Just looking for a little action

Today, Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and the Coalition for a Safe Environment (CFASE) jointly filed a lawsuit in federal court to address the fact that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has failed to act on two critically important items that have been sitting in someone’s in-box since November 2007.  (I’m representing CFASE in the litigation—an organization of people of color who suffer more than most from the terrible air quality here because of the concentration of sources of air pollution in and near where they live.)

This is the 40th anniversary year of the federal Clean Air Act—the federal framework for addressing the health and economic impacts of air pollution in the United States.  Through the Act, the EPA established National Ambient Air Quality Standards (known as NAAQS—pronounced “nacs”) which are supposed to set health-protective standards for exposure to several harmful air pollutants.  These standards don’t try to ensure that the air is pristine, but they set a target for levels of pollution that reduce to an “acceptable” level the number of people who die or get very, very sick just because they breath the air.  (That’s called “risk management,” and don’t get me started on that.  Suffice it to say that it’s an effort to balance things like the fact that oil companies want to burn fossil fuel for energy which causes harmful stuff to be released into the air.)

Anyway, here in the South Coast Air Basin, we live with (or should I say “die because of” or “choke on”) some of the worst air quality in the nation.  A 2008 report of the death, illness, and economic impact of breathing here—just for the margin above the NAAQS for Particulate Matter—found that 3000 people over 30 die each year because they dare to breathe.  That same report found that 11 infants under the age of 1 die as the direct result of breathing the PM in the air here.  I call that serious.  The broader health impacts are equally staggering.   See the whole report here, which focus on PM and Ozone.

So, under the Clean Air Act, in places like the South Coast Air Basin where the air is really dirty (or as the Act describes it, in “non-attainment” for a NAAQS standard), the Air Pollution Control District must develop a Plan (an Air Quality Management Plan) that shows the EPA what efforts are going to be undertaken to bring the area into compliance with the NAAQS.  The State of California has to do one too for the sources of pollution that it oversees.  Together these plans form a State Implementation Plan (SIP).

OK, so this is where we get back to where I started this post.  The South Coast Air Quality Management District and the State of California Air Resources Board submitted their plans in November 2007.  Under federal law, the EPA was suppose to act on those submissions—that is review them and approve them, disapprove them, or approve in part and disapprove in part—within 12 months of finding that the plans are complete.  (The EPA was also supposed to determine if the plans were complete within 6 months of their submission—if the EPA fails to make a “completeness finding” then the law just assumes that they are complete.  The EPA also failed to make that “completeness finding,” but I guess that’s just water under the bridge at this point…)

After the SIPs languished at the EPA for about two-and-a-half years, NRDC and CFASE sent a letter, because it was the right thing to do (and it’s required by law), to the EPA telling them they would sue if they don’t act on the plans.   There was complete silence from the EPA—save a form letter noting that they received the letter.  That was in May.  Now, we’re suing.

Look, we know that these are busy times.  There are lots of things going on.  We hope this suit will help the EPA focus on completing this very important duty.  Without a plan in place, we cannot ensure that the air in the South Coast Air Basin will get cleaner as required—not just by the law, but also because achieving the NAAQS will save thousands of lives each year.  (Not this exact plan—because the thing needs some serious work to get the air to where it needs to be, so I should say without a good plan in place.)

We cannot, and will not, stand by while thousands of people die each year because of the audacious act of breathing.

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Rights and Wrongs at the ARB

So, it’s not bad enough that ARB decided

ARB will issue an enforcement advisory to notify all stakeholders affected by the off-road equipment regulation that effective immediately, and until further notice, no enforcement action will be taken for noncompliance.

Especially since back in 2007 –3 years ago–when they adopted the rule they said:

“This regulation will prevent thousands of premature deaths and reduce health care costs for those suffering from respiratory disease such as asthma,” said Mary Nichols, ARB Chairman. “It is also the first of its kind in the nation, and, as has occurred with other California regulations, could serve as a model for other states to follow.”

So, I wonder, what part of the “model” will other states  follow–the adoption part or the non-enforcement part.  I have to admit, the “model” is a win-win–ARB  wins because they adopted the rule with a great press release entitled:  ARB adopts landmark rule to reduce toxic emissions from off-road equipment,  and business wins because they don’t have to comply with it.  Works great.   (Unless your trying to breath or not die prematurely.   It’s also not so great for those businesses who took their obligations seriously and have been making investments so that their equipment would  be in compliance.  I guess they kinda feel like chumps now.  I wonder who will implement a sensible plan for compliance for the next regulation ARB adopts.)

Anyway, its not bad enough, since back in 2007 they said:

ARB performed a comprehensive economic analysis of the rule’s impact on business, concluding that the regulation will cost industry up to $3.5 billion over its lifetime. Staff reviewed individual companies’ financial records and conducted numerous workshops to discuss the cost of the regulation as well as impacts on individual businesses. ARB also gave special consideration to small businesses (e.g., small fleets have until 2015 to begin compliance, while large fleets must begin in 2010) to ensure that the regulation would not provide undue economic hardship.

OK, so, there you go.  I guess that’s a lot of money and that was then and this is now?  OK. Well….  OK.

But, to me, the thing that really makes this bad is Air Resources Board Executive Officer James N. Goldstene saying:

Clean air is not a luxury – it is a right.  We need to continue to work toward goals that save us all money in healthcare costs, lost work and school days, and contribute to our quality of life.

Really, you know, if you’re going to decide not to enforce the regulation despite the benefits of doing so and the really, really, really bad precedent of deciding to cave—then just do it.  But don’t give me the clean air “is a right” talk.   Tell me about how clean air “is a right” when in 2007 you said:

According to ARB estimates, over its course, this rule will prevent at least 4,000 premature deaths statewide and avoid $18- $26 billion in premature death and health costs.

And how, exactly are we going to achieve these lofty “goals” we need to continue to work toward?  Would enforcing this regulation have helped?

And, I wonder, what kind of “right” he’s talking about.  And how does this decision impact that “right”? And most importantly, how does one enforce that “right”?

Oh, I forgot

until further notice, no enforcement action will be taken for noncompliance

As a “stakeholder[] affected by the off-road equipment regulation,” I’m looking forward to getting my “enforcement advisory” and pondering what the future holds for me (oh, wait, as a person who breathes the air do I qualify as a “stakeholder”?  Maybe I shouldn’t hold my breath waiting for that “enforcement advisory”).

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Whatever happened to RGGI?

Remember all the fanfare and hoopla?  Remember how this new regional cap’ n trade market was going to prove–once and for all–that cap’ n trade was the way to go?  Remember?  Remember that?

Well, back then, I wrote that the whole thing was a mess and a sham in a post called “Are We Saving the World Yet? RGGI Starts and So Does the Spin.“  At that auction the credits had a market clearing price of $3.05 per ton–which as I noted then, was $257 per ton less than dry grass.  I said that people would buy the credits as investments because they thought it was safer than putting their money into banks which seemed to be dropping like flies at the time.  (really, you should read my post.)

Anyway, so here we are in February 2010.  So how’s good ole’ RGGI doing?  According to CarbonPoint

Barclays Capital estimates the weighted average clearing price across all of the 2009 auctions was $2.78.

A broker predicted the average clearing price for 2010 allowances will be in the much lower $1.95-$2.05 range.

So, I guess that’s kinda like saying brokers have been making commissions, but no one has stopped emitting GHGs because of the thing.

Really, if the “success” of the program is that money is being raised to fund “clean energy” projects–which is the new spin being pushed by the RGGI folks–tell me again why do we need all of the problems that trading schemes bring?  (See, for example this recent New York Times article “Fraud Besets E.U. Carbon Trade System“)  Why not just assess a fee on dirty energy and use it to support clean energy?

So, really, are we saving the world yet?


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Cap and Trade: Still a scam.

Look at these two polls from last summer.  Before George W. Bush and his friends released the market-hounds-of-hell on the planet, people supported addressing climate change.

Nearly all respondents, 94.0%, said they were very or somewhat willing to change their own lifestyle to reduce the impact of climate change. And, 95.1% believed there were things they could be doing to use energy more wisely.
Just 5.6% saw an associated decline in their quality of life as they reduced energy consumption. The majority, 69.3%, did not see any impact on their quality of life and 20.3% suggested they saw an associated increase in their quality of life when they reduced consumption.
Over two-thirds of Americans, 68.6%, expressed a willingness to pay higher prices for “Green” energy sources or items like electric cars to reduce the effect of global warming.

But they didn’t support cap and trade.

Three-quarters of Americans think the federal government should regulate the release into the atmosphere of greenhouse gases from power plants, cars and factories to reduce global warming, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll, with substantial majority support from Democrats, Republicans and independents.

But fewer Americans — 52 percent — support a cap-and-trade approach to limiting greenhouse gas emissions similar to the one the House may vote on as early as tomorrow. That is slightly less support than cap and trade enjoyed in a late July 2008 poll. Forty-two percent of those surveyed this month oppose such a program.

Sadly, in the public debate “cap and trade” is being subsituted for what really needs to happen to address climate change: change the way we make and use energy.  But cap and trade can’t work.  (see my super old post on the EJ Matters website on this topic,  “Cap and trade won’t work and ‘Free markets’ ain’t free.“)

Now look at where we are: all out war on AB 32.

So, that’s all a lead in to my strong suggestion that you check out this great presentation by Annie Leonard. (You might also what to check out her video “The Story of Stuff“)

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4 numbers to tell a story

Clean air matters.

How much PM2.5 is in the air really, really matters.

It matters because breathing it kills people.

In fact, if we were able to reduce PM2.5 to the levels established by the federal standard, we’d be able to save thousands of people’s lives.  Indeed, in Los Angeles County, PM2.5–related deaths are more than double the number of motor vehicle related deaths.  (According to page 5 of this report.)

As the California Air Resources Board explained:

PM2.5 poses more serious health risks: A large body of evidence has linked outdoor PM2.5 levels with premature deaths, hospitalizations, emergency room and doctor’s visits for respiratory illnesses or heart disease.  Studies also suggest that PM2.5 may influence the frequency and severity of asthma symptoms, and acute and chronic bronchitis.

Mostly, PM2.5 comes from burning fossil-fuels.  The South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD) is responsible for protecting air quality from emissions caused by stationary sources of fossil-fuel burners like powerplants, refineries, and industrial facilities.

So, why is the SCAQMD fighting so hard to ensure that even more PM2.5 can be released into our air?   Here are 4 numbers that try to put into perspective the effect of the SCAQMDs decision to change their rules to create more pollution allowing credits:


per year

People over 30 and infants who die prematurely in the South Coast Air Basin because of exposure to PM2.5


tons per day

PM10/2.5 that would be added  to the South Coast Air Basin using the emission reduction credits created by the South Coast Air Quality Management District in proposed Rule 1315


tons per day

Port of Los Angeles related PM2.5 emissions from all of the ocean-going vessels, harbor craft, cargo handling equipment, rail locomotives, and heavy-duty vehicles in 2008


The amount of review the SCAQMD believes is necessary for its decision to add this pollution to the Air Basin

Little wonder a Los Angeles Judge found that their decision do add 15 tons per day of PM to the air would have “real, foreseeable, and substantial environmental consequences.” It’s a real shame that the SCAQMD and a legion of industry lobbyist were able to convince Sacramento politicians that protecting our health wasn’t that important.

They say they are worried about “jobs.”  Well, it’s hard to work when you’re dead.

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The blow by blow….

The struggle for clean air continues here in the South Coast Air Basin.

On January 15th, California Communities Against Toxics, Communities for a Better Environment, and Coalition for a Safe Environment (collectively “us” or “we”) went to the Los Angeles Superior Court to ask that the Court prevent the South Coast Air Quality Management District (aka “them” or “they”) from causing the release of air pollution in violation of the Constitution and statutory law.

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It’s here…it’s here!

It’s here!  The Port of Los Angeles Inventory of Air Emissions – 2008 is finally here!

What’s all the excitement about?  Well, you may be vaguely aware that I’ve been litigating a series of cases (along with excellent co-counsel) related to the South Coast Air Quality Management District’s effort to create a bunch of new emission reduction credits (“ERCs”) for use in the South Coast Air Basin.  Basically, these ERCs are needed by new or modified business to put more air pollution into the air here in the South Coast Air Basin in order to comply with the market-based pollution control system set up under the federal Clean Air Act.  This program is supposed to result in cleaning up the air in the Basin so that–someday–the air here will meet the federal health-based standards.

Another way to say it is this ERC program is supposed to mean that breathing the air isn’t as likely to kill you, since, as I ranted before:

Air Pollution Exposure is Associated with Premature Death:   Attaining the California PM and ozone standards would annually prevent about 8,800 premature deaths, or 3.7% of all deaths. These premature deaths shorten lives by an average of 14 years. This is greater than the same number of deaths (4,200 – 7,400) linked to second-hand smoke in the year 2000. In comparison, motor vehicle crashes caused 3,200 deaths and homicides were responsible for 2,000 deaths”

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And Now, the next round…

OK, so this post is going to be a little specialized.  It addresses the next round of efforts to make real the notion that Clean Air Matters.

This post picks up mid-stream in a fight that’s been going on since 2006 between a coalition of environmental justice and environmental groups on one hand and the South Coast Air Quality Management District on the other.  For those who have been following this battle over the years, I trust the information below will be of interest.  My point here is not to provide analysis or commentary, but simply to ensure that the facts are  available to those who wish to know.

So, onward……

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Enery and Power Intertwined

This piece in the Los Angeles Times is critically important to read and to think about the implications.

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If a tree falls in the forest and no one hears the sound

…is it kinda like the Kyoto market trading mess didn’t really fail?

OK, so I’m paraphrasing the philosophical question that paraphrases the issues raised by philosopher George Berkeley (1685-1753) as a way to explore questions about reality and knowledge, “If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?” (See, I knew my degree is philosophy would pay off!)

So, what’s this have to do with climate policy?  Read this:

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