Archive for the ‘EPA’ Category

Block Here, Block There, Block Everywhere

via Wikimedia

via Wikimedia

Back in the beginning of June, the EPA released its long-anticipated guidelines for cutting carbon pollution from existing power plants. The guidelines, implemented after the administration grew exasperated with Congress’ inability to cobble together sensible regulations, are intended to cut carbon dioxide emissions from existing power plants – the single largest source of such pollution in the United States. Power plants account for one-third of all domestic greenhouse gas emissions in the United States, according to the Agency. The Agency hopes to cut carbon emissions by 30 percent nationwide below 2005 levels which it says is equal to the emissions from powering more than half the homes in the United States for one year.

Nobody expected the coal industry to celebrate the new rules. And nobody expected the climate change deniers in Congress to roll over, either. And sure enough, the obstruction machinery is being fired up.

Bloomberg tells us that Republicans in Congress are determined to cut the funding necessary to enforce the new guidelines and prevent them from taking effect. They are preparing for a “pitched battle” over the carbon rules which they describe as “job killers.” John Podesta, the president’s top adviser on climate change, said last month that Republicans have a ‘‘zero percent chance” of stopping the rule. We’ll see. When it comes to blocking the administration’s environmental regulations, as with every other initiative from the White House, the congressional Republican caucus has shown itself to be as tenacious as a junkyard dog.

Does Your Environmental Impact Statement Raise Environmental Objections from the EPA?

Photo by Benson Kua. Some rights reserved.

Note: this is an updated version of a post from a few years ago. There was no Notice of Availability posted this week, so we thought we’d take the time to refresh our collective memories on the EPA’s comment process. Enjoy!

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Many Knowledge Mosaic subscribers are probably intimately familiar with SEC Comment Letters, in which SEC staff review and comment on selected EDGAR filings. But did you know there’s a similar review process for environmental impact statements filed with the EPA?

The EPA reviews and rates draft EISs in two main ways: the environmental impact of the action (LO-lack of objections, EC-environmental concerns, EO-environmental objections, or EU-environmentally unsatisfactory), and the adequacy of the draft EIS (1-adequate, 2-insufficient information, or 3-inadequate). More details about the two rating systems are laid out here.

According to the EPA’s manual on Policy and Procedures for the Review of Federal Actions Impacting the Environment, the EPA has the specific authority and responsibility under Section 309 of the Clean Air Act (42 USC 7609) to review and comment on Federal actions affecting the quality of the environment, and make those comments available to the public. When a draft EIS is rated EO, EU, or 3, consultation must be initiated with the lead agency, which continues at “increasing levels of management,” as appropriate, until “EPA’s concerns are resolved or further negotiations are pointless.”

Each week, the Green Mien hunts down recently released environmental impact statements for you. And each week, we remind you that you can find available EPA comments on EISs here. However, as the EPA has 45 days to provide comments on a draft EIS (and 30 days to comment on a final EIS), you are unlikely to find EPA comments on these fresh-off-the-grill EISs.

But don’t give up. Check back here for EPA comments issued within the last 60 days.

For instance, the EPA recently released a comment on the Draft EIS for the Disposal and Reuse of the Former Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base. The EIS received a rating of “EC2” – there were “environmental concerns” regarding the proposal, and the information in the DEIS was deemed, overall, to be “insufficient” for evaluating the environmental impacts. Specifically, the EPA has concerns with “impacts to human health and the environment due to on-site contamination and on-going remedial activities as well as environmental justice, transportation, and cumulative impacts.”

While Knowledge Mosaic hasn’t yet made these comments available and easily searchable on our Laws, Rules, and Agency Materials page, the idea has been on our radar for a long time. If we add them, Green Mien readers will be the first to know.

Shut Up and Light the Charcoal

via Wikimedia

via Wikimedia

What if you went camping with a bunch of friends and they decided it would be really cool to barbecue burgers and brats inside the tent. You take one look at the bright red warning label on the charcoal bag and pitch a fit (you’re also the one who pitched the tent). The label announces in no uncertain terms that burning charcoal inside can kill you. “You can’t grill in here,” you say. “We’re all going to die!” But your friends pooh-pooh your sissy concerns and insist there’s nothing wrong with throwing meat on a hot grill indoors. Where’s your scientific proof that everybody is going to die? What harm is a little smoke going to do? Besides, it might rain and  who wants to get wet? Would you stay in the tent? Slip into your sleeping bag after dinner expecting to get up in the morning for bacon and eggs cooked on the same barbecue? I doubt it.

But that’s pretty much where we are with greenhouse gases and global warming today. The warnings are clear and unambiguous but still there’s a concerted campaign to ignore the blaring claxons and carry on grilling in the tent. Between November 2012 and December 2013 2,258 peer-reviewed articles were published in scientific journals by 9,136 authors detailing man’s contributions to global warming.  Only one article, by a single author in the Herald of the Russian Academy of Sciences, rejected man-made global warming. A new draft United Nations report concludes that the nations of the world have dragged their feet so long in combating climate change that the situation has grown critical and the problem could become impossible to solve with current technologies within 15 years. According to the report, our feeble efforts at instituting alternate energy simply can’t compete with the subsidies offered to the fossil fuel industries. Even as more clean energy comes onto the market, emissions continue to outpace any reduction the clean energy might bring. Failure to reign in emissions, the report says, will saddle future generations with enormous disruption, enormous costs, and the challenge of solving the problems were are creating now with technologies which have yet to be invented.

Still, the climate change deniers soldier on, insisting that filling the tent with smoke is a capital idea and that anyone who says the contrary is a tree hugging alarmist. And the deniers aren’t just fringe characters. Some of them occupy positions of great power and influence, such as, say, the Chair of the House Science and Technology Committee. Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX), is a vociferous critic of any attempts to reduce carbon emissions, and has noisily denounced the Environmental Protection Agency’s pollution rules for new power plants. Representative Smith has not turned his back on science entirely, though. Just one day after condemning the EPA, he held a hearing to explore the possibility of extra-terrestrial life. Smith is hardly the lone denier on the committee. The Subcommittee on the Environment is now chaired by a representative who rejects the scientific fact of anthropogenic global warming.

If your camping buddies insisted on filling the tent with a colorless, odorless, and tasteless gas that could kill you within an hour, you could at least go sleep outside. There is no outside when it comes to climate change. We’re all trapped inside the tent.

Angry Mob Will Wait to Hear Obama Out on New Climate Change Legislation

 

Photo by Robert Couse-Baker. Some rights reserved.

Photo by Robert Couse-Baker. Some rights reserved.

Way back in April of this year, we heard rumblings from a coalition made up of three leading environmental groups as well as New York and nine other green-friendly states, which intended to sue the EPA for the agency’s failure to meet an April 13th deadline to issue final regulations which would enforce stricter greenhouse gas emission limits for power plants (the biggest source of harmful GHGs in the country). The Proposed Rule was first released in March 2012, and would limit CO2 emissions from new power plants to 1,000 lbs per megawatt-hour. The April 13th deadline was set as the final version was supposed to be released within a year of receiving public comments a month after the draft rule was published. Obviously, that hasn’t happened yet.

In response to initial threats in April, the EPA said they were still hard at work on the rule and that, as EPA spokeswoman Alisha Johnson put it, “no timetable has been set. We continue to review the more than 2.7 million comments we have received.” Well, at least it’s good to know they take those public comments seriously!

However, after two months of bated breath, the group that rallied in April around suing the EPA announced this week that they would wait to take any official legal action until after Obama supposedly unveils new climate change regulations next month as a part of a “larger climate strategy.” Well that seems only fair! We’ve talked a bit already this week about the challenges Obama faces when trying to enact such legislation, but hey – at least the gears are still turning.

The EPA, Greenhouse Gases, the D.C. Circuit, and Political Warfare

Photo via D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals

Photo via D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals

The Obama administration, increasingly frustrated by Congressional hostility to any efforts to contain greenhouse gases, has turned to the EPA as a tool for reining in carbon emissions. The agency is developing regulatory standards under the Clean Air Act to reduce carbon pollution on a number of fronts. It is coordinating with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to promote new technologies with the goal of reducing carbon dioxide emissions from motor vehicles by 3,100 million metric tons by the year 2025.  It is implementing rules requiring minimum amount of renewables in transportation fuel, setting national limits on carbon emissions by power plants, and implementing rules which are expected to bring about a 95% reduction of  volatile organic compound emissions from fracking gas wells. Where Congress has refused to act, the Agency has embarked on an aggressive and far-reaching effort to fill the void.

But the agency’s efforts to curb America’s copious carbon discharge may encounter a fatal snag in an unexpected place: the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. It is this court, arguably the second most important in the country, which reviews decisions and rule-making by many federal agencies,including the EPA, and has jurisdiction over regulations enacted under the Clean Air Act, the very act upon which the EPA is basing its regulations. The D.C. Circuit Court has a conservative reputation and environmentalists have been growing increasing concerned about the likelihood of it de-clawing the EPA’s efforts. As Steven Pearlstein has written in the Washington Post, the D.C. Circuit represents a “ new breed of activist judges …waging a determined and largely successful war on federal regulatory agencies.”

Without question, the court is well positioned to block the administration’s efforts to regulate greenhouse gas emissions via agency action. The administration, however, is determined to counter-balance the political composition of the court. The court currently has three empty spots on the bench.  The administration has put forth candidates to fill the vacant seats, a move which has some Republican politicians reaching for Orwellian political analogies. Senators Mitch McConnell and Charles E. Grassley accused Obama of “court-packing”, as though simply filling long-vacant seats on the court were the equivalent of President Roosevelt’s efforts to expand the size of the Supreme Court, a plan that would have resulted in a total of six new justices at the time. The senators know perfectly well that the D.C. court, like many others across the nation, is under staffed – it’s just in their interests to keep it that way. A dysfunctional, chronically short-staffed, and conservative court is exactly what is called for to keep the EPA’s hands off the climate control switch. The New York Times has called Republican intransigence on filling the court’s vacancies “something not far from a crisis in our constitutional system.”

Readers of this blog are well aware of the necessity of tackling global climate change. Faced with a stone wall of willful denialism and industry resistance, the administration had little choice but to turn to the EPA. The political battle over greenhouse gas emissions has now shifted inexorably to the courts: The Republican’s bone-deep hostility to regulation has assured it. Filling the D.C. court’s empty seats is likely to provoke more than a skirmish. It could turn into a major battle in the country’s – and the globe’s – efforts to keep from cooking itself to death.

Bristol Bay Mine Proposal: A Slurry of Mixed Reactions

Photo by Aconcagua. Some rights reserved.

Photo by Aconcagua. Some rights reserved.

What’s in Alaska? Raymond Carver asked that question in his 1972 short story of the same name, and it sometimes feels like we still ask ourselves that very question down here in the lower 48 when pondering just what exactly is up there. Lots of bears, snow, Sarah Palin, fishing, logging, the Iditarod, rugged individualism, and more bears, right? Well okay, but add to that list a huge, hypothetical goldmine in southeastern Alaska’s Bristol Bay.

Yes, though it’s still only in the planning stage, a buried deposit of planned gold, copper and molybdenum near the headwaters of the Kvichak and Nushagak rivers is already turning heads in Washington. You see, the mine has the potential to (according to the Washington Post) “bring in 80 billion pounds of copper, 107 million ounces of gold, and 5.6 billion pounds of molybdenum,” but it would also cause the loss of “54 and 89 miles of streams and between four and seven square miles of wetlands” according to an EPA draft assessment from April of this year, and could in addition damage the habitats of the flourishing local salmon population, where nearly half of the world’s current sockeye salmon reside.

Advocates for building the mine (namely, the mining firms behind the project – Northern Dynasty and Anglo American) have been lobbying in Congress for the past decade trying to sway lawmakers over to their side, while many of the nearby Alaskan native tribes have teamed with local fishing companies and environmental groups to oppose the mine. With both sides investing significant amounts of money in lobbying (though between tribal leaders and mining moguls, you can probably guess who has more money to spend), the fight looks like it will end up being a close one (speculators are already eyeing Democratic Alaskan senator Mark Begich, who’s up for re-election in 2014, as a key voice in the matter), with volleys continuing from both sides – opponents have a poll that says 58% of Alaskans oppose the mine, advocates have an economic analysis that claims the mine would create 2,500 construction jobs.

The EPA hopes to finalize their assessment of the project this year, and it sounds like our President will eventually have some say in the matter (especially in the wake of his upcoming decision on Keystone XL, his opposition of the mine could be a strong move in winning over skeptical environmentalists who think he has perhaps gone soft on green issues).

The Mayflower Impact

A town in Arkansas may have become a black mark against the Keystone pipeline project. The recent ExxonMobil Pegasus pipeline rupture and oil spill in Mayflower, Arkansas involved several thousand barrels of oil spilling into a residential neighborhood and potentially into the local water supply via a storm drain. Keystone opponents are pointing to this incident as a small-scale example of what can be expected if the project moves forward. Keystone allies, meanwhile, point out that the Pegasus pipeline is sixty-five years old and does not contain many standard safeguards  in more modern pipeline designs that would be included in the Keystone construction.

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