Category: Air Problems

Supreme Court Ruling Temporarily Helps Coal Industry

The Supreme Courts’ recent ruling temporarily holds off increased regulations on the coal industry. The administration’s stricter coal plant rules, which call for a phased-in 30-percent reduction in emissions by 2030 will be based on a state-by-state voluntary basis.

According to Environmental Protection Agency (EPA):

We will continue to provide tools and outreach. But we clearly understand that the courts will be winding through the process of looking at that rule. The [Supreme Court’s ruling] means that it’s going to take a little longer for that to happen. We will respect that, but in the meantime we’re going to continue to address greenhouse gases with the authorities under the Clean Air Act that are available to us today.

The Clean Power Plan requires very strict environmental controls to limit emissions from power plants. Twenty-seven states and a group of industry advocacy organizations challenged the new plan at the Supreme Court. The coalition of states and industry asked the Supreme Court to allow them to hold off on implementing the Clean Power Plan until after the Supreme Court has ruled on its legality. The Supreme Court granted a stay on the Clean Power Plan, giving hope, for now, to the coal industry and its allies.

Eliminate Air Quality Standards for Regions that Meet Standard

Today, I want to offer the fifth of my recommendations to reform U.S. surface transportation policy. My colleague David Hartgen and I recommend that the Clean Air Act of 1990 be amended in two ways. First, eliminate the conformity requirement for regions meeting clean air standards. Second, review regions not in conformity every 10 years, after new census data has been released.

The Clean Air Act of 1990 (CAA) requires each region currently in non-attainment with air quality standards to submit plans demonstrating that it will be in compliance in the future. For transportation, each region must show that its’ Transportation Improvement Plan (TIP) “conforms” to the State Implementation Plan for air quality improvement. In the DOT Rules (40 CFR 93), this means that the region’s TIP projects will, as a whole, not increase future emissions above the no-build level or above budgeted emissions.

The present rule requires even very small regions to conduct extensive forecasting of air pollution if they were ever in non-attainment of air quality standards. But virtually all of the future reduction in regional air pollution will be caused by cleaner vehicles, not by local transportation actions. Recent reviews of the air quality plans of 48 regions found that every region predicted a 30-50% reduction in vehicle emissions over 20 years even as travel increased, and that the TIP would reduce emissions by only 0.25-0.5% — way too small to be significant. Further, the conformity rule requires reduction of emissions (measured in tons of pollutant) but the CAA standards are for concentrations (measured in parts per billion in air). Therefore, there is no direct connection between the rule’s emissions analysis and the CAA’s concentration requirements.

Very few regions have been cited for non-conforming plans from among the literally hundreds submitted. A 2003 GAO analysis found that only five regions out of 200+ revised their plans based on conformity, and that frequent updating was administratively burdensome. No region has actually lost federal funds as a result of non-conformity. For major projects environmental impact statement analysis already requires additional air quality analysis, so requiring regions to do it twice is duplicative and burdensome. In this way the rule has become an administrative hurdle that duplicates later needed work, does not improve local air quality, and requires huge administrative effort to ensure certification for federal funds.

Regions — particularly the 400+ smaller ones — will have significant relief of administrative burden. Assuming that the conformity analysis costs $20,000 per certification, administrative time, and administration costs, this change would save nearly $8M that could be better spent on effective transportation planning. Air quality would not degrade as a result of this change.

Heavy Ozone Regulation Hurts

A recent study by the National Association of Manufacturers found that the new ozone regulation from the Obama Administration could have a very high cost in jobs and to the economy. The NERA Economic Consulting report found that a stricter new ozone regulation could:

  • Reduce U.S. GDP by $270 billion per year and $3.4 trillion from 2017 to 2040.
  • Result in 2.9 million fewer jobs per year on average through 2040.
  • Cost the average U.S. household $1,570 per year.
  • Increase natural gas and electricity costs for manufacturers and households across the country.

New oil and natural gas production could be significantly restricted in parts of the country classified as “nonattainment” areas, limiting supplies of critical energy resources and potentially driving up costs for manufacturers and households.

The study found that restrictions to new natural gas production from tighter ozone regulations, in combination with the costs to reduce emissions, could:

  • Reduce the present value of GDP by nearly $4.5 trillion through 2040, result in a loss of 4.3 million job equivalents per year and cost households $2,040 annually.
  • Increase industrial natural gas costs by an average of 52 percent and electricity costs by an average of 23 percent over what they would be if the ozone standard was unchanged.

Heavy regulations like this one, cost too many jobs and wrecks the economy. Businesses will choose to go to other countries with friendlier business environments. Further negatively impacting our economy in the long run. We must look at the bigger picture and see the other side of the issue and understand that more harm than good is achieved through many existing regulations like this new one.

Homeland Security/EPA Seize Family’s Land Rover

Department of Homeland Security agents were required to seize a family Land Rover for violating EPA emission standards. The imported Land Rover Defender is on a list of vehicles that are being illegally imported to the United States because they do not meet very strict emission standards.

  • All vehicles entering the U.S. must meet both very strict safety and emissions standards.
  • A list of vehicles are to be seized from their owners because apparently, the VIN number for their cars have different owners listed.
  • Owners of the seized vehicles have 35 days to appeal the seizure.
  • If all VIN numbers on the vehicle match, then the vehicle should be returned to the owner.
  • DHS agents in this case are not telling the owner of the Defender where the vehicle is located so that the VIN numbers can be checked.

Increased Human Emissions has its Benefits

Politically-funded and agenda-driven scientists who have built their careers on the theory that the exhaust from the burning of fossil fuels leads to a dramatic increase in temperatures and “the greenhouse effect” and who live well on the $2.6 billion dollars a year of Federal grants for global warming and climate change research cling to this theory and bend the data spread to support the glorified claims in their reports and papers. This is a well-informed, well-reasoned understanding of the National Climate Assessment (NCA) report, which is an exercise in political science, not climate science. Marlo Lewis of the Competitive Enterprise Institute rightly called it “an alarmist document to scare people and build political support for unpopular policies such as carbon taxes, cap-and-trade, and EPA regulatory mandates,” in his May 6 analysis on

While the NCA (and Obama talking points), use the term carbon “pollution,” the “greenhouse gas” supposedly causing most of the trouble, carbon dioxide (CO2) is a natural substance essential for the survival of all life on the planet. Plants need CO2 to grow and conduct photosynthesis, the natural process that creates food for animals and fish at the bottom of the food chain.

In fact, the increased atmospheric concentration of CO2 increased agricultural output and production by $3.2 trillion between 1961 and 2011. Thus, the documented effects of increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere have been positive so far.

Even with increasing human CO2 emissions, carbon dioxide is still a trace gas in the environment, constituting just 0.04 percent of the atmosphere Figure I shows that greenhouse gases compose 1-5 percent of the atmosphere, and Figure II demonstrates that CO2 composes only 3.62 percent of greenhouse gases. We still live in a world starving for carbon dioxide, especially given the crucial importance of CO2 to plant and animal life. Data shows that during the Pre-Cambrian period (about 550 million years ago) CO2 concentration levels were 15 times greater than today with no record of any catastrophic results, shown in Figure III. Human and natural emissions of CO2 are only 4-5 percent of total global emissions.

greenhouse gasesWater Vaporatmospheric co2

In addition, uncontested global temperature data shows there has been no global warming for 17 years and 8 months now, even as human global CO2 emissions have continued to accelerate to unprecedented levels. The Economist reported last year that from 2000 to 2010, human carbon dioxide emissions totaled roughly 100 billion tons of CO2, which equaled about one-fourth of all human emissions since the industrial revolution in 1750.

Free-flow Highways and Pricing Reduce Congestion and Emission

Conventional wisdom suggests that the most effective way to reduce light-duty vehicle emissions in metro areas is by reducing car travel. Many planners and policy makers have embarked on a policy of removing freeways, adding road diets, installing speed humps and making life miserable for commuters. However, conventional wisdom is completely wrong.

Much of the emissions in large metro areas come from carbon dioxide and volatile organic compounds. And most of those emissions occur when cars are traveling in stop and go traffic rather than free-flow speeds. Barth, a professor of Electrical Engineering and Boriboonsomsin, an Environmental Research Scientist at the University of California Riverside found that for Carbon Dioxide and Nitrogen Oxides, emissions versus speed is a U-shaped pattern where cars traveling at free-flow speeds (between 40-70 miles per hour) release less carbon dioxide than cars traveling in stop and go patterns (speeds between 0 and 30 miles per hour). In other words, eliminating stop and go traffic and severe congestion improves the environment far more than restricting car travel. In fact study authors found that with adopted tighter vehicle fuel efficiency requirements and engine technology, increasing free flow travel speeds to 40 miles per hour is by far the most effective way to reduce emissions in the light duty vehicle fleet. And most major metro areas face numerous corridors with congested traffic from six to twelve hours per day.

The most effective way to add this needed capacity is to add variably priced express lanes on freeways which provide an option for the driver (the pricing is dependent on congestion to keep traffic moving at 45 miles per hour or higher). For busy arterials the principal is the same. Commuters could use variably priced bridges to keep traffic moving at 35 miles per hour or higher. On both types of roads, the priced lanes are completely optional. The priced lanes would be new; commuters would always have the option of using the existing free lanes.

In addition to having the users pay for a large part of the improvement, this policy would increase speed and decrease congestion. This pricing also encourages people to travel only as needed, reducing induced demand (the tendency of new roads to generate new car trips), which is the reason most planners dislike freeway and arterial improvements. Such improvements would also improve the fuel efficiency of buses and improve transit service. If the goal is to improve the environment, speeding up travel by adding lanes and pricing those lanes is the most effective solution.

EPA Testing Seems At Odds With Public Statements

“Call us for more information and to see if you qualify!”

What exciting opportunity might this be? How about the chance to be exposed to toxins that the researchers say can cause death.

Indeed, this cheery offer came from a set of flyers printed by the EPA seeking human testing subjects for air pollution experiments.

According to an EPA Inspector General report, during five studies conducted in 2010 and 2011, the EPA conducted experiments on 81 individuals, exposing them to airborne particles known as PM2.5 (basically, soot and dust), diesel exhaust, and ozone. Some test subjects experienced cardiac arrhythmias during the testing, and one woman, with a history of medical problems, was sent to the hospital.

The report describes the five air quality studies, expressing concern that the agency exposed a research subject above the study’s concentration targets and that the EPA’s consent forms did not address all of the risks (including death) surrounding pollutant exposure.

Moreover, only one of the studies’ consent forms “identified the upper range of pollutant exposure for each study subject.” The other four consent forms “did not mention the level of pollutant exposure. Instead, the forms…compared the subject’s level of exposure during the study to the exposure they would receive visiting major cities on smoggy days.”

Why was this info left out? The EPA justified its “smoggy days” description of the study because a study manager “explained that a person breathing 420 [micrograms per cubic meter] for 2 hours would inhale the same concentration as they would breathing 35 [micrograms per cubic meter] (the EPA’s 24-hour standard for PM2.5) for 24 hours in a city such as Los Angeles.”

(The studies actually exposed participants to PM levels of 600 micrograms per cubic meter, and one subject up to 751 micrograms per cubic meter — over 21 times the 24-hour standard!)

“The manager also stated that…the risk is small for those with no overt disease.”

Similarly, the agency failed to mention long-term cancer risks from diesel exhaust because “[a]n EPA manager considered these long-term risks minimal for short-term study exposures.”

And just two of the studies “alerted study subjects to the risk of death for older individuals with cardiovascular disease.”

The IG report provides a table detailing health impacts derived from EPA regulations and assessments from short-term exposure to particulate matter and diesel exhaust. For PM2.5, “mortality” is listed as a risk of short-term exposure.chart

What else has the EPA told us about PM2.5?

  • “If we could reduce particulate matter to levels that are healthy, we would have an identical impact to finding a cure for cancer.” — EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, testimony in front of the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, House Committee on Energy and Commerce, September 22, 2011.
  • “Particulate matter causes premature deaths. It doesn’t make you sick. It is directly causal to dying sooner than you should.” — EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, testimony in front of the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, House Committee on Energy and Commerce, September 22, 2011.
  • “Overall, there is strong epidemiological evidence linking… short-term (hours, days) exposures to PM2.5 with cardiovascular and respiratory mortality and morbidity.” — EPA report on Air Quality Criteria for Particulate Matter, Volume II, October 2004.
  • “Short-term exposures to particles (hours or days) can aggravate lung disease, causing asthma attacks and acute bronchitis, and may also increase susceptibility to respiratory infections. In people with heart disease, short-term exposures have been linked to heart attacks and arrhythmias.” — EPA brochure on Particle Pollution and Your Health.
  • “The new studies support previous conclusions that short-term exposure to fine PM is associated with both mortality and morbidity.” — EPA report on Provisional Assessment of Recent Studies on Health Effects of Particulate Matter Exposure, July 2006.
  • “The best scientific evidence, confirmed by independent, Congressionally-mandated expert panels, is that there is no threshold level of fine particle pollution below which health risk reductions are not achieved by reduced exposure.” — Letter from Gina McCarthy, Asst. Administrator of the EPA, to Rep. Fred Upton, February 3, 2012.

In these reports and statements, exposure to PM 2.5 is dangerous (indeed, there is apparently no level of pollution at which health risks cease!). But the EPA’s human testing? Apparently not so dangerous.

The IG report summed up the agency’s missing warnings about the link between PM exposure and health effects this way: “This lack of warning about PM…is also different from its public message about PM.”

When an agency hails the reduction of particulate matter as the public health equivalent of curing cancer — and regulates on that basis — it loses credibility when it exposes humans to high levels of the pollutants and deems such exposure safe.

So, has the EPA exaggerated the effects of these particles in order to justify heavy-handed regulation? Or is the agency knowingly conducting dangerous experiments on human subjects?

Whichever it is, neither answer is comforting.

The Want to Regulate is Human, Let Prosper is Devine

The World Health Organization (WHO) recently released a study of the impact that air pollution has on human health around the world. It estimates that approximately 8.0 million people died in 2012 from air pollution related health issues: 3.7 million from outdoor air pollution exposure and 4.3 million from indoor air pollution exposure.

Critics have used this study to implore all nations to curtail air pollution levels. As usual, there is no consideration among the media responses that calls for using the economic approach to generate the greatest “bang for the buck.” Let me explain:

The WHO estimates that outdoor pollution caused 1.7 million deaths among the low-income nations of the Western Pacific, which amounts to 102 deaths per 100,000 people. It also estimates that outdoor pollution caused 0.9 million deaths in Southeast Asia, or 51 deaths per 100,000 people. The WHO states that these two regions alone accounted for 70% of all deaths attributable to outdoor air pollution.

Indeed, the WHO report states that, “88% of these deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries, which represent 82% of the world population.” It appears that people living in high income nations have largely avoided air pollution related deaths, either through lack of exposure or having better access to effective medical care.

Is the proper response to curtail economic prosperity and growth in the low to middle income countries in an attempt to decrease the levels of air pollution that economic activity creates, and thereby lower exposure levels? Or might the answer be to raise everyone’s living standards in these countries as much as possible, so that they, too, have the same options available that their more prosperous neighbors have? Perhaps these populations could afford lower-polluting but more costly production technologies, or could afford to provide better medical care options to those exposed. Which is best?

The WHO report indirectly yields evidence that would support the latter possibility, for it also reports on indoor pollution death rates. It estimates that in 2012, indoor pollution caused 1.7 million deaths in Southeast Asia, or 92 deaths per 100,000 people. Indoor pollution also caused 1.6 million deaths in the low-income Western Pacific nations, or 99 deaths per 100,000 people. These two regions alone accounted for over 75% of all deaths attributable to indoor air pollution. Adding the African nations raises the total to 90% of all deaths in 2012. Rich nation’s populations simply are not exposed to the indoor pollution from open-hearth cooking pits or dung-burning heat sources during cold weather.

Contrast these figures to only 1,300 deaths that the WHO states as arising in the high-income nations of the Americas, or only 0.3 deaths per 100,000 people. There were fewer than 100 deaths in high income European nations, or a number of deaths per 100,000 that was indistinguishable from zero. In fact, a recent WHO press release notes that, “deaths from household air pollution are over 5 times greater in low- and middle-income countries than wealthier ones.” I say let the nations prosper, and these death rates will fall.

Imperial Presidency rules through regulations

“It’s a new year and you know what that means — new regulations. The Obama administration has wasted no time in writing them.”

I couldn’t have said it better myself.  Now, to be fair, every Presidential administration issues rules and regulations, that’s how laws are implemented.  However, some Presidents issue more regulations than others and seem to use regulations to legislate directly, skipping the legislative process, by stretching the rules and regulations issued beyond either the letter or intent of the law upon which they are supposed to be founded.  In this President Obama has few Presidential peers. 

As proof, an annual analysis by my friends at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, finds that the Obama administration issued an average of 56 new regulations for every law passed, a record high ratio. 

Keeping up his record pace, without any new laws having passed, on just three days in January 2014, the Obama administration posted 141 new regulations

This move to rule through regulations is in keeping with Obama’s stated commitment to “not wait for Congress to act,” if Congress refuses to enact the President’s policies, Constitution be damned.


Of course successive sessions of Congress are largely to blame for the rise of the Presidential ability to rule by fiat.  Since the beginning of the Progressive era in the late 19th and early 20th Century,  the country has seen rise of the administrative state accompanied by the growing list of alphabet agencies (each approved by Congress) needed to manage it.  Congress has largely abdicated it’s constitutionally assigned role of legislating, and delegated it to executive branch agencies.   The problem is, Constitutionally, Congress alone is empowered to pass laws and there is no provision in the Constitution for it to delegate that power to others.  Still, successive Presidential administrations have encouraged Congress’s trend of delegating authority (and why not, it gives the President more power) and, alarmingly, the Courts have acquiesced in the trend — in the meantime seizing power for themselves. 

David Schoenbrod has written a number of insightful books on Congresses irresponsible delegation of authority and the tragic consequences it has had for this country including: Power without Responsibility: How Congress Abuses the People through Delegation

I’d like to propose a remedy, though it would require an act of Congress, a President who would sign off and future Congresses to actually exercise the power — each and every step, probably wishful thinking.

Congress should enact a law that requires every rule or regulation proposed to define, enable, carry out and enforce a law or portion thereof, to come before itself for an up or down vote on the regulation – thus, establishing its authority and responsibility for the it.  No longer could Congress pass a vague feel good laws, allow executive agencies to fill in the details and then complain that the agencies overstepped their authority when adopting or imposing the regulations.  If hoping Congress would approve every regulation is too much (though I think it is actually in the spirit of the Constitution), perhaps they could vote on every rule or regulation that had over a $25 million impact on the economy.  Having passed a law, if a regulation stemming from the law could not get a majority vote from Congress, one can assume it did not conform to Congress’s will in passing the law — which would also leave much less for the Court’s to interpret.  This would not solve all the problems the country faces but it would be a step toward greater accountability for the Legislature.

One can dream.

Cash-for-Clunkers was a Dud

A new report from the Brooking’s Institution shed’s new light upon the Obama Administration’s Cash-for-Clunkers program: it was an economic lemon.

According to the report, the $2.85 billion Car Allowance Rebate System (CARS) created jobs at the price of $1.4 million each and had almost no effect on reducing emissions or gasoline consumption.

Under the 2009 program, people could trade in older, less fuel-efficient vehicles in return for a voucher that could be used to buy a new, more fuel-efficient vehicle.  Car owners traded in 678,000 vehicles with an average voucher reward of $4,200, and vehicle sales rose by 14 percent in July and 28 percent in August (the two months the program ran before funds ran out), boosting new vehicle sales by 380,000.  This was only half the overall 700,000 vehicles sold during those two months and according to the report additional purchases would have occurred during subsequent months anyway.

The Brooking’s report largely confirms what both earlier reports show.  For instance, a 2009 report from vehicle research firm found that of a total of 690,000 new vehicles sold under the Cash for Clunkers program, only 125,000 were vehicles that would not have been sold anyway, and each of those cost the government $24,000 per vehicle.  In addition, the NCPA provided an analysis of the cash for clunkers program which was largely critical of the administration’s plan.

Brookings found that not only did cash for clunkers not push tons of new cars out the door, in addition, it was among the poorest programs for creating jobs and didn’t do so well in reducing greenhouse gasses:

  • ·         The $1.4 million price per job created was six times higher than the next most expensive job creation stimulus policy and was 10 times more expensive per job created than the reducing the employer payroll tax.
  • ·         The price per ton of emissions was far higher than the social cost per carbon or even what carbon emissions would have cost under the 2009 House cap-and-trade climate bill but the price was equivalent to the cost per ton of carbon dioxide under the $3,400 hybrid vehicle tax credit, and more cost-effective than the tax subsidies for electric vehicle, ethanol and renewable fuel standards.

Overall, it says, the program only saved about eight days’ worth of current gasoline consumption.

Another negative effect of Obama’s cash-for-clunkers plan as it was carried out is that because it destroyed the cars traded in, the used car market suffered shortages and used car prices went up considerably.  This means that people unable to take advantage of cash-for-clunkers but also unable to afford new or now higher priced used cars keep their aging vehicles on the road, even as they pollute more and more.

The NCPA actually developed a cash-for-clunkers program that would have avoided many of these problems, and would have had the added benefit of removing more older cars and thus improving air pollution.

What next, another failed green energy grant recipient? Oh, wait, that happened too this week.