Pollution Too High or are Standards Too Low?

The recent news that parts of five Indiana counties have been pushed out of attainment for ambient air quality and exceed a new U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) standard for sulfur dioxide comes as no shock.

Indeed, the U.S. EPA continues to lower the standards, making it increasingly difficult for communities to meet the new requirements.

U.S. EPA officials point to coal-fired power plants as the main contributors to the release of more sulfur dioxide than is permitted in the new standards. Sulfur dioxide is a colorless gas that contributes to acid rain that damages the environment and can worsen breathing problems.

Parts of Marion, Morgan, Daviess, Pike and Vigo counties are the ones that have now been pushed out of attainment. For a number of years, all 92 counties have met the necessary levels for ambient air quality standards. But the U.S. EPA has continued to tighten the belt on standards that measure carbon monoxide, lead, nitrogen dioxide, ozone, particulate matter and sulfur dioxide.

Hoosier regulators now have 18 months to draft a plan telling how the counties will come back into compliance within five years.

So it sounds like Indiana’s air is just dirtier than ever, right?

Nope. In fact – it’s much cleaner than it’s ever been in our lifetimes. This 2011 BizVoice® story on the state of Indiana’s environment points to significant improvement in Hoosier air, water and land quality. But that’s hardly the story everyone hears.

For the story, I spoke with Dr. William Beranek Jr., president of the Indiana Environmental Institute, a third-party forum for analysis and understanding of Indiana’s environmental protection laws, rules and policies.

This is what he told me at the time: “We have been steadily and significantly improving across this timeframe (past 20 to 30 years), by sulfur dioxides, by nitrogen dioxide, by ozone, by lead and by particulates,” he explains.

“One of the challenges we’ve had across this time is that the technical community – for better or worse – has been steadily determining that some of those parameters are actually more harmful to human health than we had thought. Therefore, while we had been steadily improving the quality of the air, the indicator of whether we have good air has been steadily tightening. We’re at a point where we’re just as far from the finish line as we were when we started.”

Another expert on the matter: Bernie Paul, president of B Paul Consulting and former air quality expert for Eli Lilly & Company, also pointed to the federal process used for evaluating and changing air quality standards – starting with the Clean Air Act of 1970. That legislation was written so that all standards are re-evaluated every five years, and that cost implications cannot be taken into consideration when creating air quality standards.

“For a public agency to have to re-evaluate technical information every five years, when it takes 10 years to execute the plans to bring the air quality level down to where they set it, that’s a broken process,” he insists.

“A 10-year or even a 20-year review cycle would make more sense, because it takes so long for all of the implementation to be executed. We really can’t have a system where you’re constantly churning the standard.”

How does this relate to you? If coal-fired power plants are pointed to as the problem with these new regulations and the only way to match the requirements is to add more emission controls (or phase out coal altogether, as some would suggest), that means your electricity rates will go up.

Organizations including the U.S. Energy Information Association (EIA) and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) provide estimates between 83% and 95% of Indiana’s electricity coming from coal-fired power plants. It affects jobs here too: the EIA ranks Indiana as eighth in coal production in the country.

These are just some things to keep in mind the next time you read a story about Indiana’s “dirty” air.

Don’t Let National Ceiling Fan Day Blow By Without Realizing its Importance

While many homes have ceiling fans, its possible homeowners don't often think about their importance. Our friends at Fanimation in Zionsville are hosting a party on August 17 to celebrate ceiling fan awareness, and have passed along some critical facts you should consider when it comes to keeping your home cool:

On August 17, 2013, Fanimation is hosting an awareness party to promote the first annual National Ceiling Fan Day to be held on September 18, 2013. The purpose of the day is to educate the American public about the benefits of ceiling fan usage. Studies published by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommend using ceiling fans to reduce or eliminate the need to use air conditioning because ceiling fans consume far less electricity. Many Fanimation ceiling fans consume 30-50 watts during operation while air conditioning systems can use upwards of 5,000 watts. If every American turned off their air conditioning for one day and utilized fans for their cooling needs, the United States would save over three trillion kilowatt hours of energy consumption…

The National Ceiling Fan Day Awareness Party is a free event held at Fanimation’s headquarters and is open to the public. Fanimation has organized fun activities for all ages. There will be live music, prizes, vintage cars and bicycles on display, free food catered by Dashboard Diner, a caricaturist and a Kids Zone with bicycle helmet fittings, energy awareness activities and face painting. Attendees are also welcome to tour Fanimation’s antique fan museum located on site. The party will be held from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at 10983 Bennett Pkwy Zionsville, IN 46077.

President of Fanimation, Nathan Frampton says, “Fanimation hopes to inspire the public to turn down their air conditioners and turn on their fans. They will notice immediate impacts on their electricity bills and they will also help the environment.” He adds, “We as a society have grown dependent on air conditioners, we use them in our cars and then continue relying on them at home.  America’s increased reliance on central air and the escalating cost of energy inspired Fanimation to initiate the first annual National Ceiling Fan Day on September 18, 2013.”

Also, here are some key facts to keep in mind:

  • 94 million of the 113.6 million residential homes in the United States use air conditioning equipment and 110.1 million use space heating equipment.* Studies published by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommend using ceiling fans to reduce or eliminate the need to use air conditioning because ceiling fans consume significantly less electricity.
  • If every American turned off their air conditioning for one day and utilized only ceiling, floor, desk or wall fans the U.S. would save over three trillion kilowatt hours of energy consumption!
  • Energy consumption (data published by General Electric)
    Electric furnace: 17,221 watts
    Central air: 5,000 watts
    Ceiling fan: 30 watts
  • Monthly Energy Cost (based on 15 cents/kilowatt hour)
    Electric furnace @ 5 hrs/day: $392.85
    Central air @ 5 hrs/day: $114.06
    Ceiling fan @ 24 hrs/day: $3.30

For more information on ceiling fans or if you're interested in purchasing one, contact Fanimation business development manager Teal Cracraft at [email protected].

From One Chief Executive to Another on Coal and Carbon Dioxide

Frequent readers here or of other Chamber communications have no doubt taken notice of the alarming Washington trend of government by regulation. Numerous reports, the Competitive Enterprise Institute's Ten Thousand Commandments among the latest, have examined this dangerous development. Congress may be deadlocked, but government agencies are the ones putting the stranglehold on businesses in Indiana and throughout the country.

Indiana Gov. Mike Pence weighed in this week with a letter to President Obama regarding carbon dioxide standards that are being considered by the Environmental Protection Agency. Pence writes, in part, that the "EPA is proposing a rule that will constrain any potential for an all of the above energy strategy and harm our economy in the process."

The Governor points out that Indiana will be particularly impacted because of its status as one of the leading manufacturing states. While the energy mix has been diversified, coal will remain the major source of electricity. Pence says, "The coal industry and electricity providers have made great strides toward lower emissions, and, as we replace our aging electricity generation plants, I have no doubt that we will find ways to lower emissions even further."

View the full letter — and let's hope Washington pays attention!

Mine Workers Likely Not Supporting President This Time Around

The United Mine Workers of America fully supported President Obama in his 2008 bid against John McCain. But as Obama seeks re-election this November, it appears the coal union’s support has cooled. Not that coal workers are clamoring to help elect Mitt Romney either, mind you. National Journal has the interesting saga:

“As of right now, we’ve elected to stay out of this election,” said Mike Caputo, a UMWA official and a Democratic member of the West Virginia House of Delegates. “Our members right now have indicated to stay out of this race, and that’s why we’ve done that…. I don’t think quite frankly that coalfield folks are crazy about either candidate.”

Both candidates are trying to prove otherwise to voters in coal-intensive swing states. Earlier this week the Obama campaign released in the first coal-issue ad of this cycle, claiming that Romney has flip-flopped his position on coal. The ad includes comments that Romney made as Massachusetts governor in 2003 standing in front of a coal plant, saying that he wouldn’t support jobs that kill people.

For his part, Romney is claiming Obama’s Environmental Protection Agency is waging a war on coal with a slew of regulations.

The 54-year-old Caputo, who grew up across the street from a coal plant near Fairmont in central West Virginia and has been in the coal industry virtually his whole life, said he couldn’t remember a time UMWA did not endorse a presidential candidate. Caputo is a vice president on the UMWA’s International Executive Board.

“It’s unusual,” he said during an interview at UMWA’s Fairmont office. Caputo, who describes himself as a “hard-core Democrat,” intends to vote for Obama. “I’m loyal to my party,” he said.

David Kameras, a UMWA spokesman based at the union’s headquarters in Virginia just outside of Washington, D.C., said UMWA has not officially completed its endorsement selection decisions for the 2012 election and expects to do so by about mid-September. In 2008, UMWA endorsed Obama in May of that year.

"Our members count on coal-fired power plants and burning of coal to keep jobs,” Caputo said. “We’re a very Democratic union and we try to listen to the rank and file. They’ve sent a clear message that they’re not supportive of the environmental rules that are being put in place.”

Caputo pointed out that many of the biggest EPA rules, including one finalized last December to control mercury and other air toxic pollution from coal plants, were first enacted under Republican administrations, including President George H.W. Bush.

“A lot of our members don’t realize that,” Caputo said. “But whoever is in charge is going to get blamed.”

Caputo also noted that newly discovered resources of shale natural gas found all over the country, including the coal-intensive states of West Virginia, Ohio, and Pennsylvania, have contributed to coal’s decline as low natural gas prices compel utilities to shift from coal to gas as a power generator.

But politically, the EPA is the culprit for the coal industry’s woes. Throughout Appalachia where Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia converge, the coal industry’s disgruntlement with Obama is plastered on yard signs and billboards.

One billboard alongside a freeway near the Pennsylvania and West Virginia border said drivers were entering “The Obama administration’s no jobs zone.” The billboard was sponsored by a coal-industry group, the Federation for American Coal, Energy, and Security (FACES of Coal). Yard signs seen along back roads and throughout towns juxtapose the word “coal” with “fire Obama.”

Labor groups almost always align with Democratic candidates, and Caputo said the UMWA would be very unlikely to endorse Romney given his record with the coal industry and his positions on labor issues.

“Governor Romney’s record on coal isn’t any better,” Caputo said, referring to the comments Romney made in 2003 that were featured in the Obama ad—and the fact that Romney’s former air chief in Massachusetts, Gina McCarthy, now holds a similar position at Obama’s EPA. “Mitt Romney has never been a friend of our industry," Caputo said. "Now he’s out preaching he’s all for coal, but his history sure doesn’t show that.”

Hat tip to the Chamber’s Jeff Brantley for the story lead.

Good Hoosier News in the Air

On a somewhat regular basis, a state or national group will release a report that is critical of Indiana’s air quality. Typically, those efforts involve what we will call "creative twists" to the data.

Keith Baugues, assistant commissioner of IDEM’s Office of Air Quality, utilized that same Environmental Protection Agency data and developed a first-of-its-kind study titled States’ View of the Air — 2012. The very good news: All Indiana areas meet the federal standards. What that means is business and industry development can take place throughout the state and not be limited by a lack of air quality attainment.

Baugues worked for EPA for nine years and has authored more than 60 articles on air quality. He joined IDEM in 2010. The comprehensive report covers all 50 states.

Why is this so important? Because the public often has the impression that our air is “dirty” with that opinion coming from the continued tightening of the already very restrictive air quality standards. The “lowering the limbo bar" not only stimulates that faulty thought process but is often very costly with little or no benefit to our environment or public health.

A few highlights and comments below from IDEM, with the full report available online. In addition, the Chamber’s November-December BizVoice magazine published an analysis of Indiana’s environment sub-titled It’s Much Cleaner Than You Might Realize.

Ground-level ozone and airborne particles are two pollutants that pose the greatest threat to human health in this country. The United States Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA) establishes health standards that all states follow. The standards have become more and more protective in recent years. The data used for the IDEM report comes from air monitors used by state government agencies, including IDEM, and U.S. EPA to do annual assessments on these pollutants under the most current standards.

For each area contained in the report, pollutant concentrations were averaged to determine the average quality of the air that people are breathing. Population density was factored into the grading system to reflect the greater potential for negative public health impacts in areas where many people live and work. The IDEM report also includes information about at-risk groups in all states.

All regions of Indiana meet U.S. EPA’s current ozone standard, as well as U.S. EPA’s annual and daily standards for fine particles. Under the population weighted average used for the States’ View of the Air – 2012 report, areas meeting the federally-based air quality standard are given a C. To earn a C, the area must be better than the standard by up to 10 percent. Those areas that are better by more than 10 but less than 20 percent earn a B, and areas better by more than 20 percent receive an A. All Indiana counties included in the report received Bs and Cs for ozone, and As and Bs for fine particle pollution.

To assess air quality, air monitors are located in urban and rural areas to watch for pollutants. Regulations implemented in recent years have significantly reduced pollutants from industry. Cleaner fuel and engine standards have significantly reduced harmful vehicle emissions, which contribute significantly to the level of pollution that is generated locally.

“Our air is healthy. Hoosiers can be proud that Indiana has made great progress toward cleaner air and achieved the fine particle and ozone standards in all regions of our state,” said IDEM Commissioner Thomas Easterly. “As government, industry, communities and special interest groups work together to meet future, more stringent air quality standards, it’s important for us to have accurate information about air quality. The States’ View of the Air – 2012 report provides accurate, understandable information.”

EPA Actions a ‘Disgrace’

Kudos to the Wall Street Journal for this well-timed and well-written reaction to yesterday’s EPA announcement:

At an unusual gala ceremony on the release of a major new Environmental Protection Agency rule yesterday, chief Lisa Jackson called it "historic" and "a great victory." And she’s right: The rule may be the most expensive the agency has ever issued, and it represents the triumph of the Obama Administration’s green agenda over economic growth and job creation. Congratulations.

The so-called utility rule requires power plants to install "maximum achievable control technology" to reduce mercury emissions and other trace gases. But the true goal of the rule’s 1,117 pages is to harm coal-fired power plants and force large parts of the fleet—the U.S. power system workhorse—to shut down in the name of climate change. The EPA figures the rule will cost $9.6 billion, which is a gross, deliberate underestimate.

In return Ms. Jackson says the public will get billions of dollars of health benefits like less asthma if not a cure for cancer. Those credulous enough to believe her should understand that the total benefits of mercury reduction amount to all of $6 million. That’s total present value, not benefits per year—oh, and that’s an -illion with an "m," which is not normally how things work out in President Obama’s Washington.

The rest of the purported benefits—to be precise, 99.99%—come by double-counting pollution reductions like soot that the EPA regulates through separate programs and therefore most will happen anyway. Using such "co-benefits" is an abuse of the cost-benefit process and shows that Cass Sunstein’s team at the White House regulatory office—many of whom opposed the rule—got steamrolled.

As baseload coal power is retired or idled, the reliability of the electrical grid will be compromised, as every neutral analyst expects. Some utilities like Calpine Corp. and PSEG have claimed in these pages that the reliability concerns are overblown, but the Alfred E. Newman crowd has a vested interest in profiting from the higher wholesale electricity clearing prices that the EPA wants to cause.

Meanwhile, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which is charged with protecting reliability, abnegated its statutory responsibilities as the rule was being written.

One FERC economist wrote in a March email that "I don’t think there is any value in continuing to engage EPA on the issues. EPA has indicated that these are their assumptions and have made it clear that are not changed [sic] anything on reliability . . . [EPA] does not directly answer anything associated with local reliability." The EPA repeatedly told Congress that it had "very frequent substantive contact and consultation with FERC."

The EPA also took the extraordinary step of issuing a pre-emptive "enforcement memorandum," which is typically issued only after the EPA determines its rules are being broken. The memo tells utilities that they must admit to violating clean air laws if they can’t retrofit their plants within the EPA’s timeframe at any cost or if shutting down a plant will lead to regional blackouts. Such legal admissions force companies into a de facto EPA receivership and expose them to lawsuits and other liabilities.

The economic harm here is vast, and the utility rule saga—from the EPA’s reckless endangerment to the White House’s failure to temper Ms. Jackson—has been a disgrace. 

Federal Regs Got You Down? Let Us Know

The Competitive Enterprise Institute is a Washington, D.C.-based think tank that publishes an informative update titled Ten Thousand Commandments: An Annual Snapshot of the Federal Regulatory State. While much attention has been paid to the rising deficit, yearly regulatory compliance costs are estimated to be AT LEAST $1.7 TRILLION.

Freshman congressman Todd Rokita (R-4th District) and the Indiana Chamber want to do something about that. In an effort to bring to light the harm that many federal regulations do to Hoosier businesses, a new initiaitive has been launched. "Cutting Red Tape, Creating Hoosier Jobs" is a way for business owners and managers to communicate directly to Rokita on issues critical to their business success.

The congressman offers more details in this letter. The Chamber has established a dedicated web site where you can provide feedback on proposed, pending or existing federal regulations. You can also submit through mail to Cam Carter at the Indiana Chamber or via email to [email protected].  

What kind of regulations are we talking about? The EPA trying to regulate carbon dioxide emissions through the Clean Air Act is a prominent one. But there are thousands of other "red tape" examples, rules that simply provide additional compliance headaches with little or no benefits.

Rokita needs specific cases (with impacts on business operations or new job creation) in his effort to see a return to limited, common sense government.

For those especially interested in regulatory issues, you may wish to join our D.C. Fly-in in September.

EPA Plans Could Mean Huge Energy Cost Increases

The U.S. Senate is likely to vote this week on a measure from Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell to stop the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating greenhouse gases as pollutants. Some argue it will be among the most important environmental votes of this decade. The Weekly Standard contends:

The regulation of greenhouses under the Clean Air Act was triggered by EPA’s determination that such gases pose a danger to human health. This is not because they actually pose any danger to human health, like real pollutants, but rather because their accumulation in the upper atmosphere could contribute to “dangerous warming” by 2050. Carbon dioxide is a ubiquitous product of all economic activity and of everything that breathes.

Giving EPA the power to regulate it is tantamount to letting it control virtually the whole economy. And unlike other pollutants, no effective, commercially practicable control technology exists. Where economic activity is found to produce too much CO2 for EPA standards, that activity will simply have to stop. Hidden deep inside thousands of pages of technocratic jargon is a fact that should focus the attention of everybody.  If not stopped this week, EPA’s regulation of greenhouse gases risks an economic catastrophe.

According to some estimates, just in the next two years the new regulations could cost 1.4 million jobs and decrease U.S. business investment by 15 percent. One study estimates that GDP will be half a trillion dollars less by 2030.  Another concluded the cost of gasoline will rise by 50 percent, electricity by 50 percent, and natural gas by 75 percent over the next 20 years. Transportation costs are the primary variable in food prices – so food prices will be affected. Low income Americans, who are particularly vulnerable to spikes in energy and food prices, will be hardest hit.

Earlier in the week, we released an Action Alert stating If the EPA moves forward as it plans, dramatic increases in energy costs are just around the corner. Even the EPA admits to huge energy cost increases. It has been estimated that the EPA’s greenhouse gas regulations could reduce business investment between $97 and $290 billion in 2011 and as much as $309 billion in 2014. EPA’s own records indicate that permitting provisions alone will cost applicants $125,000 and 866 hours of burden per facility.

Currently, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is pushing forward with its plans to regulate and penalize carbon emissions under the Clean Air Act. The EPA has admitted that regulating greenhouse gases under the Act would subject the business community to an onerous and costly process that will see costs skyrocket. The McConnell Amendment seeks to stop the EPA from moving forward with this process and allow Congress to address the issue.

Congress should pursue common-sense solutions to address greenhouse gas emissions, not to allow the EPA to charge forward with a seriously-flawed, job-killing regulatory strategy.

Lugar Skeptical of EPA Dust Regs for Farms

As the Environmental Protection Agency considers regulation to tighten restrictions on dust on rural farms, Sen. Richard Lugar, along with 30 other Senators, condemned the National Ambient Air Quality Standards proposal as not being realistic. He writes:

“Proposals to lower the standard may not be significantly burdensome in urban areas, but will likely have significant effects on businesses and families in rural areas, many of whom have a tough time meeting current standards,” Lugar wrote. 

“Naturally occurring dust is a fact of life in rural America and the creation of dust is unavoidable for the agriculture industry,” Lugar and the others continued. “Indeed, with the need to further increase food production to meet world food demands, regulations that will stifle the U.S. agriculture industry could result in the loss of productivity, an increase in food prices, and further stress on our nation’s rural economy.” 

Lugar’s letter continued: “Tilling soil, even through reduced tillage practices, often creates dust as farmers work to seed our nation’s roughly 400 million acres of cropland.  Likewise, harvesting crops with various pieces of farm equipment and preparing them for storage also creates dust. 

“Due to financial and other considerations, many roads in rural America are not paved and dust is created when they are traversed by cars, trucks, tractors, and other vehicles.  To potentially require local and county governments to pave or treat these roads to prevent dust creation could be tremendously burdensome for already cash-strapped budgets.”

“While we strongly support efforts to safeguard the wellbeing of Americans, most Americans would agree that common sense dictates that the federal government should not regulate dust creation in farm fields and on rural roads,” Lugar letter concluded. “Additionally, the scientific and technical evidence seems to agree.  Given the ubiquitous nature of dust in agricultural settings and many rural environments, and the near impossible task of mitigating dust in most settings, we are hopeful that the EPA will give special consideration to the realities of farm and rural environments, including retaining the current standard.”

Air Transport Rule Reviewed, Chamber Comments

The Indiana Chamber submitted comments opposing the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) “transport rule.” The rule is the result of a suit by northeastern states claiming that the states west of it are responsible to some degree for their particulate matter and ozone. Indiana business and industry has invested many billions of dollars in recent years to reduce the levels of a number of pollutants including particulate matter and ozone. There is data that shows that the northeast particulate and ozone levels are primarily coming from the northeast states themselves. These pollutant emissions from Indiana facilities are dropping and will likely continue to drop over time. The Chamber’s EPA comment letter states:

Before new rules are imposed on a still-weak economy, it makes more sense to recognize what improvements in air quality have already occurred under the Clean Air Interstate Rule. As we continue to climb out of the recession, the last thing that government should do is create additional costs to the economy without substantiated reasons. We applaud the EPA’s efforts to improve air quality for all Americans and to address downwind issues. Hasty action, however, will have economic consequences for our members without any assurance that the rule will deliver the desired results any faster than the nation can achieve on its current path. We urge the EPA to delay the transport rule until there is a clear indication that comparable results cannot be achieved through existing measures. The EPA also should establish realistic deadlines that will not punish electricity consumers.