the sentiment of many Texans who want clean air.  Unfortunately, exemptions would allow Texas coal plants to continue to pollute one of the crown jewels of the nation: Big Bend National Park.

These exemptions would allow Texas to purchase emissions allowances from other states.  You have to ask yourself, does that make sense?  Texas coal-fired plants pollute Texan’s air, so we must put pressure on these polluters.  When we band together, we see results.  Let’s make Big Bend National Park a cleaner place for generations to enjoy.  Please take action and bring a victory to the Lone Star State.

– Kat Herrera, Beyond Coal Intern

Weather Forcast at Big Bend: 100% Chance of Haze!

If you’re like most born-and-raised Texans, you’ve visited Big Bend National Park at least once in your lifetime. My first experience with Big Bend was at five years old, when my parents took me over the summer. We hiked Panther Park and all through the Rio Grande Valley. My parents still talk about how I couldn’t get enough of that park. I would demand we go just a few more feet on the trial so I could find a new plant or catch that roadrunner. Big Bend called me back for many more trips, including one Spring Break where my friends and I climbed South Rim and Emory Peak.

We felt like we were on top of the world.

Unfortunately, Big Bend is being threatened in a very serious way. Nearby coal plants are causing a severe amount of haze pollution that is not only obscuring visibility in an area that thrives off of its breathtaking vistas, but is causing a health hazard to visitors.

Haze is the visible pollution emitted from the smokestacks of coal plants. It is caused by fine particulate matter made up of sulphur dioxide (SO2), nitrous oxide (NOX) and ammonia; you know, the same stuff found in cigarettes and cat pee. Haze can be responsible for serious respiratory illnesses and can trigger asthma attacks, something that is not particularly fun when hiking in the middle of an arid national park.

Apart from the health side effects that we experience and the encroachment on our scenery, haze is also responsible for acid deposition and eutrophication, when minerals and nutrients build up to unnatural levels and can kill animal life.

In short, haze pollution is not only killing us, it’s killing our park!

What can be done about this serious problem? How can we preserve Big Bend for our children and grandchildren? First, we have to understand the emissions rules set in place for these coal plants.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is currently in a transition process of determining the best method of reducing pollution from these power plants.

Most pollution from coal plants had never been regulated until this past year, when EPA finalized its landmark mercury health protections and set targets for reducing pollutants like soot and smog. With EPA’s proposal for haze pollution, ALL coal plants within a certain proximity to national parks like Big Bend must reduce their haze emissions. Requiring these plants to reduce their pollution is extremely important. The degree of reductions is also important – EPA must ensure that the pollution reductions are meaningful.

The alternative to CSAPR (In actuality, some are considering CSAPR  alternative to this) is BART, or Best Alternative Retrofit Technology. BART would require ALL coal plants within a certain proximity to Class 1 National Parks to reduce their haze emissions down to a specified degree. Sound like a good idea? That’s because it is. BART will ensure the haze factories near our state park will be required to eliminate a certain amount of haze emissions from our sky.

Here’s how you can help. The EPA is taking comments on these standards until February 23rd. Submitting a comment to the EPA is fast, easy, and meaningful. Tell the EPA that we want to keep our national park as beautiful as the day we first visited.

I want Big Bend to remain as beautiful as when I was five years old, as aw-inspiring as when I felt on top of the world that one spring. I’m betting you feel the same way.

 

 

 

 

Here’s how you can help:

  • Go online and send in a comment to the EPA telling them that you don’t stand for lax haze pollution standards. Be sure to personalize your message!
  • If you want to send pictures of your trips at Big Bend to the EPA, here’ the snail mail address. Show them how important this landmark has been in your life

EPA Docket Center, Environmental Protection Agency, Mailcode 6102T, 1200 Pennsylvania Ave, NW, Washington DC 20460

  • Tell your friends! Get others to send a comment to the EPA, share the comment link on facebook or twitter and get everyone you know involved!