Obama Gives Into Big Business

Obama Halts EPA Regulation On Smog Standards

JULIE PACE AND DINA CAPPIELLO   09/ 2/11 01:24 PM ET   AP
Obama Epa Standards

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama on Friday scrapped his administration’s controversial plans to tighten smog rules, bowing to the demands of congressional Republicans and some business leaders.

Obama overruled the Environmental Protection Agency – and the unanimous opinion of its independent panel of scientific advisers – and directed administrator Lisa Jackson to withdraw the proposed regulation to reduce concentrations of ground-level ozone, smog’s main ingredient. The decision rests in part on reducing regulatory burdens and uncertainty for businesses at a time of rampant uncertainty about an unsteady economy.

The announcement came shortly after a new government report on private sector employment showed that businesses essentially added no new jobs last month – and that the jobless rate remained stuck at a historically high 9.1 percent.

The withdrawal of the proposed regulation marks the latest in a string of retreats by Obama in the face of Republican opposition. Last December, he shelved, at least until the end of 2012, his insistence that Bush-era tax cuts should no longer apply to the wealthy. Earlier this year he avoided a government shutdown by agreeing to Republican demands for budget cuts. And this summer he acceded to more than a $1 trillion in spending reductions, with more to come, as the price for an agreement to raise the nation’s debt ceiling.

A spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, had muted praise for the White House, saying that withdrawal of the smog regulation was a good first step toward removing obstacles that are blocking business growth.

“But it is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to stopping Washington Democrats’ agenda of tax hikes, more government `stimulus’ spending, and increased regulations, which are all making it harder to create more American jobs,” Boehner spokesman Michael Steel said.

Obama had initially set out to correct a weaker standard set by President George W. Bush. Jackson had said in July that the standard would not survive a legal challenge because it did not follow the recommendations of the agency’s scientific advisers.

In March, the independent panel said in a letter to Jackson that it was unanimous in its recommendation to make the smog standard stronger and that the evidence was “sufficiently certain” that a range proposed in January 2010 under Obama would benefit public health.

The White House, which has pledged to base decisions on science, said Friday that the science behind its initial decision needed to be updated, and a new standard would be issued in 2013.

Major industry groups had lobbied hard for the White House to abandon the smog regulation, and applauded Friday’s decision.

“The president’s decision is good news for the economy and Americans looking for work. EPA’s proposal would have prevented the very job creation that President Obama has identified as his top priority,” said Jack Gerard, president and CEO of the American Petroleum Institute.

The withdrawal of the proposed EPA rule comes three days after the White House identified seven such regulations that it said would cost private business at least $1 billion each. The proposed smog standard was estimated to cost anywhere between $19 billion and $90 billion, depending on how strict it would be.

However, the Clean Air Act does not allow the EPA to consider how much it will cost to comply when picking a new standard.

Republican lawmakers have blamed what they see as excessive regulations backed by the Obama administration for some of the country’s economic woes, and House Republicans pledged this week to try to block four environmental regulations, including the one on some pollution standards, when they return after Labor Day.

But perhaps more than some of the other regulations under attack, the ground-level ozone standard is most closely associated with public health – something the president said he wouldn’t compromise in his regulatory review. Ozone is the main ingredient in smog, which is a powerful lung irritant that occasionally forces cancellation of school recesses, and causes asthma and other lung ailments.

A stronger standard, while it would cost billions, would also save billions in avoided health care costs and hospital visits.

Criticism from environmentalists, a core Obama constituency already battling him over a planned oil pipeline from Canada to the Gulf Coast, was swift following the White House announcement.

“The Obama administration is caving to big polluters at the expense of protecting the air we breathe,” said Gene Karpinski, the president of the League of Conservation Voters. “This is a huge win for corporate polluters and huge loss for public health.”

In his statement, the president said that withdrawing the regulation did not reflect a weakening of his commitment to protecting public health and the environment.

“I will continue to stand with the hardworking men and women at the EPA as they strive every day to hold polluters accountable and protect our families from harmful pollution,” he said.

The decision mirrors one made by Obama’s predecessor, President George W. Bush. EPA scientists had recommended a stricter standard to better protect public health. Bush personally intervened after hearing complaints from electric utilities and other affected industries. His EPA set a standard of 75 parts per billion, stricter than one adopted in 1997, but not as strong as federal scientists said was needed to protect public health.

The EPA under Obama proposed in January 2010 a range for the concentration of ground-level ozone allowed in the air – from 60 parts per billion to 70 parts per billion. That’s about equal to a single tennis ball in an Olympic-size swimming pool full of tennis balls.

Jackson, Obama’s environmental chief, said at the time that “using the best science to strengthen these standards is a long overdue action that will help millions of Americans breathe easier and live healthier.”

The American Lung Association, which sued the EPA over the Bush standard, said it would continue its legal fight now that Obama is essentially endorsing the weaker limit. The group had suspended its lawsuit after the Obama administration vowed to correct it.

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New Fracking Regulations

EPA Proposes New Rules on Emissions Released by Fracking

by Nicholas Kusnetz
ProPublica, July 29, 2011, 4:23 p.m.
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Prohibited from regulating hydraulic fracturing under the Safe Drinking Water Act, the EPA took to the air yesterday, proposing federal regulations to reduce smog-forming pollutants released by the fast-spreading approach to gas drilling.

If approved as currently written, the rules would amount to the first national standards for fracking of any kind, the EPA said. The agency sets guidelines when companies inject fluids underground for various purposes, but in 2005 Congress prohibited the EPA from doing so for fracking. Regulation has been left to the states, some of which compel companies to report what chemicals they use and have imposed tougher well-design standards.

 The new EPA proposal would limit emissions released during many stages of natural gas production and development but explicitly targets the volatile organic compounds released in large quantities when wells are fracked. Drillers would have to use equipment that captures these gases, reducing emissions by nearly 95 percent, the EPA said.

Environmentalists said the proposed rules represent an important step by federal regulators amid a growing controversy over fracking’s safety.

“The EPA has a terrific opportunity here to provide the public with some assurance that the industry has to meet certain performance standards that are protective of public health,” said Ram

ón Alvarez, a senior scientist with the Environmental Defense Fund in Texas.

The American Petroleum Institute, the country’s main oil and gas lobbying group, has requested that the EPA delay finalizing the rules for at least six months beyond the current February 2012 deadline. Asked to comment on the proposal’s likely effects, API spokesman Reid Porter said only that the organization was reviewing it.

The Marcellus Shale Coalition, a group representing gas drillers in the Northeast, issued a statement criticizing the proposed regulations, saying they would “undercut” gas production.

The EPA contends that the measure would actually be a moneymaker for drilling companies. Though it might compel them to invest in new equipment, this equipment would allow them to capture methane gas currently lost in the drilling process, which they could then sell.

The EPA proposal is the result of a successful 2009 lawsuit brought against the agency by WildEarth Guardians and another advocacy group alleging that the agency had not updated air-quality rules as required. The EPA is supposed to review such rules at least every eight years, but in some cases it had not done so for 10 years or more.

While the rules affect the oil and gas industry as a whole, growing awareness about environmental and health risks associated with fracking seems to have played a role in their formulation.

During an interview at the Aspen Ideas Festival in June, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson called natural gas a critical bridge fuel to a lower carbon future but acknowledged that drilling had led to poor air quality in some areas. Smog was worsening in rural communities where drilling had increased sharply, she said, and the agency was concerned that without better regulation those problems would grow.

“People’s health will be affected,” Jackson said, adding that the EPA was developing rules

—the ones announced yesterday—to address this issue.

Hydraulic fracturing is a major source of emissions because when fluids used to frack a well return to the surface, they carry gases that can be vented into the air, said Jeremy Nichols, the climate and energy program director for WildEarth Guardians.

“Just imagine opening a bottle of soda,” he said.

Instead of carbon dioxide, in fracking’s case the soda can contain methane, volatile organic compounds and toxic chemicals such as benzene, which generally spray into the environment. Some areas in the West, where emissions from drilling are particularly high, no longer meet federal air quality standards.

The EPA proposal also calls for reducing emissions of toxic chemicals, such as cancer-causing benzene, produced by processing, transmitting and storing natural gas. An exemption in the Clean Air Act prohibits the EPA from requiring similar reductions for fracking. Nevertheless, the agency said that a byproduct of new limits on volatile organic compounds produced by fracking would be reductions in other emissions.

Some environmentalists said they were disappointed that the proposed rules do not target methane, a potent greenhouse gas that is also the primary ingredient of natural gas. The oil and gas sector accounts for nearly 40 percent of all methane emissions nationwide, according to the EPA.

While the EPA said such emissions would be reduced by one-quarter as a result of new limits on the release of other gases, Alvarez said greater cuts would have been possible if methane reductions had been mandated.

The EPA issued its emissions-reduction proposal soon after saying it would not meet a July 29 deadline for tougher national ozone standards.

Doing one without the other may not be enough to improve air quality in busy drilling areas such as Wyoming’s Upper Green River Basin, Nichols said.

“That’s a hard realization that’s going to sink in,” he said. “We’re definitely going to be able to take a bite out of it through some of the standards that are coming on line, but we’re going to reach a point where something else needs to be done.”

New Fuel Efficiency Standards

Automakers, Obama administration agree on fuel efficiency standards through 2025

By , Published: July 27, The Washington Post

The Obama administration and major auto manufacturers have reached a deal to raise fuel efficiency standards for cars and light trucks between 2017 and 2025, resolving a contentious negotiation over how to cut vehicles’ greenhouse gas emissions.

The agreement would require U.S. vehicle fleets to average 54.5 miles per gallon or 163 grams per mile of carbon dioxide equivalent by 2025, which represents a 50 percent cut in greenhouse gases and a 40 percent reduction in fuel consumption compared with today’s vehicles, according to sources briefed on the matter.

While the proposal falls short of the 62-mpg standard that environmental and public health groups had lobbied for, it represents a significant step in federal curbs on tailpipe pollution.

It would require a 5 percent annual improvement rate for cars between 2017 and 2025. Light trucks would be required to have a 3.5 percent yearly efficiency improvement between 2017 and 2021, rising to 5 percent between 2022 and 2025, according to the sources, who asked not to be named because the details have not been announced publicly.

The compromise would build upon a landmark accord President Obama forged in 2009 with automakers, environmentalists, unions and California officials, who are allowed to set their own vehicle emission standards under the Clean Air Act. California was the first state to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from cars and light trucks. More than a dozen states have since adopted those restrictions, sparking a legal battle between U.S. automakers and California.

The White House press office issued a statement Wednesday saying the president would unveil the details of the program Friday at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center.

“This program, which builds on the historic agreement achieved by this administration for Model Years 2012-2016, will result in significant cost savings for consumers at the pump, dramatically reduce oil consumption, cut pollution and create jobs,” the statement said.

That first-ever national program for vehicle greenhouse gas emissions mandated that by 2016 cars and light trucks must average 31.4 mpg and 250 grams per mile of carbon dioxide equivalent. In 2010, the U.S. car and light-truck fleet averaged 28.3 mpg and 314 grams per mile.

But the battle over the second round of standards was hard fought, with environmentalists, California and union officials pressing for deep cuts and auto manufacturers maintaining that it was hard to predict what fuel efficiency gains would be possible more than a decade from now. When an agreement was in doubt, California had threatened to set its own, stricter fuel efficiency requirement.

Stanley Young, spokesman for the California Air Resources Board, wrote in an e-mail Wednesday, “We anticipate that the agreement will provide strong standards that benefit the nation and recognize and build on California’s leadership role in air quality and climate protection.”

The White House originally pushed for a 56.2-mpg standard, but automakers demanded a carve-out for pickup trucks, which continue to rank among their top annual sellers. That provision lowered the average fuel efficiency gains to 54.5 mpg and won the support of ChryslerFordGeneral Motors, Honda and Hyundai.

While declining to talk about the details of the agreement, GM’s Washington spokesman Greg Martin said in an interview that he was pleased the two sides were able to reach a consensus.

“The talks over the last few weeks have yielded real progress, and we’re hopeful there’s a way to improve fuel economy but retain customer choice and the industry’s recent resurgence,” Martin said.

Environmentalists, by contrast, said they would withhold judgment for the moment on whether the agreement would deliver sufficient reductions in greenhouse gas emissions and oil consumption.

“Until the White House provides us the full details, we are not in position to assess whether this is a strong proposal or whether there are any significant flaws,” said Roland Hwang, transportation program director for the Natural Resources Defense Council. “From what we’ve read, there are certainly aspects that are encouraging but there are potential loopholes which could be troubling. Now it appears there is an agreement, it’s time for the auto industry to work in good faith to not exploit the loopholes that threaten to undermine the consumer and pollution benefits.”

Michelle Robinson, director of the Union of Concerned Scientists’ Clean Vehicles program, said, “The Union of Concerned Scientists considers this a positive milestone on the road to strong vehicle and fuel efficiency standards and the pollution reductions, energy security benefits and consumer savings they can deliver.

“There are still important details that need to be finalized that will determine the overall success of this program. . . . We anticipate that as this program is implemented and consumers get behind the wheel of more and more clean, fuel efficient vehicles, it will be clear that we can go even farther.”

The White House agreed to provide credits for hybrid pickup trucks and for technologies that are not accounted for in testing that determines compliance with federal standards, such as louvered grilles, solar roof cells and thermoelectric waste exhaust.

The deal also includes a midterm review by the spring of 2018 that will address whether standards for 2022 to 2025 are on track. The assessment will be conducted by the Environmental Protection Agency, the National Highway Safety Transportation Administration and the California Air Resources Board, after which the EPA will determine if any changes are needed.

Cross-State Air Pollution Rule

EPA Reduces Smokestack Pollution, Protecting Americans’ Health from Soot and Smog/Clean Air Act protections will cut dangerous pollution in communities that are home to 240 million Americans

Release date: 07/07/2011
ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY
PRESS RELEASE
Enesta Jones

WASHINGTON – Building on the Obama Administration’s strong record of protecting the public’s health through common-sense clean air standards – including proposed standards to reduce emissions of mercury and other air toxics, as well as air quality standards for sulfur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide – the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) today finalized additional Clean Air Act protections that will slash hundreds of thousands of tons of smokestack emissions that travel long distances through the air leading to soot and smog, threatening the health of hundreds of millions of Americans living downwind. The Cross-State Air Pollution Rule will protect communities that are home to 240 million Americans from smog and soot pollution, preventing up to 34,000 premature deaths, 15,000 nonfatal heart attacks, 19,000 cases of acute bronchitis, 400,000 cases of aggravated asthma, and 1.8 million sick days a year beginning in 2014 – achieving up to $280 billion in annual health benefits. Twenty seven states in the eastern half of the country will work with power plants to cut air pollution under the rule, which leverages widely available, proven and cost-effective control technologies. Ensuring flexibility, EPA will work with states to help develop the most appropriate path forward to deliver significant reductions in harmful emissions while minimizing costs for utilities and consumers.

“No community should have to bear the burden of another community’s polluters, or be powerless to prevent air pollution that leads to asthma, heart attacks and other harmful illnesses. These Clean Air Act safeguards will help protect the health of millions of Americans and save lives by preventing smog and soot pollution from traveling hundreds of miles and contaminating the air they breathe,” said EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson. “By maximizing flexibility and leveraging existing technology, the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule will help ensure that American families aren’t suffering the consequences of pollution generated far from home, while allowing states to decide how best to decrease dangerous air pollution in the most cost effective way.”

Carried long distances across the country by wind and weather, power plant emissions of sulfur dioxide (SO2) and nitrogen oxide (NOx) continually travel across state lines. As the pollution is transported, it reacts in the atmosphere and contributes to harmful levels of smog (ground-level ozone) and soot (fine particles), which are scientifically linked to widespread illnesses and premature deaths and prevent many cities and communities from enjoying healthy air quality.

The rule will improve air quality by cutting SO2 and NOx emissions that contribute to pollution problems in other states. By 2014, the rule and other state and EPA actions will reduce SO2 emissions by 73 percent from 2005 levels. NOx emissions will drop by 54 percent. Following the Clean Air Act’s “Good Neighbor” mandate to limit interstate air pollution, the rule will help states that are struggling to protect air quality from pollution emitted outside their borders, and it uses an approach that can be applied in the future to help areas continue to meet and maintain air quality health standards.

The Cross-State Air Pollution Rule replaces and strengthens the 2005 Clean Air Interstate Rule (CAIR), which the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit ordered EPA to revise in 2008. The court allowed CAIR to remain in place temporarily while EPA worked to finalize today’s replacement rule.

The rule will protect over 240 million Americans living in the eastern half of the country, resulting in up to $280 billion in annual benefits. The benefits far outweigh the $800 million projected to be spent annually on this rule in 2014 and the roughly $1.6 billion per year in capital investments already underway as a result of CAIR. EPA expects pollution reductions to occur quickly without large expenditures by the power industry. Many power plants covered by the rule have already made substantial investments in clean air technologies to reduce SO2 and NOxemissions. The rule will level the playing field for power plants that are already controlling these emissions by requiring more facilities to do the same. In the states where investments in control technology are required, health and environmental benefits will be substantial.

The rule will also help improve visibility in state and national parks while better protecting sensitive ecosystems, including Appalachian streams, Adirondack lakes, estuaries, coastal waters, and forests. In a supplemental rulemaking based on further review and analysis of air quality information, EPA is also proposing to require sources in Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Missouri, Oklahoma, and Wisconsin to reduce NOX emissions during the summertime ozone season. The proposal would increase the total number of states covered by the rule from 27 to 28. Five of these six states are covered for other pollutants under the rule. The proposal is open for public review and comment for 45 days after publication in the Federal Register.

More information: http://www.epa.gov/crossstaterule/