EPA proposes stronger smog standards for public health

Catching up on news from last week, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has released new standards for ground-level ozone that will reduce the incidence and severity of various respiratory diseases. Click here for details on the standards.

Ground level or “bad” ozone is not emitted directly into the air, but is created by chemical reactions between oxides of nitrogen (NOx) and volatile organic compounds (VOC) in the presence of sunlight. Emissions from industrial facilities and electric utilities, motor vehicle exhaust, gasoline vapors, and chemical solvents are some of the major sources of NOx and VOC. Breathing ozone can trigger a variety of health problems, particularly for children, the elderly, and people of all ages who have lung diseases such as asthma. Ground level ozone can also have harmful effects on sensitive vegetation and ecosystems.

Current regulations allow ozone at 75 parts per billion. The new rules would lower that to a level between 65 and 70 parts per billion. Mark Drajem reported for Bloomberg News, “The EPA’s independent science advisers this year recommended the administration set the standard at 60 to 70 parts per billion, and urged the agency to consider the lower end of that range.”

After the jump I’ve posted the EPA’s press release and excerpts from a commentary by EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, along with some reaction by critics of the proposal. Predictably, some business groups say the new standards will be devastating for the economy. McCarthy pointed out that same dire warnings have accompanied every new environmental regulation for decades.

The Iowa Association for Business and Industry is concerned that the EPA proposal may be expensive for manufacturers. Data collected between 2011 and 2013 at various monitoring sites around Iowa indicate that ground-level ozone is already below 70 parts per billion at all tested locations. Some of the Iowa sites recorded levels below 65 parts per billion; others are slightly above that level. The EPA does not anticipate that any counties in Iowa will violate the new ozone standard by 2025. Counties with the worst smog problems, including many in California, will be given more time to comply with the new ozone standards.

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Weekend open thread: More limbo for ethanol industry edition

What’s on your mind this weekend, Bleeding Heartland readers? This is an open thread: all topics welcome.

About a year ago, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced plans to change the Renewable Fuel Standard, which regulates how much ethanol must be blended into gasoline. Iowa elected officials from both parties expressed unanimous outrage, with Governor Terry Branstad and Representative Bruce Braley seeking out especially prominent roles in the battle against reducing the Renewable Fuel Standard. The very first week of the Iowa legislature’s 2014 session, state lawmakers unanimously approved a non-binding resolution urging the EPA to abandon its proposed rule.

The EPA proposal was supposed to become final in the spring of 2014, but political pressure forced a series of delays. Finally, this past Friday the agency announced “that it will not be finalizing 2014 applicable percentage standards under the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) program before the end of 2014.” After the jump I’ve posted reaction from Senators Tom Harkin and Chuck Grassley, Governor Branstad, and Representative Dave Loebsack (D, IA-02).

The immediate impact will be more uncertainty for Iowans whose livelihood depends either directly or indirectly on the ethanol industry. But I would guess that every delay makes it less likely that the EPA will move forward with its original proposal, which could be construed as a victory for Iowa biofuels.

The reality is more complicated than such unusual political consensus implies. At an “all-day pepfest for ethanol” organized by the governor in January, Francis Thicke was the only person to offer the “other side” of the story. Thicke has a doctorate in agronomy and soil science from Iowa State University. His testimony asserted that it is “disingenuous to frame the debate on the Renewable Fuels Standards (RFS) as a struggle between farmers and Big Oil” and that “EPA’s proposed changes to the RFS are not that radical.” Thicke also pointed out, “Corn ethanol was always meant to be a stepping stone to advanced biofuels.” In this guest post, Bleeding Heartland user black desert nomad likewise questioned whether corn ethanol was really “under attack” and argued that “Vested interests want to double-down on endless growth in corn ethanol, but they have lost sight of the long game amidst a tangled web of conflict-of-interest.”  

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2,4-D crops rubberstamped

(Bad news for Iowa farmers who grow vegetables and fruits (including vineyards), or who raise livestock on chemical-free pastures. Bleeding Heartland user black desert nomad covered some of the potential risks here. Even for conventional corn and beans farmers, the approach rubber-stamped by the EPA and USDA is likely to exacerbate the "superweed" problem over time. - promoted by desmoinesdem)

It's official. EPA and USDA have both evaluated Dow Chemical's new  line of 2,4-D-resistant seeds, Enlist — and have approved both the seeds  and the accompanying pesticide formulation for market.

This is a turning point, not just for grain production but for food  production in the U.S. and internationally. The introduction of Enlist  corn and soybeans, and the widespread adoption of this new seed line,  will have pervasive impacts on farmer livelihoods, public health and  control of our food system.

 

This is a decision that our regulators should not have taken lightly.  And yet, it seems they did. Both USDA and EPA set up an intentionally  narrow scope for evaluating the potential harms posed by 2,4-D resistant  crops — one that ignored the biggest problems and held up irrelevant  factors as evidence of safety.

As small farmers brace for the impact of pesticide drift that will  hit with the introduction of Enlist crops, it is time for us to look  forward. It's time to demand a regulatory system that takes a rigorous  approach to pesticides and genetically engineered crops, one that values  small farmers as much as industrial agriculture — and public health as  much as corporate profit.

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Ethanol Hearing

(In addition to earning a Ph.D in agronomy/soil science, Thicke is an organic farmer and was the Democratic nominee for Iowa secretary of agriculture in 2010. - promoted by desmoinesdem)

Today I attended the hearing put on by Governor Branstad to bash the EPA for proposing to change the rules on the Renewable Fuels Standard for ethanol.  It was an all-day pepfest for ethanol.  I came late, but I think was the only one to talk about the “other side” of ethanol.Here are my remarks (although the footnote explanations and references don’t come through):

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Corn ethanol under attack, or is it?

(Here's a view you won't hear from Iowa elected officials of either party. - promoted by desmoinesdem)

Later this week state and regional agribusiness leaders will gather at the World Food Prize Hall of Laureates to cheerlead for corn ethanol.  The agenda for this “Hearing in the Heartland” is to rail against a proposed update to the Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS) by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The bipartisan entrenchment against the update suggests corn ethanol is being somehow threatened, but despite the fanfare it really isn’t.

The EPA’s update to the 2007 law deals mostly with 2nd and 3rd generation biofuels. The proposed volume requirements don't hinder corn ethanol; the grain mandates shifts a few percent as business models tend to do when they are updated after 7 years.  The long-term prospects for next generation biofuels also remain strong. So why an update?  Projections for next generation biofuel have not panned out, yet. Simply put: science & engineering need to catch up to ambitious policy.

Corn ethanol was always meant as a stepping stone to “advanced” biofuels. The RFS update only seriously impedes corn if convoluted math is done to figure corn as the stop-gap filler for our old overestimates for next generation biofuels. Vested interests want to double-down on endless growth in corn ethanol, but they have lost sight of the long game amidst a tangled web of conflict-of-interest.  

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Iowans split on party lines over bill to weaken hazardous waste laws

Talk about lousy timing: just before a chemical spill made tap water unusable for 300,000 West Virginians, the U.S. House approved a bill that would “weaken the nation’s hazardous waste laws and place American communities at increased risk of toxic exposure.” The Reducing Excessive Deadline Obligations Act of 2013 (H.R. 2279) includes three bills House Republicans drafted last year. In a letter signed by 129 public interest groups, Earth Justice listed the key points of each bill and explained why the package would “threaten human health and the environment while protecting polluters from liability for the costs of toxic cleanups.” I’ve posted an excerpt from that open letter after the jump. In a post for the Earth Justice blog last week, Lisa Evans called this bill “Kryptonite for Superfund” and “a con job of the highest order, allowing polluters to walk away without losing a penny, while taxpayers are left footing the bill.”

Under its current leadership, the House has been called “the most anti-environmental House in our nation’s history” because of the many bills passed that would curtail federal regulations and take power away from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Occasionally Iowa’s two House Democrats have gone along with those efforts, but I was pleased to see that on January 9, Representatives Bruce Braley (IA-01) and Dave Loebsack (IA-02) voted against the latest effort to hamstring the EPA and for the Democratic motion to recommit this bill with instructions (often a last-ditch effort to kill legislation in the House). Iowa Republicans Tom Latham (IA-03) and Steve King (IA-04) lived up to their abysmal voting records on the environment by voting for the Reducing Excessive Deadline Obligations Act and against the motion to recommit.

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