On Monday morning, the EPA announced the adoption of new rules that will require oil refiners to reduce the amount of sulfur in gasoline.
As The New York Timesexplains, “When burned in gasoline, sulfur blocks pollution-control equipment in vehicle engines, which increases tailpipe emissions linked to lung disease, asthma, emphysema, chronic bronchitis, aggravated heart disease and premature births and deaths. Proponents of the rule say it will be President Obama’s most significant public health achievement in his second term, but opponents, chiefly oil refiners, say it is unnecessarily costly and an unfair burden on them.”
If oil refiners say it's costly and unfair, that's a good sign. If they were not complaining, it would probably mean the rules were too weak. Transferring the public health cost of pollution to the companies that produce it is exactly what EPA rules should do.
Last week, Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), head of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, announced that she had some “dramatic new information” to share. The information: Heavy crude from tar sands isn’t just going to bring us back to the hot mess of the Cretaceous, it’s also going to make us sick. Or some of us, anyway.
The information is dramatic, though not new. Every time you’re around crude, heavy or light, it’s not great for you. Anyone who uses the EPA’s website to search for pollution near their zip code is going to find a lot of old gas stations and auto body shops. The health risks Boxer highlighted — asthma, respiratory ailments, increased risks of heart disease and cancer — are ones that community activists near oil refineries, power plants, and drilling operations have been warning about for years. But extraction of heavy crude releases more emissions than extraction of light. And when a pipeline carrying heavy crude ruptures, the resulting spill is much more difficult to clean up, meaning that -- so far, at least -- more of it stays in the ecosystem it spills in, up to and including the people in that ecosystem. So Boxer is not so much making a new argument as reformulating an old one and, in the process, giving anti-Keystone activists another line of attack: human health.
In an atmosphere of gridlock and partisan polarization, politicians in both parties produce legislative proposals while fully aware that they are wasting their time. Such was the case with the House of Representatives' latest flurry of activity this week.
To celebrate what they called "Stop Government Abuse Week," the Republican majority in the House passed a series of bills Thursday to muck up the regulatory process. Collectively, these bills would have an enormous negative impact on the EPA. Among all the other environmental regulations they would inhibit, they would prevent the forthcoming CO2 rules for power plants from being anywhere near as strong as they otherwise could and should be. Republicans don’t want to go on record voting to repeal the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act, as that would be unpopular, so instead they would render the laws meaningless. Environmental groups such as Earthjustice and the Natural Resources Defense Council are horrified. Before the bills even passed, they signed a letter of protest in coalition with labor unions such as the AFL-CIO and consumer advocate groups like Public Citizen.
Here is a brief summary of what each of the bills would do to impede agencies from enforcing laws Congress has already passed:
Good news for you snow lovers out there: The ski industry finally seems to be serious about fighting climate change. In the past, I've written that the biz has been slow to respond to the threat, which could decimate U.S. ski resorts by the end of the century. Industry leaders have been busy dealing with more immediate threats, like the decline in ticket sales that are so important for covering the ever-rising costs of snowmaking, grooming, and high-speed lifts. And besides, ski resorts haven't traditionally been pumped to stump for global warming -- the more warm weather makes headlines, the less inclined people are to visit increasingly slushy slopes.
But when I referred to the industry as global warming's "reluctant poster child" in a recent phone conversation with Geraldine Link, public policy director for the National Ski Areas Association, she replied, "I strenuously disagree."
Link pointed out that her group, which represents 325 ski resorts and almost 500 ski equipment suppliers, adopted an official climate change policy in 2002. The policy called on resorts to reduce their own greenhouse gas emissions, educate skiers and boarders about the issue, and advocate for climate action. "It was cutting edge for the time," Link said. The policy, plus the association’s Sustainable Slopes program and recently launched Climate Challenge, have led many resorts to reduce their energy use, buy renewable energy “offsets,” and install a handful of flashy slopeside wind turbines and solar panels.
In the context of global climate change, these local efforts are a bit like throwing snowballs at an oncoming train. (“That doesn't stop climate change -- it just stops environmentalists from criticizing you,” says longtime industry critic Auden Schendler, Aspen Ski Co.’s sustainability chief.) To have a real impact, the biz will need to throw its full financial weight around in Washington, D.C., where more substantive change can be had.
The Obama administration tentatively gave its environmental blessing to oil industry plans to look for new deposits in the Atlantic Ocean off the East Coast. Recommendations outlined Thursday in a long-awaited environmental report by the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management came as music to the ears of drilling companies.
But the air guns that the industry plans to use in its hunt for underwater oil fields won't sound so sweet to the staggering numbers of dolphins and whales that could end up being maimed.
The oil industry wants to drill along the East Coast, but the last surveys of oil deposits in coastal Atlantic areas were conducted in the 1970s and 1980s using technology that's now obsolete. So now industry wants to survey with more modern techniques, which McClatchy news service describes this way: "The seismic tests involve vessels towing an array of air guns that blast compressed air underwater, sending intense sound waves to the bottom of the ocean. The booms are repeated every 10 seconds or so for days or weeks."
Thirty-four marine mammal species, which use sound to navigate, could be harmed by the seismic testing, and some of the animals could be killed. "By failing to consider relevant science, the Obama administration’s decision could be a death sentence for many marine mammals, needlessly turning the Atlantic Ocean into a blast zone," said Jacqueline Savitz with the nonprofit Oceana. "In its rush to finalize this proposal, the Obama administration is failing to consider the cumulative impacts that these repeated dynamite-like blasts will have on vital behaviors like mating, feeding, breathing, communicating and navigating."
How do you turn $1 billion into $2 billion, all the while helping to slow down global warming? By capping carbon dioxide pollution and charging for emissions permits, then plowing the revenues into clean energy and energy-efficiency programs.
The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a carbon-trading program that covers nine Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states, charged power plants about $1 billion for the right to pollute the climate from 2009 to 2012. Of that, $707 million has so far been invested into green programs, and $93 million has been transferred into states' general funds, according to a new RGGI report.
Two-thirds of the investments have been used to help utility customers cut back on the amount of power that they use. Those efficiency improvements are eventually expected to save 800,000 households and 12,000 businesses more than $1.8 billion in energy bills.
Whenever there’s a giant meat recall, the first and often only reaction is disgust. It’s entirely justified self-interest: People want to be sure that their ground chuck hasn’t ever shared a vat with pathogens. But these recalls also have an effect on the other end of the food chain, which we rarely consider.
Rancho won’t reopen; at least not in its current form. The abattoir lost its right of inspection, meaning it will have to start from scratch, rebuilding and replacing equipment to bring the facility up to modern standards.
Meanwhile, the ranchers that rely on the plant are struggling to survive. Having a local slaughterhouse is vital to maintaining local agriculture. Much of the land around Petaluma is ideally suited for raising seasonal, grass-fed cattle. But without a means to kill those cattle, those ranches won’t be viable. The next nearest slaughterhouse is a three to four hour drive away. As my colleague Heather Smith has pointed out, if omnivores want to eat local, we have to kill local.
Citing an "imminent hazard" of explosion and fire posed by trains hauling crude, the U.S. Department of Transportation issued an emergency order requiring more thorough testing of oil before it's shipped. The department is especially concerned about oil from the Bakken shale formation in North Dakota and Montana, as it's been found to be particularlyexplosive. The order also bars shipping oil in weak railcars designed for less hazardous materials.
The move could slow train shipments of oil from the Bakken shale and from Canada's tar sands. Bloomberg reports:
For several years now, the rideshare revoluton has promised a day when we could throw our car keys away for good. Companies like Lyft, Sidecar, and Uber have succeeded in connecting available drivers and hip urbanites via sleek mobile apps, offering an alternative to car ownership and the potential for reduced gridlock. But some city and state governments have sought to put the brakes on ridesharing's rapid expansion -- resulting in regulation battles across the country. Until they get onboard, it remains to be seen whether the mustachioed car is here to stay or if it'll fade away like last year's waxed handlebar mustache.
In one corner: companies like Uber, Lyft, and Sidecar, often called Transportation Network Companies, or TNCs. The TNCs provide prearranged, app-based pickup services and continue to grow in popularity with the plugged-in, smartphone-using, it's-1-a.m.-and-I-need-to-get-home-from-the-bar crowd.
In the other corner: the highly regulated taxi and cab companies that are deeply invested in protecting their industry. These past few weeks, cities and states have been scrambling to strike a balance between the growing need for flexible urban transportation solutions and protecting the interests of the taxi and cab drivers. In Grist’s backyard of Seattle, the city council votes on a new ordinance today. Heck, even Macklemore has chimed in. [Update: A modified ordinance has passed, which seems to make no one happy.]
So far regulation has been stop-and-go for rideshare companies. California set the tone as the first state to approve a set of regulations in September, giving Uber et al much-needed legitimization and the impetus to face other regulatory challenges in New York City and Washington, D.C. But a recent wrongful death lawsuit in San Francisco has drawn attention to public safety concerns.
Below is a map featuring some of the most heated legal battles in cities and states across the country. Depending on your vantage point, some measures may seem more progressive than others. Click on the purple cars to get more information:
Environmental Resources Management, the consulting firm hired by the State Department to review the potential environmental effects of the Keystone XL pipeline, did all sorts of dodgy and deceptive stuff, but none of it amounted to serious rule breaking -- at least according to the State Department's inspector general.
The Office of Inspector General today published a report that found ERM did not violate the State Department's conflict-of-interest rules as it bid for the Keystone contract and wrote its study. Climate activists and environmentalists had requested the investigation by the inspector general, and now they're none too pleased with the results.
Last month, the State Department released the environmental impact study written by ERM. It found that Keystone would not have significant climate impacts, even though sections of the study actually contradict that top-level finding. Grist's Ben Adler recently highlighted the top three flaws with the study.
• to disclose a possible conflict of interest to the State Department until two months after it won the contract, as reported by ... Jim Snyder at Bloomberg News;
• to reconcile why ERM listed TransCanada as a client in its marketing materials the year before it began the Keystone contract, even though ERM and TransCanada had both told State that they had not worked together for at least five years;