clean air act

Fri, 2014-09-12 14:00Connor Gibson
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Coal Lobbyist Jeff Holmstead Disqualified by Federal Judge in Ameren Pollution Lawsuit

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.

Thu, 2014-09-04 06:00Sharon Kelly
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Shale Oil Drillers Deliberately Wasted Nearly $1 Billion in Gas, Harming Climate

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.

Thu, 2014-05-15 05:00Sharon Kelly
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Pressure Grows on EPA to Regulate Toxic Air Pollution from Oil and Gas Industry

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.

Sun, 2013-12-15 14:17Farron Cousins
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Science On Trial In America As Courts and Congress Grapple with Industry Pollution

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. 

Fri, 2013-06-14 11:27Caroline Selle
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Environmental Justice Groups Sue EPA for Failure to Enforce Clean Air Act

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.”

Thu, 2012-10-25 17:00Farron Cousins
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Groups Call On EPA To Close Fracking Disclosure Loopholes

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.

Fri, 2012-08-24 11:18Guest
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Conquering Coal - A Tale of One City's Fight

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.

Mon, 2012-08-06 09:40Farron Cousins
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House Republicans Sacrifice Human Health For Alleged Job Creation

With July 2012 officially behind us, the U.S. jobs report for the month has economists and politicians concerned about the employment situation in America. And even though the economy added 163,000 jobs (economists had predicted only 100,000 jobs to be added for July,) the unemployment rate and the underemployment rate both crept slightly upwards. And with national elections coming up in three months, poor jobs numbers could be bad for our health.

If history is any indicator, Conservative politicians and think tanks will use last month’s poor jobs report in an attempt to provide massive giveaways to their friends in the dirty energy industry. They attempted the same thing after below-average job growth in May of this year, claiming that approval of the Keystone XL pipeline would be the job boon that Americans desperately need.

But Republicans in Washington didn’t wait for a bad jobs report before they started planning their dirty energy bonanza, but its likely they will use it as a catalyst to gain more support for their disastrous plans.

In mid June of this year, Republicans on the “House Energy Action Team” (HEAT) proposed a set of bills that would destroy many of the safeguards that are currently in place to protect our environment and our personal health in order to make things “easier” for businesses to create jobs without worrying about those pesky safety standards. What the package of legislation is really about is repaying HEAT members’ financiers from the dirty energy industry who stand to save a ton of cash by destroying regulations.

The legislation package would remove many current existing safeguards for environmental and public health until the unemployment rate drops below 6%, a rate that hasn’t been seen since July 2008, when it was 5.8%. Since that month four years ago, the rate has stayed consistently above 6%, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Wed, 2012-04-25 15:46Farron Cousins
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American Lung Association Releases 2012 State of the Air Report

The American Lung Association (ALA) released their annual State of the Air report today, followed by a live discussion on Twitter where the organization answered questions. While the report offers some positive news for American citizens, it also shows us that the Clean Air Act is under attack from the dirty energy industry.

Here are the highlights from this year’s report:
  

More than 4 in 10 people (41 %) in the United States live in counties that have unhealthful levels of either ozone or particle pollution. Over 127.2 million Americans live in the 235 counties where they are exposed to unhealthful levels of air pollution in the form of either ozone or short-term or year-round levels of particles.

Over 5.7 million people (1.9%) in the United States live in six counties with unhealthful levels of all three: ozone and short-term and year-round particle pollution: ozone and short-term and year-round particle pollution.

The strongest improvement came in reducing ozone smog levels across the nation. More than half of the country’s most-smog-polluted cities experienced their best year yet. Twenty two of the 25 cities with the most ozone pollution improved their air quality over the past year’s report. More than half of the country’s most smog-polluted cities experienced their best year yet. Still, nearly four in ten people in the U.S.(37.8%) live in areas with unhealthful levels of ozone pollution.
 

The ALA also lists the health effects of this year’s two biggest pollutants – ozone and particle pollution:

Wed, 2011-10-05 13:50Carol Linnitt
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A Best Practice a Day Keeps the Feds Away: API Workshop on Fracking "Excellence"

The ongoing American Petroleum Institute (API) workshop “Commitment to Excellence in Hydraulic Fracturing” could be more simply titled “Commitment to Hydraulic Fracturing.” The API poses as an industry leader, working to develop best practices and strengthen operating procedures. But these days the sheep’s-clothing is starting to wear thin. After all, the “Commitment to Excellence” workshop has little to do with improving industry standards and everything to do with keeping the feds at bay.

The gas industry enjoys a number of exemptions from environmental statutes at the federal level. These exemptions, from laws like the Clean Air Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, mean that oversight of the industry occurs at the state level, an arrangement that some feel facilitates rather than regulates gas drilling. So understandably, federal involvement is something the industry wants to avoid – and keynote speaker and former U.S. Senator Byron Dorgan was at the workshop to tell them just how to do that.

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