Rep. Fred Upton of Michigan, who notably reversed his stance on regulating carbon emissions in his fight for chair of the House energy committee earlier this year, has received an award from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
Upton is the winner of the “Spirit of Enterprise” award for, among other things, “standing firmly against overreaching regulations and job-destroying mandates.”
The U.S. Chamber is one of the groups Upton reportedly met with, along with Sen. James Inhofe, to craft a strategy to to block EPA regulation of greenhouse gases.
…it’s a mark of how stagnant our energy policy has gotten that Obama was able to offer little more than he had a year ago. In fact, he could offer less. Last year there was at least a chance that the country could have both increased drilling, and a long-term carbon price. Now, for the most part, just the drilling remains, along with a suite of familiar policies … Obama pledged to reduce U.S. dependence on foreign oil by one-third in a decade, but offered little new in the way to get there.
It’s a creditable speech, emphasizing the need for responsible extraction of natural gas and safe production of nuclear power. It includes a rebuke (a tad too mild, to my eye) to those in Congress who see the status quo as energy policy. But there are “same-old” lines on biofuels and no mention of the need for Americans, as a patriotic responsibility at the very least, to reconsider energy habits.
The truth is that the Obama administration’s energy policy looks more like Sarah Palin’s applause lines than the cap-and-trade program it advocated during the election. That’s not because the White House wouldn’t prefer the plan it pushed in 2008 to the plan it’s pushing in 2011. Congress, not the administration, opposes to cap-and-trade. But we are where we are, and there’s no use dressing it up. You can put lipstick on “drill, baby, drill,” but it’s still “drill, baby, drill.”
David Roberts, Grist (technically a pre-reaction, more to come later):
I really do think that energy security is an area where Obama could make waves. A muscular climate-hawk stance on energy security could shake up some stale partisan debates and generate some new coalitions. But that’s not going to happen if Obama takes this half-ass approach.
In the column, he suggests that the agency is “attempting to grant itself new authority” to “impose a cap-and-trade agenda.”
In reality, the agency is only doing what it is required to do under the law. The Supreme Court ruled in 2007 that the EPA had to make an endangerment analysis of greenhouse gases. The EPA concluded that global warming caused by greenhouse gases would be harmful, which meant the agency had to regulate the gases under the Clean Air Act.
EPA could have done what most economists agree is the sensible thing and established a cap-and-trade program on its own. … Of course, that would have been politically explosive too.
… Instead EPA is taking a cautious approach, getting at greenhouse gases largely through performance standards that, by the agency’s own avowal, will mostly require upgrades in efficiency (which often as not will make money for participating facilities).
In short, given its legal mandate to address greenhouse gases, EPA is acting with about as much caution and restraint as it possibly can, short of doing what the Bush administration did, which was dissemble and delay.
Upton also repeatedly links EPA greenhouse gas rules to rising gasoline prices, a claim which was debunked by PolitiFact earlier this month:
There’s no proof that the law would actually stop gas prices from rising. The added regulations now being planned may hamper U.S. refiners, but the international free market could just as easily end up keeping refining costs low. And it’s hardly assured that any changes in refining costs — up or down — will influence gasoline prices, which are subject to a wide array of influences. We find their claim False.
Roberts also addressed this question, and made a salient prediction:
Upton said the other day that blocking regulations on electric power plants would lower the price of gasoline, which Rep. Jay Inslee (D-Wash.) rightly called “one of the most pathetically, economically invalid arguments ever made in human history.” Its pathetic invalidity will not stop Upton from saying it over and over again, and the press from dutifully passing it on.
Muscatine, Iowa (photo by Adam Burke for Midwest Energy News)
An Iowa town with the worst air quality in the state is again under EPA scrutiny after years of maintaining allowable air pollution levels.
But plans to clean up emissions from burning coal won’t be adopted for several years, leaving residents in a haze of regulation and red tape.
Last month, the EPA declared Iowa’s pollution-fighting plans “substantially inadequate” for maintaining fine particulate matter standards in Muscatine, an industrial town on the Mississippi River.
The state has 18 months to craft new plans for EPA approval, and then local industry will have another two years to install equipment or decrease production and reduce emissions. Not meeting pollution standards can lead to withheld federal funding and, eventually, a federal implementation plan that comes directly from the EPA instead of the state.
The EPA’s action comes just a few months after the agency voided almost two years of Muscatine’s sulfur dioxide (SO2) monitor data due to faulty equipment, which may postpone a ruling on the status for those emissions standards. The agency requires three years of data to determine whether standards are being met.
Results from air modeling software could be submitted to the EPA to prove a violation (also called “non-attainment”) of air quality standards, but some state officials are resistant to the idea.
So despite new, stricter SO2 measures that could reveal violations of the Clean Air Act, Muscatine may get a pass from the EPA until new data or models are produced.
Airing it out
Jennifer Bower has already made up her mind about Muscatine’s air. “It stinks,” she said, adding she can smell it miles outside of town.
Bower has suffered from asthma for over a decade after moving from Des Moines to Muscatine. She’s convinced the polluted air caused her breathing condition, which she said began after just a year of living in the coal-dependent town of 22,700.
She believes that “the safest place” is inside her home, because she can control indoor air quality. Like many in Muscatine, her family uses air purifiers year-round and humidifiers in the winter.
Bower’s five-year-old daughter, Kate, has visited the emergency room twice to treat her asthma attacks.
Linda Smith, who’s lived in Muscatine all her life, said her doctor has diagnosed her and others with an unclassifiable, upper-respiratory sickness nicknamed the “Muscatine Crud.”
“Muscatine is a hotspot for air pollution-related illnesses relative to the rest of Iowa,” said Dr. Maureen McCue, a physician from a neighboring county and founding member of the University of Iowa Global Health Studies Program.
Last year, McCue published a study, with Physicians for Social Responsibility, on the health effects of Iowa’s coal dependence that stated “substantial scientific evidence demonstrates health and environmental harms at every stage of coal’s life cycle, from the coal mine to the coal ash.”
The Iowa study also implicated industrial agriculture processes and animal feed lots as contributors to the state’s poor air.
Air monitors in Muscatine clocked 14 days with unsafe SO2 levels between Aug. 27 and Dec. 31 last year, and also registered 19 episodes which exceeded federal standards for smaller particulate matter, more than any other Iowa city for 2010.
Modeling a community
Computer air modeling is similar to weather-forecasting, and much of the software relies on information from the National Weather Service. Programmers add facility-specific inputs like fuel type and emission rates to show levels of pollution in geographic areas. The software is subjected to rigorous scientific testing in order to receive federal approval.
Air models are often used by industry to help keep emissions within allowable levels.
Mick Durham is the environmental manager at GPC, one of the top polluters in the area, along with Monsanto and MPW.
He inputs data about a fuel source’s chemical composition, smokestack heights and the flow rates from his company’s coal-burners to predict emissions. He said GPC will “develop a plume, based on the meteorology,” and then predict when and where the pollution will spread out and hit the ground.
Wind speed and direction are major factors in determining what fuel is used, and the company can switch between different types of coal to decrease the levels of sulfur released when needed.
Low-sulfur coal can have its own problems, such as higher mercury content than high-sulfur coal, so there is usually a trade-off of less sulfur for more mercury.
But using these computer modeling techniques to determine whether Muscatine meets federal pollution standards is opposed by the man who heads up the department in charge of Iowa’s air quality.
Muscatine lawyer Roger Lande, director of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, is also the former chairman of the Iowa Association of Business and Industry (ABI), a group that has called for “streamlined” processes for air quality permits to reduce “unnecessary burden on industry.”
“I don’t think that we need to model Muscatine,” Lande said in an interview.
GPC is a client of Lande’s law firm. Lande has left the firm because of ties to industry clients.
Out of Thin Air
Exposure to sulfur dioxide and particulates can cause heart disease and have profound effects on breathing airways and lung tissue.
But pinpointing the relation between pollution and sickness can still challenge researchers.
“When people die from, for example, cardiovascular disease, you don’t know whether it happened because of a very high episode of air pollution or it happened because of chronic, consistent, high exposure to certain pollutants,” explained Dr. Naresh Kumar, a geography professor at the University of Iowa.
In a forthcoming study, Kumar will use ten years of data to make a “time-series analysis of mortality…with respect to air pollution,” by comparing bad air episodes with death rates.
For Muscatine resident Helen Van Hoover, a research study like Kumar’s would prove what she already suspects, “It would show that Muscatine has a higher incidence of afflictions…heart disease, asthma, bronchitis, COPD (chronic pulmonary obstructive disease) and all the lung diseases.”
Adopting a patient approach to the situation, she helped organize a group to work toward cleaner air in Muscatine.
They met last week to submit comments to the EPA, and their next meeting will be scheduled in Southend, a residential neighborhood that borders GPC and Muscatine Power and Water coal plants.
Van Hoover said, “It’s been a long time to get a group like this together, but I think maybe now we might be able to get somewhere.”
Because of an editor’s error, an earlier version of this story mistakenly said Lande had been confirmed by the state senate as DNR director. The senate has yet to act on the nomination.
B. Adam Burke is an independent producer in eastern Iowa and former writer for the Iowa Independent.
“We have 480 episodes, and if there are a few that they don’t want to air for awhile in light of the terrible thing going on, I completely understand that,” says Jean, citing the previous example of the 1997 episode “Homer Versus the City of New York” that was pulled after 9/11 because it included key scenes at the World Trade Center. “We would never make light of what’s happening in Japan.”
The show’s creators clearly acknowledge its influence on public perception of nuclear power. In this clip from the show’s 20th anniversary special, Morgan Spurlock (you remember – the guy who ate all those Big Macs) asks nuclear engineers what they think about the various cultural touchstones that have emerged from “The Simpsons” portrayals of their industry.
Clearly, these guys can’t get enough of Blinky the three-eyed fish.
“There is something that taps into people’s view of big business, and in particular, nuclear power, which is giving profit-minded people complete control over life and death. It is a scary thought, and I think that is a topic for satire.”
But it turns out that Oklahoma is also the first state in the U.S. to install a wind turbine at its governor’s mansion — a 10 kW project completed last May. A similar turbine went up on the capitol grounds a few weeks later.
There’s nothing unusual about renewable energy projects at public buildings. But there’s a high level of symbolism to putting up a wind turbine at the governor’s mansion or the state capitol.
And the fact that the first states to make such a visible statement about wind power are also among the most conservative in the U.S. is further proof that the politics of renewable energy don’t break as cleanly along red/blue lines as some would have you believe.
Wisconsin regulators approve Wisconsin Energy/Integrys deal • Coalition pushes for stronger oversight of Straits of Mackinac pipelines • Detroit suburb to install wind turbines in brownfield site • Minnesota regulators approve off-peak rates for electric vehicle charging