Posts tagged ‘EPA’

New EPA Regulations Target Mercury and Other Toxic Emissions from Boilers and Solid Waste Incinerators

From: David A Gabel, ENN
Published May 4, 2010

The US environmental Protection Agengy (EPA) is currently issuing a new proposal to cut mercury emissions by more than half as well as other pollutants from boilers, process heaters, and solid waste incinerators. Toxic air emissions have been shown to cause cancer and other serious health problems for affected people. The main purpose of this proposal would be to reduce health and environmental risk in a cost-effective way. The EPA estimates that the new rules would yield more than $5 in health savings for every dollar spent in implementing the rules.

“Strong cuts to mercury and other harmful emissions will have real benefits for our health and our environment, spur clean technology innovations and save American communities billions of dollars in avoided health costs,” said EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson. “This is a cost-effective, commonsense way to protect our health and the health of our children, and get America moving into the clean economy of the future.”

Mercury has been shown to be extremely harmful to human health. It can damage the brains and nervous systems for children developing both before and after birth. Mercury in the air eventually is absorbed into the surface water where it can build up in freshwater and ocean marine life. This is highly toxic for people who eat the contaminated fish. The mercury contamination can lead to fish consumption advisories to protect public health.

Efforts at reducing mercury emissions are nothing new. Pollution controls on Mercury were started in the early 1990’s and have gotten progressively tighter. The most recent proposal is another step in tightening the regulations.

The EPA estimates that mercury emissions will be reduced from about 200,000 industrial boilers, process heaters, and incinerators. Health benefits are estimated to be between $18 and $44 billion per year. The new rules would prevent from 2,000 to 5,200 premature deaths and roughly 36,000 asthma attacks per year. Meanwhile, installing and operating the new pollution control devices would require only $3.6 billion under the new rules.

This is what is known as internalizing the cost for operators of boilers, heaters, and incinerators. Air emissions are an externality. Once the air emissions are released, they are no longer the responsibility of the plant operator. However, members of the public have to pay for the emissions through higher health care costs. Therefore, the true cost of the operators’ actions is externalized to the public. The new rules help to internalize this externality.

Boilers and incinerators at large industrial facilities would have to meet the new emissions limits and also be required to conduct energy audits to find ways to reduce fuel use. Smaller facilities such as schools, commercial buildings, or hotels would not be included in these rules, but would be required to perform tune-ups every two years.

After the rules are published in the Federal Register, the EPA will take comments for 45 days and hearings will be held to assess public opinion. To find more information on the new EPA proposals and details on the public hearings, go to: http://www.epa.gov/airquality/combustion/

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May 4, 2010 at 9:38 AM Leave a comment

EPA Confirms Climate IS Changing

In another display of the sea change that has occurred at the US Environmental Protection Agency under the current administration, a new report was issued yesterday regarding indicators of climate change. The report, entitled “Climate Change Indicators in the United States,” measures 24 separate indicators showing how climate change affects the health and environment of US citizens.

The report represents another step in a series of actions/statements taken on the climate change by the EPA. This EPA has certainly proved to be more active than previous administrations on this issue. They have labeled CO2 as a gas that can be regulated under the Clean Air Act because it is a significant greenhouse gas. New vehicle emissions standards have been established as well as greenhouse gas standards for such vehicles. On April 15, the EPA published the National US Greenhouse Gas Inventory. The Climate/Energy Bill currently working its way through the Senate has been heavily influenced by EPA actions and consultations. And now a report is issued regarding the indicators of climate change.

“These indicators show us that climate change is a very real problem with impacts that are already being seen,” said Gina McCarthy, assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation. “The actions Americans are taking today to save energy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions will help us solve this global challenge.”

The following are some of the key climate change indicators.

– Greenhouse gas emissions from human sources are increasing. From 1990 to 2008, emissions have grown by 14 percent in the US.

– Average temperatures are rising. Seven of the top ten warmest years on record for the continental US have occurred since 1990.

– Tropical cyclone intensity has increased in recent decades. Of the ten most active hurricane seasons, six have happened since the mid 1990’s.

– Sea levels have risen between 1993 and 2008 at twice the rate of the long-term trend.

– Glaciers are melting and their loss of volume has accelerated over the last decade.

– The frequency of heat waves has steadily risen since the 1960’s. The percentage of the US population experiencing heat waves has also increased.

Collecting and analyzing environmental indicators can help in understanding the causes of climate change as well as predict what the future will bring. Understanding this is critical in devising strategies to avoid the worst effects of climate change as well as devising strategies for adapting to a different climate. The EPA’s report primarily describes trends within the United States but also includes global trends to provide a basis for comparison.

The report includes some very sobering statistics of how climate change is affecting a range of things like temperature, precipitation, sea levels, and extreme weather. Knowing these trends now can greatly help in the future as we grade ourselves on efforts that we undertake to address climate change.

For More click HERE

April 28, 2010 at 9:19 AM Leave a comment

Climate bill abruptly put on hold

Reporting from Washington

Two of President Obama’s top domestic policy initiatives — energy and immigration — appeared on the brink of collapse on Saturday after a Republican senator at the center of both efforts threatened to jump ship in a dispute with Democrats over timing.

Sens. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) said Saturday afternoon that they would postpone the introduction of their long-anticipated energy and climate bill, which they had planned to roll out on Monday. The announcement came after their third partner, Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, abruptly pulled out of the effort — at least temporarily.

Graham was irate that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) unexpectedly told fellow Democrats this week that he planned to move an immigration bill in the Senate before the climate bill, an action widely seen as a nod to Latino voters who could make or break Reid’s reelection bid, and which Graham said would cripple the energy bill’s chances.

In a scathing letter on Saturday, Graham blasted Reid and the Obama administration for putting “partisan, political objectives” ahead of the energy bill, and he warned that “moving forward on immigration — in this hurried, panicked manner — is nothing more than a cynical political ploy.”

Graham said he would reengage on the energy bill if Reid backed off his plan to move immigration first. Reid did not directly commit either way, issuing a statement saying immigration and energy “are equally vital to our economic and national security.”

Losing Graham’s support could effectively doom both issues this year. Along with months of work with Kerry and Lieberman on the climate bill, Graham has joined with Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) to draft an immigration bill.

Republican votes are essential to pass either measure, and Graham was seen as the White House’s beachhead in a GOP caucus that has widely opposed Obama’s initiatives.

The Senate calendar is already strained in the wake of the marathon healthcare debate. With midterm elections looming, few analysts expect the Senate to accomplish much after July.

Once a climate bill was introduced, its drafters had planned to send it to the Congressional Budget Office and the Environmental Protection Agency to model its effects on the federal budget, the economy and the environment — a process that was expected to last more than a month. Only after those analyses came back could a bill move toward a vote.

Schumer and Graham do not appear close to producing an immigration bill or lining up the votes for one. But Kerry, Graham and Lieberman had scheduled a morning news conference Monday to announce their plans to limit greenhouse gas emissions and spur domestic energy production. A host of environmental and business leaders were set to fly in to Washington to appear with them.

Kerry postponed the announcement in a news release, saying he and Lieberman “deeply regret that [Graham] feels immigration politics have gotten in the way and for now prevent him from being engaged in the way he intended…. Joe and I will continue to work together and are hopeful that Lindsey will rejoin us once the politics of immigration are resolved.”

The White House appealed for calm, with Obama’s top climate advisor, Carol Browner, saying Obama still supports a bipartisan push on both immigration and energy.

“We have an historic opportunity” on climate, Browner said, adding: “We’re determined to see it happen this year, and we encourage the Senators to continue their important work on behalf of the country and not walk away from the progress that’s already been made.”

Close observers of the climate negotiations were stunned.

“This is a bizarre and crazy implosion,” said Frank Maisano, an energy lobbyist for Bracewell and Giuliani in Washington. “It certainly leaves the process in disarray at a time when we thought they were about ready to move to the next level.”

Opponents of the bill were giddy. Patrick Creighton, a spokesman for the free-market Institute for Energy Research, said: “Chalk this up as a win for the American people.”

Click HERE for article

April 26, 2010 at 9:31 AM Leave a comment

Europe Finds Clean Energy in Trash, but U.S. Lags

The lawyers and engineers who dwell in an elegant enclave here are at peace with the hulking neighbor just over the back fence: a vast energy plant that burns thousands of tons of household garbage and industrial waste, round the clock.

Far cleaner than conventional incinerators, this new type of plant converts local trash into heat and electricity. Dozens of filters catch pollutants, from mercury to dioxin, that would have emerged from its smokestack only a decade ago.

In that time, such plants have become both the mainstay of garbage disposal and a crucial fuel source across Denmark, from wealthy exurbs like Horsholm to Copenhagen’s downtown area. Their use has not only reduced the country’s energy costs and reliance on oil and gas, but also benefited the environment, diminishing the use of landfills and cutting carbon dioxide emissions. The plants run so cleanly that many times more dioxin is now released from home fireplaces and backyard barbecues than from incineration.

With all these innovations, Denmark now regards garbage as a clean alternative fuel rather than a smelly, unsightly problem. And the incinerators, known as waste-to-energy plants, have acquired considerable cachet as communities like Horsholm vie to have them built.

Denmark now has 29 such plants, serving 98 municipalities in a country of 5.5 million people, and 10 more are planned or under construction. Across Europe, there are about 400 plants, with Denmark, Germany and the Netherlands leading the pack in expanding them and building new ones.

By contrast, no new waste-to-energy plants are being planned or built in the United States, the Environmental Protection Agency says — even though the federal government and 24 states now classify waste that is burned this way for energy as a renewable fuel, in many cases eligible for subsidies. There are only 87 trash-burning power plants in the United States, a country of more than 300 million people, and almost all were built at least 15 years ago.

Instead, distant landfills remain the end point for most of the nation’s trash. New York City alone sends 10,500 tons of residential waste each day to landfills in places like Ohio and South Carolina.

“Europe has gotten out ahead with this newest technology,” said Ian A. Bowles, a former Clinton administration official who is now the Massachusetts state secretary of energy.

Still, Mr. Bowles said that as America’s current landfills topped out and pressure to reduce heat-trapping gases grew, Massachusetts and some other states were “actively considering” new waste-to-energy proposals; several existing plants are being expanded. He said he expected resistance all the same in a place where even a wind turbine sets off protests.

Why Americans Are Reluctant

Matt Hale, director of the Office of Resource Conservation and Recovery of the United States Environmental Protection Agency, said the reasons that waste-to-energy plants had not caught on nationally were the relative abundance of cheap landfills in a large country, opposition from state officials who feared the plants could undercut recycling programs and a “negative public perception.” In the United States, individual states and municipalities generally decide what method to use to get rid of their waste.

Still, a 2009 study by the E.P.A. and North Carolina State University scientists came down strongly in favor of waste-to-energy plants over landfills as the most environmentally friendly destination for urban waste that cannot be recycled. Embracing the technology would not only reduce greenhouse gas emissions and local pollution, but also yield copious electricity, it said.

Yet powerful environmental groups have fought the concept passionately. “Incinerators are really the devil,” said Laura Haight, a senior environmental associate with the New York Public Interest Research Group.

Investing in garbage as a green resource is simply perverse when governments should be mandating recycling, she said. “Once you build a waste-to-energy plant, you then have to feed it. Our priority is pushing for zero waste.”

The group has vigorously opposed building a plant in New York City.

Even Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, who has championed green initiatives and ranked Copenhagen’s waste-fueled heating on his list of environmental “best practices,” has shied away from proposing to get one built.

“It is not currently being pursued — not because of the technology, which has advanced, but because of the issue in selecting sites to build incinerators,” said Jason Post, the mayor’s deputy press secretary on environmental issues. “It’s a Nimby issue. It would take years of hearings and reviews.”

Nickolas J. Themelis, a professor of engineering at Columbia University and a waste-to-energy proponent, said America’s resistance to constructing the new plants was economically and environmentally “irresponsible.”

“It’s so irrational; I’ve almost given up with New York,” he said. “It’s like you’re in a village of Hottentots who look up and see an airplane — when everybody else is using airplanes — and they say, ‘No, we won’t do it, it’s too scary.’ ”

Acceptance in Denmark

Attitudes could hardly be more different in Denmark, where plants are placed in the communities they serve, no matter how affluent, so that the heat of burning garbage can be efficiently piped into homes.

Planners take pains to separate residential traffic from trucks delivering garbage, and some of the newest plants are encased in elaborate outer shells that resemble sculptures.

“New buyers are usually O.K. with the plant,” said Hans Rast, president of the homeowners’ association in Horsholm, who cut a distinguished figure in corduroy slacks and a V-neck sweater as he poured coffee in a living room of white couches and Oriental rugs.

“What they like is that they look out and see the forest,” he said. (The living rooms in this enclave of town houses face fields and trees, while the plant is roughly some 400 yards over a back fence that borders the homes’ carports). The lower heating costs don’t hurt, either. Eighty percent of Horsholm’s heat and 20 percent of its electricity come from burning trash.

Many countries that are expanding waste-to-energy capacity, like Denmark and Germany, typically also have the highest recycling rates; only the material that cannot be recycled is burned.

Waste-to-energy plants do involve large upfront expenditures, and tight credit can be a big deterrent. Harrisburg, Pa., has been flirting with bankruptcy because of a $300 million loan it took to reopen and refit an old public incinerator with the new technology.

But hauling trash is expensive, too. New York City paid $307 million last year to export more than four million tons of waste, mostly to landfills in distant states, Mr. Post said. Although the city is trying to move more of its trash by train or barge, much of it travels by truck, with heavy fuel emissions.

In 2009, a small portion of the city’s trash was processed at two 1990-vintage waste-to-energy plants in Newark and Hempstead, N.Y., owned by a private company, Covanta. The city pays $65 a ton for the service — the cheapest available way for New York City to get rid of its trash. Sending garbage to landfills is more expensive: the city’s costliest current method is to haul waste by rail to a landfill in Virginia.

While new, state-of-the-art landfills do collect the methane that emanates from rotting garbage to make electricity, they churn out roughly twice as much climate-warming gas as waste-to-energy plants do for the units of power they produce, the 2009 E.P.A. study found. Methane, the primary warming gas emitted by landfills, is about 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide, the gas released by burning garbage.

The study also concluded that waste-to-energy plants produced lower levels of pollutants than the best landfills did, but nine times the energy. Although new landfills are lined to prevent leaks of toxic substances and often capture methane, the process is highly inefficient, it noted.

Laws Spur New Technology

In Europe, environmental laws have hastened the development of waste-to-energy programs. The European Union severely restricts the creation of new landfill sites, and its nations already have binding commitments to reduce their carbon dioxide emissions by 2012 under the international pact known as the Kyoto Protocol, which was never ratified by the United States.

Garbage cannot easily be placed out of sight, out of mind in Europe’s smaller, densely populated countries, as it so often is in the United States. Many of the 87 waste-to-energy plants in the United States are in densely populated areas like Long Island and Cape Cod.

While these plants are generally two decades old, many have been progressively retrofitted with new pollution filters, though few produce both heat and power like the newest Danish versions.

In Horsholm only 4 percent of waste now goes to landfills, and 1 percent (chemicals, paints and some electronic equipment) is consigned to “special disposal” in places like secure storage vaults in an abandoned salt mine in Germany. Sixty-one percent of the town’s waste is recycled and 34 percent is incinerated at waste-to-energy plants.

From a pollution perspective, today’s energy-generating incinerators have little in common with the smoke-belching models of the past. They have arrays of newly developed filters and scrubbers to capture the offending chemicals — hydrochloric acid, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, dioxins, furans and heavy metals — as well as small particulates.

Emissions from the plants in all categories have been reduced to just 10 to 20 percent of levels allowed under the European Union’s strict environmental standards for air and water discharges.

At the end of the incineration process, the extracted acids, heavy metals and gypsum are sold for use in manufacturing or construction. Small amounts of highly concentrated toxic substances, forming a paste, are shipped to one of two warehouses for highly hazardous materials, in the Norwegian fjords and in a used salt mine in Germany.

“The hazardous elements are concentrated and handled with care rather than dispersed as they would be in a landfill,” said Ivar Green-Paulsen, general manager of the Vestforbraending plant in Copenhagen, the country’s largest.

In Denmark, local governments run trash collection as well as the incinerators and recycling centers, and laws and financial incentives ensure that recyclable materials are not burned. (In the United States most waste-to-energy plants are private ventures.) Communities may drop recyclable waste at recycling centers free of charge, but must pay to have garbage incinerated.

At Vestforbraending, trucks stop on scales for weighing and payment before dumping their contents. The trash is randomly searched for recyclable material, with heavy fines for offenders.

The homeowners’ association in Horsholm has raised what its president, Mr. Rast, called “minor issues” with the plant, like a bright light on the chimney that shone into some bedrooms, and occasional truck noise. But mostly, he said, it is a respected silent neighbor, producing no noticeable odors.

The plant, owned by five adjacent communities, has even proved popular in a conservative region with Denmark’s highest per-capita income. Morten Slotved, 40, Horsholm’s mayor, is trying to expand it. “Constituents like it because it decreases heating costs and raises home values,” he said with a smile. “I’d like another furnace.”

Click HERE for Article

April 16, 2010 at 9:19 AM Leave a comment

White House finalizing rules to cut car emissions

The Environmental Protection Agency and the Transportation Department sent the final rules this week to the White House’s Office of Management and Budget, according to a notice posted on the OMB website.

The higher mileage requirements will reduce U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by 900 million metric tons and save 1.8 billion barrels of oil over the life of vehicles built during the 2012-2016 model years, according to the EPA.

The projected savings over the life of the plan amounts to about four months of current fuel consumption in the United States, the biggest petroleum consumer, with demand at close to 19 million barrels per day.

The rules would aid the Obama administration’s efforts to cut U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, especially if Congress fails to pass legislation to fight global warming.

The vehicle emissions standards will be phased in starting with the 2012 model year, raising fuel economy to an average 35.5 miles per gallon by the time the 2016 models are ready — up 42 percent from the current 25 miles per gallon.

Lower U.S. gasoline consumption could make more crude supplies available in the world market, which in turn could put downward pressure on oil prices.

Phil Flynn, an analyst with PFGBest Research in Chicago, said the new standards will definitely lower U.S. oil demand, but that could be offset with higher fuel use in other countries.

“We can save it here, but are these cars going to be marketable in China, where all the demand growth is going to come from?” he asked.

The rules follow an EPA finding that greenhouse gas emissions from new vehicles contribute to air pollution, a danger to public health.

The EPA has come under attack from many U.S. lawmakers and industries for working independently on regulations that would slash greenhouse gas emissions from power plants, oil refineries and factories. Legislation is pending in Congress to stop the EPA from issuing broader emissions-cutting regulations.

Many accuse the EPA to trying to get around Congress, where legislation that would cap and then slowly reduce U.S. emissions blamed for global warming has been bogged down. As lawmakers deal with a massive healthcare bill and financial reform, it becomes more unlikely Congress will be able to approve a final climate change bill this year.

But automakers support the separate vehicle regulations because it would create the first national standard for controlling car and truck emissions, instead of having state-by-state regulation.

Many new vehicles, especially hybrid cars, already meet or exceed the planned standards.

The government must notify automakers by March 31 of the higher fuel efficiency for the 2012 model years.

To meet the new standard, the sticker price on a car or truck would rise by an average $1,300 in 2016 compared to current vehicle costs, the EPA said. However, a driver would save about $2,800 over the life of a vehicle through fuel costs.

For Article click HERE

March 12, 2010 at 10:23 AM Leave a comment

CEOs seek firm signal on climate change policy

The chief executives of some of the biggest companies in the power, raw materials and oil businesses also said they broadly support a carbon cap-and-trade program.

Cap-and-trade was the centerpiece of a climate bill passed by the House of Representatives last year, but senators are not expected to back such a plan, which would limit greenhouse gas emissions and let companies trade permits to emit carbon.

“We are a very keen proponent of market-based energy legislation,” Royal Dutch Shell Plc Chief Executive Peter Voser said at a Wall Street Journal conference in Santa Barbara, California.

He said the industry needs “certainty on the carbon price, certainty on legislation.”

“I am still very hopeful we’ll get something passed,” Voser said. “I am skeptical (about) this year.”

The head of the largest U.S. producer of power from burning coal, American Electric Power Co Inc, also said a climate bill was unlikely this year.

But AEP CEO Michael Morris told the conference that a climate policy was needed to support investment in technologies that can reduce the environmental impact of burning coal, such as carbon capture and storage.

“We need this done, America needs to lead the world,” Morris said.

A climate bill that would help reduce U.S. emissions, the highest in the developed world, has stalled in the Senate due to opposition from lawmakers representing coal and oil states. Since Democrats lost their Senate supermajority after an election in Massachusetts, its prospects have worsened.

Tom Albanese, chief executive of mining conglomerate Rio Tinto, said his company typically does long-term planning for the mines, as much as 30 years ahead.

“For us to have some assurance that the market’s going to be there, we need to begin to create some carbon pricing signals sooner rather than later,” he said.

Such pricing would allow companies to redirect spending and provide less investment uncertainty, he added.

“Overall, on balance, I would say cap-and-trade would be our preferred view,” Albanese said.

Lewis Hay, chief executive of power utility FPL Group Inc, said U.S. utilities need to know what climate-change legislation would look like before they can invest more in developing nuclear and renewable power sources.

A lack of U.S. policy and the uncertainty surrounding it “puts a lot of investment dollars on the sidelines,” Hay said, adding that the economics surrounding it need to be clear.

“Are we going to have a price on carbon, and if so, what’s it going to be?,” he wondered.

Another system now being debated is a cap-and-dividend, under which similarly strict limits would be placed on carbon emissions, but instead of focusing on smokestacks, it would aim the cap at upstream operations, such as coal and oil companies and importers.

The “dividend” would be in the form of monthly checks to consumers to help ease the cost of higher energy prices and without the complicated trading of cap-and-trade.

In the absence of a climate bill, President Barack Obama has pushed the Environmental Protection Agency to begin regulating gases blamed for warming the planet.

Many companies oppose EPA regulation of greenhouse gases, and some hope to block it.

U.S. coal producer Peabody Energy Corp, which is suing the EPA, said incentives were needed to accelerate technology, not “draconian” regulations.

“We believe in a technology pull and not a command-and-control regulatory push in order to make changes to the energy infrastructure,” CEO Gregory Boyce said.

Click HERE for source

March 5, 2010 at 2:53 PM Leave a comment

100 Percent of Fish in U.S. Streams Found Contaminated with Mercury

In a new study conducted by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), every single fish tested from 291 freshwater streams across the United States was found to be contaminated with mercury.

“This study shows just how widespread mercury pollution has become in our air, watersheds and many of our fish in freshwater streams,” said Interior Secretary Ken Salazar.

Mercury is a potent neurotoxin that builds up in the food chain at ever higher concentrations in predators such as large fish and humans. It is especially damaging to the developing nervous systems of fetuses and children, but can have severe effects on adults, as well. The pollutant enters the environment almost wholly as atmospheric emissions from industrial processes, primarily the burning of coal for electricity. It then spreads across the plant and settles back to the surface, eventually concentrating in rivers, lakes and oceans, where it enters the aquatic food chain.

The number one cause of human mercury poisoning in the United States is the consumption of fish and shellfish.

Researchers tested the water, sediment and fish of the 291 streams between 1998 and 2005. Fish tested were mostly larger species near the top of the food chain, such as largemouth bass.

All fish were contaminated with mercury, more than 66 percent of them at levels higher than those set by the Environmental Protection agency as a “level of concern for fish-eating mammals,” according to Reuters. More than 25 percent of the fish were contaminated at levels higher than those set as the threshold for human consumption.

For full article click HERE

March 5, 2010 at 2:46 PM Leave a comment

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