| clean air policy advances
Bad news and good news from the ePa
New rules mark progress, but some are badly watered down.
By ROBERT UkEILEy
robert ukeiley (rukeiley
@ igc.org) is a lawyer
who represents environmental nonprofits in
clean air act litigation
affecting energy issues.
Environmental regulations internalizing the costs of dirty energy continue to make significant advances, but so do regulatory agencies’ efforts to
undo or water down these advances in the implementation phase.
A new national ambient air quality standard (NAAQS)
for nitrogen oxides (NOx) from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is a good example. The new standard went into effect in April. It is much more stringent
than the old standard, supported by the 40 years of public
health science that has come along since the old standard
was set. The Clean Air Act requires major new sources of
NOx pollution to demonstrate that they will not cause or
contribute to a violation of the NOx NAAQS before they
can obtain a permit to construct and operate.
Approximately 3,000 megawatts of new coal-burning
power plants got their final air pollution permits from state
air agencies in the week before the new standard went
into effect. Thus, due to the willingness of state agencies
to assist their polluting-industry customers, these coal-burning power plants only had to protect the public’s air
to 1960s-science-based standards.
Also, EPA staff members at levels below the Obama
administration appointees have been cranking out
detailed technical guidance documents that will effectively
substantially weaken the new NOx standard as it is implemented. For example, the standard is based on averaging
three years of air pollution levels. This is less protective of
public health and easier for polluters because peak pollution levels in any given year are smoothed out with the
approximately 3,000 megawatts of new coal-burning
power plants got their final air pollution permits
from state air agencies in the week before the
new standard went into effect.
pollution levels from two other years. If this wasn’t bad
enough, EPA technical staff said that when permitting
new major sources of NOx pollution, the polluters can
actually average out their predicted pollution impacts over
five years. EPA technical staff offered no explanation for
this watering down of the standard. There certainly isn’t a
justification based on public health and welfare, which is
what the Clean Air Act is supposed to protect.
Steven Page, the EPA civil servant in charge of making
most of the rules affecting air pollution from dirty sources
of energy, recently issued another guidance memorandum
[ The] EPA is aware of reports from stakeholders indicating
that some sources — both existing and proposed � are modeling potential violations of the one-hour NO2 standard. In many
cases, the affected units are emergency electric generators and
pump stations, where short stacks and limited property rights
exist. However, larger sources, including coal-fired and natural
gas-fired power plants, refineries and paper mills, could also
model potential violations of the new NO2 NAAQS.
To respond to these reports and facilitate the PSD [Pre-vention of Significant Deterioration] permitting of new and
modified major stationary sources, we are issuing the attached
guidance, in the form of two memoranda, for implementing the
new one-hour NO2 NAAQS under the PSD permit program.
Copyright © 2010 by the American Solar Energy Society Inc. All rights reserved.
Thus, Page unabashedly states that he believes the
EPA’s function is to help polluters get permits to pollute. But that certainly is not what the Clean Air Act says
and it is not what his political appointee bosses, who are
accountable to the electorate, have said. Furthermore, it
makes no sense. Why bend over backwards and twist the
law to issue air pollution permits to dirty sources of energy
when totally viable clean, renewable sources of energy and
energy efficiency are readily available on a massive scale?
The environmental community can occasionally elevate
issues above the civil servants, when they have gone way
off track, to find solutions from the political appointees.
But it sure would be helpful if the renewable energy and
efficiency players were there to help, alongside the environmental community.
But enough doom and gloom from thick in the weeds
of the Clean Air Act. Here is a brief update on other recent
Mountaintop removal: On June 11, 2009, the Army
Corps of Engineers, the U.S. Department of the Interior
and the EPA signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to strengthen the environmental review of
Appalachian surface coal mining. A copy of this MOU
is available at usace.army.mil/CECW/Pages/moumoas.
aspx. As part of the MOU, the Army Corps revoked the
nationwide permit allowing mountaintop-removal coal
mining. Now coal companies at least have to apply for an
individual permit before they can be authorized to blow
off the tops of mountains and push the resultant rubble
into valley streams.
Coal mine methane: On June 29, the EPA published
its rule requiring coal mines to report greenhouse gas
emissions. Coal mines are a major source of methane, a
powerful greenhouse gas. While this is only a reporting