NRG Energy has two coal-fired power plant units in Limestone County, Texas, about 115 miles southeast of Dallas. They’re already some of the largest, most polluting power plants in the state, and they’re about to get a whole lot dirtier.
clean air act
On Thursday, Congressional Democrats introduced a set of four bills aimed at countering the environmental harms from hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, and the continuing shale gas rush.
Four Representatives — Reps. Diana DeGette and Jared Polis of Colorado, Matt Cartwright of Pennsylvania, and Jan Schakowsky of Illinois — and one Senator, Pennsylvania's Bob Casey, together announced the proposed legislation, dubbing the bills the “Frack Pack” and saying they were designed to roll-back loopholes in existing federal laws.
First issued in 2011 but quickly met with numerous legal challenges, the EPA's Cross State Air Pollution Rule is finally cleared for takeoff.
Last week, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit lifted a hold it had placed on the CSAPR, effectively giving the EPA a green light to begin implementing the rule, which regulates air pollution from power plants in 28 states that drifts across state lines, contributing to ozone and fine particle pollution.
The CSAPR creates a two-step process: first the EPA determines whether or not a state contributes more than 1% of the pollution causing a neighbor to exceed federal air standards, then the EPA gives the polluter state an emissions budget based on a complex modeling system.
It's been a long road for the EPA to get to this point. Courts struck down the agency's first two attempts to draft a rule for regulating sulfur and nitrogen emissions from power plants that drift from one state to another. After the EPA announced the final CSAPR in July of 2011, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals placed a hold on the rule the following December before throwing it out altogether last year in response to a lawsuit filed by 15 power utilities and upwind states.
But in April of this year, the Supreme Court ruled 6-2 in favor of the EPA, upholding the CSAPR. In the majority opinion, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote that the CSAPR “is a permissible, workable, and equitable interpretation of the Good Neighbor provision” of the Clean Air Act, which grants the EPA the authority to regulate intersate pollution that threatens national air quality standards.
Originally published on PolluterWatch
Jeff Holmstead, perhaps the nation's prime example of a revolving door lobbyist, was dismissed by a federal judge as an expert witness in a lawsuit brought by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency against Ameren Missouri, a coal burning utility.
In an ongoing case, the EPA has charged Ameren with violating the Clean Air Act by not installing appropriate pollution controls at one of its coal plants. The Sierra Club has since sued Ameren, “alleging 7,880 air quality violations at three coal-burning power plants since 2009,” according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
Judge Rodney Sippel granted U.S. Justice Department's request to remove Holmstead as a witness, confirming that the lobbyist's history at U.S. EPA posed “multiple conflicts of interest.” Here's the judge's motion to dismiss Jeffrey Holmstead, citing Holmstead's use of his EPA experience to undermine EPA's pollution enforcement actions (emphases added):
“Mr. Holmstead’s legal opinions are irrelevant, speculative, and inadmissible.” […] “By his own description, Mr. Holmstead’s testimony relies on his recollection of EPA “internal meetings” that he says are relevant to the issues to be tried in this action. Such internal communications are privileged and confidential and Mr. Holmstead may not rely on his recollection of them to testify against EPA. Moreover, Mr. Holmstead received other privileged information concerning the issues about which he now seeks to testify on behalf of Ameren, and participated in power-plants enforcement cases related to this one while at EPA. Before he left EPA, he even personally provided a declaration for EPA that is at issue in this and other related power-plants enforcement cases asserting privilege claims on behalf of EPA over documents that are relevant to the opinions he now seeks to offer. Yet he now seeks to change sides and testify against EPA. Moreover, he was assisted in the preparation of his report by another former EPA attorney who was involved in the early stages of the investigation that ultimately led to the filing of this case. For the reasons discussed in the accompanying Memorandum, Mr. Holmstead should not be allowed to testify in this matter due to his multiple conflicts of interest.
This is a notable blow to Mr. Holmstead's credibility, who touts his time at EPA to obscure his lobbying to protect polluters from public accountability.
In Texas and North Dakota, where an oil rush triggered by the development of new fracking methods has taken many towns by storm, drillers have run into a major problem.
While their shale wells extract valuable oil, natural gas also rises from the wells alongside that oil. That gas could be sold for use for electrical power plants or to heat homes, but it is harder to transport from the well to customers than oil. Oil can be shipped via truck, rail or pipe, but the only practical way to ship gas is by pipeline, and new pipelines are expensive, often costing more to construct than the gas itself can be sold for.
So, instead of losing money on pipeline construction, many shale oil drillers have decided to simply burn the gas from their wells off, a process known in the industry as “flaring.”
It's a process so wasteful that it's sparked class action lawsuits from landowners, who say they've lost millions of dollars worth of gas due to flaring. Some of the air emissions from flared wells can also be toxic or carcinogenic. It's also destructive for the climate – natural gas is made primarily of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, and when methane burns, it produces more than half as much CO2 as burning coal.
Much of the research into the climate change impact the nation's fracking rush – now over a decade long – has focused on methane leaks from shale gas wells, where drillers are deliberately aiming to produce natural gas. The climate change impacts of shale oil drilling have drawn less attention from researchers and regulators alike.
On Tuesday, 64 environmental groups, representing over 1 million members and supporters, submitted a legal petition to the Environmental Protection Agency, calling on the federal government to more closely regulate toxic air pollution from oil and gas drilling sites.
“Continued, uncontrolled toxic pollution from oil and gas production creates serious health threats in metropolitan areas across the country,” the groups wrote, warning that over 1.04 million oil and gas wells have been drilled in the U.S. and as many as 45,000 new wells are expected annually over the next two decades.
The petition represents a shot across the bow of the EPA, as the filing lays the groundwork for lawsuits by environmental groups should the agency fail to act.
The move puts the EPA on notice that it may be violating federal law by failing to regulate air pollution from oil and gas drilling and fracking sites. “EPA also has a responsibility under the Clean Air Act to protect people from toxic air emissions nationwide,” the groups wrote, “and under section 112(n)(4)(B) it must do so.”
“Absolutely this lays the groundwork for possible future litigation,” said Jeremy Nichols, a program director for WildEarth Guardians, one of the signatories to the petiton, “oil and gas wells are one of the most under-regulated sources of toxic air pollution in the U.S., yet these very wells are increasingly being drilled and fracked in communities across the nation.”
The current shale drilling boom has led to a massive spike in the number of people living near drilling, and the lack of federal regulation over the industry has led to complaints from residents across the US about the impact on their health and the health of their families.
Both the science behind climate change and the efficacy of life-saving safety standards from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) had a trying week in Washington, D.C., as industry-backed lawsuits and politicians attempted to undermine the entire scientific community.
The EPA is currently battling two major legal obstacles in the courts over the agency's authority to enact and enforce provisions of the Clean Air Act. This is a power that the U.S. Supreme Court had already ruled was not only within the agency’s jurisdiction, but a duty that it had to perform for the American public.
One of the legal battles took place at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, where the EPA defended its work to limit the amount of mercury and arsenic that energy companies are allowed to release into the air. According to NRDC, these health standards that are under attack from the dirty energy industry have the potential to save as many as 45,000 lives a year.
Based on the D.C. Circuit’s previous rulings regarding the Clean Air Act, it is likely that the EPA will be the victor in this case.
Despite several studies suggesting toxic emissions from refineries are underestimated, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) continually failed to review and revise emissions factors for health and life-threatening pollutants.
Now, five environmental justice groups are suing the agency for failure to comply with the Clean Air Act. The groups, the Environmental Integrity Project, Air Alliance Houston, Texas Environmental Advocacy Services (TEJAS), Community In-power and Development Association, Inc. (CIDA), and Louisiana Bucket Brigade, assert that EPA failures are leading to undue health and safety risks for the Gulf Area population.
Under the Clean Air Act, the EPA Administrator is required to review and (if necessary) revise the emissions factors used to estimate emissions of carbon monoxide (CO), volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and oxides of nitrogen (NOx) from emission sources at least once every three years. However, according to the notice of intent preceding the lawsuit, “EPA has not reviewed emission factors for flares since 1991,” for wastewater treatment systems since 1998, and emission equations for tanks since 2006.
Said TEJAS executive director Juan Parras, “EPA needs to protect public health and the environment, and there are no excuses to further delay long overdue action to revise inaccurate emission factors consistent with scientific studies.”
Seventeen public interest groups, including the Environmental Integrity Project (EIP), have petitioned the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to close a loophole in U.S. laws that allows hydraulic fracturing operations to be exempt from disclosing the pollutants they release each year.
Under the current code, the fracking industry is exempt from having to disclose the pollutants that they release into the atmosphere every year, which is estimated by the EPA to be about 127,000 tons of pollution. These pollutants endanger both the environment and people living in and around areas where fracking wells are operated, and the lack of disclosure makes it difficult to pinpoint the cause of illnesses and properly diagnose people when they become sick from exposure.
That is why the EIP and other groups have created a petition that was sent to the EPA, hoping to convince the agency to once again consider adding the fracking industry to their Toxic Release Inventory (TRI), which contains information about the amount and type of pollutants released into the environment by U.S. companies. The last time the agency considered adding the fracking industry to the list was in 1996, but those discussions ended with the industry as the victor.
This is guest post by Megan Pitz.
As another sweltering summer day over 100 degrees came to a close in the Washington, D.C. region, citizens of nearby Alexandria, Virginia witnessed the closure of the Potomac River Generating Station (PRGS) coal-fired power plant also known as the 'Mirant Plant.'
The closure was expected by the community – as much as anything can be that you fight for – but it didn’t happen overnight. It began in 2003 with citizen-activists Elizabeth Chimento and Poul Hertzel’s quest to learn the source of black soot-like residue coating the windowsills of homes and businesses in Alexandria’s Old Town neighborhood.
Chimento and Hertzel’s first step involved pressuring city officials to clean up the power plant. Efforts in this direction continued for several years until a Mirant Community Monitoring Group (MCMG) of citizen activists, civic groups, and City officials formed and began working alongside environmental groups to hold the plant’s owner and environmental agencies accountable for the power plant’s pollution.
In 2008, after nearly six years, this led to a legal agreement between the City of Alexandria and plant owners that, along with recommendations from Virginia’s Air Pollution Control Board, provided some of the pollution controls these citizens had been asking for, especially for the main public health concern of particulate matter.
The decision to retire the plant arrived later but would never have happened without the active engagement of a dedicated community.