Climate Change, Environmental Hazards, EPA, Health

EPA’s Air Pollution Proposal Meets With Opposition

Smoggy LA skyline
The EPA’s proposal would see smog reduced, but at what cost?
Image: Shutterstock

On Wednesday the Environmental Protection Agency proposed a significant change to the air quality standard for ground level ozone, leading to an outcry amongst industry lobbyists.

The EPA’s proposal would see the existing standard of 75 parts per billion lowered to a range of 65 to 70 ppb–closer to what EPA scientists have said is optimal for health, but still not in the range environmentalists would like to see:  they estimate that there’s no definite protection of human health until 60 ppb.

A similar proposal from the EPA was shot down previously by the Obama administration, which was facing a reelection campaign.  Now, however, with Obama at the end of his second term and wanting to secure his environmental legacy, the EPA and other activists are hoping for a more favorable outcome.

Senate Republicans and industry groups have expressed concern that such a proposal would be prohibitively expensive.  In a letter sent to the Office of Management and Budget, Senators David Vitter and Jim Inhofe called the proposal “one of the most devastating regulations in a series of over-reaching regulatory actions” and called for a cost-benefit analysis.  This is despite preliminary cost evaluations conducted by the EPA suggesting that meeting a lower ppb standard would actually be cheaper in the long run.

Obama, for his part, has already shown interest in creating a far-reaching environmental legacy during the rest of his time in office.  He has not created any new legislation, but has instead focused on reworking the Clean Air Act of 1970 to promote changes in regulations on air pollution, from soot and smog to mercury and carbon dioxide.  His work has led to the first American national policy to combat global warming and the reshaping of manufacturing and electric utilities to promote more environmentally friendly products.  Obama has worked “to push forward in a way that no president ever has,” said Jody Freeman, director of Harvard University’s environmental law program and a former counselor to the president.

However, opposition from Republicans over threats to jobs could prevent proposed policies from being enacted.  In particular, Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell, likely to take control as majority leader in the next Congressional term, has vowed to block or delay any attempt by the Obama administration to put forward new environmental policies.  McConnell’s home state of Kentucky, perhaps not incidentally, is a major producer of coal.

The time of Republican leaders passing environmental legislation, such as Nixon signing the 1970 Clean Air Act into law and George Bush updating the act in 1990, appear to be past, at least until the question of definite financial burden is answered.

Climate Change, Conservation, Eco-friendly, Environmental Hazards, EPA

GOP Launches Investigation into EPA Carbon Emission Rule

The GOP vs. the EPA on carbon emissions
The GOP wants more information on the EPA’s carbon emission rule.
Image: Shutterstock

Earlier this week, House Republicans launched an investigation into what they are deeming “improper influence” by a national environmental group in the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) creation of a federal rule to reduce carbon emissions from power plants.

Members of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee and the Senate Environmental and Public Works Committee are working together on the investigation. According to The Blaze, the groups sent letters cooperatively to the EPA and Natural Resources Defense Council earlier this week to ask for more documents from 2009 and concerning the Natural Resources Defense Council’s (NRDC) involvement in the design of the carbon rule.

“According to recent news reports, it appears that NRDC played an outsized role in drafting the EPA’s proposed regulations for carbon emissions from existing power plants,” one of the letters charged. “Such collusive activities provide the NRDC and their financial backers with an inappropriate opportunity to wield the broad powers of the executive branch.  Such unprecedented access also violates the due process principles found in the Administrative Powers Act.”

Supposedly, the investigation was sparked after a New York Times report was published that stated the NRDC provided blueprints used for the rules and “heavily influenced the President’s proposal.”

House Oversight Chairman Darrell Issa, a Republican from California, and Louisiana Senator David Vitter are requesting that the EPA and the NRDC hand over documents and communications that relate to the carbon pollution rule on existing power plants from 2009 to the present. “Sen. Vitter, Rep. Issa, and their colleagues are acting as if fighting for public health were an un-American activity,” said Ed Chen, of NRDC. “Democratic and Republican presidents dating back to Dwight Eisenhower have worked to curb pollution and protect our natural resources.”

Republicans have asked for all documents regarding the federal carbon emission rule to be provided by September 16.

Eco-friendly, EPA, Nature, Science, Sustainability

Omaha, Nebraska Teacher Wins National Environmental Award

Denton received an award from the EPA for her efforts in environmental education
Kristine Denton, a science teacher in Nebraska, won the EPA Presidential Award for helping students build indoor aquaponic farms. Image:

The Environmental Protection Agency awarded an Omaha, Nebraska teacher with one of 17 nationwide EPA awards for environmental education. Kristine Denton received a presidential innovation award for her work at Omaha’s King Science and Technology Magnet Middle School.

Denton has worked at the school to build indoor aquaponic farming systems that were used to raise produce to donate to local homeless shelters. Denton will receive a commemoration plaque and $2,000 for professional development in environmental education.

Denton and the technology that she and her students use allow the growth of plants in a soil-free environment with the use of a recirculating water system. Indoor aquaponic farming is very popular in the agriculture world; however, it is very rare for a project of this sort to be seen in a middle school classroom.

Another teacher to win the award was Melanie Blas, who is a science educator at the Simon A. Sanchez High School in Guam.

The ceremony was held at the White House, where teachers from all over the country were honored for their work in environmental education.

“Through their enthusiasm and commitment, these students and educators are inspiring current and future environmental stewards,” said Jared Blumenfeld, EPA’s Regional Administrator for the Pacific Southwest. “We are pleased to honor their work that helps communities and protects the environment.”

Climate Change, EPA, Green, Health

How Obama Made Climate Change History this Week

Barack Obama with "change we need" poster.
Obama’s drastic climate changes are exactly what we need.
Action Sports Photography /

Early this week, the Obama administration unveiled historic environmental rules to cut carbon pollution from power plants by 30% by 2030. The rules, announced formally by the Environmental Protection Agency, are the first time any president has moved to regulate carbon pollution from power plants – the largest single source of carbon dioxide emissions that cause climate change.

“For the sake of our families’ health and our kids’ future, we have a moral obligation to act on climate,” EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy said. “When we do, we’ll turn risks on climate into business opportunity. We’ll spur innovation and investment, and we’ll build a world-leading clean energy economy.”

The proposed rules also would result in reductions in particle pollutions, nitrogen oxides and sulfur dioxide by more than 25 percent, which EPA officials say would prevent in 6,600 premature deaths and 150,000 asthma attacks in children per year once fully implemented. The health improvements also would result in the avoidance of 490,000 missed work or school days, which the EPA says equals savings of $93 billion a year.

Four power plants emitting pollution
Obama’s new environmental policy requires a 30% cut in power plant carbon emissions by 2030.
Image: Shutterstock

The proposal, although promoted fully by the president and Democratic leadership in Congress, ran into immediate opposition from business lobbies, Republicans in Congress and some Democrats facing tough election battles. The coal industry – which will be hit hardest by the new rules – said the regulations would hurt the economy and lead to power outages.

“If these rules are allowed to go into effect, the administration, for all intents and purposes, is creating America’s next energy crisis,” the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity said.

The problem is, the climate crisis will wipe us all out if we don’t do something big about it. What sort of world do we want our children to live in, or their children, or their children’s children? And for that matter, when does our planet just become completely unlivable? Will people believe that the time is right for a change then? No one ever said tackling a problem like climate change was going to be easy–it’s going to cost us a lot of money, effort, and yes, in some cases maybe even jobs (in many cases, it will actually create new jobs). But if we ignore it, or if we don’t do enough to combat it, the problem will only get worse. Isn’t the health of our planet more important than money? Than jobs? If we don’t figure something out, then someday money and jobs won’t matter anymore–because we’ll have completely destroyed our home, the place that allows us to live at all. It’s about time the U.S. got on board with climate change reform–especially since we’re one of the largest offenders. So bravo, Mr. Obama. Let’s just hope it’s not too late to make a difference.

Conservation, Environmental Hazards, EPA, Nature

Microbeads Are the Latest Threat to the Environment

Microbeads in exfoliating body scrubs are becoming a huge marine environmental issue.
Image: Shutterstock

Microbeads, commonly found in face and body washes, are tiny plastic beads used for scent or as an exfoliator—and now they’re a threat to the environment. Scientists are finding that the beads, which are no bigger than a grain of salt, in high concentrations in the nation’s water supply, including the Great Lakes. Scientist Marcus Eriksen says the beads soak up pesticides and chemicals once they are washed down the drain and that water treatment plants can’t filter out the tiny plastics, allowing them to flow into the ocean or waterways.

Since the discovery, the Environmental Protection Agency has been looking into the potential dangers of having microbeads in the water supply.

“Big fish eat little fish; eventually the fish is on your dinner plate,” said Eriksen. “And you’re eating that fish along with all the toxins it consumed along the way.”

The research shows that the tiny beads have been damaging water supplies for years. There is even an international campaign to ban microbeads, Beat the Microbead. The Campaign states “over 663 different species were negatively impacted by marine debris with approximately 11% of reported cases specifically related to the ingestion of microplastics.”

Several major cosmetic companies, such as Johnson & Johnson, Unilever, and Procter & Gamble have vowed to phase out the microbeads for other natural alternatives, but the shift could take several years for such large companies. The best way to phase out products with microbeads is for consumers to become aware of the issue and not purchase or support products that contain the beads.

Business, Climate Change, Environmental Hazards, EPA

EPA Finds Car Emissions Below GHG Cap

The EPA reported that the automobile industry is “off to a good start” for meeting greenhouse gas emissions standards.
Image: Shutterstock

The EPA released a Manufacturers Performance Report that assesses the automobile industry’s progress toward meeting greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions standards. The automobile industry is “off to a good start,” the EPA reported, in meeting those standards for cars and light trucks based on the data in the 2012 model year, the first year of the 14-year program.

The final 2012 standard was 296 grams of greenhouse gas/mile. Automakers’ overall GHG performance was, on average, 286 grams of GHG/mile, which is 9.8 grams of GHG/mile below what the 2012 standards required. The EPA projects the GHG emission standards will cut 6 billion metric tons of greenhouse gases over the lifetimes of vehicles sold in model years 2012-2025.

The data from the report shows that in a model year 2012, the industry reduced tailpipe carbon dioxide emissions, and also used the optional flexibilities built into the standards. The report also shows that consumers bought cleaner vehicles in the first year of the program than the 2012 GHG standard required.

The program has a multi-year structure, so the EPA will not make formal compliance determinations for the 2012 model year until 2015. The agency says it will closely track progress towards greenhouse gas emissions compliance and intends to issue annual manufacturers performance reports on the program.

It’s so good to see progress, even if just a tiny bit at a time. If we can continue, and speed up, this progress, we might even save the earth from ourselves. Wouldn’t that be nice?

Environmental Hazards, Environmentalist, EPA

$5.15 billion Settlement Over Mining Cleanup

Navajo territory Arizona
$1 billion has been allocated for cleanup of 50 mine sites in Arizona’s Navajo reservation.
Image: MortAuPat / Flickr CC

Over several decades, uranium ore was mined in the mountains of northeastern Arizona, providing the local Navajos with much-needed employment but leaving death and disease on the reservation. Eventually, roughly 50 mine sites were abandoned without cleaning up the contaminated waste thrown over the mountainside.

The federal government announced last week that it has reached a $5.15 billion settlement with Anadarko Petroleum Corp. for the cleanup of the thousands of long-contaminated sites nationwide. Around $1 billion of that will go to the 50 sites on the country’s largest American Indian reservation. Tronox Inc., a spinoff of Kerr-McGee, left behind a long legacy of several environmental contaminations particular across the Midwest and South.

The $5.15 billion settlement is the largest ever for environmental contamination. The bulk of the money, around $4.4 billion, will pay for environmental cleanup and be used to settle claims stemming from the legacy contamination. Anadarko acquired Tronox in 2006.

“Kerr-McGee’s businesses all over this country left significant, lasting environmental damage in their wake,” said Deputy Attorney General James Cole. “It tried to shed its responsibility for this environmental damage and stick the United States with the huge cleanup bill.”

The $1 billion towards the Navajo Nation will address about 10 percent of their inventory of abandoned uranium mines, including areas of northwestern New Mexico.