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Renewables Best Coal As America's Second Largest Energy Source

Reprinted with permission from Daily Kos

The Energy Information Administration (EIA) announced that renewables generated 21 percent of all electricity in the country for 2020. Renewable energy sources like biomass, geothermal, solar, and wind accounted for 834 billion kilowatt-hours (kWh) of the nation’s power last year. That falls just behind natural gas, which generated 1,617 billion kWh or 40% of all energy in the U.S. The news comes from a report released in July that the EIA shared again last week as the year winds down and we look towards 2022. The agency believes that coal-fired electricity use likely rose this year due to rising natural gas prices, increasing about 18 percent compared with 2020. This will likely push coal to be the second-most used energy source in 2021.

It’s highly unlikely that the trend of coal surpassing renewables will continue into 2022. For one, coal-fired electricity has been on the downturn since 2007 when it peaked at 2,016 billion kWh and was the largest source of energy until 2016, most likely because natural gas has replaced much of coal’s capacity. According to another EIA report, dozens of coal-fired plants have been replaced or converted to natural gas since 2011. Some of those decisions made by power companies are in order to comply with emissions regulations, like the EPA’s Mercury and Air Toxics Standards, which was unveiled in 2011.

In the following years until 2019, Alabama Power Co. converted 10 of its generators at four Alabama coal plants to comply with the standard, which took effect in 2016.As for renewables, the EIA believes their power generation will rise 7% this year and another 10% next year. The agency also forecast that 2022 will be another year in which renewables are the second-most-used energy source, making 2020 not an anomaly, but a possible sign of trends to come. It’s anyone’s guess what 2022 will hold in terms of emissions, primarily because it’s unclear how deeply the pandemic will continue to affect the power industry.

Graph Shows Alterative Energy Beating Coal in 2021

images.dailykos.com


A report released on December 22 by the EIA shows that 2020 saw a substantial decrease in carbon dioxide emissions due in part to a warmer winter season and factors exacerbated by the pandemic, including more people working from home and traveling less, plus industry slowdowns resulting in lower commercial building activity. One of the long-term factors cited by the EIA was a trend in declining natural gas production. This resulted in a decrease in emissions of 11 percent in 2020, or 570 million metric tons compared to 2019. Such declines in emissions haven’t been seen since 1983, shortly after an amended Clean Air Act was implemented requiring cars built in 1981 and beyond to comply with lower emissions standards. More stringent emissions goals, such as the Biden administration’s push for 50 percent of new vehicles to be electric by 2030, could see a similar reduction that puts the U.S. one step closer to reaching its goal of net-zero by 2050.


Republicans Protest EPA Firing Of Big Oil’s Mouthpiece On Scientific Board

Reprinted with permission from American Independent

Republicans on the House Oversight Committee expressed outrage on Wednesday at the Biden administration's decision to remove a slate of Trump-appointed individuals from Environmental Protection Agency advisory boards, including Louis Anthony "Tony" Cox, who has extensive ties to the oil industry and had been accused of using his position in the interests of industry propaganda instead of those of science.

Reps. James Comer (R-KY) and Ralph Norman (R-SC) sent a letter to EPA administrator Michael Regan expressing concern over his decision to "abruptly fire all Trump administration appointed members" of the EPA's Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee and Science Advisory Board.

The Congressmen demanded that Regan provide them with documents and information pertaining to the removals, which they characterize as "unprecedented." They accused the Biden administration of purging officials "who do not share its political beliefs."

In a March interview with the Associated Press, Regan said the removals were part of the Biden administration's determination to "reset" the boards.

"We have to identify and root out any decisions from the past that were not properly aligned with science," Regan said.

In a March 31 press release announcing the changes, the EPA noted that the Trump administration hadn't followed standard procedures for appointing committee members, had prevented individuals who had previously received EPA grants from serving, and had eliminated key air pollution review panels.

"Resetting these two scientific advisory committees will ensure the agency receives the best possible scientific insight to support our work to protect human health and the environment," Regan said.

Cox was put in place by EPA chief Scott Pruitt in 2017 to lead the panel on air pollution. He had previously served as a consultant for the American Petroleum Institute, a lobbying group bankrolled by major oil and gas companies.

Cox produced a report for the group in 2017 that claimed asthma is associated more with income levels than with particulate matter in the atmosphere, a finding that runs contrary to those of many other studies that do link pollution and asthma. Cox later said that he allowed the Institute to "proofread" and "copy edit" his research.

On the EPA advisory board, Cox attacked existing EPA methods for calculating the public health benefits of smog regulations, describing them as "unreliable, logically unsound, and inappropriate."

When Cox was reappointed to his position in 2020, Gretchen Goldman, research director for the Center for Science and Democracy at the Union of Concerned Scientists, said Cox is "uninterested in following the careful science-based process that EPA has followed for decades to set science-based and health-protective air pollution standards."

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.

States Banning Deadly Paint Stripper Allowed By Trump

Reprinted with permission from DCReport

Wendy Hartley, whose son Kevin died at age 21 after using a toxic paint stripper, met with ex-EPA chief Scott Pruitt two years ago to urge him to ban a chemical in the stripper that has killed people since 1947.

But when the EPA evaluated the chemical, methylene chloride, under the Toxic Substances Control Act, the agency decided the chemical didn't present an unreasonable risk of injury to health or the environment under some conditions.

"Nothing short of a ban would be sufficient," said Hartley, who brought photos of her son and his death certificate to her meeting with Pruitt.

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Trump Appointees Permit Higher Soot Emissions, Increasing Covid-19 Mortality

Reprinted with permission from DCReport.

A new Harvard study has found that long-term exposure to microscopic soot in the air appears to be associated with higher death rates from the coronavirus.

But Trump's EPA has recommended keeping the 2012 standards for microscopic soot that are linked to an estimated 45,000 deaths a year.

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Trump EPA Declares War On Chesapeake Bay

Reprinted with permission from DCReport

Trump once again is trying to cut most of the funding to clean up the polluted Chesapeake Bay even as the Trump EPA undermines the cleanup with legal footnotes and inaction.

Trump’s latest sabotage, for the 2021 budget, would cut more than 91 percent of the funding for the Chesapeake Bay Program created under President Ronald Reagan who called the bay a “national treasure,” and long supported by Republicans and Democrats. The program got $85 million, the most it’s ever received, in the fiscal 2020 budget.

Dana Aunkst, the director of Chesapeake Bay efforts for the EPA, said 2025 pollution goals are “an aspiration,” not an enforceable deadline. The head of EPA’s Office of Water, David Ross, represented the American Farm Bureau Federation in its 2012 lawsuit against the EPA over plans to clean up the bay. Scott Pruitt, Trump’s first pick to head the EPA, also supported polluters in the lawsuit as the attorney general for Oklahoma.

Trump’s latest sabotage, for the 2021 budget, would cut more than 91 percent of the funding for the Chesapeake Bay Program created under President Ronald Reagan.

“For the head of EPA’s Bay Program to say pollutions limits designed to save the bay are merely aspirational and not legally enforceable should put fear in the hearts of all who care about clean water,” said Will Baker, president of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.

In 2010, under President Barack Obama, six states and the District of Columbia agreed to significantly reduce pollution by 2025. The EPA agreed to step in if that didn’t happen.

More than 100,000 streams and rivers flow into the Chesapeake Bay which is about half freshwater and half saltwater. The second-largest river, the Potomac, flows by Washington, D.C.

Pennsylvania Pollution

Pennsylvania, Aunkst’s home state, has been the worst-performing state involved in restoring the bay. Maryland and Virginia also failed to meet 2017 cleanup requirements. Pennsylvania’s most recent plan says the state is about 30 percent closer to meeting its goal for nitrogen pollution reduction than it was in the 1980s. Pennsylvania has a funding deficit of $324 million a year. The Trump EPA signed off on the plan in any way in December.

The bay has gradually been getting healthier for about three decades. A 2018 report card from the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science gave the bay a “C.” The Chesapeake Bay Foundation gave the bay a “D+,” noting that the bay had worse levels of nitrogen and phosphorus and that the water was murkier. Record rainfall from climate change pushed more pollution off farms and streets and into the bay.

Dead Zone

Pollution from fertilizer, sewage and other sources causes a dead zone in the bay each summer like the one in the Gulf of Mexico although much smaller. The dead zone in 2019 was on the high end of the normal range despite the deluge of water from swollen rivers, another indication that things are slowly improving.

The American Farm Bureau Federation and other pro-pollution groups sued over the cleanup. Part of their argument was that the Clean Water Act prohibits the EPA from seeking “reasonable assurance” from states that their plans will work. Judges disagreed.

In its most recent evaluations of state plans, the Trump EPA replaced “reasonable assurance” with the lesser standard of “confidence,” noting in a footnote that the language was changed “to avoid potential confusion.”

To Please Coal Barons, EPA Will Roll Back Mercury Emissions Rule

Reprinted with permission from DCReport.

The cost to babies whose IQs are stunted because their mothers ate mercury-laced fish while pregnant pales for EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler in comparison to the costs imposed on coal-fired power plants to make their mercury-emitting plants safer.

Wheeler twisted the math for a proposed federal rule to knock out the legal justification for safer standards under Obama, claiming that “the only health benefit” to reducing mercury emissions “that the EPA could quantify and monetize” was the children’s IQ loss.

“By taking away the legal justification for the standard, they’re making it very easy for challengers to say that the standard can’t survive,” said Richard Revesz, the director of the Institute for Policy Integrity at New York University. “The consequences are enormous, and the analysis is atrocious. You won’t find a single respectable economist who would say this is a plausible methodology.”

In March 2017, coal magnate Robert Murray, who donated $300,000 to Trump’s inauguration, gave the Energy Department a wish list that included rescinding or revising the mercury standard, which Murray Energy had sued to block. Wheeler is a former lobbyist, and Murray Energy was his best-paying client.

Wheeler ignored the other projected benefits of the current rule that prevent up to 11,000 premature deaths, about 130,000 asthma attacks, 5,700 hospital and emergency room visits and more than 3 million days of restricted activity.

In the United States, coal-fired power plants are the largest source of mercury emissions, accounting for 42 percent of emissions in 2014.

Babies and fetuses are most at risk from mercury. The results mimic cerebral palsy at the highest levels of exposure. High levels of mercury are also associated with heart disease and high blood pressure.

It’s difficult to consume the amount of fish recommended by the American Heart Association while also remaining at safe mercury levels because of high mercury levels in most fish.

Recent studies suggest that the benefits of reducing mercury emissions are much larger than those found in a 2011 analysis the Obama EPA used to justify the mercury standard. A 2016 study found that the benefits are more than $43 billion if potentially lost wages, medical costs from lowered IQs, premature deaths and nonfatal heart attacks are looked at. The estimated cost of compliance is less than $1 billion a year.

Since the mercury rule went into effect in 2012, mercury emissions from U.S. coal-fired power plants decreased by 79,000 pounds, or 86%, between 2006 and 2016 and 83,000 pounds, or 89%, from 2007 and 2017.

 

EPA Will Weaken Restrictions On Lethal Methylene Chloride

Methylene chloride — a toxic chemical found in a wide variety of paint strippers and adhesives — has killed at least 64 people since 1980.

Yet days ago, Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency weakened a ban on the chemical that former President Barack Obama’s administration proposed one day before his last term expired — creating a loophole so that commercial contractors can still use products containing the deadly substance.

Of course, in a news release announcing the weakened regulation, the EPA didn’t exactly draw attention to this loophole. In fact, the release — titled “EPA Bans Consumer Sales of Methylene Chloride Paint Removers, Protecting Public” — gave the impression that the Trump administration was banning the substance altogether.

“After analyzing the health impacts and listening to affected families, EPA is taking action to stop the use of this chemical in paint removers intended for consumers,” EPA administrator Andrew Wheeler said in the release. “Today’s decision reflects EPA’s commitment to ensure that chemicals in the retail marketplace are safe for the American public.”

Yet Wheeler did not let on that the new ban is weaker than the ban Obama’s EPA proposed.

For now, the chemical will be available for use for contractors while the EPA takes public comments on whether contractors should also be banned from using the substance.

Families of people who died from the chemical are outraged over the EPA’s decision to implement a weaker ban on the chemical.

They include Wendy Hartley, whose 21-year-old son Kevin died from the chemical in 2017 while finishing bathtubs for his family business. Hartley filed a lawsuit in January against the government for having failed to ban the substance.

“I am deeply disappointed that the EPA has decided to weaken its proposed ban on methylene chloride,” Hartley said in a statement to the Washington Post. “Getting this deadly chemical out of consumers’ hands is a step in the right direction — a step that was started by retailers nationwide. Workers who use methylene chloride will now be left unprotected and at risk of health issues or death. I will continue my fight until the EPA does its job.”

But given recent history, it’s hardly shocking that Trump’s EPA would green-light the sale of toxic chemicals.

It has, after all, weakened a ban on cancer-causing asbestos, contemplated allowing minors to handle pesticides that cause brain damage and cancer, and has refused to set limits on the levels of toxic chemicals in drinking water.

Allowing workers to continue handling a chemical that has caused dozens of deaths is simply par for the course for Trump’s EPA.

Published with permission of The American Independent. 

IMAGE: EPA administrator Andrew Wheeler.

New EPA Chief Stalls On Protecting Water Supplies

Andrew Wheeler, the former lobbyist now in charge of protecting our nation from dangerous chemicals, would get final say on whether the EPA should regulate a dangerous class of chemicals that are sometimes found in public drinking water.

The Safe Drinking Water Act, signed into law by former President Gerald Ford in 1974, is a set of regulations governing how to set safety standards for our nation’s drinking water. The law gives the EPA administrator “sole judgment” to decide if the health risks of a chemical mean it should be regulated under the act.

The chemicals, perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAs, have been made since the 1940s and are valued because they can repel oil and water. The chemicals, used in products such as microwave popcorn bags and firefighting foam, may have contaminated more than 1,500 drinking water systems that serve nearly 110 million Americans.

Under Wheeler, the EPA announced that it would propose a “regulatory determination” for two types of PFAS chemicals, a move environmentalists derided as just more procrastination about deciding whether to regulate the toxic chemicals.

“Has the Trump administration so thoroughly purged EPA of scientists, and so completely stacked its management with industry lobbyists, that it can’t even decide whether to lift a finger to regulate widely-known toxic chemicals?” asked Erik Olson, senior director for health and food at the Natural Resources Defense Council.

PFAS are linked to cancer, thyroid disease and lowered immunity. At least 121 U.S. military installations have groundwater contaminated with PFAS.

The National Drinking Water Advisory Council, appointed by the EPA administrator, will also help evaluate whether PFAS should be regulated.  In May, the EPA posted a notice seeking nominations for three-year seats on the council.

The council’s new members include Alexandra Campbell-Ferrari, who co-founded a nonprofit that works on water security, and James Proctor II, the vice president and general counsel of McWane. The company was prosecuted for environmental crimes and pleaded guilty to nine felony charges of knowingly violating the Clean Water Act.

Former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt and the White House tried to block the release of a health study about PFAS chemicals last year. The report recommended that “minimum risk level” for exposure to two PFAS chemicals should be seven to 10 times lower than the level previously recommended by the EPA.