Archive for the ‘clean air act’ Tag

When the Governed Do Not Consent   2 comments

Here is Fairbanks Alaska, the EPA has decided that we shouldn’t burn wood to heat our homes because wood causes PM 2.5 pollution. Of course, the only alternative for heating our homes is diesel and diesel is also a PM 2.5 pollutant. They’ve monitored and insist that they know that wood-burning is the primary cause of PM 2.5 violations in Fairbanks. The fact that only about 15% of homes in Fairbanks use wood and mostly as a secondary heat source is beside the point. The fact that at least 85% of the homes in Fairbanks use diesel for space heating is not up for discussion. Ban woodstoves and the problem will go away.

Until it doesn’t and then the EPA will come after diesel. At $3.80 a gallon, #2 is considered more PM 2.5, but it has better BTUs — saving about 20% over #1 diesel which costs $4.10 a gallon. Most of us use #2. I expect that to be outlawed by the end of the decade.

But we’re getting natural gas — maybe. The state is moving the direction of a pipeline. Except the route they’ve chosen from the North Slope to Nikitski goes through Denali National Park and I don’t believe they actually have right-of-way permits from the National Park Service, so …. Besides, natural gas will increase our ice fog problem because it will increase the water vapor in the air. I expect by mid-century they will have outlawed that as well.

To add perspective, our worst PM 2.5 air exceedence day are actually during the summer forest fire season when we aren’t heating our homes. Fairbanks sits in a bowl with mountains to the west and north. Everything settles here. On our worst exceedence days, if you stood outside breathing deeply for 22 hours, you’d take in as much PM 2.5 as a cigarette smoker gets from just one cigarette. And, from a purely human adaptation standpoint, mankind has been using wood to heat for millennia, but diesel and natural gas have only been around for a century. Reasonably, which form of PM 2.5 are we most likely to be adapted to?

So, this brings me to my main point. The classical liberals said that legitimate government operates only with the consent of the governed. Those making this decision to add at least $4000 to my annual heating costs are bureaucrats. They’ve not been elected. They’re operating off a 40-year-old legislative delegation of authority (the Clean Air Act). When unelected government requires the governed to comply with something we the people did not consent to … why must we comply?

Technology Upgrades Close Coal Plants   1 comment

Beyond the EPA’s regulatory train wreck, a number of other problematic regulations are prematurely shuttering coal facilities and preventing the building of new plants and the expansion of existing ones. Chief among these is New Source Review (NSR), one of the 1977 Clean Air Act amendments. In areas that meet air quality standards, plants must follow Prevention of Significant Deterioration (PSD) rules to demonstrate that the construction and operation of new projects and major modifications will not increase emissions above a specified threshold. In areas that do not meet the NAAQS that NSR requires, new plants must install equipment to achieve the lowest achievable emission rate (LAER), buy emission offsets, and provide opportunity for public involvement.

There are several problems with NSR and PSD. The amendment excludes routine maintenance, repair, and replacement, but what falls under the definition of significant modification is subjective, despite multiple administrative attempts to clarify the meaning. Plant upgrades can improve efficiency and reduce operational costs, thereby lowering electricity costs, increasing reliability, and providing environmental benefits. Nevertheless, NSR requirements for upgrades discourage these activities. Increasing the efficiency of a plant will cause it to run longer and consequently cause the plant’s emissions to rise. NSR does not account for the emission reduction that would occur if a less efficient plant reduced its hours of operation to compensate for increases in operation of a more efficient plant.

The lack of clarification also forces companies into years of litigation over NSR violations. For instance, in 1999, the EPA filed a complaint against Cinergy Corporation, which was later bought by Duke Energy, claiming that modifications to two of the plants at the Gallagher Generating Station in New Albany, Indiana, violated the Nonattainment New Source Review and PSD provisions of the Clean Air Act. Duke maintained that the upgrades were part of the routine maintenance exclusion, but after 10 years of litigation, the company entered into a consent decree to retire two of the plants or convert them to natural gas and to spend $85 million on plant modifications and $6.25 million on environmental mitigation projects, and to pay a $1.75 million civil penalty. In total, power companies have entered into 17 consent decrees with the U.S. Justice Department.

NSR is a vaguely written rule that disincentivizes efficiency improvements.

“A good analogy would be if you put a new carburetor on your 1957 Chevy you would then have to meet all the 2010 air quality standards. Often the cost of the upgrades cost more than the first cost of the plant.” (Robert Peltier, editor in chief of POWER Magazine) 

There are all sorts of ways to promote tyranny in the nation, but raising the basic costs of living beyond tolerable levels is one very effective way to do it. By constantly raising the specter of CO2 emissions and global climate change, the ruling class encourages the public to believe that the environment is being destroyed so therefore, we all must suffer for the good of the planet. But is this really true or is it merely propaganda to get us to participate in our tyranny?

How to Destroy the Economy: Shell Oil   Leave a comment

Alaska remains the largest oil deposit in the United States. Proven reserves place us as the 13th largest government-owned oil-producing entity in the world. Alaska’s oil is not owned by private industry, but by the State of Alaska and the United States governments, who lease the resources to petroleum companies. If we could only develop that oil, not to mention the gas found with it, Alaska would be a northern Kuwait and the United States would benefit from that because Alaskans pay taxes.

The TransAlaska Pipeline (TAPS) has transported 16 billion barrels of oil in its 37 years of operation. Shell Oil is sitting on a prospect (the Burger prospect) in the Chukchi Sea with estimated reserves in the 30 billion barrels range. Do the math on that. For 25 years, TAPS ran full and only transported less than half that amount. Here in Alaska, gasoline is $3.90 a gallon, home heating diesel is more than $4 a gallon. Google your own local prices. The country desperately needs the oil under the Chukchi Sea. Alaskans need the jobs. The TAPS is running at one-third of its capacity, causing huge maintenance concerns (with related potential environmental impacts) that don’t exist when it runs full. So what’s the problem?

In 2011, Shell Oil had spent five years and nearly $4 billion on plans to explore for oil in the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas. The leases alone cost $2.2 billion. The Department of Energy and the State of Alaska, which has the most stringent standards for oil drilling in the nation (some petroleum engineers tell me they are more stringent than Department of Energy standards) had permitted the plans. The weather was lovely. Ice had never been lower. The Deadhorse Airport was geared up to handle flights for supplies and personnel. Then Shell Oil announced it had to scrap their drilling schedule for the summer, following a ruling by the EPA’s Environmental Appeals Board to withhold critical air permits.

For perspective, a similar air permit for drilling in the Gulf of Mexico issued by the Department of the Interior would have taken about 45 days to process. Shell had been working on the EPA permit for over a year. The hold-up on the permit revolved around the emissions from Shell’s Noble Discovery drill ship and how it might affect the air quality of nearby villages. The closest village to the Shell drill site is Kaktovik, with a population of 245 mostly Alaskan Natives who were hoping to get jobs on the drill site. It’s 70 miles away, on a extremely windy coast. The EPA ruled that Shell had not taken into consideration emissions from an ice-breaking vessel when calculating overall greenhouse emissions from the project. In reality, Shell had based its calculations on the ship producing emissions only when it was running, while the group EarthJustice had filed a protest based on modeling calculating the ship producing emissions 24-7. Yes, these are the greenhouse emissions that Congress had already said the EPA may not regulate.

“What the modeling showed was in communities like Kaktovik, Shell’s drilling would increase air pollution levels close to air quality standards,” said Eric Grafe, Earthjustice’s lead attorney on the case. Earthjustice joined with the Center for Biological Diversity and the Alaska Wilderness League in challenging the air permits. (The Alaska Wilderness League is based in Washington DC and is not an Alaskan organization.

Note that Mr. Grafe was using computer modeling (more or less voodoo science), focused on CO2 and still found levels only near, but not over, the mythical standards for CO2. It should be noted that CO2 levels in Alaska’s Arctic near communities tends to run high in the winter because plant life is taking an ice nap and is unable to absorb it. It makes up for this in the spring with phenomenal growth during the short summer season. Google Alaska cabbages for perspective.

The EPA Environmental Appeals Board at the time had four members – all registered Democrats and one a former activist attorney for the Environmental Defense Fund.

In January 2012, the EPA finally issued a Clean Air Act permit to Shell for the Discoverer drill ship and support fleet. It set strict limits on nitrogen oxides, particulates (PM 2.5), and other pollutants on the “best available” emissions controls for the Discoverer. They issued the air permit too late for Shell to take advantage of the short summer drilling season in the Chukchi. With just 25 days to work with by the time the Kulluk could get into position, they were turned back by ice and unable to keep the Noble Discoverer under the ridiculously low air quality standards when it was under load. While the Kulluk was built to handle ice, its conical shape causes maneuverability issues in heavy seas. It was meant to work with other drill ships that would have been able to handle the seas, but which could not pass earlier air quality permitting standards. In the end, Shell was limited in the technology they might use not by petroleum issues – they had plenty of technology available to prevent a blow-out and to contain one should it occur – but the technology they were able to bring to the Chukchi was limited by air quality concerns – based on computer models for a village 70 miles away where the wind always blows strongly.

We don’t know what might have been had the Kulluk and Noble Discoverer actually gotten into position and been allowed to commence drilling. It didn’t happen. The events following may or may not have been due to negligence on Shell’s part. The fact is that the technology of the Discoverer and Kulluk did its job. When they ran aground, there were no hull breaches and no contamination of Alaskan waters.

Now the two ships are being towed to Asia for repairs. Shell doesn’t have any other vessels that can pass the ridiculous air quality requirements, so they’ve canceled the 2013 drilling season – costing numerous Alaskans jobs and continuing to strand 30 billion barrels of oil.

Despite the hyperbolic hysteria of the environmental movement, drilling the Arctic oceans can be done. It has been done! Shell safely drilled four exploratory wells in the Chukchi Sea back in the 1990s. Back then, what they found (the Burger prospects) was too far from the TAPS to transport economically. Side drilling and high oil prices have changed that. Shell has worked with Eskimos villages to mitigate interference with whale hunting. It’s installed a blowout preventer on the sea floor; the containment dome was merely a secondary backup that they offered following the Deep Horizon blowout. Of course the Chukchi is a shallow ocean, nothing like the Gulf of Mexico. Shell has carefully chosen its drill site to avoid known iceberg routes, using the latest satellite technology. Drilling the Arctic safely can and has been done – but not with constant harassment by Greenpeace and the EPA.

No matter which way we turn, the administrative state – enthrall to special interests within our society – is constantly wrapping any sort of economic development in red tape. This needs to stop. Yes, development should be done safely and with regard to protecting the environment, but there are limits to what may be accomplished without at least some modicum of risk.

No risk is not an achievable standard.

Suggestions for Restoring Liberty   Leave a comment

So, how do we fix the broken environmental system we have in the US today? It won’t be easy, but it can be done.

First, we need to require legislative approval to enact major regulations at both the state and federal levels.  No regulation having an annual economic impact of $100 million or more on the American economy should take effect without congressional approval. Regulations from the Executive in Need of Scrutiny (REINS) Act, if passed, would require such approval. States should consider passing their own versions of the REINS Act to govern their regulatory activity, giving their legislatures an opportunity to deliberate prior to an up-down vote on regulations with large and potentially negative economic effects. This approach would shift political power away from unaccountable bureaucrats and back to lawmakers who are directly accountable to the American people.

Second, we should ensure that costs of environmental regulations do not outweigh benefits. Congress and the states (there are states like Alaska that exercise non–federally delegated regulatory authority) should clarify that no regulation may be issued without an administrative finding that the costs do not outweigh the benefits. Regulators must be directed not only to consider the intended benefit, but also to explain whether the regulation will destroy jobs, infringe on personal property rights, or vastly increase the costs of goods and services.

We should establish a mechanism to compensate landowners for regulatory takings. Congress should provide greater protections for property rights and other civil rights than even the Supreme Court claims Constitution requires. It is unfair for the government to take your property without paying for it. It’s also unconstitutional. Congress could establish a simple mechanism for compensation of regulatory takings that, among other things, would define the “trigger” mechanism that will determine whether a regulatory taking is compensable and require that regulatory agencies specifically define what they will and will not allow on regulated properties. The Clean Water Act and the Endangered Species Act in particular are two laws that would be obvious candidates for incorporation of such a provision.

Speaking of which, we need to clearly define federal jurisdiction under the Clean Water Act. Under the CWA, the Army Corps of Engineers and the Environmental Protection Agency assert jurisdiction over virtually all waters in the United States. As a result of its broad reach, as well as the severity of its penalties, the CWA presents an unparalleled risk to individual freedom and economic growth. A delineation of which waters are covered will remove regulatory uncertainty and reduce enforcement costs. For such reform to be successful, federal officials must acknowledge that there are limits to federal power and that relying on state and local governments to protect local waters (including wetlands) is not only sufficient, but legally required to protect America’s natural resources.

We need Congress to deny the EPA authority to regulate CO2 under the Clean Air Act. Regulation of CO2 imposes high costs on both the economy and the environment. Proposals to restrict CO2 emissions lead to higher energy costs and fewer jobs. The Clean Air Act, which was designed to limit toxic emissions, is unsuitable for CO2 regulation. CO2 is generated by living beings breathing. Obviously it is not a toxic substance. When applied to CO2, the extraordinarily broad scope of the CAA could place millions of additional businesses under costly and time-consuming EPA regulations—with little or no accompanying environmental benefit.

We need Congress to rescind the National Environmental Policy Act. NEPA’s intended goal of environmental stewardship is thwarted by the project delays and higher costs imposed by its regulatory regime, which leads to the politicization of science and the influence of special interests. Ultimately, NEPA should be rescinded. In the interim, Congress should mitigate the harm it causes by limiting NEPA reviews to major environmental issues that are not dealt with by any other regulatory or permitting process, mandating time limits, and limiting the alternatives studied to projects that involve multiple agencies.

Congress should shift responsibility for the protection of endangered species to the states. The Endangered Species Act, as currently implemented, is not working: Polar bears, for example, are listed as potentially endangered, but they’re so numerous they’re hunting people in Barrow, Alaska. Regulatory costs are immense and growing, and its record of saving endangered species is weak. Shifting species management to the states is the most preferable course of action. Where species migrate across state borders, any remaining federal endangered species program must be altered to fundamentally change agency behavior and program focus while ensuring protections for property owners.

Congress needs to open access to federal lands and natural resources for development. The federal government owns nearly one-third of the United States, and access to this public land is becoming more difficult because of a flawed system of restrictions, regulations, and litigation. Much of this land is not suitable for parks, wildlife refuges, and the like and is home to some of our nation’s richest natural resources. Congress should return responsibility for many of our federal lands to states and private owners. Such reform would give responsibility for managing the lands to those with the most knowledge of the land and the most to gain from its productivity. Short of devolution, the federal government should make some of its lands available for wise use and defend those who use it properly from special-interest groups that would bar such development. This would provide direct economic benefits to citizens and the government and result in better-managed assets.

Congress must preserve and defend the treaty process. Environmental advocates have long been frustrated by the inability of various international environmental agreements to pass Senate muster, so they advocate avoiding the supermajority requirement by substituting executive agreements. This ploy undermines the system of checks and balances in the U.S. government and mocks constitutional intent. By entering into treaty commitments, the US government cedes some level of sovereignty, as well as the checks and balances of the U.S. constitutional system. Pursuing treaties is a serious responsibility, a fact further evidenced by the Founding Fathers’ requirement that two-thirds of the Senate must consent to a treaty prior to ratification. We should not allow our representatives to cede that authority.

Our Founders mistrusted government. They didn’t find any of it to have a lot of redeeming qualities. They trusted the legislature more because it was divided and deliberative. They originally thought they could do without an executive. When it became obvious that they couldn’t do without one, they set up a system whereby the executive is fettered by checks and balances, mostly by the legislative branch. In this way, they hoped George Washington and his successors would not become King George. They would be completely flabbergasted by how strong our executive branch has become. They would demand that Congress stand up on its two legs and rectify the situation. They would be even more flabbergasted by the fourth branch of government — the administrative state. They would probably scream at us “WHAT DO YOU THINK YOU’RE DOING?” They understood that the bureaucracy was a danger to self-government. They didn’t understand this in a vacuum. Some of them had been to France and England. This was not a mystery to them.

So why is it to us?

It’s time we demanded from our elected representatives that they take control of the government once more. The REINS Act is a good place to start. Do you know the emails of your Congresspeople and Senators?

You should!

Cleaner Air & Poison Water   Leave a comment

As an example of the regulatory overreach of the Environmental Protection Agency and how it sometimes (maybe more often than we know) actually harms the environment, I present to you Alaska’s battle with MTBE. Please bear with the length of this article, because the findings here are important to understanding the abusive nature of the Clean Air Act.

Methyl tertiary butyl ether (MTBE) is a gasoline additive that the EPA insisted motorists use back in 1990. This article ran in the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner in 1993.’s+oxyfuel+anguish.-a014850017

In mid-October 1992, motorists in Anchorage and Fairbanks began filling their gas tanks with gasoline blended with methyl-tertiary-butyl-ether (MTBE), as mandated by the EPA, acting under the Clean Air Act, to address the CO exceedances that plague both communities in the winter.

Within days, protests flared up in both cities as more than 150 Fairbanks residents reported physical effects from the oxyfuel: headaches, nausea, vomiting, a burning sensation in the nose or mouth, coughing, dizziness and disorientation. My brother had his first asthma attack in 30 years. Obstetricians and midwives reported normal pregnancies where women were complaining of abnormal contractions after being outdoors. Mechanics shops were inundated with cars that had stalled along the road for no reason. Gas stations were wreathed in this stink similar to formaldehyde. Before the winter ended, more than 300 Fairbanksans voiced medical complaints about the fuel. To understand the magnitude of this furor – the Fairbanks North Star Borough only had 90,000 residents in 1992. That 300 people actually showed up at their doctor’s office or the ER complaining about symptoms bad enough to be reported to the authorities says it was a significant problem. Anchorage was undergoing a similar situation.

Thousands of Alaskans signed petitions to ban the mandatory use of oxyfuel in the state. Gov. Walter Hickel, Fairbanks North Star Borough Mayor Jim Sampson and the Alaska congressional delegation mounted a campaign to nix use of oxyfuel in Alaska that winter and to find new alternatives to clean carbon monoxide from the air in Anchorage and Fairbanks in order to comply with federal requirements of the 1990 Clean Air Act.

In the end, after the EPA refused to reconsider its mandate, Wally Hickel unilaterally ordered state refineries to remove the additive from the winter fuel blend. The EPA threatened to pull federal highway funds. Gov. Hickel suggested he was up for a fight. An EPA official responded in a 1993 article:

“If you think there are health hazards associated with MTBE, look at what carbon monoxide (CO) can do. An odorless colorless pollutant, the gas inhibits your blood’s capacity to carry oxygen to organs and tissues. If you’ve got chronic heart disease and breathe this stuff on a high-pollution day, you may experience chest pains. Get exposed to high levels of CO from a malfunctioning furnace, and you may risk your life or even die.”

The mandate to use oxygenated fuel was controversial in other parts of the nation. Although the EPA insisted at the time that Alaskans were the only ones complaining, it turned out that folks in other states were complaining too. They just didn’t have Wally Hickel, former Secretary of the Interior and political pugilist, as governor. There were never any clear scientific indications that MTBE reduced carbon emissions more than a tiny amount and people reported a loss of fuel efficiency (a problem that still exists with ethanol, which replaced MTBE).

Utilizing a site- and circumstance-specific approach, the University of Alaska Fairbanks conducted experiments that winter (later repeated and falsified) and found that reducing our carbon emissions might be as simple as plugging in our cars. (For those of you in warm states, Alaskans install electrical warming devices called headbolt heaters and oil pan warmers on our cars so that when they are not running the car’s engine the oil remains fluid. Initially, we did this so we could start our cars after a three-dog night. Now we do it to also lower CO levels in the community. When I was a kid, most people plugged in at about 0. Now we are asked to plug in at 20 above.) That simple step and the cleaner-burning addition of newer cars brought Fairbanks into compliance with the Clean Air Act’s CO requirements almost 10 years ago.

The article I cited above insisted that, given current trends (in 1993), increased driving was expected to wipe out all the gains in CO level reduction by the year 2000. The EPA’s own website reveals the “chicken little” in that assertion. Technology has continued to reduce CO levels throughout the nation.

It turns out that MTBE was well known in the petrochemical industry prior to its introduction into fuel blends in the 1990s. Workers had reported similar symptoms to those that Alaskans complained about. OSHA had set safety protocols for handling the toxin before it was mandated in fuels. Apparently, the EPA never talked to OSHA. Administrative state rule silos at their best.

The EPA administers both the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act. It refused to even study the complaints around MTBE in 1993. By 1995, independent researchers and OSHA were finding problems with MTBE, saying it was a possible carcinogen.  By 2002 California had removed MTBE from gasoline after finding significant ground water contamination. In 2000, the US Senate Environmental Committee approved an energy bill to remove MTBE from all gasoline by 2004.

In 2008, there was a landmark settlement of approximately $420 million on behalf of more than 150 public water systems in 17 states whose groundwater was contaminated by MTBE. All 50 states show some level of contamination, but only Alaska and Hawaii are not considered “at risk” from it. Alaska used it for only a couple of months and Hawaii, because of the trade winds, was never mandated to use it. MTBE does not biodegrade or adhere to other substances, such as the soil. It flowed into aquifers all over the country, thereby violating the Clean Water Act. It binds with water. As Fairbanks’ winter air is filled with frozen ice particles (essentially frozen water vapor), it was little wonder we could smell the formaldehyde residue of the MTBE.

I couldn’t find any documents where the EPA admits that mandating MTBE was a bad idea. I found documents where the EPA supported lawsuits against petrochemical companies that produced MTBE, but the EPA has never been called into court to answer for mandating its use.

Why should they be? Because they knew about the risks nearly a decade before they mandated the use. In 1986, the Maine Department of Environmental Protect submitted a report to the EPA entitled “MTBE as a Groundwater Contaminant.” It identified MTBE as a hazard that should be stored only in double-contained facilities. In 1988, the EPA (acting under the Clean Water Act) added MTBE to its first Drinking Water Priority List as a substance that might adversely affect public health. Then in 1990, it mandated its use in fuels under the Clean Air Act.

The EPA silos of regulation work well, don’t they? The EPA did not make the air cleaner. It pointed out a problem and technology, given time, solved the problem. When EPA administrators got tired of waiting for the gradual development of emission-scrubbing technology, they made a determination for a chemical additive that wasn’t proven to reduce CO and had already been flagged as a potential hazard by their own agency. By mandating the use of MTBE in support of the Clean Air Act, the EPA promoted one of the worse violations of the Clean Water Act in history.

Reform is necessary and long overdue.

Reining in EPA Tyranny   2 comments

The EPA justifies its regulatory actions on what it construes as scientific edicts. Scientific findings, which are inherently incomplete and uncertain, are incapable of weighing the complex policy considerations that inform and shape the law in a democracy.  Science offers both the promise and the demise of meaningful management of air quality to protect human health, which should be the foremost measure of environmental quality. Scientific knowledge provides a powerful tool to inform final regulatory decisions when objective, transparent and rigorous in accordance with the scientific method, but when scientific findings are developed and applied by a governmental body, science is easily manipulated to justify a predetermined policy preference. Environmental science should guide but never dictate major regulatory decisions under the CAA.

To restore objective, rigorous, and transparent science, Congress should:

  • Mandate that regulatory actions are supported by third-party, independently peer-reviewed cost-benefit analyses. The CAA requires that ambient air quality standards must be protective of public health with an adequate margin of safety, regardless of cost. The EPA increasingly uses this statutory rubric to legitimize unachievable regulatory mandates as if no risks were too low and no costs were too high. For decades, the EPA has adopted increasingly stricter NAAQS that now approach naturally occurring (and thus unpreventable) background levels. Objective and comprehensive cost-benefit analyses could provide critical information to policymakers and would prevent the implausible charade of the current EPA’s regulatory justifications.
  • Reject the “no threshold” linear regression model to impute risk. The EPA implausibly assumes that a positive, linear, no-safe-threshold causal relation exists between any concentration of a pollutant above zero and the risk of premature death. Piling assumption upon assumption, the EPA attributes a 100% certainty to the premise that there is no ambient level at which human health is adequately protected. This statistical methodology enables the EPA to calculate health benefits far surpassing the regulatory costs. When, in 2009, the EPA began extrapolating risks at natural background levels of fine particulate matter (PM 2.5), the number of mortality risks that it attributed to this pollutant almost quadrupled from 88,000 to 320,000 deaths.  Fairbanks is now struggling with this mandate. Independent scientists, looking at what little scientific evidence is available, advise us there is no way to meet this standard if we want to heat our homes.
  • Abandon the absolutist version of the precautionary principle. Vague statistical correlations between death rates and pollutant levels cannot be transformed into causal connections. Costs and political interests invariably affect the EPA’s decisions, but the law’s absolutist terms shield the agency’s pretensions from judicial scrutiny. The CAA should acknowledge that consideration of the cost to society is a necessary and valuable factor of any regulatory decision.
  • Establish minimal criteria for scientific risk assessment of health effects. Many scientific bodies have harshly criticized the weakness of the EPA’s current science. The National Academy of Sciences, the National Research Service, and the EPA’s own Scientific Advisory Board, Board of Scientific Counselors, and Advisory Council on Clean Air Compliance Analysis have voiced concerns about the integrity of the science on which the EPA relies. Minimal criteria for health effects risk assessment would include the following:
  1. EPA health-effects studies must be peer-reviewed by an independent body.
  2. Toxicological studies and clinical trials demonstrating a causal connection between pollutant exposures and health effects carry more weight than ecological epidemiological studies indicating statistical correlations.  Epidemiological studies alone are not sufficiently robust to support change to the NAAQS.
  3. Health-based standards must incorporate average exposure and not implausibly assume that all people are exposed to the highest monitored level 100% of the time.
  1. Physical measurement through monitored readings rather than computer models.
  2. Health-effects findings must include a plausible biological mechanism.

Most of the criteria pollutants and many hazardous pollutants share sources, precursors, and control strategies. A single, flexible management plan with integrated strategies to reduce multi-pollutants could facilitate cost-effective results. State and local authorities are far better situated than the EPA to devise and implement effective plans.

Consequently, Congress should:

Allow states to develop multi-pollutant strategies. The current SIP process should be replaced by a single integrated multi-pollutant plan devised by states. Such a comprehensive management plan should encompass both criteria pollutants and select hazardous pollutants. Since 1970, the EPA has focused all but exclusively on attainment of the NAAQS through the SIP process. Now that the criteria pollutants have been substantially reduced, the EPA’s predominant emphasis on the NAAQS is no longer justified.

Break down the EPA’s bureaucratic silos to allow for integrated strategies. Acting under an organizational structure modeled on the statutory structure of the CAA enacted in the 1970s, the EPA promulgates individual federal air quality standards for each of the six criteria pollutants in administrative silos. The EPA similarly compartmentalizes the national emission standards for hazardous air pollutants, permitting regimes, and other programs, and the air, water, and waste programs operate independently as if they were hermetically sealed from each other. Yet air pollutants, water contaminants, and waste issues are all interconnected.

EPA’s bureaucratic silos impede environmental improvements and create massive administrative burdens for state and local governments. It also can lead to pollution of one part of our environment while attempting to address pollution of another sort. I’ll discuss that more under the discussion of the Clean Water Act.

Ultimately, we must admit that the Clean Air Act did what it was intended to do and what it needed to do. To continue toward cleaner and cleaner air is not a sustainable goal. The earth is not a clean room. To insist that it should be when the action to make it so hurts people and businesses is tyranny. Our country has a long history of resisting tyranny and our government might want to recognize that we retain the right to revolt against it. A better path would be for Congress to remember why we send them to Washington and rein in the EPA.

Let the States Clear the Air   Leave a comment

As a matter of principle, I believe that the states can handle governance of most issues better than the federal government can. I learned this from our Founders, who created a federal system whereby most government activity was conducted at the local and state level while the federal government handled foreign policy and national defense, only getting involved in domestic policy when states couldn’t agree or when all states were affected equally by something. Even in those cases, Alexis de Toqueville noted that the federal government would pass the policy along to the states and local governments and let them decide how best to comply with it rather than dictate the process.

The environmental conditions of Washington DC bear little resemblance to the environmental conditions of Fairbanks Alaska. Not so long ago, it was understood that the State of Alaska is probably better qualified to address the environmental conditions in Fairbanks than bureaucrats in Washington are.

The original CAA (1977) wisely asserted that “prevention and control of air pollution is the primary responsibility of the States and local government” because “those closest to a resource or pollution problem are also those best able to manage them.” Despite that, the EPA increasingly treats state agencies as instruments of the federal government rather than as partners, when constitutionally, they are equal sovereigns. Under the current regime, the states have the responsibility on pain of sanctions to do whatever the EPA dictates.

To reestablish state control, Congress should:

  • Clearly state the CAA’s original allocation of federal and state authority in law.  “Congress carefully balanced State and national interests by providing for a fair and open process in which States and local governments, and the people they represent, will be free to carry out the reasoned weighing of environmental and economic goals and needs.” (CAA, 1977) The EPA has obviously strayed from this statutory framework. Congress should forcefully restate the act’s original allocation of federal and state powers.
  • Abandon the current state implementation plan process. SIPs are now required to contain a mass of information: elaborate emission inventories, reams of photochemical modeling runs, and all control measures needed to attain the NAAQS in question. States must complete separate SIPs for each criteria pollutant and other federal programs, none of which are coordinated, although all data and programs are interconnected. The EPA could provide non-binding  guidance for plans that the states choose to develop.
  • Eliminate the EPA’s authority to disapprove state programs. Through SIP approval authority, the EPA asserts command-and-control authority over state governments. If the EPA now disapproves a state program considered a required component of the SIP, it can take over the state authority through a Federal Implementation Plan (FIP), impose freezes on road constructions, and withhold highway funds owed to the state. The EPA has threatened Alaska with this in the past, although I can’t find any actual situations where the EPA has carried through on the threat.
  • Rescind the EPA’s authority to compel state actions. While it may be appropriate for states to seek EPA counsel on air quality management, EPA approval or guidance should not be binding. States may elect to form regional interstate compacts to combine resources or to address interstate air quality issues as several state legislatures already have done.
  • Encourage and utilize performance standards based on measurable results. Performance standards require objective, measurable results of what must be achieved in lieu of rigid and complex requirements that dictate how the entity will operate. Performance standards allow more flexibility in operation, maximizing the incentives of property rights and site-specific adaptation. The permit holder may choose how to operate and even expand production as long as the standard is met.

Currently, this seems like a pipe dream, but “the pendulum swings” (Mike Dalton) and certain segments of the United States population are getting pretty fed up with tyranny. I’ve said all along that I want an alternative to civil war. Returning to our roots may be that alternative. Instead of just complaining about the current situation, looking for ways to resolve our problems is an opportunity to make meaningful changes that avoid the coming civil war.

Let’s Clear the Air   1 comment

I like breathing clean air. It’s one reason I live in Alaska. These days the air has very little carbon monoxide even during air inversions. I would not want to go back to the days when poisonous ice fog swathed my city four months out of the year. I don’t think the Clean Air Act was evil or unnecessary. I think the EPA has used it abusively, overstepped its constitutional limits in enforcement and may now be trying to justify its existence by regulating naturally occurring atmospheric constituents as pollutants. I am not saying we don’t need to monitor air quality and assure that it is healthy to breathe.  I just want some sanity in the public policy arena.

Harsh criticism of the current EPA’s administration of the Clean Air Act does not require a rollback of meaningful environmental protections or a slackening of future efforts to address air quality challenges. In fact, some recommended reforms would support more effective, efficient, and meaningful air quality management.

The health and welfare of real people is the foremost measure of air quality. As I tried to show in my last post, EPA regulations affect real people. The powerful incentives of the free market and private property rights, effective technological advances and process efficiencies drove the recent improvements in air quality, which occurred while the economy grew and incomes increased. Development does not necessarily mean bad air, obviously.

Creative, site-specific solutions, utilizing objective scientific methods, developed at the state and local levels worked, and air pollution decreased and enabled air quality management to work. Fairbanks homeowners voluntarily switched from coal to diesel because diesel was easier. We monitored our cars for 20 years to assure that each of them produced as little CO as possible. We still violated the CO standards until auto emission technology finally solved the problem. This was in spite of the EPA, who mandated MTBE (which I will discuss while looking at the Clean Water Act).

The EPA speaks flexibility but practices rigidity. The unchecked EPA has become a centralized economic planning agency in pursuit of an energy policy that defies both mathematics and physics. Kansas and Texas are going to have dust. Alaskans need to heat their homes and wood is an affordable, “green” (as in renewable and natural) choice. The EPA’s regulatory agenda would not only “fundamentally change the economy,” (Obama’s campaign promise), but unelected EPA technocrats would undermine this nation’s form of democratic governance. United States’ system requires elected representatives, not federal employees, make major policy decisions that affect the country and its citizens.

The Clean Air Act is now 40 years old and in urgent need of reform. The CAA gave broad discretionary authority to the EPA to make decisions regarding air quality at a time when the country really did need to address air quality. Current decisions are now jeopardizing the health of the entire economy, the livelihoods of real people, and national security. Many states now must devote finite resources to challenging the EPA’s encroachment on fundamental state authority rather than to the hands-on job of protecting air quality. In other words, air quality is suffering at the hands of bureaucracy.

Meaningful reform is essential if the CAA is to guide a broadly supported and effective response to the air quality challenges of the future. There are currently more than 500 lawsuits against the EPA’s actions under the CAA, but courts presently have sparse legal ground with which to restrain the agency. The National Academy of Sciences’ recent conclusion that the EPA’s science, supposedly the foundation of the agency’s regulatory decisions having to do with CO2 and PM 2.5, “is on the rocks” should be a clarion call for reform of the CAA.

Constitutionally, the elected branches of government are responsible for defining “healthy air”. Science should inform government decisions about air quality, but it is inherently incapable of dictating policy decisions involving a complex balance of interests, risks, costs, benefits, relative effectiveness, and scientific uncertainties. Congress actually stipulated some of the most effective federal air quality programs when it wrote the Clean Air Act, specifying the extent of emissions reduction, the timetable for compliance and the distribution of the burdens imposed by regulations. It didn’t leave these to the EPA’s discretion. These programs include the Acid Rain program (which cut relevant emissions by 50%), elimination of lead in gasoline, new engine standards (which cut 99% of the three criteria pollutants from tailpipe emissions), and the stratospheric ozone program.

Clear regulatory goals for measurable environmental benefits are the most effective. To restrain the current EPA’s overreaching actions and to forge a more effective CAA, Congress should:

Reclaim the legislative authority delegated to the EPA to set federal air quality standards for criteria pollutants and emissions limits for hazardous pollutants. The Supreme Court has ruled that an administrative agency’s power to promulgate legislative regulation is limited to the authority delegated by Congress. Congress can and should reclaim its delegated authority.

Exercise authority to approve all major rules proposed by the EPA and to establish minimal criteria for credible science and meaningful regulatory impact analyses. The EPA should function as an advisory panel, required to submit annual or semi-annual reports to Congress on specific data, including impact on jobs, electric rates, and electrical reliability as well as cumulative impacts of multiple regulations.

Effective management of air quality is impeded by the EPA’s predominant emphasis on process and micromanagement of state authorities. A 2004 National Research Council study concluded that the inflexibility and complexity of the state implementation plan (SIP) process imposed on states is counterproductive.

The process now mandates extensive amounts of time and resources in a legalistic and convoluted proposal and review process, which focuses primarily on compliance with intermediate process steps rather than an overall outcome of meeting an air quality standard.

“This process probably discourages innovation and experimentation at the state and local levels; overtaxes the limited financial and human resources available to the nation’s [air quality management system] at the state, local and federal levels; and draws attention and resources away from the more germane issue of ensuring progress towards the goal of meeting the NAAQS.” (National Research Council of the National Academies)

Putting PM 2.5 in Perspective   1 comment

When I posted on PM 2.5, I hadn’t run across an article that explains the science so well.

The new nationwide standard for PM 2.5 (particulate matter or soot) is 12 micrograms per cubic meter. Currently, Fairbanks is in non-attainment at twice that level.  The decision has a weak scientific underpinning and will inflict great economic harm as it is instituted. The Electrical Reliability Coordinating Council wrote that the proposal “would result in substantial changes to the monitoring protocols for PM, and it does not appear that the rule can be implemented in an efficient manner. For example, EPA’s effort to terminate well-established monitoring protocols, such as the requirement that monitors be ‘population oriented,’ will result in a much more stringent rule and a range of new cost and implementation issues.”

It is also important to put into context what the EPA is regulating. How bad is the air quality? I can certainly stand on my front lawn and, from the perspective of five decades spent in Interior Alaskan winters, plus travels all over the nation, say that my current air quality seems really good. Turns out that I am perceiving things correctly. Steve Milloy, author and adjunct scholar at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, provided some context:

“The average adult inhales about 11,000 liters of air per day, equivalent to 11 cubic meters of air. Keeping in mind that indoor levels of PM2.5 easily can exceed outdoor levels, assuming someone inhales average outdoor air all day, that person would inhale about 240 micrograms of PM2.5. The EPA says smoking a single cigarette can expose a smoker to 10,000 to 40,000 micrograms of PM2.5. It would take a nonsmoker breathing average outdoor air something between 40 and 160 days to inhale as much PM2.5 as someone smoking a single cigarette.”

The EPA’s new soot rule would deal another costly, devastating blow to local economies. The EPA should acknowledge that particulate matter is decreasing and air quality is improving from technological advancements.

The agency should reconsider the rule, and if it fails to do so, Congress should intervene to keep the standard where it is now, if not roll it back to 35 ppm, which is a reasonable standard for human health.

Personal Costs to the Clean Air Act   2 comments

Fairbanks Alaska is surrounded on three sides by hills and on all sides, forest, much of it black spruce. Black spruce is a tiny, rugged little tree full of volatile sap. It grows in the swampy lowlands around town. What isn’t mountainside in Alaska is swampy lowland underlain by permafrost (that’s another EPA overreach topic). Black spruce hangs onto its spent needles and cones year after year, waiting for a forest fire to open its cones and release its seeds.

In 2004, 2005 and 2006, the forests around Fairbanks burned. For nearly 50 years, the United State Forest Service had fought all fires aggressively and then they stopped. The result was the Boundary, Wolf Creek and Chatanika fires, mostly started by lightning strikes, burning almost 7 million acres. Fairbanks was engulfed in dense smoke for most of the summer in all three years. It was tough on asthmatics and just plain unpleasant for anyone.

Fairbanks had struggled for decades to bring our wintertime air quality into compliance with EPA standards and we’d finally managed it. Well, improved technology managed it. Naturally, local leaders were concerned that this summer smoke-out was going to be used against us. We were assured that, while carbon levels were certainly higher than healthy, forest fires were a natural occurrence that we couldn’t be expected to mitigate.

Whew, what a relief!

Then, in September 2006, the EPA announced a new standard for a little known pollutant – particulate matter. In most of the country, PM2.5 is dust. Kansas and Texas are both embroiled in lawsuits with the EPA over the new standards because they both have a lot of dust. Fairbanks has a certain amount of dust in the summer due to wind-blown silt from glaciers, but we had never violated PM standards at the old level (65 ppm) except during forest fires, a violation that they waived. Now, under the new standard (35 ppm) of PM 2.5, we were in violation in the dead of winter.

Dust obviously isn’t a problem in the winter in Fairbanks, but PM 2.5 can also be attributed to soot. We have no industry. Our high energy costs (yes, isn’t that ironic?) and our high shipping costs don’t lend themselves to the manufacturing sector. So why do we have soot? Fairbanks uses far more electricity and heating fuel in the winter months. Our electricity is generated by a combination of coal and diesel. Most of us heat our homes with #2 diesel because you get about 20% better btus than with #1 and its cheaper (which is very important when you pay $4 a gallon to heat your home). About 12% of Fairbanks North Star Borough homes are heated primarily with wood. Mine is one of them. It saves us about $4000 annually to heat with wood compared to #2 diesel and would save us about $5500 annual were we using #1 diesel. But, remember, the EPA does not consider costs to a community when establishing air quality standards.

The Cold Climate Research Center of Fairbanks, however, did in the attached report.

Fairbanks is surrounded on three sides by hills and subject to air inversions. North Pole is a bit to the west and lower than Fairbanks, so that pollutants, concentrated by cold air, tend to settle there. Something to know is that ice fog (literally frozen water vapor that floats in the air) is a naturally occurring condition at about 20 below zero. Our cabin site, 50 miles out of town and in an unoccupied valley, has ice fog along the frozen creek in the winter. Soot binds to ice fog and the ice fog helps it to linger. In other words, like the forest fire, air inversions and ice fog are natural conditions that we cannot control and – if the EPA were logical – would not be expected to mitigate. After looking at the factors contributing to PM 2.5 in the Fairbanks area, CCRC concluded:

“It is premature at this time to consider a policy to reduce sulfur in heating oil, because of the uncertainty in the sulfur conversion rate, and the probably very large cost associated with that policy. Wood burning devices emit almost exclusively primary PM2.5 emissions, while PM2.5 emissions from residential heating oil can be significant, when considering secondary conversions of SOX and NOX. Because of this, reducing PM2.5 from wood burning devices is more certain and quantifiable.”

Essentially, the CCRC (which uses wood to heat its office) recommended that outdoor hydronic wood boilers be phased out, that those with indoor wood stoves be educated on proper wood seasoning and that more study be done.

If you look at the charts, however, you see that GVEA North Pole Electrical Generation Plant and Aurora Energy Power Plant are far greater contributors to PM 2.5 than any residential source. These are large diesel and coal-burning power plants (respectively) which are exempt from PM 2.5 emissions requirements. Why are they exempt? I don’t know. Maybe because if they weren’t, we’d have no electricity. Unable/unwilling to regulate the greatest contributors, the EPA and the Fairbanks North Borough (like a county, FNSB) have targeted residential wood burners to solve this “problem”.

Although the EPA claims PM 2.5 causes many deaths every year, they have been very slow to produce peer-reviewed studies showing this to be true. They can’t even demonstrate that PM2.5 in the concentration levels that we’re talking about would cause respiratory difficulties for someone who is not already sensitive to dust. While I feel for asthmatics, heating my home is a greater priority and doing it in a sustainable method is important to me. I’m not independently wealthy. That extra $4000 a month I’m not paying on diesel goes to pay my electric bill and feed my teenager.

The voters of the Fairbanks area have not been terribly cooperative with the EPA or the FNSB. Only about 25% of homes in Fairbanks use wood at all, but local voters have three times voted in the 60% range to allow wood-burners to continue burning wood. With each of these votes, the FNSB has followed by attempting to get around the vote. Finally, we voted overwhelmingly that FNSB cannot prevent people from burning anything to heat our homes. Of course, the hysterical among us insist that this will lead to people burning tires and dead animals. Don’t you just love the hysterical?

Fairbanksans are all for educational programs to teach novice wood-burners how to season wood properly. Some of us were not uncomfortable with a VOLUNTARY program that pays people to decommission their outdoor hydronic wood boilers and their indoor non-compliant woodstoves. As a fiscal conservative, I am, but I can live with it. Our family has thus far chosen to keep our 1980s Earth Stove because it does a fine job of heating our home and what we see coming out of the stack appears pretty clean to us. We don’t want to get into the situation some friends have come to where they opted for a newer EPA-certified wood stove only to discover that parts of their home are now cold that once were warm, requiring them to use their furnace when that was not their intention.

The fact is that Alaskans don’t have a choice but to heat our homes and use electricity. The alternative is freezing to death. The costs of compliance with the EPA are significant. For some of us, it would mean leaving Alaska or not eating in order to heat our homes. Burning well-seasoned wood is – I contend – no less harmful to human health than burning diesel and may – I also contend – be less harmful. Human beings have been burning wood for millennia. I’m not an evolutionist, but I’m not above using the argument that we are far more adapted to wood smoke in our air than we are to diesel. I personally have always liked the smell of wood smoke. To me, growing up in Alaska, it was a comforting smell far more pleasant than coal (which heated most homes when I was a kid) or diesel (which heats most homes today). People should burn it sensibly. Seasoned wood is better than green wood, both for heating your home and for not choking out your neighbors.

We all want clean air, but there are limits to how clean we can make air. The EPA needs to recognize this. In the absence of that, they are become an agent of tyranny in the United States and need aggressive reform to bring them back under the control of Congress and the people who elect Congress.

That would be we the people.

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