Showing posts with label Techsoup. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Techsoup. Show all posts

Thursday, November 27, 2008

EPA moves to ease pollution rules

Matthew Blake 11/25/08 8:15 AM

The Environmental Protection Agency seems on the brink of issuing a new regulation that would make it easier for power plants to operate longer hours — and emit more pollution.

Under the proposed rule, power plants would be able to measure their rate of emissions on an hourly basis instead of their annual total output. As long as the hourly emissions stay at or below the plant’s established maximum, the plant would be treated as if it were operating cleanly — even if its total annual emissions increased as plant managers stepped up output.

Under the current policy, power plants that seek to operate longer must install pollution-control equipment. The proposed rule, expected to be finalized in the next two weeks, would increase the life span of older power plants without owners having to install costly new pollution-control equipment.

The rule, though, may be in conflict with a 2007 Supreme Court case, Environmental Defense v. Duke Energy Corp. In a 9-0 ruling, the justices decided that the Clean Air Act required Duke Energy to install pollution-control equipment if its annual pollution output increased. The court made clear that power plants must measure their pollution based on annual output, not an hourly rate.

The proposed power-plant rule marks a final attempt by the Bush administration to radically revise the way environmental laws are applied, especially the Clean Air Act. Throughout his presidency, George W. Bush has sought to weaken the traditional regulatory authority of many federal agencies — like the Food and Drug Admin. and Consumer Product Safety Commission — to make them more friendly to business. This anti-regulatory stand has had perhaps its most sweeping effect on the EPA.

But the administration’s drive to weaken environment safeguards has gotten it into legal trouble. Since Bush took office in 2001, the EPA has issued 27 air-pollution regulations. Seventeen were either partly or entirely thrown out by the D.C. circuit court, which oversees cases involving federal regulation. One, the Duke Energy case, was reversed by the Supreme Court.

In many of the rulings, judges used caustic language in striking down the administration’s position. They lectured EPA officials on elementary legal principles, like the importance of carefully reading the language of a law. The agency has been compared to Humpty Dumpty and the Queen of Hearts in “Alice in Wonderland.”

Not only judges have given the administration a tongue-lashing. Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Rep. Henry A. Waxman, (D-Calif.), the chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, have repeatedly charged that the EPA is undermining the spirit of the Clean Air Act, which passed in 1963 and was strengthened in 1977 and 1990.

Boxer and Waxman have vowed to fight the proposed power-plant regulation. They may well have an ally in the federal court system.

“EPA historically has great credibility in federal courts,” said E. Donald Elliot, who was the agency’s chief lawyer during the George H.W. Bush administration and is now in private practice. “But it has recently had a pretty abysmal record. It has lost the confidence of the courts.”

The easing of pollution controls on power plants stems from an interpretation of “new source review” rules outlined in the Clean Air Act. The law says that before an industry can create a new source of air pollution, the EPA must review it.

In this case, coal-fired power plants — 70 percent of which are between 27 and 57 years old — could install new equipment that would allow them to operate for longer periods of time. Increased operational hours would lead to more emissions of chemical compounds, like nitrogen oxide, that produce smog.

To avoid EPA review — likely to result in the plants having to install pollution-control equipment– the new regulation would measure pollution at an hourly rate.

“We’re changing the way we evaluate totals, not the amount of pollution put out by plants,” said Jonathan Shradar, an EPA spokesman.

But the change in how totals are evaluated could go against Environmental Defense v. Duke Energy Corp.

In that case, Duke Energy, which operates power plants in North and South Carolina, upgraded its plants to keep them running longer hours, resulting in more pollution emissions.

The company contended that it did not have to submit its plant modifications to the EPA for review because its hourly rate of emissions had stayed steady. In rejecting that argument, Justice David Souter wrote that the relevant Clean Air Act provisions “clearly do not define a major modification in terms of an increase in the hourly emissions rate.”

“Each of the thresholds,” Souter continued, “is described in tons per year.”

Environmental lawyers see no reason why the administration’s new power plant regulation would be judged any differently.

“This is the latest in a long line of EPA rules regarding coal-fired power plants that will be overturned,” predicted Jennifer Peterson, an attorney at the Environmental Integrity Project, which specializes in clean-air litigation.

One such rule is the 2006 D.C. circuit court decision, New York v. EPA. In that case, the court decided that the EPA misread a Clean Air Act provision that says “any physical change” in a power plant that increases pollutants requires the power plant to install pollution control equipment.

EPA said that the word “any” was superfluous and that the agency can decide when physical changes are big enough to merit regulation. The D.C. circuit court found EPA’s logical unfathomable.

“Only in a Humpty Dumpty world,” wrote Judge Judith Rogers, “would Congress be required to use superfluous words while an agency could ignore an expansive word that Congress did use. We decline to adopt such a world view.”

Shrader, the EPA spokesman, declined to go into why the new power plant rule would pass legal muster. He pointed out that the EPA is still working on the rule, and language has not been finalized.

EPA has not only lost 18 of 27 clean air court decisions, fully13 of those cases were rejected as contrary to the language of the Clean Air Act. At times, EPA’s defiance of the Clean Air Act has appeared to exasperate the court.

In overturning an EPA rule that allowed some power plants to exceed limits on mercury emissions, the court compared the EPA with the Queen of Hearts from Lewis Carroll’s “Alice in Wonderland.” The Queen disregarded laws and proclaimed “off with her head” before a verdict was issued.

In reversing EPA’s loosening of when industrial plants need to seek emission permits, the court implored EPA regulators to do three things: “(1) read the statute; (2) read the statute, (3) read the statute.”

“Repeated losses on plain language grounds,” wrote Waxman, the oversight chairman, in a letter to Stephen Johnson, the EPA administrator, “suggest a reckless determination to pursue the administration’s policy objectives regardless of legal limits.”

Waxman added that he was “gravely concerned” about the proposed regulation to change how power plant pollution is measured. Meanwhile, Boxer, (D-Calif.) chairman of the Senate Environmental and Public Works Committee, said she will investigate EPA if the regulation is finalized.

Environmentalists who are veterans to battling EPA over air regulations say that the Bush administration is unique in its flouting of environmental law.

“I’ve never seen such a sheer volume of cases and such a dismal track record by the EPA in court,” said Frank O’Donnell, president of Clean Air Watch. “They’ve lost so many cases that you either have to conclude their lawyers are idiots or their polices are illegal. I’d go with the second.”

Elliot, the EPA’s counsel during the George H.W. Bush administration, also said that the number of court losses is without precedent.

“The administration has intentionally pushed the limits of its discretion,” Elliot said. “They do things that might make sense from a policy perspective but not from the language of the statute.”

The result, Elliot said, was that the “good reputation of EPA” has been lost in the D.C. court.

But while this Bush administration has not succeeded in changing the legal reading of the Clean Air Act, critics contend that its actions have had a strong effect on air pollution regulation.

“The failure to weaken rules should be celebrated,” said John Walke, a senior attorney at the National Resources Defense Council who has litigated several cases against Bush’s EPA. “But the failure to carry out the Clean Air Act has enormous public-health consequences.”

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Dead Zones

In case you didn’t know, the “dead zone” isn’t just a novel by Steven King or an old TV show, it’s an area about the size of New Jersey in the Gulf of Mexico that during the summer months is incapable of supporting sea life. The dead zone is created when fertilizer run off promote algae growth, which in turn throws off the oceans equilibrium by using all the available oxygen, killing everything else. So, good for algae perhaps, but bad for the sea life in general.

Carectomy recently reported that ethanol production for passenger vehicles could be responsible for a growth in this dead zone. In their words:

Corn is the biggest culprit in creating these environments, and now that the U.S. is looking to biofuels as a solution to its energy needs, the problem’s only getting worse. Bush signed legislation at the end of 2007 that will triple the amount of corn ethanol produced over the next several years.

More after the jump!

Because corn is the crop most used for ethanol in the US (other countries, such as Brazil, use sugar cane), it is clear that corn will have an adverse affect on the Gulf of Mexico’s ecosystem as the fertilizer heavy crop’s run off travels down the Mississippi and dumps itself into the ocean.

Carectomy goes on to give a scathing overview of how ethanol is the wrong direction for the US and the world, as it solves no problems, but simply makes it seems like problems have been solved. While I would heartily agree with them on many counts, there is much more to ethanol than meets the eye. Political pressures have made most US ethanol production corn based thus far, but other technologies have a promising future.

Cellulosic ethanol, for example, can use any plant matter and turn it into ethanol. That means that food waste, grasses, and just about anything that’s a plant could be made into ethanol. With this technology extremely efficient ways of producing ethanol with environmentally friendly crops could be used, therefore lowering the impact ethanol has on the environment.

With that said, the dead zone is truly an alarming spectacle, and if the US wants to continue to hurdle towards an ethanol economy, it’s going to have to reform its ways and “kick the corn habit” as much as it needs to kick the oil habit.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Where and what to recycle

RecycleWhere to Recycle | Schools and State Agencies | Resources

Recycling is the practice of recovering used materials from the waste stream and then incorporating those same materials into the manufacturing process.

Many communities in California now offer curbside collection or drop-off sites for certain recyclable materials. But collecting materials is only the first step toward making the recycling process work.

Successful recycling also depends on manufacturers making products from recovered materials and, in turn, consumers purchasing products made of recycled materials. Do your part--"close the loop" and buy products made of recycled materials whenever possible.

Where to Recycle
Construction debris. You can search for facilities by county that reuse or recycle types of construction and demolition (C&D) debris, such as asphalt, drywall, and metal, on our site.
Plastic. You can also find facilities that reuse or recycle specific types of plastic, such as acrylic, nylon, high density polyethylene (HDPE), and low density polyethylene (LDPE) on our site.
Electronic Waste. Discarded electronic products can present environmental hazards if not properly managed. Search this directory by county and/or product type to find an organization near you that may handle anything from televisions and monitors to cell phones and CPUs. To find out more about California's electronic waste recycling law and what it means to you, please visit
The Waste Prevention Information Exchange recycling page includes a comprehensive list of recycling databases.
Find Your Nearest Recycling Center. Enter your ZIP code to go to the "Earth's 911" website and find local centers for recycling materials, including household hazardous waste.
Recycling for Schools and State Agencies
School Waste Reduction and Recycling. Schools can help communities reduce their waste, while saving money and teaching kids valuable lessons.
Project Recycle. Recycling programs for State agencies.
Resources and Tools
Beverage Containers. Beverage container recycling is managed by the Department of Conservation, Division of Recycling.
Food Waste. Food scraps can be turned into valuable soil amendments through the simple techniques of composting or feeding a worm box.
Recycling Tools. Helpful tools listed on this page include lists of manufacturers of containers for home and office and of recycling processing equipment.
Tire Recycling. Californians use a lot of tires, which can be recycled in California to produce crumb rubber for new products, recycled in rubberized asphalt concrete (RAC), used in civil engineering applications, or combusted as fuel.
Used Oil Recycling. Oil doesn't wear out, it just gets dirty! Find out more...
Recycling Coordinator Information and Resources. Materials and assistance to help you set up and operate a successful waste reduction program in your business, office, or locality.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Take Action List

Used electronic devices, known as e-waste, are increasingly becoming a larger part of our waste. Fortunately, there are a number of options available to those who want to recycle their old electronic items.

To address the increasing amount of e-waste, many state and local governments, electronics manufacturers, and non-profit organizations have created comprehensive recycling programs. Several states, including California, Maine, Maryland, Texas and Washington, have even enacted laws requiring the collection of certain electronics.

E-waste recycling options vary across the country. So, the first step to determine what options are available in your area is to review information about your local recycling program. This information is available on Earth 911 (using the recycling locator database at the top of this page), some local government websites and the following websites:

E.P.A. Product Stewartship
National Recycling Coalition
E Recycling Central (includes a list of questions to ask recyclers)
Basel Action Network
Computer Take Back Campaign

In addition to “traditional” recycling programs, some electronics manufacturers and retailers also offer e-waste recycling. Many manufacturer-sponsored programs will accept and process their brand for free. Some accept other brands for a small fee.

After determining what options are available, it is important to determine whether a recycler is operating under strict environmental controls and high worker safety protections. A few general questions to ask include:

Is the recycler certified (such as an ISO 14001 environmental management certification) and does it follow a set of industry recognized guidelines?

Does the recycler actually recycle most of the e-waste materials collected (It is best if the company can recycle 90 percent or more of the materials)?

Does the recycler have written procedures for removing and disposing of mercury lamps in electronic products? Many manufacturer and government sponsored programs have extensive online information detailing the way in which recycling is handled.

In addition to choosing a recycler, it is also important to prepare your e-waste for recycling. For computer recycling, one important concern is to erase all data from the computer before sending it off for recycling.

However, this should be a factor regardless of what one does with an old computer because electronic data can be retrieved from hard drives. There are many options (such as software) to ensure that the data is permanently erased.

In fact, many recycling firms will scrub the hard drive and certify that all data has been erased. Before sending your computer to a recycler, check to verify that this option is available.
Manufacturer Specific Programs

Toshiba Trade-In and Recycling Program
Lenovo/IBM (will also accept other e-waste of other computer manufacturers)

Retailer Programs

Circuit City (Easy-trade in program)
Best Buy
Staples (accepts computers, monitors, laptops, and desktop printers, faxes and all-in-ones)
EPA Plug-In Partners (lists manufacturers, retailers and service providers that offer recycling of e-waste)


EPA–lists options for donating or recycling e-waste
Techsoup–lists non-profit organizations and recyclers of e-waste
Goodwill (some locations accept computers)–website includes tips on how to donate computers

Cell Phone Recycling/Donation

Motorola (accepts all brands for free)
Nokia (accepts all brands for free)
Call to Recycle
National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (donation of cell phones)
Call to Protect
Verizon Wireless (accepts phones at Verizon stores)
AT&T Wireless (accepts phones at AT&T stores)
T-Mobile Wireless (accepts phones in stores and by mail)
Sprint Wireless (accepts phones in stores and by mail; recycling proceeds go to charity)

HVAC boot cleared of Asbestos in Los Angeles