Monday, March 20, 2023

EPA cracks down on coal power pollution

No word on HOW ozone levels can be reduced

On Wednesday, the Environmental Protection Agency, or EPA, finalized a regulation that will cut smog-causing air pollution from coal-fired power plants and industrial facilities. The new "Good Neighbor" rule requires 23 states to reduce nitrogen oxide emissions blowing across state boundaries. The air pollutants — which form ozone, the main ingredient in smog — can travel downwind into neighboring states, harming the health of communities miles away.

The EPA estimates the rule will halve nitrogen oxide emissions from power plants by 2027, compared to peak 2021 levels. And that cleaner air will lead to major public health improvements. According to the EPA, the new rule will prevent approximately 1,300 premature deaths, 2,300 hospital and emergency room visits, and 1.3 million cases of asthma in 2026 alone.

Ozone is one of the most widespread air pollutants in the U.S. Research has found that ozone raises the risk of premature death and can be particularly dangerous to children, older adults, and people with asthma and other chronic conditions. Asthma attacks and other health effects from ozone can drive people to the emergency room and take them away from schools and jobs.

Paul Billings, national senior vice president of public policy for the American Lung Association, describes ozone's health effects as "a sunburn of the lungs." Ozone can cause even healthy adults working or moving outdoors to wheeze, cough, and experience shortness of breath. During peak ozone season, from March to November, people across the country experience its harms. Ozone pollution particularly impacts those who live close to a major polluting source, disproportionately low-income communities and communities of color.

"We know this harmful pollution doesn't stop at the state line," EPA Administrator Michael Regan said in a statement Wednesday. "Today's action will help our state partners meet stronger air quality health standards beyond borders, saving lives and improving public health in impacted communities across the United States."

Initially proposed in February last year, the plan implements a part of the federal Clean Air Act known as the "Good Neighbor" provision. Under the law, states are required to submit a plan for ensuring that their air pollution does not spread significantly to other states. If they fail to submit or if the EPA disapproves of their plan, the agency must issue its own rule to protect downwind states.

The new "Good Neighbor" plan also aims to achieve coast-to-coast adherence to national ambient air quality standards set by the EPA for ozone back in 2015. Billings says given the eight-year gap, the new plan is "long overdue" — and that the EPA has more work ahead if it wants to take ozone seriously.

Under the Clean Air Act, the EPA is required to review — and update if needed — air quality standards every five years. In 2020, the Trump administration decided to not update the 2015 ozone limits. The agency announced late last year that it would reconsider that policy, aiming to reach a final decision by the end of this year.

The current ozone standards set a ceiling of 70 parts per billion; the American Lung Association and other public health and environmental justice advocates call for "standards no higher than 60 parts per billion."

"The president has made addressing environmental injustice a priority," Billings told Grist. "And rules like the revision of the ozone health standard will be an important test to see if the policies are going to match the rhetoric."


New EPA regulation on water quality is poorly advised

John Doolittle

A recent proposal by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to enact the first-ever federally enforceable water quality standards for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) has prompted discussions about the potential impacts of these regulations on public health, the environment, and the economy.

As a former Member of Congress who served on several committees of jurisdiction that handled water issues, I have always been an advocate for safe and clean drinking water. But any such standards must be viewed within the broader portfolio of drinking water priorities and developed based upon the best available science. Unfortunately, this proposal misses that mark.

By way of background, PFAS is a broad term for a family of chemicals that have been used for decades across industries and that are essential to modern life. Consisting of more than 5,000 different chemistries, each PFAS compound has its own unique chemical makeup and uses as well as environmental and health profiles. However, despite this fact, the EPA is pressing forward with a regulation that would lump many of these chemicals together in one basket.

While some advocates for this aggressive regulation have cherry-picked data to claim that the science is settled on this issue, the fact remains that there is no clear evidence that exposure to the PFAS chemicals used today causes cancer or any other serious health effects. The EPA's own website says that it doesn’t fully understand "how harmful PFAS are to people and the environment", and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has similarly found that “human health effects from exposure to low environmental levels of PFAS is uncertain.”

In fact, many PFAS chemicals have never even been evaluated by the EPA for health risks, including two that would be swept up in these new water quality standards. In other instances, the EPA has violated the scientific integrity of its process by using studies that had not yet been peer reviewed to set previous “Advisory Guidelines” that subsequently helped to inform this newly proposed rule.

This background now leads to a new regulatory regime proposed by the Biden-Harris Administration that will vastly expand the difficulties facing water utilities, which have expressed concerns about the impacts the rule may have on state staffing levels, lab capacity for monitoring needs, and water treatment capabilities. As the State Water Drinking Association has pointed out, this new rule will also result in “significant rate increases” for customers of water systems that will suddenly find themselves required to test for and remove PFAS to exceedingly stringent standards.

This newly proposed rule sets Maximum Contaminant Levels (MCLs) for PFAS chemicals well outside international norms, as much as 25 times stricter than World Health Organization guidelines in some cases. Given that this rule will also impose a whole new set of monitoring requirements and that these MCLs were in some cases set at the lowest level that can be detected in lab settings, such testing may likely be expensive and time-consuming. Some experts fear that a bottleneck in such testing capabilities may be on the horizon, resulting in possibly lengthy delays as a result.

Water utilities that are already struggling to staff up to implement the new bipartisan infrastructure law as well as the lead and copper rule, could find that this new PFAS rule would create an additional competing priority. In some cases, this result may come at the expense of dealing with more pressing and better-known threats to public health and water quality such as removing and replacing the lead pipes that are poisoning communities across the United States and are responsible for the well-publicized water safety issues in Flint, MI and Jackson, MS

I am concerned that the Biden-Harris Administration would be willing to move forward with proposed regulations that could result in unnecessary costs and disruptions for water utilities and their customers, given the shortcomings of the underlying science, which are quite substantial. The fact remains that the EPA has failed to determine safe exposure levels and has not even proven whether PFAS chemicals pose a health hazard to humans – two major milestones that should be achieved before instituting such an onerous regulatory regime.

The public will have a chance to comment, and the EPA would be wise to make changes before issuing a final rule, which is expected by the end of the year, or scrap it all together and start anew. Given the paucity of substantial evidence as to the risks posed to humans by PFAS chemicals, it is simply premature for the EPA to impose these new ill-advised regulations.


Lights Out: Midwest Grid Groans, Plants Close as Green Regulations Hit Home

Detroit – From idled Illinois manufacturing plants to rising electricity costs to Michigan residents shuttered in their cars without power, the Green Revolution is wreaking havoc on the Midwest.

Governments are regulating America’s industrial heartland into an era of carbon prohibition. Scientists say the transformation will have little environmental benefit, but their effects are being felt by workers and consumers as jobs and power reliability suffer.

“I’m as cold as hell,” Ron George, 63, told The Detroit News from his van, where he’d lived for five days in front of his powerless Redford Township home after a February 22 winter storm left over 700,000 residents without power.

Electric grid strain

The Midwest is in the midst of another cold winter, and electric grid operators have warned they don’t have the energy resources to provide power. The reason? Governments are forcing utilities to abandon fossil fuels in favor of less reliable renewables.

“Everybody in the Midwest should be aware that there are issues with our grid,” Tom Sobeck, president of northern Michigan-based utility Presque Isle Electric & Gas, told The Detroit News. “You get a perfect storm of weather and a maintenance outage on one of our generation plants and. . . . It could be bad.”

The Midcontinent Independent System Operator (MISO), grid operator for most of the Midwest and the Canadian province of Manitoba, says that in five years, 30% of its energy will come from wind and solar power. Yet, with renewables currently at 15%, states like Michigan are already at a breaking point. This winter the state was found to be short of planning standards developed by the North American Electric Reliability Corporation.

“(MISO says) that we were on the wrong side of that planning standard," said state utility regulator Dan Scripps, chair of the Michigan Public Service Commission, with "an increased likelihood of outages because we didn't have enough resources available."

MISO suggests there needs to be a more stable energy source to keep the lights on, but there is a rush to renewables instead. Michigan, led by Detroit’s DTE Energy and Consumers Energy, have spent $3 billion on windmills, solar panels, and biomass in the last 15 years.

That has come at the expense of infrastructure reliability, and the state’s grid is increasingly vulnerable. A decade ago that wasn’t an issue, Melissa Seymour, MISO’s vice president of government affairs told The News. “We had plentiful generation. It was 30% above our reserve margin. Nobody was worried about resources. Now, we are at our reserve margin.”

Commented Redford Townships’ George, who says power outages appear more frequent: “I don’t know what, but something needs to be done. This happens too much."

His hunch is borne out by data as Michigan has recorded more power outages than any state this side of Texas, which has also aggressively pursued wind power.

Credit Jennifer Granholm, governor from 2003-2010, who began Michigan’s renewable push with a 2008 renewable energy mandate with an eye on eliminating fossil fuels. She warned that, among other environmental calamities, the Great Lakes would dry up. That hasn’t happened. Indeed, scientists like John Christy, professor of Atmospheric Science at the University of Alabama-Huntsville who monitors global satellite temperature data, says that “if you apply the different (national) regulations, they will have no climate impact. If you eliminate the US from the face of the earth, it will have no impact on global temperature. Climate is not as sensitive to CO2 as the models say it is.”

Granholm’s zealotry has been rewarded with a promotion to Secretary of Energy where she is implementing her Michigan energy policies on a national scale.

Her Democratic successor, Governor Gretchen Whitmer, has kept the pedal to the metal. Whitmer’s Michigan Healthy Climate Plan proposes to “generate 60% of the state’s electricity from renewable resources and phase out remaining coal-fired power plants by 2030 (and) build the infrastructure necessary to support 2 million electric vehicles on Michigan roads by 2030.”


Net Zero could cost Americans more than $50 trillion, new paper warns

An eminent researcher has warned that any attempt to decarbonise the US economy by 2050 is doomed to failure.

Professor Michael Kelly, from the University of Cambridge in the UK, has previously studied the impact of Net Zero projects in the UK and his native New Zealand, and has now turned his expertise to the United States.

His headline findings are a stark warning for politicians across the country.

“The cost to 2050 will comfortably exceed $12 trillion for electrification projects, and $35 trillion for improving the energy efficiency of buildings. A work-force comparable in size to the health sector will be required for 30 years, including a doubling of the present number of electrical engineers. The bill of specialist materials is of a size that, for the USA alone, is several times the global annual production.”

Professor Kelly warns that politicians are not thinking through the scale of the project they are pursuing.

“It’s clear that no country has the manpower, the materials, or the money to deliver Net Zero. It cannot be attempted without establishing a command economy, and even then it would fail. This is a fool’s errand.”




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