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Gristmill: Fresh, whole-brain news.


New EPA rules on industrial boiler pollution could prevent 8,100 premature deaths a year

The tricky thing about trying to reduce pollution is that Americans make so much of it, in all sorts of different ways, and at greatly varying scales. We get why it makes sense to curb pollution from coal-burning power plants; they pollute on a huge scale.

Here's a trickier one: industrial boilers, the large steam-producing systems used by institutions for heat and power. There are a lot of them, and all together they produce a lot of pollution too. But it's much trickier politically, since tightening pollution levels from boilers (and industrial incinerators) means imposing costs on hospitals and manufacturers and schools. For a decade, the EPA has been trying to figure out where to draw the line on the issue, how to decide between the huge benefits of reducing pollution and the huge backlash that would come from providing those benefits.

An industrial boiler in Reno.
An industrial boiler in Reno.

After reviewing feedback on its initial regulatory proposal, the agency late yesterday released the final standard -- apparently deciding to prevent backlash as much as pollution. From The Washington Post:

For the first time, large boilers and cement kilns will face strict limits on mercury, acid gases and fine particulate matter, or soot. But the EPA will give boiler owners three years to meet the new standards, with a possible extension for another year after that, meaning the earliest they will take effect would be in 2016. Cement plants will not have to comply with the new limits until September 2015, two years after they were originally set to take place.

The rules for cement plants are looser and have later deadlines than the EPA had originally proposed. While the rules affect far more boilers than cement plants, the damage cement plants do is far worse, per unit.


72 percent of bids at California’s carbon auction came from one company’s mistake

"I bid a bajillion dollars."
"I bid a bajillion dollars."

Remember that time you went to an auction and you bid on 21 times as many items as you intended to? No, of course not. Who would do that?

Power company Edison International is who.

From Bloomberg:

Edison, owner of the state’s second-biggest power utility, submitted a proposal in the wrong format and offered to buy 21 times more allowances than it wanted on Nov. 14, documents obtained by Bloomberg show.

When the state Air Resources Board said last month that it had received three bids for every available permit, it failed to mention that Edison accounted for nearly 72 percent of the offers. Had the company submitted its proposals in the right format, about 225,000 permits would have gone unsold at auction, Bloomberg calculations based on data from the report show.

Ha ha. Oops! If Edison had bought 72 percent of the 28.7 million credits offered, which sold at the unexpectedly low price of $10.09, that would have been an investment of about $208 million.


Americans feel less empowered to stop climate change — because they’re doing the wrong things

Last week, the world celebrated: Americans are increasingly concerned about global warming! Hurrah! Four out of five Americans understand that climate change poses a serious threat -- up 7 percent from 2009. Which means that by 2020 or so, 100 percent of Americans will be convinced, perhaps even including the 1 percent (Congress).

No one looks at these anymore.
No one looks at these anymore.

But, alas and alack, there are storm clouds brewing. (Figuratively, in addition to whatever the North Atlantic has in store for us next year.) Another poll or survey or whatever suggests that Americans also feel impotent about being able to address the problem. That's America for you, bouncing from hope to despair between new episodes of Three and a Half Men.

From the Times:

Americans may be buying more compact fluorescent light bulbs these days, but they are less likely to set their thermostats low during the winter than they were four years ago and have less confidence that their actions will help to curb global warming, according to a new survey.

The Yale Project on Climate Change Communication and George Mason University’s Center for Climate Change Communication found that the proportion of people who say their own energy-saving actions can make a difference in arresting global warming dropped to 32 percent in the latest survey, conducted in September, from 37 percent six months earlier.

So, following this trend, by 2015 no one at all will think we can do anything personally. That's encouraging.


Obama doubles size of California marine sanctuary, adorable otters rejoice

President Obama has proposed that more than 2,700 square miles off the coast of Northern California be added to the national marine sanctuary system, which would protect the area from oil and gas drilling permanently. It would be the biggest addition to the 40-year-old system in 20 years, doubling the total protected sanctuary area. The otters are so excited you guys.

mike baird

From the San Jose Mercury News:

"This is a matter of economic common sense. Jobs and livelihoods hang in the balance," [said Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D)]. "No one is going to vacation on the Sonoma coast if they are looking at oil derricks."

I like her logic, even though lots of people vacation along the California coast within view of all kinds of offshore drilling equipment. (Ahem, Santa Barbara.)


Appeals court rejects industry attempt to kill EPA regulation of greenhouse gases

Perhaps the debate's next stop.
Perhaps the debate's next stop.

An appeals court in D.C. today rejected an attempt by the fossil fuel industry to gut a critical EPA pollution rule.

In 2007, the Supreme Court ruled that the agency had the authority under the Clean Air Act to regulate greenhouse gases, including carbon dioxide, as pollutants. Since that point, as the EPA has struggled to implement various rules limiting such pollution for both new and old power plants, there have been a series of court battles over its authority. The ruling today is not the final word, but is nonetheless an important victory.

From The Hill:

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia voted 6-2 to reject a request for the full court to reconsider a June ruling that upheld EPA’s interpretation of the Clean Air Act.

The court’s action could set up a Supreme Court challenge by industry, energy firms and the state of Alaska, which were pushing for the rehearing.

The decision in June by a three-judge panel determined EPA properly evaluated the health effects of greenhouse gas emissions. That allowed the agency to continue regulating those emissions through the Clean Air Act.


House GOP wants to crack down on environmental regs because jobs

Congress, circa 1912. Or maybe a GOP meeting of some sort. Can't tell.
Library of Congress
Congress, circa 1912. Or maybe a GOP meeting of some sort. Can't tell.

The House of Representatives is run by Republicans these days, because that's what the American people want. We chose to maintain a majority of Republicans, meaning that Republicans get to do whatever they want. If the GOP House gets reelected, that's a mandate. If the president does, it isn't. That's math. That's politics.

And leaders of the House Natural Resources Committee know what needs to be done: We need to get rid of those flim-flammin' environmental regulations so we can finally extract some gol-dang fossil fuels! From The Rassafrassin' Hill:


U.S. cities are getting denser


The U.S. EPA released a report this week on how our cities are growing. So there's the first good news: They're growing! But you knew that already. Other good news: Nearly 75 percent of major metro areas saw a higher proportion of housing being built in already-developed areas ("infill" in planning jargon) from 2005 to 2009 compared to 2000 to 2004. The bad? From sea to shining sea, we still really love to sprawl. Almost all major metro areas continued to grow outward faster than they grew inward.

Read more: Cities


Like salty, warm water? Skip the Dead Sea and head to any ocean

The Dead Sea is dying, but there's a bit of good news: We're turning all of our oceans into the Dead Sea.

There are two qualities that set the Dead Sea apart -- it's warm and it's salty. Happily, our oceans are picking up both of those traits. (Happily for those wishing to soak in warm, salty water. Unhappily for those who live in the water or near its shores or on Earth.)

The Dead Sea, now an ocean near you!
The Dead Sea, now an ocean near you!

Getting warmer

From Maine's Bangor Daily News:

Ed Monat, a seasonal tour boat operator and scallop fisherman from Bar Harbor, has seen a lot in his more than two decades of scuba diving below the waves of Frenchman Bay. …

One thing Monat never saw underwater prior to this past summer … was a 60-plus degree thermometer reading at the bottom of the bay. For much of the year, coastal waters in the Gulf of Maine generally are expected to waver between the mid-30s and mid-50s Fahrenheit, including at depths of 40-50 feet, where Monat often descends. On a late-August dive this summer near the breakwater that helps protect Bar Harbor from the open ocean, he said, his dive thermometer registered 63 degrees.

“That’s crazy, crazy warm,” Monat said recently. “This was a really warm summer in the water.”

Read more: Climate & Energy


Huge power plant gives up on coal, the Times reports with a shrug

"Power Company Loses Some of Its Appetite for Coal."

This is the best headline The New York Times could come up with. "Eh, I don't really want that much coal anymore," says American Electric Power, shrugging. Not, "Holy God, the market is collapsing on this stuff SELL SELL SELL." Just a quiet, "Oh well."

"This has been a bad year for the coal industry," the Times says. Indeed!

Big Sandy power plant
Big Sandy power plant

American Electric Power, or A.E.P., the nation’s biggest consumer of coal, announced that it would shut its coal-burning boilers at the Big Sandy electric power plant near Louisa, Ky., a 1,100-megawatt facility that since the early 1960s has been burning coal that was mined locally.

Big Sandy this year became a symbol of the plight of the coal industry nationwide. Strict new environmental regulations are forcing large utilities to spend billions of dollars to retrofit old coal-burning plants or shut them down, replacing them in most cases with equipment that uses cleaner-burning natural gas.

Those "strict new environmental regulations" are also known as the 40-year-old Clean Air Act, which grandfathered in the pollution of plants like Big Sandy until major retrofits were needed. Now, a major retrofit is needed.


America’s fastest-growing state: North Frackota

According to the weirdly huge text on the Census Bureau's website, the fastest-growing state in the country in 2011 was North Dakota, which grew at a rate of 2.17 percent. The second fastest-growing state was the District of Columbia, which is not a state.

Your top ten in growth by percent and population:

pop percentage

You'll notice that the growth in North Dakota was substantially higher than any other state. That's for three reasons. First, because it had a smaller population to begin with. The state's population in 2011 was about 684,000; if it were a city, it would be the 19th largest (and by far the least dense). Second, that great tourism ad from January.

The third reason is one we've talked about before: the fracking boom.