Tag: "Air Pollution"

Supreme Court Votes Against Clean Air Act

Yesterday, the Supreme Court vote dealt a major blow to President Obama and his Environmental Protection Agency’s regulation of carbon dioxide emissions from power plants under the Clean Air Act. The Clean Air Act requires EPA to set national ambient air quality standards (NAAQS) for ozone and five other pollutants considered harmful to public health and the environment. However, the new regulation would have severe consequences, as emphasized here by the Supreme Court vote.

In addition, written testimony, related to this issue, by the NCPA to the Environmental Protection Agency last year included:

The EPA’s proposed regulation ― which would lower the threshold of ground-level ozone pollution ― has been characterized as “the most expensive regulation ever.”

President Obama nixed a similar version of this rule in 2011, claiming that he was acting to “underscore the importance of reducing regulatory burdens and regulatory uncertainty.” Yet many are wondering what happened to President Obama’s commitment to “reducing regulatory burdens” in the face of the EPA’s new proposal.

The proposal itself would lower the existing acceptable ozone standard from 75 parts per billion (ppb) to somewhere between 65 and 70 ppb ― though the EPA’s science advisers would rather see limits closer to 60 ppb. According to the EPA and environmentalist groups, lowering the amount of acceptable ozone would increase public health, reduce illness and premature deaths, and lead to $21.2-$42.1 billion in benefits, contrasted with $16.6 billion in costs.

However, a recent study by the National Association of Manufacturers found that the new ozone regulation could have a very high cost in jobs and to the economy. The study 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.

The EPA must make a final decision on the rule by October 1, 2015. While many argue that it’s too early to truly estimate the costs of the proposed regulation, the initial forecasts put millions of jobs, billions of dollars in investment, and trillions of dollars of economic output at risk.

Heavy regulations like this one cost too many jobs and wreck 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.

A domestic energy boom means nothing if the economy cannot rise with it — over a trillion dollars of estimated regulatory burden directly burdens job markets and wage growth. The American voters are clear: the economy and jobs remains their top concern; elected officials need to begin representing their constituents.

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.

National Ambient Air Quality Standards for Ozone response

Submitted comments to the Environmental Protection Agency on National Ambient Air Quality Standards for Ozone.

The Troubling Murkiness of Sustainability

What does the phrase “sustainable development” mean to you? Your answer is particularly important, because our government is asking us to make many sacrifices to our personal freedoms in its name. We need to know if it is all worthwhile. Consider the following:

Where did this phrase originate? The United Nations World Commission on Environment and Development (also known as the Brundtland commission) first coined the phrase in a report published back in 1987, and it has since taken on a life of its own ever since.

The Environment Protection Agency (EPA) uses this definition: “Sustainability creates and maintains the conditions under which humans and nature can exist in productive harmony, that permit fulfilling the social, economic and other requirements of present and future generations.”

What is required for promoting sustainability? Setting aside the notion of “productive harmony” between humans and nature (whatever that means), finding the best way to fulfill the resource demands of both our present and future generations certainly sounds appealing.

Yet, based on the hue and cry for greater regulation over energy production and natural resource use in our economy, it appears that the voluntary interaction between people engaged in production and exchange in the private marketplace is an unsustainable system that has been found wanting.

Is there a better alternative than voluntary exchange? It is assumed by many that abandoning the marketplace and embracing a democratically designed regulatory process for allocating our nation’s resources will create a superior balance to this intergenerational tug-of-war over alternative resource uses.

However, in two earlier articles appearing in this blog, I give many reasons why we cannot presume that a centralized and involuntary approach toward managing our nation’s resources — even through a democratic process — will necessarily create a more sustainable outcome to the private marketplace.

Why? The same misalignment of incentives and imbalance of influence over resource use decisions that critics claim corrupt the market process are also quite prevalent in any democratic process that directs public resource use. But there are still other issues with relying on public policy to effectively deliver sustainable development.

What are the costs and benefits of sustainable development practices? Whenever the voluntary interactions between people are curtailed, they bear the lost benefits that could have been enjoyed by both parties had they been free to continue their activity. These costs are real and can only be revealed by those who willingly abandon this activity. Like the homeowner who relinquishes her house title to a buyer willing to pay the right price, the true value that is lost from this forgone activity is revealed only when a person receives sufficient payment to voluntarily stop the activity.

Even when market activities do not impose any burdens on third parties (like pollution), restricting human freedoms in the name of sustainability is usually justified by the claim that benefits need be preserved for future generations to enjoy. Yet, these benefits can only be accurately measured by those who voluntarily pay to preserve them for others to consume. Like the ratio of income that parents save for their children’s college education, the value of these future benefits is revealed only when each person voluntarily pays a price sufficient to acquire them for someone else.

This all implies that if our federal agencies claim to know the true costs that are borne by everyone who is forced to abandon their beneficial activities, or to know the true value of benefits that are funded by many people today but reserved for future generations to enjoy, then our democratic government suffers from a hubris that Friedrich von Hayek termed “the fatal conceit.”

Hayek understood that only the voluntary, decentralized interactions of millions of individuals in the marketplace can create the spontaneous and orderly outcomes that incorporate the greatest amount of cost and benefit information that could possibly be considered in order to create the best possible outcomes for the greatest number of people in society.

One of the reasons we value freedom so highly is that we instinctively know that nobody else can manage our own lives to produce as much joy as we can obtain by freely making our own decisions. Indeed, the concept of sustainable development has been applied with great rhetorical fervor to just about everything we find valuable in society — except the joy from exercising our personal liberty.

Which brings us back to our initial query: Is sustainable development — at least as it is being promised and delivered by our federal bureaucracy — worth the price that we are being asked to pay? How would you know?

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.

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 FoxNews.com.

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.

EPA, I Shall Call You Sybil

This week, President Obama is formally proposing a new EPA regulation to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 30 percent from existing U.S. power plants by 2030. After many attempts at passing carbon cap and trade legislation through the Congress over the last decade have failed, the President is now taking unilateral action to directly regulate greenhouse gas emissions. How did we get here?

The EPA receives its power to regulate those economic activities that impose environmental impacts from air pollution through the Clean Air Act of 1990. In 2007, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) had the ability to regulate greenhouse gas emissions, even though such emissions had not been considered air pollutants. However, this regulatory power was conditional on the EPA submitting an “endangerment finding,” in which a careful review of the existing science clearly indicates that greenhouse emissions directly endanger the health of Americans.

Marlo Lewis at the Competitive Enterprise Institute points out that section 202 of the Clean Air Act specifically requires the EPA to perform its own scientific assessment and to exercise its own independent judgment when finding evidence of endangering human health. This means the EPA cannot rely on the scientific assessment and judgment of outside organizations to find conclusive evidence of health endangerment to justify its regulatory powers.

The EPA entered its endangerment finding into the April, 2009 section of the Federal Register, which is the official log of all regulations proposed by federal agencies. However, this endangerment finding, and the EPA’s defense of this finding to its many critics, stretches the boundaries of logic.

Logical Inconsistency #1: Senator Jim Inhofe (R-Oklahoma) had a careful look at page 18,901 of the 2009 Federal Register. (BTW, does it bother anyone else that by April, the annual log book of proposed federal regulations had already reached over 18,000 pages?) Senator Inhofe is bothered by the fact that the EPA states:

To be clear, ambient concentrations of carbon dioxide and the other greenhouse gases, whether at current levels or at projected ambient levels under scenarios of high emissions growth over time, do not cause direct adverse health effects such as respiratory or toxic effects.

 The Senator sees this as a direct contradiction to the finding that greenhouse gas emissions endanger human health.

Logical Inconsistency #2:  Marlo Lewis points out that the U.S. Inspector General has issued a report that claims the EPA failed to perform its own scientific analysis to reach the conclusion that endangerment to human health existed. Page 23 of that report states that the EPA responded to this criticism by claiming that the documented analysis was “not a scientific assessment,” but merely a summary of findings by organizations, like the the recently discredited Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, or IPCC. This statement makes it appears the EPA simply relied upon other organizations for both the scientific assessment and the conclusion that greenhouse gas emissions directly threaten human health. Even the Inspector General feels that this endangerment finding fails to meet the requirements specified in the Clean Air Act.

Have greenhouse gas emissions been proven to be an endangerment to human health? I guess it depends on which EPA you are talking to… Sybil? Is that you?

Compact Mixed Use Developments Do Not Help the Environment

Compact mixed-use developments are the latest development fad. While such developments promise environmental benefits, the reality is often far different. Two of the largest mixed-use developments in the United States have had limited environmental benefits.

Proponents often cite the fact that mixed-use development residents drive less as an environmental benefit. However, since most car emissions (90-95%) come from cold starts and occur in the first 15 minutes of a trip, the number of miles driven is much less important then the act of driving itself. Reducing the distance driven has a very minimal effect on pollution.

One major redevelopment project is Atlantic Station in Atlanta, GA. Atlantic Station is a new mixed-use development built on an abandoned, polluted steel mill. Cleaning up the steel mill itself, which was a superfund site, clearly had major benefits. But the day-to-day benefits of the mixed-use project are less clear. Despite being located just north of the transit-friendly Midtown area of Atlanta the project was not designed to be transit accessible. All residences come with underground parking and most residents commute to work by car. A bus connecting the development with the MARTA heavy-rail system was discontinued because of lack of use.

Most of the residents of the project moved from other mostly suburban areas of Atlanta but since much of Atlanta’s employment is north of the development, residents may not be driving any less than when they lived in the suburbs. The commute to the Perimeter North Area of Atlanta, which has the largest concentration of jobs in the Southeast U.S., is 13 miles from Atlantic Station. Yet it is only 11 miles from the suburb of Alpharetta, 8 miles from Roswell and 5 miles from Brookhaven. Yet many of these suburban residents who moved to Atlantic Station commute to the Perimeter for employment. And since they cannot reach transit, they commute by car. As a result, no more folks are using transit, and some of the Atlantic Station residents are commuting longer distances than when they lived in the suburbs.

The city of Hayward in the San Francisco Bay area has replaced its affordable housing with a new transit-oriented mixed-use development near its Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) station. The principle of a transit-oriented development is that most commuters will walk to work or use transit which reduces transportation emissions. However, most of the residences are only affordable to those earning six figure salaries, while most of the employment is in the low-wage service sector. As a result, most of the residents and the workers must commute to their jobs. While approximately 30% use transit, the remaining 70% commute by car. This 30% is still a higher share than the 10% who chose transit when they lived in the suburbs. Perhaps 30% of the retail workers at the development commute by transit, a share not much higher than the San Francisco average.

However, the situation is reversed for the low-income residents. Displaced to the suburbs because their homes were demolished or because their taxes increased so much that they could no longer afford to live in their homes, they now rely on transit which is very limited in the suburbs. When they lived in Hayward, 70% of them rode transit and 30% of them drove. Now displaced throughout the suburbs, only about 10% of them can reach their jobs by transit; 80% now drive and 10% lost their jobs because they could not reach them by transit and could not afford to buy a car. As a result the actual number of people using transit at the Hayward site has actually decreased. More folks are driving, producing more emissions.

There may be lifestyle benefits from building mixed-use developments, but a significant reduction in emissions is not one of those benefits.

An All-of-the-Above* Energy Policy

Policymakers frequently tout their support for an all-of-the-above approach to energy generation, yet somehow nuclear energy largely seems to disappear from that conversation in any meaningful way. And many environmentalists — who castigate coal, insisting that we need clean, renewable energy — flatly ignore nuclear power, despite its zero carbon dioxide emissions. Instead, they hold up wind and solar and biofuels — none of which are ready for primetime — as the solution to our nation’s energy problems. Yet, nuclear power is one clean energy source that actually has the ability to provide affordable, reliable energy on a large-scale basis.

Knowing just how much sense nuclear energy makes, it is frustrating to listen to conversations and debates over energy generation that either flatly ignore nuclear power or dismiss it as unsafe. (For some articles that debunk some of the myths and fears surrounding nuclear power, see here and here.) Cutting down on carbon emissions is apparently the premier goal of many unless doing so would mean using nuclear power – something actually effective and affordable.

But last week, Forbes ran an interesting piece by former EPA Administrator Carol Browner. Browner was Administrator of the EPA under President Clinton and served as director of President Obama’s Office of Energy and Climate Change Policy.

Her commentary immediately addressed that frustrating contradiction that exists among many who oppose nuclear energy:

“I used to be anti-nuclear.  But, several years ago I had to reevaluate my thinking because if you agree with the world’s leading climate scientists that global warming is real and must be addressed immediately then you cannot simply oppose clean, low-carbon energy sources.”

Browner notes that “[e]xisting nuclear power plants…emit virtually no carbon pollution and are among the cleanest sources of electricity available.”

If climate change activists are serious in their belief that man is responsible for global warming, then you would expect more of them to rally behind nuclear as an energy source. Unfortunately, an “all-of-the-above” approach sounds nice, but it’s often just a catchphrase that doesn’t necessarily represent a comprehensive energy policy.

(And of course, nuclear power isn’t the only casualty of the “all-of-the-above” refrain: President Obama claims an all-of-the-above approach to energy, yet apparently that does not include support for coal power or the Keystone XL pipeline…)

Power Grid Reliability as Coal Plants Retire

As the Obama administration’s EPA continues to promulgate regulations that will effectively close coal plants, or prevent the construction of new ones, much of the debate over these regulations, and coal in general, has centered on the appropriateness of coal as an energy source — is it too polluting? Will it hurt the environment? Is it worth the cheap cost? Are coal alternatives too expensive?

There has been less focus, however, on the ability of the power grid to meet U.S. demand if more coal plants continue to go offline. While industry groups, states and energy companies have raised these concerns, the American public remains largely unaware of the ramifications of dialing back coal-powered electricity generation.

To much of the general public, the EPA’s regulations are simply making for a safer, happier, cleaner world.

But on April 10, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee held a hearing on the reliability of the electric grid. At the hearing, Senator Lisa Murkowski made a rather astonishing statement: “Eighty-nine percent of the coal electricity capacity that is due to go offline was utilized as that backup to meet the demand this winter.”

The New York Times reported on this issue back in March — noting that it was American Electric Power, a Midwest energy provider that was running 89 percent of its soon-to-be-retired coal plants. And PJM Interconnection, a power grid operator that serves Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Ohio, among other states, set a record for peak energy use this winter season.

Next year is an especially significant year for coal, as April 2015 is when coal plants are required to be in compliance with the EPA’s Mercury and Air Toxics Standards rule. Compliance with the rule effectively means shutting down operations or spending hundreds of millions of dollars to conform — spending that will, of course, find its way into consumers’ power bills. Some parts of the U.S. already saw electricity prices this winter that were a whopping 10 times higher than last year’s average.

If, in order to meet this winter’s energy demands, providers had to use almost all of their coal capacity that is actually scheduled to be retired next year, what is going to happen if we have a particularly hot summer this year? Or another round of Polar Vortexes this upcoming winter, when those plants we relied on are no longer operating?

Mike Duncan of the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity echoed Murkowski’s concerns when he spoke with Fox News two weeks ago: “Regulation from five years ago is closing about 20 percent of the coal plants. Regulations being proposed now could close an additional 20 percent of coal plants. And that creates huge stresses — we’re just not ready for anything like that in this country.”

The EPA, of course, insists that reliability is not an issue and that coal will remain viable. But anti-coal groups know better. As a recent FOIA request revealed, the Sierra Club’s John Coequyt (head of the group’s Beyond Coal Campaign) forwarded a news story in an email to the EPA’s own Michael Goo and Alex Barron. The news story carried the headline “Coal to Remain Viable, says EPA’s McCarthy at COAL-GEN Keynote.”

Coequyt wrote just three words above the news story to his EPA friends: “Pants on fire.”

Losing coal would not be as much of a problem if we had a cost-effective, large-scale energy alternative available. But the environmentalist left will not touch nuclear power (an energy source that produces no carbon emissions), and renewables are unreliable and expensive, hardly suited to replace coal. If any coal survives the EPA’s onslaught, electricity will be markedly more expensive, hurting American consumers, especially the poor.

President Obama bragged of his plans to drive out coal in 2008: “If somebody wants to build a coal-fired power plant, they can. It’s just that it will bankrupt them. Under my plan, electricity rates would necessarily skyrocket.”

Those who cheered this plan either failed to realize, or did not care, that it was average, ordinary Americans who would have to, quite literally, pay the price.