New soot rules issued by EPA


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With the election now over, the issue of environmental regulation will be a hot topic in Washington.

EPA’s critics say they see ill omens for President Barack Obama’s second term in Friday’s announcement of significantly tightened air pollution limits on soot from exhaust pipes and smokestacks.

The finished rule that emerged from the agency Friday is mostly as stringent as the one that EPA submitted for White House review in the summer. That’s a turnaround from the experience of the last couple of years, in which White House pressure forced the EPA to postpone a new rule on smog and placed regulations on toxic coal ash into a deep freeze.

The latest development heartened environmental groups, which praised the Obama administration for standing up to pressure from industry and the Hill — though some say they’re still waiting for tough action on climate change.

“Our air will be cleaner and thousands of Americans won’t have to face the dangerous health impacts of soot pollution from dirty sources like power plants and diesel trucks,” said Gene Karpinski, president of the League of Conservation voters.

But Friday’s announcement also had some industry groups wondering what to expect in the coming months, when the EPA is expected to finish regulations for greenhouse gas emissions from new power plants, with a host of pending regulations for industrial boilers, power plants and the coal industry waiting in the wings.

“We think it is [a] troublesome sign from the EPA,” said National Association of Manufacturers spokesman Jeff Ostermayer. “Most of these regulations have been on hold since before the election, and now we fear we will see them move forward with one after another, which is not good for an economy still struggling to recover.”

One outspoken industry supporter, Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), has been warning for months about what he calls the “regulatory cliff” — a deluge of regulations brought on by a second Obama administration unencumbered by reelection worries. He called the new soot rule “the first in an onslaught of post-election rulemakings that will place considerable burdens on our struggling economy.”

We’re seeing a resurgence of manufacturing jobs in this country, but many argue that EPA regulations will strangle that progress. Well, we haven’t seen that so far in the fracking industry, as both sides are engaged and we’re seeing common sense regulations in states like Ohio.

But with global warming emerging as a huge issue, the political will for common sense regulations may be growing. It looks like the Obama administration is ready to proceed. The key with be whether they can balance the need to clean up and protect the environment with the need for industry and jobs.

Obama rejects fast track for Keystone pipeline

This pipeline has become a political football.

President Obama has rejected fast-tracking approval of the TransCanada Keystone XL pipeline, turning aside Republican demands that he sign off on the deal they claim will create 20,000 new jobs and strengthen American energy security.

In a statement Wednesday afternoon, Obama said that he received a recommendation from Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton earlier today recommending that the application be denied.

“This announcement is not a judgment on the merits of the pipeline, but the arbitrary nature of a deadline that prevented the State Department from gathering the information necessary to approve the project and protect the American people,” Obama said. “I’m disappointed that Republicans in Congress forced this decision, but it does not change my administration’s commitment to American-made energy that creates jobs and reduces our dependence on oil.”

The Canadian tar sands are very controversial in the environmental community, so it will fascinating to see how all this plays out.

Scoring homes for energy efficiency

This is good news regarding conservation and our push for energy independence.

U.S. homeowners will be able to get low-cost energy audits that rank a home’s efficiency on a scale of one to 10 and get federally insured loans for upgrades, under an Obama administration plan to be announced today.

With the new Home Energy Score, consumers will find out how their home compares with others and how much money they could save by adding insulation, sealing air leaks or doing other upgrades. Nine U.S. communities will test the score, similar to a miles-per-gallon label for cars, before it’s rolled out nationally next summer.

Information is power, and now consumers will be more informed about the energy efficiency of current homes and home they intend to purchase. This will breath more life into the market for green building materials and upgrades, and along the way our housing stock will become more energy efficient.

It will also be interesting to see how this affects the real estate market. Buyers will begin to insist on a Home Energy Score so they know how efficient their new home might be. I suspect sellers will be have an incentive to make the modest investments necessary to improve the score.

Don’t drink the water!

This is a very sad story from The New York Times. It’s stunning that we still have issues with contaminated drinking water in the United States. On the other hand, with so many corporate interests undermining common sense regulation, it shouldn’t be that big of a surprise. Remember the all the issues with financial regulation? It seems like we’re having the same problems here.

Jennifer Hall-Massey knows not to drink the tap water in her home near Charleston, W.Va.

In fact, her entire family tries to avoid any contact with the water. Her youngest son has scabs on his arms, legs and chest where the bathwater — polluted with lead, nickel and other heavy metals — caused painful rashes. Many of his brother’s teeth were capped to replace enamel that was eaten away.

Neighbors apply special lotions after showering because their skin burns. Tests show that their tap water contains arsenic, barium, lead, manganese and other chemicals at concentrations federal regulators say could contribute to cancer and damage the kidneys and nervous system.

“How can we get digital cable and Internet in our homes, but not clean water?” said Mrs. Hall-Massey, a senior accountant at one of the state’s largest banks.

She and her husband, Charles, do not live in some remote corner of Appalachia. Charleston, the state capital, is less than 17 miles from her home.

“How is this still happening today?” she asked.

When Mrs. Hall-Massey and 264 neighbors sued nine nearby coal companies, accusing them of putting dangerous waste into local water supplies, their lawyer did not have to look far for evidence. As required by state law, some of the companies had disclosed in reports to regulators that they were pumping into the ground illegal concentrations of chemicals — the same pollutants that flowed from residents’ taps.

Hopefully the EPA in the Obama administration will push for real enforcement.

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