On April 1 local activists rallied outside Congressman Tim Murphy’s office in Mount Lebanon and called for him to better protect public health and end his ties to the dirty coal industry. Rep. Murphy has repeatedly voted against policies that would limit harmful air pollution from sources like coal plants, although his district suffers from some of the worst air pollution in the nation. Both Allegheny and Westmoreland counties have failing or near failing air quality, exceeding safe levels of soot and smog that can cause lung disease, heart attacks and severe asthma attacks. (more…)
ACTION. Call Sen. Casey and thank hi for supporting EPA but express your regret at his support of the Keysone XL Pipeline.
The recent passage of a federal budget by the Senate was accompanied by a raft of amendments. Several failed amendments were designed to eliminate EPA protections against carbon, mercury, soot, smog, or other toxics that would have put Americans’ health at risk. One amendment by Sen. Inhofe was aimed at prohibiting EPA to regulate greenhouse gases (failed 47-52). To his credit, Sen. Bob Casey voted against all these attempts to cripple EPA. Unfortunately in another case Sen. Casey voted in favor of a symbolic non-binding vote to build Keystone XL Pipeline; this amendment passed 62-37.
On Friday, March 29, the EPA released new emission and fuel standards for autos, light-duty trucks, and some heavy-duty trucks, effective 2017. By requiring that oil refineries reduce the sulfur content of gasoline and that automakers use advanced technology, EPA’s goal is to produce significant reductions in pollutants such as ozone, particulate matter, and air toxics. That should help local agencies such as Allegheny County Health Department in their effort to attain and health-based National Ambient Air Quality Standards. Economically, the new EPA rule could increase gas prices by less than a penny per gallon and add $130 to the cost of a vehicle in 2025. But the rules are also expected to annually save billions of dollars in health benefits associated with the cleaner air.
On March13 thirty members of Pittsburgh United presented a letter to Pittsburgh City Council calling for Council to urge Mayor Ravenstahl to implement several measures that were passed in to law in 2010 and 2011. Included among those measures was the restriction of diesel engine emissions at construction sites, and the regulation of storm water run off. Given Ravenstahl’s retirement, it is expected that this failure for Mayoral action will become an issue for candidates in the Mayoral Primary election. Pittsburgh United is a coalition of unions and community, faith-based, and environmental organizations, including the Sierra Club, Clean Water Action, and GASP.
Pennsylvania’s state agency responsible for protecting the environment, the DEP, is preparing stronger rules to curb emissions from diesel and natural gas engines used by the Marcellus shale drilling industry. While tighter rules are welcomed by environmentalists, they are concerned that the earlier rules proposal has been been softened after prolonged industry lobbying. According to the Post-Gazette, “the DEP decided to allow the engines to emit three times more air pollution than what was initially proposed by the DEP’s Bureau of Air Quality in 2010, even though emissions-controls manufacturers say their equipment can meet lower emissions limits.”
Having waited since 1988, residents of Allegheny County now have a much stronger set of guidelines to protect them from toxic air emissions. The guidelines finally approved by the county Board of Health on January 9 with a 7-0 vote are not as strong as when we announced their emergence in November, but they are certainly an improvement. NOTE ADDED 1/14/13: See the P-G editorial critical of the decision-making process.
Invoking the Clean Air Act of 1970, on January 4 a three-judge panel in the DC circuit Federal Court of Appeals ruled that the EPA has failed to provide adequate public health protection from unhealthful levels of particulate matter (i.e., soot). The suit was brought by Earthjustice on behalf of American Lung Association, NRDC, Sierra Club, and Medical Advocates for Healthy Air. (more…)
Lisa Jackson is expected to leave her position as head of the Environmental Protection Agency in late January or early February. Despite strong opposition from industry and right wingers, under Jackson’s strong advocacy the EPA has established:??Landmark Protections from Toxic Mercury?- Historic Fuel Efficiency Standards for Cars and Light Trucks?- Critical Air Quality Protections against Sulfur Dioxide and Soot Pollution. Who Obama nominates to fill the top EPA spot will have a strong bearing on measures to check climate disruption and ‘fracking’ pollution. (more…)
As the result of litigation brought by eleven states as well as environmental groups and public health organizations, on December 14 the federal EPA announced new air quality standards for fine particulate matter (PM2.5 or soot). To achieve healthier and cleaner air, this action will reduce by 20 percent the allowable maximum amount of soot released into the air from smokestacks, diesel trucks, wood-burning stoves and other sources. Three days earlier an important suit was filed against EPA for failure to address methane emissions from shale gas operations. The suit was brought by seven states including New York, but was not joined by PA, WV, or OH.
A recent OpEd called for the Allegheny County Board of Health to approve the proposed toxic air emission guidelines for the county. By a vote of 7 to 1 county, on Nov. 7 the Board approved those guidelines. In future, when the county receives an air emissions permit application, the cumulative impact of the new sources of toxic emissions must be considered. If the applicant can at the same time demonstrate a reduction of emissions from existing facilities, then ‘offsets’ will be granted. The Board of Health is to be commended for accepting these long-awaited new guidelines, with strong public input having over-riden the objections of some industries and the Chamber of Commerce.
Thinking of replacing that old 25 mpg-on-the-highway car with a plug-in electric vehicle? You might want to check the buyer’s guide to electric cars in the latest issue of the national Sierra Club magazine Sierra. In the article titled ‘Plugged In‘ the pros and cons of six electric vehicles (EVs) are compared, along with those of the Volt and Prius hybrids. Of concern to residents of Western Pennsylvania is whether relying on electricity produced at a coal-fired plant is less damaging to the environment than burning all that gasoline? (more…)
The Group Against Smoke and Pollution (GASP) has launched two new projects that will help us understand who the worst polluters are and where the pollution is happening. GASP is looking for volunteers to put particulate monitors on their bikes as they ride to work or just ride for fun. The collected pollution data will be mapped in order to display the varying levels of diesel pollution in Pittsburgh. Cyclists can join Bicycle Air Monitoring Program, to help identify the worst polluters and determine how to avoid the pockets of worst air.
In the second project, pedestrians may use their smart phones to upload geo-tagged images of polluting vehicles, which again will be shown on a map that lets citizens see pollution hotspots in the city. To participate, download the SENSR app and choose the “Dirty Diesels” program.
The Allegheny County Board of Health is finally updating its 24-year old guidelines for the control of toxic air emissions, based on a better understanding of the effective of air toxins. The proposed new guidelines were drawn up by a 22-member task force and adopted by unanimous consent.
In an apparent about face, although they participated in the 22-member task force, USX and PPG joined eleven other businesses such as EQT and the Marcellus Shale Coalition to object to the new guidelines, stating that they are too burdensome and will provide little improvement for the public health. The Board of Health may decide on the proposed guidelines at its Sept. 19 meeting.
This past week the Sierra Club lauded the Obama administration’s latest move to improve public health and reduce Greenhouse Gas emissions. On August 28 the EPA finalized standards for model year 2017-2025 autos and light trucks with reduction in carbon pollution to 163 grams per mile and a fuel efficiency equivalent of 54.5 MPG by 2025. This follows the May 7, 2010 GHG emission standards for model year 2012-2016 cars and light-duty vehicles, and the August 9, 2011 GHG emission standards with a 20 pct reduction for heavy –duty engines and vehicles by 2018. .
ACTION: Urge EPA to appeal the court decision.
Last year the EPA issued the Cross-State Air Pollution (CSAPR) ruling to reduce the air transport of ozone and soot from coal-fired power plants across state borders. EPA justifies the ruling on the basis of savings in lives and reduction of illnesses. Pennsylvania is both a transmitter and receiver of these forms of air pollution. On August 21, the D.C. Circuit Court ruled against the EPA’s CSAPR ruling. Included in those defending the EPA in court were the Sierra Club, EDF, NRDC, and the Amer. Lung Assoc., as well as over a dozen US states and cities. Citizens are now asked to urge the EPA to appeal the Circuit Court’s decision.
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