Friday, March 14, 2008

DOT Downplays Transportation Report on Climate Change Impacts and Prevents Press from Interviewing the Author

HT to Lance Olson Climate Change Yahoo group:

The Government Accountability Project reported today on a major study on climate change impacts released on Wednesday by U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) and the U.S. Climate Change Science Program.Gulf Coast Transportation study   This study reported on the likely impacts of global climate disruption on transportation infrastructure in the Gulf Coast region.  GAP indicates that the  report release was buried by the DOT, and officials have been blocking journalists from speaking with the report's lead author.

Specifically the report, Impacts of Climate Change and Variability on Transportation Systems and Infrastructure: Gulf Coast Study, analyzes how Gulf Coast roads and highways, transit services, oil and gas pipelines, freight handling ports, transcontinental railroad networks, waterway systems, and airports are likely to be harmed by heat waves, extreme precipitation events, sea level rise, increased hurricane intensity, and storm surge damage associated with climate change. The report outlines why changes must be incorporated in transportation planning now in order to avoid serious future problems.

Three hours after the report was posted online Wednesday, DOT issued an uninformative and misleading press release on a separate Web site. The press release lists only one contact - a DOT press official. Reporters who have tried to interview the report's lead author, Federal Highway Administration official Michael Savonis, have been explicitly told by DOT officials that the author and the press cannot communicate with each other. As lead author, Savonis should be allowed to brief and respond to press inquiries.

March 14, 2008 in Climate Change, Economics, Energy, Environmental Assessment, Governance/Management, Law, North America, Sustainability, US | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

EPA Sets Primary Ozone Standard at 75 ppb Ignoring Scientific Advice; Sets Unlawful Secondary Standard Based on Bush's Personal Order

EPA's Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee recommended a primary health standard no higher than 70 ppb and EPA's Children's Health Protection Advisory Committee recommended the standard be set at 60 ppb because children are more vulnerable to air pollution.  EPA estimates that excess deaths of 1700 - 5700 will occur from the new standard as opposed to a 65 ppb standard.

In addition, EPA set the secondary standard identical to the primary standard, not based on science, but based on an order from the President.

Juliet Eilperin of the Washington Post reported yesterday:

Documents obtained by The Washington Post indicate that White House officials chafed at the idea that they could not factor costs into the ozone rule, which requires setting one standard for protecting health and a separate one for protecting public welfare, and that the president himself intervened in the process Monday. In a March 6 memo to the EPA, Susan E. Dudley of the Office of Management and Budget questioned the need for two different ozone limits, noting that the Clean Air Act's definition of public welfare includes "effects on environmental values." The EPA's Marcus C. Peacock replied the next day that it is important to keep in mind that "EPA cannot consider costs in setting a secondary standard."... The rule's preamble indicates Bush settled the dispute March 11, saying the president concluded the secondary standard should be set "to be identical to the new primary standard, the approach adopted when ozone standards were last promulgated."

Apparently industry has actively lobbied to keep the standard at 84 ppb to avoid the estimated cost to industry of $7.6 - $ 8.8 billion a year.  EPA estimates that the new standard will yield $2 billion to $19 billion in health benefits.  For many years, I've maintained that having the government prepare these estimates under EO 12866  (or allowing industry to provide agency decision-makers with its estimates) skews the process towards an illegal cost-benefit analysis.

It is no surprise that faced with numbers, President Bush interfered in what should have been a legal/scientific decision.  Legal because the secondary standard must be set to protect public welfare and there is no basis for assuming that the secondary NAAQS should be the same as the primary NAAQS.  Scientific because only the science should matter: cost and benefit numbers are not what EPA is supposed to consider under the CAA.  Bush had no business making any decision about this.  Bush should not have those cost-benefit numbers in front of him because it leads to bad choices.  Don't put cookies in front of a starving child unless you want them to eat.  Don't put a stack of million dollar bills in front of a thief unless you want to part with them. 

It was the Attorney General's responsibility to tell EPA to set the primary and secondary standards according to science, not cost-benefit estimates.  Period.  End of discussion.  Apparently, some officials at the Justice Department attempted to tell the President just that.

Juliet Eilperin of the Washington Post reported today:

EPA officials initially tried to set a lower seasonal limit on ozone to protect wildlife, parks and farmland, as required under the law. While their proposal was less restrictive than what the EPA's scientific advisers had proposed, Bush overruled EPA officials and on Tuesday ordered the agency to increase the limit, according to the documents. "It is unprecedented and an unlawful act of political interference for the president personally to override a decision that the Clean Air Act leaves exclusively to EPA's expert scientific judgment," said John Walke, clean-air director for the Natural Resources Defense Council....The president's order prompted a scramble by administration officials to rewrite the regulations to avoid a conflict with past EPA statements on the harm caused by ozone....Solicitor General Paul D. Clement warned administration officials late Tuesday night that the rules contradicted the EPA's past submissions to the Supreme Court... As a consequence, administration lawyers hustled to craft new legal justifications for the weakened standard.

I don't envy my former colleagues at the Justice Department who get to defend this embarrassingly illegal action.

March 14, 2008 in Air Quality, Biodiversity, Cases, Economics, Energy, Governance/Management, Law, US | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Monday, March 10, 2008

The Buzz on Climate Legislation

According to E & E, Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) will send House Speaker Pelosi a report from the Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming with legislative proposals to address climate change on or before the House Energy and Commerce Committee holds a markup on a major piece of climate legislation.  Markey was selected by Pelosi as chair of the Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming, which Pelosi created  when the Democrats took control of Congress last year.  Markey's committee lacks legislative authority, but has held more than 30 hearings on climate change and energy issues.

Markey's staff reportedly has been meeting with alternative energy firms, labor groups, finance specialists, and others seeking legislative ideas.  Markey's report is expected after House Energy and Commerce Chairman John Dingell releases his draft climate legislation in mid-April. Dingell (D-Mich), of course, has been protective of the automobile industry -- for example, he attempted last summer to preempt California's GHG emission standards for motor vehicles.   If displeased with the bill ultimately reported by Dingell, Pelosi could seek a special rule making Markey's legislative proposal(s) the basis of floor debate, in lieu of Dingell's bill.  If Dingell bill's is overly protective of narrow interests or insufficiently stringent, that sort of end run just might happen.

March 10, 2008 in Climate Change, Economics, Energy, Governance/Management, Law, Legislation, Sustainability, US | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Crude oil surpasses $ 108

Crude-oil futures surpassed $108 for the first time, before closing above $107 a barrel.  The gloomy economic outlook in the United States increases the prospect that the Fed will cut interest rates again, creating an even weaker dollar.  The euro was trading at $1.5358, near its record high. A weaker dollar pushes oil prices up as it makes dollar-denominated oil less expensive to buyers holding other currencies.

March 10, 2008 in Climate Change, Economics, Energy, Governance/Management | Permalink | TrackBack (0)