Frank O'Donnell

Dirty air in the parks

White House begins review of controversial EPA rule

With a new president-elect only days away, the Bush administration is racing to push through 11th-hour, polluter-friendly rules. The Washington Post flagged some of the most egregious examples in a front-page story, Friday. The latest to pop up is what the Bush EPA opaquely describes as the “increment modeling” rule. It is now under review by the White House Office of Management and Budget. Despite its inpenetrable name, this rule is highly controversial: It would make it easier for electric power plants and other big smokestack sources of air pollution to site near national parks and wilderness areas. It would do this by …

Smokey Joe rides again

Texas Rep. Joe Barton kills effort to clean up power plants

In 2003, a Dallas Morning News editorial dubbed Republican Congressman Joe Barton “Smokey Joe” for his efforts to protect Texas polluters from pollution control requirements. Now Smokey Joe is at it again. He has blocked an attempt in Congress to make at least some progress towards cleaning up coal-fired power plants. The issue involves a compromise plan put together by Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.), and Rep. Rick Boucher (D-Va.)that was designed to codify the first phase of the Bush EPA interstate air pollution rule (the so-called “Clean Air Interstate Rule” or CAIR), which had been struck …

Veep impact

The pro- and anti-coal contenders on Obama’s veep shortlist

A commentary on vice presidential prospects by Eric Schaeffer, director of the Environmental Integrity Project, and Frank O’Donnell, president of Clean Air Watch. —– As presumptive Democratic Presidential nominee Barack Obama prepares to make perhaps his most important campaign decision — his choice of a running mate — two governors are said to be on the short list: Tim Kaine of Virginia and Kathleen Sebelius of Kansas. Both are smart and popular. Both face term limits. And both are Catholic, an important constituency that Obama wants to court. But the two have gone in opposite directions on an issue critical …

Green coal baron?

NYT Magazine’s fawning piece on Duke Energy CEO Jim Rogers

There's no doubt about it: Duke Energy CEO Jim Rogers is the most adept figure in corporate America at making himself look better than he is. He's proven it again in an extremely flattering profile in The New York Times Sunday Magazine. The piece refers to Rogers as "one of the electricity industry's most vocal environmentalists." Indeed, the piece reports that many "prominent environmentalists" are his "friends" and quotes in particular Eileen Claussen, head of the Pew Center on Global Climate Change, saying, "It's fair to say that we wouldn't be where we are in Congress if it weren't for him," and that "he helped put carbon legislation on the map." That legislation, the Lieberman-Warner bill, sputtered apart when the Senate took it up. (Even though we're told Barbara Boxer staged a post-failure victory celebration. Never underestimate the power of self delusion in Washington.) And one reason for its demise was the active opposition of Rogers, who mobilized numerous businesses to complain about the costs.

Coal credit?

NYC comptroller urges scrutiny of tax-free bonds for coal-fired power plants

It hasn't made big news yet outside of specialty publications such as Bond Buyer. But a call this week by New York City Comptroller William C. Thompson could cast a new cloud over a half-dozen or more planned new coal-fired electric power plants. Thompson called on the U.S. Treasury Department to investigate the practice of using tax-free bonds to finance new coal plants. In the letter, online at www.comptroller.nyc.gov, Thompson pointed to recent research which found that coal plants were poor candidates for federal financing and problematic for investors. There are at least a half-dozen planned new power plants that would rely on tax-exempt bonds. The Treasury Department has announced it would take a hard look at use of such bonds for sports arenas. You'd think they ought to take an even harder look at old-fashioned coal plants.

Tailpipe tampering

Waxman discloses evidence that White House influenced EPA California waiver

It's been a matter of extreme controversy since last December, when EPA -- confronted with an impending front-page Washington Post exclusive -- suddenly announced it was denying California's request to enforce its greenhouse gas standards for motor vehicles. After months of dogged investigation, California Rep. Henry Waxman disclosed today that he had evidence that the White House tampered with the decision. The issue is certain to come up tomorrow as EPA Admistrator Steve Johnson appears before Waxman's panel. Waxman's House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform released the results of its investigation (PDF) today, including private depositions with key EPA staffers.

Air America

Highlights from the American Lung Association’s annual ‘State of the Air’ report

It's become an annual spring ritual, but the American Lung Association's "State of the Air" report -- essentially a report card on the country's air -- contains some valuable lessons. First is that we have seen progress in dealing with widespread air pollutants such as ozone, or smog, and fine particle soot. States with the most aggressive cleanup approaches, such as California, have seen the most improvement. But second, and equally important, we still have a major public health problem from air pollution. This is important since virtually all public attention regarding smokestacks and tailpipes concerns global warming. The ALA found that about two in five Americans live in areas afflicted by dirty air. (That number will increase under the new EPA ozone standard.)

Cold CAFE

Governors rally against dirty Bush car plan

Nothing brings together diverse groups like a common threat. And governors in environmentally progressive states are getting used to banding together against the Bush administration. Now they've done it again, to protest the "cynical" effort by the Bush Department of Transportation to take away the right of California to set tougher greenhouse gas standards for cars (and the right of other states to adopt the California standards). The latest assault on states' rights came in the fine print of a proposal this week by the DOT to put into place tougher CAFE standards required by last year's energy act. On page 387 of that proposal, DOT slipped in the killer language: "any state regulation regulating tailpipe carbon dioxide emissions from automobiles is expressly pre-empted."

V -- but not for victory

Who might like the president’s bogus climate principles

One person undoubtedly taking note of the president's "principles" on climate change is Republican Sen. George Voinovich of Ohio. He is reportedly working on his own weak, coal industry-friendly climate amendment to the Lieberman-Warner bill. Voinovich reportedly will try to couple such an amendment with related provisions to weaken the Clean Air Act. Sound familiar?

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