Two Trump Administration Environmental Priorities to Help the "Rust Belt"

There is a lot of hyperbole regarding President-Elect Trump's potential environmental agenda. During the campaign there was also a lot made about issues of employment and opportunity in the "Rust Belt" (a term I personally do no like).  Here are two suggestions of how the incoming Trump Administration could bring greater opportunity to the Rust Belt without controversial roll backs of environmental standards.   

  1. Bring Logic to Air Quality Standards and Regulations
  2. Moonshot on Brownfield Redevelopment

Bring Logic to Air Quality Standards and Regulations 

Midwestern states with large populations and a heavy manufacturing base are hit particularly hard by tightening air quality standards for ozone and small particulate matter (p.m. 2.5).  On October 1, 2015, EPA strengthened the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) for ground-level ozone to 70 parts per billion (ppb).  EPA will designate areas in late 2017 based on monitoring data as to whether they meet the ozone standard ("Attainment Areas") or do not meet the standard ("Non-Attainment Areas"). States will have until at least 2020 to achieve compliance with the revised standards. 

As the adjacent map demonstrates, Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania (all key states to Trump's victory) will have significant portions of the state designated as non-attainment areas.  The designations will result in more regulation and restrictions on economic growth.

The good news is that U.S. EPA projects that most areas will be able to reach attainment of the new standards as a result of already promulgated federal regulations for gasoline, autos, power plants, and other sources of emissions. U.S. EPA projects that these already promulgated regulations will bring all but 14 of the 241 counties that currently don't meet the 70 ppb ozone standard into attainment.  However, the bad news is that these reductions will not be achieved until 2025, five years past the ozone deadline.  Furthermore, some Members of Congress are trying to block the federal regulations.

As discussed in a recent Congressional Research Service report on the new ozone standard, some while Members in Congress have objected to the federal standards for motor vehicles, fuels, power plants, and other sources.  However, the net effect of repealing them would be to shift the burden of attaining the ozone NAAQS more squarely in the direction of state and local governments. As detailed in prior posts (here and here), the states have very little ability to improve air quality through state specific regulations under required emission reduction plans (State Implementation Plans- SIPs) to meet the NAAQS.  The federal regulations are far more cost effective.

It's not just new regulations that will hamper economic growth in non-attainment areas, it is also mandated restrictions on economic growth.  Under the Clear Air Act, businesses looking to expand or relocate must pay for more costly emission controls in non-attainment areas.  Also, in non-attainment areas any increase in air emissions associated with a business expansion must be offset by reductions from existing businesses before a permit can be issued that allows the expansion to go forward (i.e. "Offsets").  These requirements push businesses to avoid non-attainment areas reducing opportunities for economic expansion.  

A Trump Administration could bring more logic to this regulatory mish mash by resisting calls to roll back the more cost effective federal regulations and by adjusting attainment deadlines to give states more time to take full advantage of federal regulations already on the books. Such actions would also avoid promulgation of costly new local air regulations that will largely do very little to improve air quality.  

Moonshot on Brownfield Redevelopment

A major focus during the campaign was how to improve our urban centers- finding ways to attract development and jobs to our neglected cities.  A highly effective means of giving a boost to our inner cities would be to energize U.S. EPA's brownfield program as well as other brownfield incentives. 

As detailed in a four part series on this blog, brownfields lead to significant decay, social injustice and loss of opportunity (i.e. jobs).  The cost for businesses to expand in our urban centers is often complicated by the cost to cleanup pre-existing contamination.  Those costs are avoided by moving out of the City and developing on greenfields instead.

While brownfield programs have been successful, they have been wholly inadequate to make a significant difference.  If part of the Trump Administration's massive infrastructure program was directed toward brownfield redevelopment, this could be a major shot in the arm promoting capital investment, cleaning up sites that pose public health issues and creating more jobs for those living in the inner city.  

After Lengthy Delay EPA Sets Ozone Standard at 70 ppb

As predicted last year in a prior blog post, EPA announced today that it would revise the current ozone standard of 75 ppb downward to 70 ppb. EPA had been contemplating a revised standard between 70 ppb and as low as 60 ppb.  

Under the Clean Air Act, EPA is required to review the ozone standard every five years.  The current 75 ppb standard was established in 2008.  The EPA was required to review the 2008 ozone standard by March 12, 2013.

President Obama had sharply criticized the 75 ppb standard established by President Bush as not following science.  After six years, the Obama Administration finally revised the standard.  In April 2014, after multiple delays by EPA, the U.S. District Court of the Northern District of California ordered the EPA to issue a final ozone standard by October 1, 2015.   

As previously discussed in a prior post (EPA's Decision to Deny Ozone Petition Based on Reality), the delays in establishing the ozone standard have been very beneficial to the states and industry. There are significant federal regulations that mandate cuts in emissions that are being phased in over time.  These federal regulations are much more effective in reducing ozone levels than local controls that can be imposed by the states.  The delays have allowed more time for the federal regulations to take effect.

As noted in an article on POWER, the 70 ppb will likely be relief to many in the power sector who thought the standard could be lower.   As quoted in the Wall Street Journal, the American Lung Association was somewhat critical of the final standard:

“The level chosen, of 70 parts per billion, simply does not reflect what the science shows is necessary to truly protect public health,” said Harold Wimmer, president and CEO of the American Lung Association, one of the public-health groups that sued the EPA to issue the standard by Oct. 1. “Nonetheless, the standard announced today offers significantly greater protection than the previous, outdated standard.”

Ozone Standard in Ohio

Back in March of this year, Ohio EPA provided comments on U.S. EPA proposed ozone standard and asserted there was no scientific basis to lower the standard below 75 ppb.  

"Ohio EPA is unaware of any new study or scientific evidence that compels a change to the existing standard.  When setting the 2008 standard, U.S. EPA had before it a largely similar set of studies as are before U.S. EPA now.  In 2008, U.S. EPA considered all available information, examining the potential for setting the standard as low as .060 ppm, but nevertheless chose .075 ppm.  Just as in 2008, Ohio EPA does not see a clear-cut basis for arriving at the conclusion of setting a significantly lower standard."

Based on air quality data from 2012 through 2014, two of the three areas in Ohio designated as nonattaintment are now achieving the 75 ppb standard.  The last area that remains in nonattainment is entitled to a one year extension.

As Ohio has nearly achieved compliance with the 2008 standard, it will now need to submit new plans to reduce ozone levels further. 

EPA's Long Anticipated Ozone Decision

On November 25th, U.S. EPA finally issued the long anticipated proposal to reduce the ozone standard.  The EPA is proposing to revise both the primary and secondary standards to a level within the range of 65 parts per billion (ppb) to 70 ppb.  The current (2008) ozone standard is 75 ppb.  Under the Clean Air Act, EPA is required to re-evaluate the ozone standard every five years.

EPA will also accept public comment on retaining the current standard or lowering the standard to 60 ppb.  Industry will strongly support retention of the current standard while environmental groups will argue for a reduction as low as possible. 

EPA will take comment on the proposal for 90 days after it is published in the Federal Register and will hold three public hearings. It plans to issue a final decision by Oct. 1, 2015.  

EPA has delayed issuance of a revised standard on multiple occasions, must recently in September of 2011 (see prior post).  Those delays have been beneficial because they have allowed for existing emission reduction regulations to take effect.  The longer EPA waits to finalize the new standard, the more time existing regulations have to take full effect.

Given the delays and controversy around lowering the standard, it appears very likely EPA will settle on a new standard of 70 ppb.  Maintaining the current standard would be very difficult given the EPA's science board has recommended further reductions.  However, going any lower than 70 ppb would result is too severe of emission reductions. 

Impact on Ohio

Ohio's major metropolitan areas have always faced challenges in meeting federal ozone standards. It will be no different this time around (EPA's national chart shows a long of red and orange dots in Ohio).  

The challenge facing the states is that federal regulations have been far more effective in reducing ozone compared with state or local regulations.  Each time EPA tightens the standard, the more difficult it becomes to find new reductions to lower ozone levels further. 

While reductions are hard to come by, the switch from coal to natural gas will have a huge impact on ozone levels.  The closure of multiple coal-fired power plants will lead to large reductions in ozone precursors (NOx).  While the switch to natural gas should help in achieving new ozone standards, it will still be very difficult for Ohio to achieve the necessary reductions.

In an article in the Cleveland Plain Dealer, Ohio GOP members expressed concern as to the impact of a lowered ozone standard on the economy:

House Speaker John Boehner and other GOP lawmakers from Ohio were unhappy with the EPA proposal.

Ohio Sen. Rob Portman fears the rule "will have a negative impact on job creation in the state of Ohio," his spokeswoman said, while Boehner predicted it could "slash family budgets by more than $1,500 per year, reduce GDP by trillions and cost our economy millions of jobs."

Wadsworth Republican Rep. Jim Renacci predicted it would lead to higher utility costs. He pledged "to rein in the EPA to ensure that its overreaching regulations do not crush job creation and increase costs for Ohioans."

"Significant portions of the country, including Ohio, are still struggling to meet the EPA's 2008 guidelines, so moving the goalposts now will only lead to more uncertainty and higher compliance costs, which will ultimately be passed onto the consumer," said a statement from Renacci.

Once again, Ohio finds itself at the center of the challenge to balance air quality improvements with economic welfare.
 

 

EPA's Decision to Deny Ozone Petition Based in Reality

Combating ozone pollution is really about time.  When I was back at Ohio EPA, we had countless meeting discussing how Ohio could (or whether it could) accelerate progress dramatically in reducing ozone pollution.  During that time we would discuss "on-the-books controls" versus new state initiatives.  

"On-the-book controls" referred to a suite of federal air pollution regulations that were put in place to help combat air pollution, including ozone.  The regulations target the two largest contributors to ozone pollution-vehicles and power plants.  The "on-the-books controls" include:

All of these federal air regulations will continue to be phased in over time greatly reducing the precursors that lead to the creation of ozone (smog). The full benefit of some of these major regulations won't be seen for another 15 years as the vehicle fleet turns over. In addition, CSAPR has just emerged from litigation and the full reductions have not taken place.

What we learned in our discussions eight years ago was that the state's had almost no ability to significantly reduce ozone pollution beyond what would be attributable to these federal regulations. At the time, the deadlines for compliance simply didn't match up with the process for phasing in the federal regulations.  The states needed time.  

Flash forward almost 8 years later and it appears those federal regulations are having a dramatic effect on reducing ozone.  The picture above is taken from a story on Gizmodo regarding improvements to air quality in the last decade.  (Click here to see the very cool video showing reductions).

EPA Denies Request for Redesignation of Attainment Areas for Ozone Standard

On August 14, 2014, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy denied the 2013 Sierra Club petition that requested U.S. EPA to redesignate as nonattainment 57 areas for violations the 2008 national ambient air quality standards (NAAQS) of ozone.  

Under EPA regulations, ozone levels are based on a three year average of the 8-hour ozone concentration.  The concentrations are averaged because weather plays an important role in the creation of ozone (i.e. hot summers = more ozone).  The averaging is intended to smooth out the variations that may occur due to weather.  

In the Administrator's McCarthy's letter denying the petition, she says one of the reason for the denial is to give the states more time.  She specifically cites forthcoming reductions due to federal regulations already in place.  

EPA states that emissions of the ozone precursors are expected to decline significantly:

  • NOx is expected to decline by 29 percent from 2011 through 2018; and
  • VOCs are expected to decline by 10 percent from 2011 through 2018

(Click here for EPA's extended response setting forth the reasons for denying the petition)

EPA's decision to deny the petition was sharply criticized by environmental groups.  However, redesignation to nonattainment would force the states to adopt additional reductions beyond these federal "on-the-books" controls.  Those state regulations are no where near as cost effective at reducing ozone pollution and would likely not significantly improve air quality.

EPA decision to give time to the states to allow federal regulations to take hold is based upon practical reality.  The last decade has shown dramatic improvements.  More reductions are locked in and the states would have little ability to accelerate those improvements.

 

Is U.S. EPA Finally Moving Toward a Stricter Ozone Standard

The Obama Administrative continues to be heavily criticized by industry for its aggressive development of greenhouse gas regulations.  In contrast to the dizzying pace of new greenhouse gas regulations stands finalization of a new ozone standard...something the President promised to do after being elected to his first term. 

Under the Clean Air Act, EPA is required to review the ozone standard every five years. In 2008, the Bush Administration set the new ozone limit at 75 parts per billion (ppb). That was tighter than the existing regulations, but considerably weaker than the 60 to 70 ppb recommended by the Clean Air Science Advisory Committee (CASAC- a science advisory panel which advises EPA in settings National Ambient Air Quality Standards).

Litigation ensued over the Bush standard. However, a cease fire was called when the Obama Administration took office and called the 75 ppb indefensible. The EPA promised to revisit the standard and set it somewhere between the 60 to 70 ppb recommended by CASAC.

After two prior deadlines passed without a new standard, the Administration identified August of 2012 as the final date.  That date came and the Administration again said they would delay final standards until 2013.  Yet nothing happened last year.  Now, it appears the Administration may be making progress toward finalizing the standard.

On February 3rd, EPA release two reports-  its draft risk and exposure assessment and the Second External Review Policy Assessment for the New Ozone Standard.  Both of these reports confirm what was known five years ago-  the recommendation is to lower the standard to somewhere between 60 to 70 ppb.  

Clearly the Administration still has cold feet about finalizing a revised standard.  In fact, we have now gone more than five years since a review of the old standard.  

This is all good news to State's like Ohio with a heavy manufacturing base, larger populations and fossil fuel reliant power base.  As discussed in my last post on this topic, the longer the delay the more time existing federal regulations have to take effect to reduce ozone precursors.  In reality, the States have very little ability to significantly reduce ozone pollution through state specific regulation.

The lengthy delay may mean that ozone levels will be reduced down to where a 70 ppb standard would be realistically attainable, something that seemed impossible even five years ago. 

U.S. EPA Proposes New P.M. 2.5 Federal Air Quality Standard

Under increasing pressure from the Courts, EPA announced on June 14th its proposed revision to the federal air quality standard for fine particles (microns less than 2.5).  The last standard was 15 ug/m3 which was established in 1997.  EPA is now proposing to lower the standard somewhere between 12 and 13 ug/m3. 

Back in 2009, the Court overturned EPA's proposal to keep the standard at 15 ug/m3.  Since that time various groups have been trying to force EPA to promulgate a new standard.

In May, the District Court of Columbia had granted a motion for preliminary injunction sought by the American Lung Association, other environmental groups and the States.  The case is American Lung Association et al. v. EPA, No. 1:12-cv-00243-RLW (D.D.C.).  The order resulted in EPA accelerating release of its proposed standard.

Background on Federal Air Quality Standards (National Ambient Air Qulity Standards- NAAQS)

Counties that fail to meet the federal air quality standard are designated "non-attainment."  Under the Clean Air Act, non-attainment areas face more difficult air permitting requirements for larger air sources which can deter economic development. 

In addition, each state must develop a plan (called a "State Implementation Plan" - SIP) to meet the federal standards.  The SIP must demonstrate that a mix of federal and state air pollution regulations will allow each of the counties in the state to meet the standard.  The SIP process often results in state's implementing new pollution control requirements which increase compliance costs.

States that fail to meet the deadline for attaining the standards face sanctions from EPA. 

Ohio's Progress in Meeting the PM 2.5 Standard

Due to its relatively high population and manufacturing base, Ohio has always faced challenges in meeting air quality standards.  Ohio still has areas that have failed to properly demonstrate compliance with the 1997 fine partcle standard. 

Below a is chart from a presenation by Ohio EPA from March which shows current monitoring of air quality in the major cities in Ohio:

It is worth noting that an improvement of 1 ug/m3 is quite significant. 

The Chart shows Ohio's air quality is improving.  However, even if EPA picks the high end of the range and sets the new standard at 13 ug/m3, the State will  have a number of counties designated as non-attainment areas. 

U.S. EPA says they will make designations of counties in December 2014 with non-attainment designations will become legally effective in early 2015.  States will be given until 2020 to comply with the standard.

National Progress in Meeting the Standard Hinges on Proposed EPA Rules

U.S. EPA projects that only a couple of counties will be out of attainment by 2020. 

However, this projection is based upon a major assumption- all currently proposed federal air pollution rules remain effective.  Many of these rules are highly controversial and face legal as well as political challenges. The federal rules EPA considered in place for purpose of the modeling  include: the Cross State Air Pollution Rule (power plans), the Mercury and AIr Toxics Standard (power plants) and various emissions standards for vehicles, aircraft, locomotives and ships.

 

As Dust Settles After Ozone Announcement the States Emerge as the Big Winners

The Obama Administration had already delayed issuance of a revised ozone standard three times.  EPA had said repeatedly that it would it would finally promulgate the new standard by this  August.  Then last week, President Obama shocked many by announcing that EPA would not issue a new ozone standard until 2013.

A Little History on Ozone

Under the Clean Air Act, EPA is required to review the ozone standard every five years.   In 2008, the Bush Administration set the new ozone limit at 75 parts per billion (ppb). That was tighter than the existing regulations, but considerably weaker than the 60 to 70 ppb recommended  by the Clean Air Science Advisory Committee (CASAC- a science advisory panel which advises EPA in settings National Ambient Air Quality Standards).

Litigation ensued over the Bush standard.  However, a cease fire was called when the Obama Administration took office and called the 75 ppb indefensible.  The EPA promised to revisit the standard and set it somewhere between the 60 to 70 ppb recommended by CASAC.

Since EPA made its early pronouncements, the economy has not improved causing the EPA to delay issuance of a new standard on three different occasions.  The final arbitrary deadline was set for this August to finally announce the new standard.  But on the eve of the announcement, the Obama Administration issued a statement that it would wait until 2013 to review the standard.

Internet Blisters with Commentary

The media and internet has been awash in debate regarding the delay in the ozone standard.   Time wrote a piece titled "Is President Obama Bad for the Environment."  The backlash from environmental groups and clean air advocates has been dramatic. Industry has heralded the decision.  Here is a sampling from the various perspectives:

  • MoveOn.org said they don't know how they can support the President's re-election after such an announcement. 
  • Sierra Club- "Had the EPA smog pollution regulations come into effect as anticipated, it would have prevented 12,000 deaths, 5,300 heart attacks, and tens of thousands of asthma attacks.  Its time we stop pitting the false promise of jobs from a desperate-albeit wealthy and powerful-industry against the best interests of the American People."
  • National Petrochemical & Refiners Association- "President Obama acted in the best interests of the American people last Friday when he blocked the Environmental Protection Agency from imposing unrealistic, unjustified and unneeded new ozone standards on our nation. The president should now follow up by stopping EPA from imposing other extreme regulations that will cost our economy billions of dollars and wipe out millions of American jobs, without providing any significant environmental benefits."
  • Business Roundtable-  Calls the ozone standard the single most expensive environmental regulation in U.S. History.  In an op-ed piece, Governor Engler says that 85% of U.S. counties would be in "nonattainment" with the new standard triggering a cascade of federal and state controls.  EPA estimates the new standards could cost between $20 to $90 billion annually.

For some additional perspectives on both sides of the debate I would recommend reviewing the National Law Journal's Energy & Environment Blog- "Sizing Up Obama's Ozone Standard Delay"

Implications for Ohio

In my former role as Director of Ohio EPA, I got to see first hand how the state's dealt with meeting new federal air quality standards, including the ozone standard.  From that experience I concur with the business groups who were concerned with the new standard's impacts on a struggling economy.  This is particularly true for states like Ohio with high population, heavy reliance on manufacturing and where coal is the main source of power generation.

A "nonattainment" designation for a metropolitan area is a massive impediment to economic development.  Particularly metropolitan areas that rely on a growing manufacturing base to attract new jobs.   Air permitting requirements under nonattainment New Source Review places these areas at a competitive disadvantage to areas that meet the standard. 

Even more importantly, I learned that the states, in reality, have far less ability to institute regulations that reduce smog then the federal EPA.  This is because much of the nonattainment problem is attributable to interstate pollution.  Also, much of it comes from vehicles for which there is very little ability to reduce emissions through state regulation. The last decade has demonstrated that federal regulations directed at vehicles and interstate pollution are much more effective in reducing ozone levels than negligible benefits achieved through state regulation.

Existing Federal Regulations Will Continue to Reap Clean Air Benefits

While new state air pollution regulations have little impact in improving air quality, federal regulations have resulted in dramatic improvements.  Areas that five years ago were thought never to reach attainment with the old 1997 ozone standard (like Cleveland) have been able to reach attainment.

Here is a chart of exceedences of the ozone standard in Ohio going back to 2000.  Recently, there are no exceedences of the old 1-hr standard (.0125 ppm) and very few of the 1997 8-hr standard. Over the last five years the major benefits of the federal air regulations discussed above have been realized.

However, what is not shown is the number of exceedences that would occur under a 8-hr standard within the CASAC range of .070 to .060 ppm.  It would be pretty dramatic.

These existing federal regulations will continue to improve air quality because they are phased in over time.  These regulations include:

All of these federal air regulations will continue to be phased in greatly reducing the precursors that lead to the creation of ozone (smog). The full benefit of some of these major regulations won't be seen for another 20 years as the vehicle fleet turns over.  In addition,  CSAPR is just on the books and will dramatically reduce power plant pollution.

Bottomline- Air Quality Improves While States Get Some Breathing Room

Even though the ozone standard will not be revised until 2013, air quality will continue to  improve as a result of these major federal air quality regulations.  Meanwhile, the states will not be saddled with non-attainment designations under a new standard during a tough economic period. 

When the ozone standard is revised, the States will have benefited from the greater reductions achieved from these federal regulations. These air quality benefits will make it much more realistic that the states can achieve the new standard. 

 

EPA Will Likely Propose a 70 ppb Ozone Standard

The Obama Administration, after stopping the implementation of the Bush-era ozone standard, has delayed choosing a revised standard three times.  These delays had given hope that EPA may wait to choose a revised standard until after the election. 

In conversations with representatives for industry most impacted by the revised ozone standards, they told me they thought the Administration was positioning itself to delay implementation for an extended period of time.  Now, it appears EPA is completing the final steps toward selection of a revised standard.  On July 26th, EPA released the following statement:

Administrator Jackson is fully committed to finalizing EPA's reconsideration of the Clean Air Act health standard for ground level ozone. That reconsideration is currently going through interagency review led by OMB. Following completion of this final step, EPA will finalize its reconsideration, but will not issue the final rule on July 29th, the date the agency had intended. We look forward to finalizing this standard shortly. A new ozone standard will be based on the best science and meet the obligation established under the Clean Air Act to protect the health of the American people. In implementing this new standard, EPA will use the long-standing flexibility in the Clean Air Act to consider costs, jobs and the economy.

Background on EPA's Selection of a Revised Ozone Standard

The last time the ozone standard was revised was in 1997.  The 1997 standard was 84 parts per billion (ppb).  The Clean Air Act mandates review of federal air quality standards every five years. 

Back in 2006, the Clean Air Science Advisory Committee (CASAC)- EPA's science advisory panel- recommended an ozone standard between 60 and 70 ppb after reviewing the latest studies.  In a very controversial move, Bush's EPA Administrator- Stephen Johnson- chose to set it at 75 ppb instead of a standard in the range recommended by CASAC.

Soon after the election, Obama's EPA Administrator, Lisa Jackson, announced the Agency was delaying implementation of the 75 ppb standard and revisiting the standard itself.  Since its initial announcement, EPA has delay taking action three separate times.

Costs Cannot Be Considered

The ozone standard is seen by many as the most costly regulatory decision EPA implements.  Total  cost of compliance with the Bush-era standard was estimated at roughly $8 billion.  A revised standard between 60 ppb-70 ppb will be much higher.  Its important to remember the the Supreme Court has already ruled that EPA cannot consider cost in selecting a standard (ATA v. Whitman).

Delays Already Have Avoided Implementation During Economic Downturn

 We probably have already forgotten the schedule for implementation of the proposed 2008 ozone standard (75 ppb).  Final designations were supposed to occur in March 2010.

Final designations would have immediately implemented tough new restrictions for growth in areas that didn't meet the standard.

Using EPA's 2008 proposed schedule as a guide, if EPA acts in August 2011 it is likely that final designations won't be effective until August 2013 or perhaps even longer.  Attainment deadlines pushing out to 2018-2035.

All Signs Point to a 70 ppb Ozone Standard

EPA's own statements point to a standard lower than 75 ppb.  Let's look at two of the sentences in EPA's recent announcement. I have bolded the key language:

  1. A new ozone standard will be based on the best science; and
  2. In implementing this new standard, EPA will use the long-standing flexibility in the Clean Air Act to consider costs, jobs and the economy;

First, EPA states it will select a standard based on the "best science."  As soon as EPA stopped the implementation of the Bush-era 75 ppb standard, it blasted the standard as not based on science.  EPA has boxed itself in a corner and must select a standard in the range recommended by CASAC of between 60 ppb - 70 ppb.

Second, EPA comments show it is already bracing for the backlash that will ensue by selecting a lower standard.  EPA will certainly take heat for imposing a very costly new regulation during a tough economy.  Therefore, it already sending a signal that will will try to ease the pain by "considering costs" when "implementing this new standard."  This could mean a longer implementation or extended compliance deadlines.

On July 13th, Administrator Jackson sent a letter to Senator Carper regarding the 2008 Bush era ozone standard.  This letter is yet another indication EPA will select a standard between 60 ppb to 70 ppb.  In her letter the Administrator basically states the 75 ppb standard was not legally defensible because of CASAC's recommendation. 

Based on its actions stopping the implementation of the 2008 proposed ozone standard, EPA has no choice but to select a standard within the rage recommended by CASAC.  Given the state of the economy, EPA also has no choice but to select a standard within that range that will have least economic impact- 70 ppb.   

 

EPA's Delay Tactic Avoids Real Change

On Monday, EPA announced it was delaying its proposed rules that would apply greenhouse gas emission standards to power plants. EPA said it would push the proposal back from July to September to allow more time to consider comments. EPA still expects to finalize the rule by May 2012.  

Its no secret that EPA regulations have been the focus of intense scrutiny due to the costs and the potential impacts on the country's struggling economic recovery.  Over the last several months EPA has delayed rule after rule.  The delays include:

  • Greenhouse gas rules for power plants (NSPS)
  • Industrial/Commercial boiler rule (MACT)
  • Ozone Federal Air Quality Standards (NAAQS)
  • Fine Particle Air Quality Standards (NAAQS)

Each time EPA delays one of the major rules, it claims the delay is to consider more information or to allow for more public comment.  Yet the frequency of the announced delays coupled with the timing suggests the Obama Administration is concerned with protecting the fragile economic recovery or it is simply responding to intense political pressure.

Debate Pitting Economy Versus the Environment Intensifies

EPA's regulatory actions are under intense pressure on Capitol Hill.  Republicans and some conservative Democrats have targeted the EPA rules, in particular those that impact power plants due to their potential to raise energy prices or de-rail the recovery. 

While the announced delays may temporarily reduce the pressure on the Agency, in reality the delays have done nothing to cool down the rhetoric used on both sides.  For example, Lisa Jackson testified before the Senate and disparaged lobbyists who had advocated against the new EPA rules:

“While Americans across the country suffer from this pollution, special interests who are trying to gut long-standing public health protections are now going so far as to claim that these pollutants aren't even harmful. These myths are being perpetrated by some of the same lobbyists who have in the past testified before Congress about the importance of reducing mercury and particulate matter. Now on behalf of their clients, they're saying the exact opposite.”

On the other side, AEP highlighted potential impacts to the economy last week by announcing the potential closure of a number of power plants and huge new compliance costs if the EPA rules moved forward.  AEP said it would retire nearly 6,000 megawatts (MW) of coal-fueled power generation and switch to natural gas at many of its plants at an estimated cost of $6 billion to $8 billion by the end of the decade.This from a Press Release issued by AEP:

"We have worked for months to develop a compliance plan that will mitigate the impact of these rules for our customers and preserve jobs, but because of the unrealistic compliance timelines in the EPA proposals, we will have to prematurely shut down nearly 25 percent of our current coal-fueled generating capacity, cut hundreds of good power plant jobs, and invest billions of dollars in capital to retire, retrofit and replace coal-fueled power plants. The sudden increase in electricity rates and impacts on state economies will be significant at a time when people and states are still struggling,” said Michael G. Morris, AEP chairman and chief executive officer.

EPA Delays Are Simply a Pyrrhic Victory

Each time EPA announces a delay, the Agency claims it will take a second look at its proposals.  Yet, EPA seems very unlikely to make any fundamental changes.  While some may view the announced delays as victories, it is only so long before either the rules will be released by EPA or  EPA will be compelled by the courts to act. 

A popular political strategy has been to attack the science behind EPA's proposals in hopes of deflecting the proposal entirely.  This "all or nothing" approach is unlikely to ultimately succeed given the 60 votes needed in the Senate to make changes to the statutes that shape the rules. 

Rather than challenge the science in hopes of avoiding regulations altogether, it would be good to see meaningful policy discussion around the regulatory approach behind these major proposals:

  1. Ozone and Fine Particle-  Time frames for compliance need to be reasonable and should be properly coordinated with existing federal rules that will drive down emissions.  Also, as our air gets cleaner, improvements become more difficult.  Do we cross a threshold where costs should be part of the equation in setting standards? 
  2. Greenhouse gas-  Application of the New Source Review program to greenhouse gas emissions is a recipe for disaster.  While Cap and Trade became a dirty word, it offered a far more flexible approach than command and control regulations.
  3. Commercial/Industrial Boilers-  EPA's method for establishing the standards was based upon cherry picking the best emission rates for each individual pollutant from units across the country.  A real effort needs to be made at looking at what is realistically achievable.

Unfortunately, meaningful discussion seems unlikely in today's political environment. 

Ozone Standard Inconsistent with President's Executive Order on Cost of Regulation

Back in 2007, U.S. EPA was sued by some States and environmental groups who challenged the legitimacy of the ozone standard -75 parts per billion (ppb)- selected by the Bush Administration.  In 2009, the Obama Administration announced that it was reconsidering the 75 ppb standard.

U.S. EPA is likely to revise the standard to somewhere between 60 ppb to 70 ppb. (See the map for the implications of a revised standard on the Midwest)

Back in September 16, 2009, U.S. EPA filed a pleading informing the Court that it would finalize the new standard by August 31, 2010. 

 

In curious timing, the U.S. EPA announced it needed two more months and could not finalize the ozone standard until late October. 

Some questioned, including me, whether the delay was a calculated move to make the controversial announcement after the election. (See, prior post)  Now U.S. EPA has announced, once again, it would delay the finalization of the standard.  Only this time the delay would be nearly six months.

On December 8, 2010, U.S. EPA filed a Motion declaring it would need until the July 29, 2011 to complete its review of the ozone standard.  The U.S. EPA said it needed to consult its science advisory board (Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee- CASAC) due to the significant number of comments and new information it received. 

In the motion, U.S. EPA sets forth its process for finalizing the ozone standard.

  1. U.S. EPA will develop a set of questions for CASAC for its review asking the Committee to review scientific evidence and other information before U.S. EPA
  2. CASAC will hold public meetings to discuss its response to the questions;
  3. CASAC will provide additional written advice to U.S. EPA regarding the new ozone standard; and
  4. New public comment period to provide comments on CASAC review and to U.S. EPA

President's Executive Order

On January 18th, President Obama's issued an executive order requiring all federal agencies to evaluate the economic impacts on business of its rulemakings. The executive order directs federal agencies developing regulations to “use the best available techniques to quantify anticipated present and future benefits and costs as accurately as possible.”  At its core, the order is intended to force federal agencies to provide greater attention to the potential costs and burden of new regulations on businesses.  

While the motion delaying finalization of the ozone standard was filed prior to the executive order, U.S. EPA's actions are consistent with the Obama Administration's overall goal of giving greater scrutiny to the impact on economic growth from regulation.  Only problem is that the U.S. Supreme Court has already ruled that the Clean Air Act prohibits U.S. EPA from considering costs and economic impact when setting the ozone standard. 

U.S. Supreme Court determined in Whitman v American Trucking that U.S. EPA could not consider costs in setting the standard. The Court held EPA can only consider costs if its expressly granted that authority by Congress:

Section 109(b) [of the Clean Air Act] does not permit the Administrator to consider implementation costs in setting NAAQS. Because the CAA often expressly grants the EPA the authority to consider implementation costs, a provision for costs will not be inferred from its ambiguous provisions.

Rather than continuing to manipulate the process by constantly delaying the final ozone standard, perhaps the Administration needs to realize that ozone standards and the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) have huge impacts on the economy. 

Some sort of cost-benefit analysis that allows considerations of costs in setting standards just makes sense. We can't continue to ignore the impacts of new controls and the Clean Air Act's restrictions on economic growth imposed on areas that do no meet the standard. 

State's Face Huge Air Quality Workload During Budget Crisis

Many of the Midwest states, including Ohio, face significant state budget shortfalls- Ohio faces a projected $8 billion dollar hole in its next budget.  With the shortfalls, is very unlikely additional revenue will be available to support existing programs.

The state budget crisis occurs at the same time U.S. EPA has been very active in revising federal air quality standards (National Ambient Air Quality Standards- NAAQS).  As a result of changes to federal standards, states face a massive workload in the next few years on air quality issues. 

Below is a chart showing all of the revised federal air quality standards.  In response to each new standards, the states must develop plans for reducing emissions to show compliance with the revised standards (State Implementation Plans- SIPs).  In the next four years, States will be required to develop at least five new SIPs.

Preparation of SIPs is important work that can have wide ranging impacts on the economy.   If additional regulations to reduce air pollution are necessary, these new regulations increase compliance costs for businesses. 

In determining whether additional regulatory programs are needed, states and U.S. EPA rely upon air quality modeling.  Using air qualify modeling to evaluate alternatives is complex work and sometimes modeling can be inaccurate.

When Ohio EPA evaluated options for Cleveland to attain the 1997 ozone standard (85 ppt), modeling predicted no combination of controls could bring the area into compliance. After an intensive effort by multiple parties (locals, Ohio EPA and U.S. EPA) it was determined Cleveland did not need to adopt aggressive controls to comply because the modeling was either:

  1. Underestimating the benefits of some existing pollution reduction programs; or
  2. Data regarding emissions from existing sources in the modeling was outdated.

With states facing budget shortfalls and unprecedented amounts of air quality work, one has to question whether a similar effort could be undertaken in the next couple of years.  If that is not the case, decisions on costly new controls could be based on inaccurate or incomplete data. 

EPA Plays Politics By Delaying Ozone Rule

Back in 2007, U.S. EPA was sued by some States and environmental groups who challenged the legitimacy of the ozone standard -75 parts per billion (ppb)- selected by the Bush Administration.  In 2009, the Obama Administration announced that it was reconsidering the 75 ppb standard.

Ostensibly 75 ppb remains on the table. However, U.S. EPA is likely to revise the standard to somewhere between 60 ppb to 70 ppb.  Back in September 16, 2009, U.S. EPA filed a pleading informing the Court that it would finalize the new standard by August 31, 2010.

As the election looms and the economy's lack of a strong recovery is playing a bigger role, U.S. EPA's revised ozone standard has been sharply criticized as raising costs on industry.  U.S. EPA estimated the cost of compliance at between $19 billion to $90 billion a year by 2020, which will be largely imposed on manufacturers, oil refiners and utilities. 

The U.S. Supreme Court determined in Whitman v American Trucking that U.S. EPA could not consider costs in setting the standard.  The Court held EPA can only consider costs if its expressly granted that authority by Congress:

Section 109(b) [of the Clean Air Act] does not permit the Administrator to consider implementation costs in setting NAAQS. Because the CAA often expressly grants the EPA the authority to consider implementation costs, a provision for costs will not be inferred from its ambiguous provisions. 

The Bush Administration standard of 75 ppb was criticized as not meeting the standard established by the Court because it was inconsistent with recommendations by the EPA's science advisory panel.

While EPA may not be able to consider costs, it apparently can consider politics.  On August 20th, EPA filed a brief with the U.S. Court of Appeals District of Columbia informing the Court that it will take longer to finalize the new standard.

"EPA expects that this process will take approximately two months longer than initially estimate. Thus, EPA's current schedule is to sign a final rule on the reconsideration of the 2008 Ozone standard on or about the end of October 2010."

End of October...or may sometime after November 2, 2010? 

EPA Transport Rule- State Budgets Explained

U.S. EPA has released its CAIR replacement program called the "Transport Rule."  In a previous post I discussed EPA's efforts under the Transport Rule to address the Court's ruling striking down the CAIR rule.  After listening to a presentation by EPA, the structure of the Transport Rule is a little clearer.

The major issue identified by the Court was that CAIR failed to ensure that upwind states significant contribution to the air quality issues in downwind states would truly be eliminated.  The court ruled that utilities in a state could make no actual reductions, they simply could satisfy their regulatory obligations by purchasing allowances (pollution permits) under the cap and trade program. 

After two years of development, EPA has released its proposed Transport Rule and is very confident it can withstand legal challenge.  They stated in the presentation that their lawyers are confident the structure of the Transport Rule will meet the Courts mandate by ensuring elimination of "significant contribution."

Here is how the program works.  Each state has a firm budget which serves as a state specific  cap on emissions.  At the end of the trading year, U.S. EPA will review emissions information from each state and see if any exceeded their caps.  If a state is below the cap, nothing happens.  If the state is above, EPA will embark on a more extensive review to determine which companies within the state were responsible for exceeding the cap. 

Companies responsible for exceeding the state cap by failing to actually reduce emissions significantly enough, will be required to turn in extra allowances based upon their pro rata share of the amount the State's cap was exceeded.  Perhaps an oversimplified example would help:

 Assuming the state of Ohio has only three utilities companies operating in the State.  Hypothetically, it has a State budget under the Transport Rule of 90 tons.  In 2014, actual emissions in the State (120 tons) exceed its  budget by 30 tons. 

The slide shows that two companies will be required to surrender extra allowances equivalent to the amount the Ohio exceeded its budget.

Certainly this is far more complicated than the original CAIR rule struck down by the Courts.  Let's hope the Transport Rule can withstand legal challenges. Otherwise, States will face a complex mess in trying to meet federal air quality standards.  Also, utilities will face tremendous uncertainty preventing them from making long term choices.

Has EPA left a window open for environmental groups who may not like the Transport Rule to successfully challenge the rule?  In essence, EPA is penalizing companies who caused the state to exceed its budget (which represents it significant contribution to downwind states). 

Will the courts deem this adequate to meeting the Clean Air Act obligation to eliminate actual significant contribution?  Or will the courts still maintain the view that the utilities will be able to meet their obligations through purchasing allowances and not by actual reductions?  In other words, what is the assurance each state's significant contribution will be actually eliminated?

EPA Releases "No Trade" CAIR Replacement Rule

U.S. EPA released is long awaited replacement rule for the Clean Air Interstate Rule (CAIR) which was the controversial cap and trade program for coal-fired utilities.  In December of 2008, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit ruled CAIR exceeded EPA's regulatory authority and ordered the Agency to develop an new proposal.

Originally, the Court planned on throwing out the CAIR rule entirely.  However, it was embedded in so many other State air pollution control plans, the Court allowed CAIR to remain in place temporarily while EPA worked to finalize the replacement rule proposed today.

EPA is calling its new proposal the “Transport Rule."   It represents a significant revision from CAIR for a number of reasons including:

  • Steeper reductions of NOx and SO2 than proposed under CAIR
  • Virtual elimination of the cap and trade mechanism, by assigning each State a firm emission budget which it may not exceed
  • Accelerating the time frame for reductions to coincide with the attainment deadlines faced by the States

The Transport Rule proposes a hard 2014 deadline for meeting reduction requirements- it appears the ability to bank allowances ("pollution permits") will no longer be permitted.  Overall, the rule would reduce power plant emissions of sulfur dioxide (SO2) by 71 percent over 2005 levels and nitrogen oxides (NOx) by 52 percent.  SO2 and NOx react in the atmosphere to form fine particle pollution and ground-level ozone (smog).

The agency puts the expected annual cost of compliance to power plant operators at $2.8 billion in 2014.   However, elimination of original cap & trade program set forth in CAIR can only mean significantly increased compliance costs.  The real benefit of cap & trade is to utilized market mechanisms to achieve more cost effective emission reductions.

State Budgets Based On "Contribution" to Downwind Air Quality Problems

The Court's big issue with CAIR, was EPA inability to ensure that the rule would eliminate each State's contribution to downwind air quality issues.  The Court pointed out that all the utilities in any given State, could in theory, meet their compliance obligations by buying allowances and electing not to install pollution controls.

While this is in theory true, that is the point of a cap & trade program designed to utilize cost effective reductions.  The power plants that can reduce pollution in the most cost effective manner will aggressively reduce emissions and sell excess reductions to those plants facing higher compliance costs.

A quick skim of the 1,300 page rule suggests the absence of a real market mechanism to achieve reductions.  Sure EPA says interstate and intrastate trading can remain under its preferred option.  However, States now have imposed hard emission budgets. 

Perhaps this will mean limited intrastate trading, but far less interstate trading.  With a smaller market to trade allowances, EPA makes it more difficult to leverage cost effective reductions. 

Of course, EPA had to address the legal flaws identified by the Court.  The real solution was to get better authority from Congress.  Otherwise, we are left with a shell of a cap & trade program resulting in higher utility compliance costs (aka as higher utility bills).

EPA will take public comment on the proposal for 60 days after the rule is published in the Federal Register. The agency also will hold public hearings. Dates and locations for the hearings will be announced shortly.
 

EPA Announces Tighter Ozone Standard; Big Implications for Ohio

Today, U.S. EPA announced it has officially thrown out the .075 ppm ozone standard proposed in 2008 by the Bush Administration.  The Bush proposal would have reduced the standard from .08 ppm to .075 ppm.  Now the EPA is proposing to set a new revised ozone standard somewhere between .06 ppm to .07 ppm.  This from the Washington Post regarding the proposed new ozone standard:

Ozone standards have been the center of a political and legal battle since the spring of 2008, when the EPA set a looser limit than what its own scientific advisers had suggested and President Bush himself intervened to scale back the agency's proposal at the last minute. The new proposal mirrors what EPA's Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee unanimously recommended in 2007.

What are the implications for Ohio?  To say they are significant would be a gross understatement.  The following chart from Ohio EPA demonstrates that significant progress has been made in reducing ozone levels in the State.

 However, it becomes more and more difficult to achieve standards as they become more stringent.  Many businesses have already been squeezed hard to reduce their emissions.  The cost to achieve additional reductions will be greater. 

Ohio has been able to redesignate much of the state into attainment with the old .08 ppm standard.  Even Cleveland, the highest ozone levels in the State, was able to achieve the standard barely in time and was redesignated. 

As discussed above, the Bush Administration had previously proposed lowering that standard to .075 ppm. Based upon recent ozone data for major cities, this standard was going to be difficult to achieve.  The chart below show Cleveland monitors just came barely below the .084 ppm standard required to demonstrate compliance.  (EPA allow up to .084 ppm to meet the old standard.  Also note, the chart is in parts per billion).  Cincinnati and Columbus also barely achieved the old standard.

Achieving the .075 ppm standard would be very difficult based upon this data.  However, now comes the news today that EPA has elected to throw out the .075 ppm standard established by the Bush Administration as inconsistent with the scientific recommendations provided to EPA.   This from EPA's press release:

In September 2009 Administrator Jackson announced that EPA would reconsider the existing ozone standards, set at 0.075 ppm in March 2008. As part of its reconsideration, EPA conducted a review of the science that guided the 2008 decision, including more than 1,700 scientific studies and public comments from the 2008 rulemaking process. EPA also reviewed the findings of the independent Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee, which recommended standards in the ranges proposed today.

Today's announcement indicates the standard will be set some where between .06 to .07 ppm.  What are the implications of the high end of that spectrum, .07 ppm standard, on Ohio? 

  • Under the .075 ppm standard 23 out of Ohio EPA's 49 air monitors show non-attainment
  • Under the .07 ppm standard 49 out of 49 monitors show non-attainment

Designations could happen this fall, which means virtually every county that touches any major metropolitan area (Toledo, Columbus, Cleveland, Akron, Canton and Youngstown) will be designated non-attainment.  EPA estimates 32 Ohio counties would be out of compliance with the .07 ppm standard.  Non-attainment designations brings with it restrictions on new or expanding businesses.  It also brings with it more stringent air pollution control requirements. 

 

Cleaning Up Midwest Fine Particulate Pollution- Reliance on CAIR Misplaced

A new report regarding fine particulate pollution in the Midwest shows that achieving compliance with federal air quality standards is linked to U.S. EPA's fix for the Clean Air Interstate Rule (CAIR).  The Lake Michigan Air Director's Consortium (LADCO) released its white paper discussing recommendation on addressing fine particulate (p.m. 2.5) pollution in the Midwest.  The white paper includes these major findings:

The air quality studies demonstrated that high daily PM2.5 concentrations occur year-round, but are more likely in the winter and summer months, and are associated with elevated concentrations of particulate sulfate (especially in the summer), particulate nitrate (in the winter), and organic carbon (OC). Effective control programs for these PM species include:

  • Regional reductions in sulfur dioxide (SO2) emissions from EGUs and large non-EGUs
  • Reductions in ammonia (NH3) emissions from agricultural operations, especially in winter
  • Regional reductions in oxides of nitrogen (NOx) emission reductions
  • Urban-scale reductions in OC primary emissions from residential wood combustion and mobile sources, and VOC emissions from anthropogenic sources

The report notes that, beside power plant sulfate emissions, PM levels are attributable to agricultural emissions, smoking cars and outdoor wood fireplaces.  However, these types of sources are much more difficult to control. 

In contrast there has been a long track record for regulating power plant emissions.  Starting with the acid rain program, then the NOx SIP call and finally CAIR- there have been three different cap and trade programs set up for reducing emissions.  CAIR is critical because power plants are the largest source of SO2 emissions. (See post, CAIR Impact on Air Quality)  The table below was taken from the report (EGU = Electric Generating Units). 

 

Table 1. Annual SO2 Emissions in LADCO Region (1000 TPY)

   

2005

2012

2018

Point-EGU

 

2,826 (83%)

1,665 (77%)

1,468 (76%)

Point-NonEGU

470 (14%)

423 (20%)

393 (20%)

Area

 

47 (1%)

44 (2%)

42 (2%)

Nonroad

 

61 (2%)

16 (1%)

11 (1%)

On-road

 

20 (1%)

5 (--)

4 (--)

   

3,425

2,155

1,919

CAIR, under a cap and trade program, would dramatically reduce SO2 power plant emission in two phases- 2010 requires 50% reduction and 2015 requires 65% reduction.  States are counting on the continued existence of CAIR to meet PM air quality standards.  However, the D.C. Circuit Court tossed out CAIR as "fatally flawed."  U.S. EPA is currently working on a "CAIR fix" to address the issues raised in the Court's decision. 

LADCO's white paper makes it clear little thought is being given to what will happen if CAIR cannot be fixed.  A review of the legal issues with CAIR shows the State's better start considering that possibility.

The fact State's have incorporated CAIR into the air quality planning is the main reason the Court allowed CAIR to remain while U.S. EPA worked on its CAIR fix.  But there is no guarantee U.S. EPA is going to find a legally valid way to preserve CAIR.  The Court found many "fatal flaws" but two of those flaws go to the heart of the cap and trade program:

  • One of the central problems the Court noted with CAIR was its method for reducing the cap on SO2 emissions.  The Clean Air Act establishes a value for acid rain allowances- one allowance is the right to emit one ton of SO2.  CAIR attempted to reduce the cap by cutting the value of an acid rain allowance in half in 2010. The Court found this to be problematic because the value of acid rain allowances is set forth the Clean Air Act.  The Court said:

Lest EPA forget, it is “a creature of statute,”
and has “only those authorities conferred upon it by Congress”;
“if there is no statute conferring authority, a federal agency has
none.”

CAIR, as program created by rule, cannot trump a statute.  How U.S. EPA can possibly get around the Clean Air Act establishment of acid rain allowance to preserve CAIR reductions is perplexing.

  • The Court also questioned the fundamental basis of EPA's cap and trade program that it was not required to eliminate one state's contribution to another state's non-attainment problem.  The Court said:

"Theoretically, sources in Alabama could purchase enough NOx and SO2 allowances to cover all their current emissions, resulting in no change in Alabama's contribution to Davidson County, North Carolina's non-attainment." 

How U.S. EPA can legally show CAIR will address contribution from one state to another while at the same time preserving the cap and trade concept is also perplexing.

While States are counting on preservation of CAIR reductions to meet air quality standards, their faith in U.S. EPA to develop a legally defensible CAIR fix may be misplaced.  Senator Carper has pushed hard to incorporate a new, stronger CAIR-like program in the Senate climate change legislation.  However, this move has not been all that popular as it is seen to slow down progress on climate change.

What will be left if CAIR cannot be repaired is a mess in terms of air quality planning.  It will also make the mountain that much higher to climb for areas recently designated nonattainment by U.S. EPA.

 

Grim News Follows Good News For Northeast Ohio on Ozone

The Obama Administration announced it would review the revised ozone standard of .75 ppb that was previously established by the Bush Administration.   The Obama Administration has said if they decide to revise the ozone standard below .75 ppb they will announce it by December of 2009 and finalize the standard by August 2010. 

As reported in the article, other actions make it appear almost certain that U.S. EPA will revise the standard lower. 

The Justice Department, in a brief filed Wednesday in a federal appeals court, went further, saying that the EPA believes the revision made by the Bush administration does not adhere to federal air pollution law. The brief is part of a lawsuit by environmental groups against the Bush-era rule.

The news of a much tighter ozone standard follows great news for Northeast Ohio that it had achieved the original 8-hour standard of .85 ppb (see, Improving Air Quality Great News for Cleveland Business)  This past week U.S. EPA announced it was granting Ohio's request to redesignate Northeast Ohio Counties (Ashtabula, Cuyahoga, Geauga, Lake, Lorain, Medina, Portage and Summit) attainment . 

An "attainment" status has significant benefits to a community trying to re-build its economy.   It is much easier for businesses looking to relocate or expand to obtain the air permits they will need. Unfortunately, if the standard is reset to something like .70 ppb, Northeast Ohio brief attainment window will close and it will be facing a tremendous obstacle to see an "attainment" status anytime in the near future. 

The above chart is the monitoring data from Ohio EPA's air pollution control plan submitted to U.S. EPA.  It shows the Ashtabula monitor is averaging 84.3 ppb, just slightly below the .85 ppb current standard.  But very, very far away from a possible .70 ppb.  As the Ashtabula monitor goes, so does all the counties in Northeast Ohio.  All eight counties will be in non-attainment if the Ashtabula monitor is not below .70 ppb.

Rather than focus on the economic costs of a revised standard or the difficulty of obtaining that standard, the Cleveland Plain Dealer focused on the future of E-check:

But it doesn't mean that you won't have to E-check your car anymore. Ohio has renewed its contract with Envirotest Systems to conduct the unpopular - though free to drivers - emission tests through June 2011.
 

Such a limited focus fails to recognize the wider implications of the tighter ozone standard.  Businesses that are located outside "non-attainment counties" should pay attention as well. In what has become a re-occurring theme on this blog, tighter ozone standards will have a dramatic impact on the cost of electricity for coal dependent states. 

Roughly 1/3 of all ozone causing pollutants are attributable to coal-fired power plants.  In fact, the progress in achieving the old standard was in large part attributable to federal control programs requiring reductions of these pollutants (NOx SIP Call and CAIR).  To achieve much tighter ozone standards, U.S. EPA will be forced once again to look to tightening emission requirements for coal plants.  Tighter emission requirements translates to higher compliance costs passed on to utility customers.

Ohio really needs to focusing intently on diversifying its energy portfolio to mitigate these increases.  Otherwise, businesses will be looking toward escalating operating costs making Ohio businesses non-competitive.  If you are a business who has opportunities to generate your own power, it would be a strategic advantage to give serious consideration to those plans.

 

Cap and Trade: Job Killer or Call to Action for Coal Dependent States

Ohio faces a two headed hydra when it comes to the impact of the proposed cap-and-trade bill in Congress- the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009 (ACES):

  1. Ohio generates almost 90% of its energy from coal;
  2. Manufacturing represents one the largest employment sectors in Ohio (ranking 3rd nationally with 1.1 million workers as of 2006)

These two factors combine to raise the stakes significantly if a price is placed on carbon as a result of the cap-and-trade ACES proposal.  Coal-fired power plants are the largest source of greenhouse gases (GHGs).  Any regulatory approach that puts a price on GHGs will result in higher energy prices. 

Most manufacturers are not even covered under ACES because only the largest industrial sources are capped (25,000 metric tons or more).  However, the secondary effect of ACES- rising energy prices-could mean significant job losses in the manufacturing sector which is heavy user of power 

Potential Job Loses from Cap-and-Trade

A report released last week by the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) projected that Ohio could lose from 80,000 to 108,000 jobs by 2030 if ACES passes. The job losses are directly attributable to rising energy prices. The NAM cap-and-trade report projects the following increases in commodities or electricity:

  • 26% increase in gasoline prices
  • 60% increase in electricity prices
  • 79% increase in natural gas prices

The 60% increase is actually conservative when compared to other studies.  Some have said total increases could be as high as 112% by 2030.  Such large price increases raise operating costs for many small and medium manufacturers.  Those cost increases will make many business unprofitable forcing them to close their doors, so the argument goes.

Is this really a complete analysis? Also, is opposition to ACES really the correct strategy?

A Call to Action- Diversity in Generation Key for Coal Dependent States

Based on my last two posts you may be expecting me argue that growth in green jobs attributable renewable energy development will significantly offset the manufacturing job loses.  For example, in 2008 there was a 70% increase in wind turbine related jobs nationally. 

While green jobs are important, a more fundamental issue presents itself- When it comes to preserving manufacturing jobs, reliance on coal power is unsustainable. 

The cost of energy produced from coal is going to dramatically increase regardless of whether climate change legislation passes.  A complex web of regulatory forces are at work driving coal energy prices higher over the next decade and into the future.  A honest assessment of these factors should serve as call to action- diversification.

An honest assessment of the forces at play demonstrates that coal reliant states are fighting a losing battle against energy price increases.  States must diversify their generation portfolios in order to become less sensitive to these forthcoming price shocks.  This means development of biomass, nuclear, wind, solar and other forms of electric generation.   

Analysis of Five Factors Driving Future Coal Power Energy Prices Higher

  1. New Source Review Enforcement Cases
  2. The fix for the Clean Air Interstate Rule or Multi-Pollutant Legislation 
  3. Mercury controls
  4. Ever tightening ozone and fine particle federal air standards (NAAQS)
  5. Massachusetts v. U.S. = regulation of greenhouse gases in some fashion

New Source Review (NSR) Enforcement Cases

Manufacturers and other businesses in the Ohio and throughout the Midwest have yet to see the full impact of the NSR enforcement cases on the price of energy.  The settlement with American Electric Power impacts sixteen (16) coal plants and is estimated to cost $4.6 billion.  Ohio Edison, subsidiary of FirstEnergy Corp., settled its NSR case in 2005.   The settlement is projected to cost $1.1 billion to retrofit the Sammis Station.  The litigation has yet to fully conclude in the Duke Energy case and while the verdict was mixed, the case will still result in significant compliance costs. 

Also, a New Source Review regulatory fix seems unrealistic in the near term.  Therefore, future projects that could improve plant efficiency may be avoided out of fear of triggering NSR.

Bottom line:  Billions in new compliance costs for coal fired power plants over the next several years and an uncertain regulatory structure.

CAIR or Multi-Pollutant Legislation

The Clean Air Interstate Rule (CAIR) was a cap-and-trade regulation directed at coal-fired power plant emission of SO2 and NOx.  On July 11, 2008, a federal court found CAIR to be inconsistent with the Clean Air Act.  While the rule remains in place while U.S. EPA develops a fix, U.S. EPA has put a CAIR-fix on the fast track.   It is uncertain what the "new-CAIR" program will look like, but there is little doubt it will result in a more expensive regulation. 

As an alternative to CAIR,  members of Congress have proposed multi-pollutant cap-and-trade legislation for coal fired power plants.  Regardless of whether CAIR remains as regulatory based or converts to legislation the consensus among Democrats was the Bush Administration rule did not require steep enough cuts from coal-fired power plants. 

Bottom line:  Either the CAIR fix or multi-pollutant legislation will raise compliance costs for coal-fired utilities

Mercury Controls

Based upon cost concerns, the Bush Administration rejected facility specific regulation of mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants.  Instead, the Administration proposed a new cap-and-trade program called the Clean Air Mercury Rule (CAMR).  A federal court ruled that mercury as a pollutant could not be regulated through a cap-and-trade mechanism.  On February 6, 2009, the Department of Justice (on behalf of the Obama Administration) dismissed its appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.  U.S. EPA is currently developing regulations under Section 112 of the Clean Air Act that will require every coal-fired power plant to control mercury emissions.  

Bottom line:  All facilities may be required to reduce mercury emissions through carbon absorption or implementation of other technologies.  Under CAMR, utilities were hoping to avoid controls on some of the older less efficient plants.  The rejection of CAMR will drive compliance costs higher.

Ozone and Fine Particle Air Quality Standards

Coal-fired power plant contribute roughly one-third (1/3) of ozone causing pollutants and particulate matter pollution.  As U.S. EPA tightens the ozone and fine particle National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS), coal-fired power plants will remain a major target of tighter regulation. 

Bottom line:  States pass new regulations to meet tighter federal air quality standards.  There is lag time between development of new federal standards and implementation of these new state regulations.  States will be forced to contemplate even stricter regulation of coal-fired power plants as a result of tighter federal standards.

Massachusetts v. EPA-  Greenhouse Regulation is Inevitable

In 2007, the U.S. Supreme Court declared CO2 and other greenhouse gases a "pollutant" under the Clean Air Act.  This landmark decision has set in motion a series of proposed actions by U.S. EPA to regulate greenhouse gases under the existing framework of the Clean Air Act. Regulation under the Act will be much more costly than the proposed cap-and-trade legislation. 

Bottom line:  The debate cannot be framed as pass cap-and-trade or have no climate change regulations.  Regulation is inevitable and most agree cap-and-trade is much more cost effective than regulation under the Clean Air Act.

What U.S. EPA's Formal Recognition of Cleveland's Improved Air Quality Means for Businesses

Yesterday, U.S. EPA announced a proposed rulemaking to formally recognize Cleveland and nearby counties as achieving the 1997 8-hour ozone standard (.085ppb).  As discussed in a previous post, this is very good news for Northeast Ohio businesses in any of the following counties: Ashtabula, Cuyahoga, Geauga, Lake, Lorain, Medina, Portage, and Summit.  U.S. EPA is taking comments on the proposed action until July 13th.

Three years ago the best experts thought it was impossible for Northeast Ohio to achieve the ozone standard by the 2010 deadline.  As a result, draconian measures were suggested by U.S. EPA, including "bumping up" to the next higher non-attainment classification "serious."  Such an action would have made economic growth in the area much more difficult.  It would also have increased environmental compliance costs for area businesses. 

The chart to the left shows the various federal pollution reduction programs that are mandated based upon non-attainment classification.  The chart shows the higher the classification of non-attainment the more federal mandates that will apply.

Northeast Ohio has been at a distinct disadvantage relative to other areas of the state due to its ozone non-attainment status.  It is the only "moderate" non-attainment are in the State.  This results in increased compliance costs for area businesses and also placed restrictions on economic growth not applicable to the rest of the State.  These disadvantages would have been magnified if the Cleveland-Akron-Lorain area was forced to have "bumped up" to serious non-attainment.

Once U.S. EPA finalizes the redesignation to attainment, these disadvantage disappear.  Cleveland-Akron-Lorain will be able to compete equally for new business growth opportunities.  All of this should be really good news for business and the citizens in Northeast Ohio.

The Plain Dealer failed to capture this fact in its coverage of the U.S. EPA ozone announcement.  Instead it focused on the temporary nature of the Cleveland-Akron-Lorain attainment status.  U.S. EPA has adopted a stricter ozone standard (.075ppb) which will likely be applied in 2010.  Current air monitoring shows Northeast Ohio around .084 ppb for ozone which means the same eight counties will once again be deemed "non-attainment" for ozone.   

While it is true the attainment status is temporary, concentrating only on this aspect of the story misses the broader picture.  If the area failed to achieve the 1997 ozone standard it would have faced more regulation and impediments to growth.  Now it appears unlikely that Cleveland-Akron-Lorain will receive a higher non-attainment classification than other major metropolitan areas in the State.  This means it will be able to compete equally with Columbus and Cincinnati for new jobs in the future even if it is once again considered "non-attainment."

The temporary attainment status may present a short window of opportunity for area businesses.  If a business was looking to expand its facility or construct a new facility that would be considered  a "major source" of air pollution, it may be able to obtain requisite permits easier than previously.  But businesses will have to be quick to take advantage if such a window presents itself.  U.S. EPA is set to make formal designation under the new .075 ppb ozone standard in 2010.  At most this means businesses could have a year to act.

Court Rejects EPA's Fine Particle Standard

In National Farm Bureau Federation v. EPA, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals has granted environmental group petition for review of the NAAQS for fine particle pollution known as PM 2.5.  Environmental groups and industry groups both challenged portions of EPA's standard.  The EPA had decided to maintain the annual standard at 15 μg/m3.  The Court concluded the EPA lacked a valid scientific basis to support their decision:

We conclude the EPA failed adequately to explain why, in
view of the risks posed by short-term exposures and the
evidence of morbidity resulting from long-term exposures, its
annual standard is sufficient “to protect the public health [with]
an adequate margin of safety,”

We conclude the EPA has failed reasonably to explain why
it believes its daily standard will “provide an appropriate degree
of protection from health effects associated with short-term
exposures to PM2.5.” Id. at 61,174/3. We therefore remand the
annual standard to the EPA for further consideration of whether
it is set at a level requisite to protect the public health while
providing an adequate margin of safety from the risk of shortterm
exposure to PM2.5

The Court also granted the petition for review of the secondary NAAQS for the fine PM brought by the environmental groups.  The Court said EPA unreasonably concluded that the NAAQS are adequate to protect the public welfare from adverse effects on visibility. 

The Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee (CASAC),along with medical and public health groups who submitted comments, challenged the EPA’s proposal to retain the existing level of the primary annual fine PM standard at 15 μg/m3 . They urged the EPA to lower the level to somewhere between 12 and 14 μg/m3. The CASAC and several public commenters also objected to setting the secondary standards for fine PM at the same level and averaging time as the primary standards, arguing that they were insufficient to protect against adverse visibility effects.

The Court decided not to vacate the annual standard, but only remand it for Agency review.  The Court left open the possibility EPA could provide a better explanation for maintaining the standard at 15 μg/m3.  However, based on the strong opposition to the standard and CASAC's recommendation to lower the standard, EPA will most certainly oblige.

So what is the potential impact of a lower PM 2.5 standard? The yellow and orange dots are areas that have readings below the 15 μg/m3 but within the CASAC recommendations.  Of course its not just more potential non-attainment areas, it is also the red dots finding it much hard to reach attainment. 

States will need to be aggressively looking at diesel reductions as well as a stronger CAIR program to reach the standards.

 

 

 

 

 

Between the Lines of the EPA Administrator Memo

Today, EPA Administrator-designate Lisa P. Jackson distributed a memo to all employees of EPA.  The memo outlines her and President Obama's philosophy of environmental protection.  The memo is an interesting demarcation of the major changes that are coming in the realm of environmental protection. 

Some priorities Ms. Jackson is very upfront about, such as addressing Climate Change (which notably was identified as the number 1 priority in her memo).  Other policy perspectives are a little less straightforward, but inferences can be made.  Here are my take aways from the memo.

  1. Climate Change is a major priority-  The President made reference to it in his inaugural speech.  It is no mistake that its the first bullet on EPA-designate Jackson's list of priorities.  Notably, she includes the following statement:  "As Congress does its work, we will move ahead to comply with the Supreme Court's decision recognizing Pea's obligation to address climate change under the Clean Air Act"  STAY TUNED ON THIS ONE>>>
  2. Science will be at the forefront-  Many environmental groups felt that the Bush Administration put science secondary to their end regulatory goals.  The memo is a clear statement that this will change.  What could be the impact?  For one, look for even stronger federal air quality standards (NAAQS) for ozone and fine particles. 
  3. Resurgence in Environmental Justice- A very thorny issue and one difficult to address through regulation.  However, the memo mentions making  "people disproportionately impacted by pollution" a priority.  Perhaps they will try to tackle this more aggressively.
  4. CAIR-  I may be out on a limb on this one.  In the "improving air quality" priority, Jackson states "we will plug the gaps in our regulatory system as science and the law demand."  I think this is a vague reference to a much stronger CAIR program.
  5. Brownfield Redevelopment-  U.S. EPA may put even more emphasis on brownfield programs as a means to accelerate clean up of contaminated sites.  Jackson was criticized in New Jersey for the slow clean ups.  I think the statement -"turning these blighted properties into productive parcels and reducing threats to human health and the environment means jobs and investment in our land" -can't be anything other than a reference to a strong brownfield program.
  6. Money for the Great Lakes?-  In the memo, Jackson says the "Agency will make robust use of our authority to restore threatened treasures such as the Great Lakes and the Chesapeake Bay."  I am intrigued at the term "robust use of our authority" in connection with the Great Lakes.  Is this a reference to enforcement rather than the Great Lakes Restoration Plan?
  7. Don't underestimate the amount of change coming-  President Obama's buzz word was change.  I don't think there is any area that is about to see more change than environmental regulation in the next four years.  Fasten your seat belts...

 

Nuisance Finding Gives Downwind States New Ammo in the Long Cross-Border Pollution War

On January 13, 2009, Judge Lacy Thornburg of the District Court for the Western District of North Carolina issued a major decision in case of North Carolina v. TVA.  When filed, this case was seen as another chapter in the on-going battle between downwind and upwind states over cross-border pollution. 

However, the decision and implications are somewhat surprising.  The Court declared that emissions from four of eleven TVA power plants in upwind states created a public nuisance in the State of North Carolina.  Even though these sources apparently comply with environmental permits and regulations, the Court ordered hundreds of millions of dollars in new pollution control equipment on those plants.

Downwind states suing upwind states over coal power plant pollution is nothing new.  The Northeastern and Mid-Atlantic States have sued Midwestern and Southern States over pollution under a number of theories. 

  • They successfully participated in New Source Review enforcement cases with U.S. EPA. 
  • They filed Section 126 petitions under the Clean Air Act. Those petitions were later resolved by U.S. EPA by creating the Clean Air Interstate Rule (CAIR)- a cap and trade pollution control program. 
  • They have sought new federal legislation tightening emission standards on coal-fired power plants

What makes this suit so different is that the State of North Carolina went outside the typical Clean Air Act tool box in asserting its claims.  Instead the State relied upon common law theories.  The decision will certainly bring a waive of new rounds of litigation.  Especially with the remand of CAIR after the successful challenge by North Carolina. 

Here are some of the significant implications of this decision. 

1. The Court found that significant health effects occur as a result of exposure to pollution at levels even below the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) for PM 2.5 and Ozone. The Courts said:


"After reviewing the totality of evidence, the Court is convinced that exposure to PM 2.5-even at or below the NAAQS of 15 ug/m3- results in adverse cardiopulmonary effects, including increased or exacerbated asthma and chronic bronchitis...these negative but non-fatal health effects result in numerous social and economic harms to North Carolinians, including lost school and work days..."


2. The Court found that sources in upwind states can still have significant impacts on a downwind state’s air quality. However, in this case, the Court drew the line at distance of 100 miles. TVA plants within 100 miles (4 plants) were deemed a nuisance and plants outside 100 miles (7 plants) were not.

3. The Court created a new definition of “significant contribution.” TVA plants that were contributing 3% of the emission responsible for PM 2.5 pollution in North Carolina and roughly 5% of the ozone problem were deemed to significantly contributing. On that basis, these plants (ones roughly within 100 miles) were deemed a nuisance.  Sources that contributed less than 1% were deemed not a nuisance. 

4. The Court required installation of SCRs and scrubbers on a number of units because those units were contributing to the nuisance.

5.  Even though these plants were apparently in compliance with all federal and state environmental permits and regulations, they will be putting on additional controls.

6. The Court included emission rates for each plant in a spreadsheet in the opinion. However, the decision is somewhat vague as to whether these are simply expected emissions post controls or in fact legally enforceable limits.

7. From a legal perspective, I found it interesting that a federal judge in North Carolina found sources in other states to be causing a nuisance by applying the State nuisance law from Alabama, Kentucky and Tennessee where the sources are located.

 

U.S. EPA Ozone Rule Shows Potential For More Flexibility in the Future

On January 12, 2009, U.S. EPA proposed a major revision to its rules implementing the 1997 8-hour ozone standard.

In yesterday's post, I discussed the possibility of E-check expanding in Ohio as a result of U.S. EPA's proposed revisions to implementation of the 1997 8-hour ozone standard (.08 ppm).  Today I want to discuss the larger ramifications of the proposed rule.  The proposal provides a crystal ball type glimpse into how U.S. EPA may implement the 2008 8-hour ozone standard (.075 ppm). 

Depending upon how EPA builds off this proposed rulemaking when developing an implementation rule for the new .075 ppm ozone standard, there could be good news for many areas in the Country, including areas in Ohio.  This is especially true for Cleveland which has been under the most stringent ozone requirements in the State. 

As discussed in yesterday's post, the rigidness of U.S. EPA's requirements is largely dependent upon how areas are classified under the Clean Air Act. The short version- Subpart I good...Subpart II bad.  The chart below captures how EPA requirements ratchet up the more severe your ozone problem.  With each higher classification Subpart II piles on more federal mandates.  Subpart I areas don't carry these same mandates.  In addition, there is no classification system-all areas area considered "basic" non-attainment areas.

In recognition that Subpart II carries with it far more regulatory baggage, in 2004 U.S. EPA tried to expand the scope of Subpart I. In order to expand the scope of Subpart I, U.S. EPA drew a line in the sand at a 1-hour design values of .121 ppm.  Areas below .121 ppm were placed in Subpart I. Using this dividing line, there were 126 areas in country designated "non-attainment" for ozone, 84 were under Subpart I and 42 were under Subpart II.  Cleveland was the only Subpart II area in Ohio.

However, legal challenges resulted in the Court throwing out EPA's dividing line of .121 ppm.  The D.C. Circuit Court said that the Supreme Court required .09 ppm on the 8-hour scale as the level for determining which areas would be subject to Subpart II.  In its latest proposal, EPA acknowledges it has discretion to place areas with an 8-hour design value of less than .09 ppm into Subpart I. EPA is proposing to forgo this option and place all areas under a Subpart II classification because it does not want to delay implementation of the 8-hour ozone standard any further. 

I would predict they will not forgo this option when it comes to implementation of the 2008 8-hour ozone standard of .075 ppm.  I believe they will put all areas with design values less than .09 ppm into Subpart I in order to provide maximum flexibility to the States designing their control plans to meet the standard (referred to as SIPs- State Implementation Plans). 

What is the ozone status in Ohio right now?  Based upon 2005-2008 Air Quality Data here are the current ozone design values for the highest ozone areas in the state.

CINCINNATI- .085 ppm

COLUMBUS- .08 ppm

CLEVELAND- .084 ppm

Based on current air quality Ohio should have no areas close to the .09 ppm cut off for placing areas into Subpart II of the Clean Air Act.  This would include Cleveland which is currently under Subpart II. This is good news for the States.  This approach would give Ohio EPA and other States the maximum flexibility in putting together their SIPs to attain the .075 ppm ozone standard.

E-Check May Come Back to Cincinnati Under EPA Proposed Rule

[NOTE: THIS POST WAS REVISED BASED UPON ADDITIONAL REVIEW AND INFORMATION]  The unpopular automobile tail pipe test known as E-check may resurface in Cincinnati under a U.S. EPA proposed rule.  Right now, Cleveland is the only area in Ohio with E-check because the area is under a federal mandate to operate the test.  That federal mandate could expand under a recent U.S. EPA proposal.

E-Check has operated in Ohio since 1995.  It operated for 10 years in Cleveland, Cincinnati and Dayton.  The program was always very unpopular with the general public.  Efforts to discontinue the program were instituted in the Ohio General Assembly on numerous occasions.  Finally, improving air quality and expiration of the 10 year contract allowed both Cincinnati and Dayton to get rid of E-Check back in 2006.  In November 2008 U.S. EPA issued final approval of the removal of E-Check as a control measure for both Cincinnati and Dayton

Now E-check may see a resurgence.

U.S. EPA has proposed modifications to the implementation rule for the 1997 8-hour ozone standard.  The implementation rule was issued back in 2004.  The rule was challenged by a group of environmentalists.  In 2006, in response to the challenge, a federal court vacated certain portions of the rule.  U.S. EPA has now issued a revision to the implementation rule in response to the Court decision.

One of the main components of the rule vacated by the Court was the manner in which U.S. EPA classified certain areas under the 1997 8-hour ozone standard.  Some areas with lower ozone levels were classified as Subpart I areas and higher ozone areas were placed under Subpart 2 of the Clean Air Act.  The distinction between Subpart 1 and 2 areas greatly affects the amount of flexibility these areas have in designing the air pollution control plans to comply with the 8 hour ozone standard. 

U.S. EPA attempted to place as many areas under Subpart 1 to provide the greatest degree of flexibility.  Of the 126 areas designated nonattainment, 84 were classified as under Subpart 1, and the remaining 42 as under Subpart 2.  Areas under Supart 2 are further broken down by severity of ozone.  The higher the ozone the higher the classification,  The higher the non-attainment classification the more federally mandated control programs and restrictions will apply to the area. (see next post for a chart on Subpart 2)

Under the old rule, Cleveland fell under Subpart 2 and was classified as a "moderate" non-attainment areas.  "Moderate" non-attainment areas are federally mandated to operate a basic vehicle inspection and maintenance program (I/M program).  Dayton, Cincinnati, Columbus and other areas of the state were classified under Subpart I which carried no federal mandate to run an I/M program like E-check.

Under the proposed rule, all areas designated non-attainment with the 1997 8-hour ozone standard will be classified under and subject to the requirements of Subpart 2 of the Clean Air Act.  If an area has already reached attainment with the 1997 8-hour standard the rule will not apply.  This means Dayton will not be covered under the rule as it has already achieved compliance.  However, areas like Columbus and Cincinnati which have yet to comply with the 1997 8-hour ozone standard risk being reclassified as Subpart 2 non-attainment areas.

Under the proposed rule, EPA would make retroactive classifications based upon 2001-2003 air quality data, not the latest readings which show notable improvement in ozone levels.  If EPA maintains this aspect of this proposal, some areas of the Country will be playing a game of high stakes poker with regard to meeting the 1997 8-hour ozone standard.  EPA states:

Marginal nonattainment areas would have a maximum statutory attainment date of June 15, 2007 and moderate areas a maximum date of June 15, 2010.  Since the marginal area attainment date has passed, EPA proposes that any area that would be classified under the proposal as marginal, and that did not attain by June 15, 2007...would be reclassified immediately as moderate under the rule.

What EPA doesn't specifically address but flows from the statement above is that areas that do not meet the June 15, 2010 deadline as a moderate areas face being bumped up to the "serious" nonattainment classificaiton.  This would not only bring E-check, but a host of stringent federal requirements.

Appendix A to the proposed rule identifies the proposed Subpart 2 Classification for areas likely covered by the rule.  Under the proposal, both Columbus and Cincinnati will be classified as "moderate" non-attainment areas.  The "moderate" designation carries with it the federal mandate to operate an I/M program.

Columbus and Cincinnati could avoid I/M programs if they can fully attain the 1997 8-hour ozone standard before this rule would become effective.  How do things look? 

Columbus:  Ohio EPA has submitted a redesignation request for Columbus which is still under review by U.S. EPA.  Ohio EPA says that the current air quality data from 2005-2008 shows Columbus with a .08 ppm ozone design value.  This is well under the .084 ppm necessary to show compliance.  If recent ozone trends continue Columbus could be redesignated before U.S. EPA finalizes its proposal thereby avoiding any of the complications brought on by the proposed rule.  

Cincinnati:  Ohio EPA submitted a redesignation request for Cincinnati.  However, unlike Columbus, Ohio EPA relies on modeling and not real air quality data in its request for redesignation.  Real air quality data in the SIP submittal shows a design value of .086 ppm.  Even the updated air quality information for 2005-2008 shows Cincinnati with a .085 ppm design value.  While modeling may show  .084 ppm, real air quality data does support the modeling estimates.  The 2009 ozone season could really be make or break for Cincinnati.  If its a bad ozone season, Cincinnati may not only face the return of E-check but a "serious" non-attainment classification which would bring a host of consequences.

 

Ohio Finalizes Emission Trading Bank for Offsets

Ohio EPA wants to make it easier for economic development to occur in areas like Cleveland, which are designated "non-attainment" with the federal air quality standards (NAAQS) such as ozone or PM 2.5.   Federal regulations require companies looking to build or expand in these areas to offset their emissions.  Offset is achieved by securing the requisite emission reducition credits from existing companies in the non-attainment area. 

In the past a company had no idea whether sufficient eligible emission reductions had occurred that would allow them to fully offset their emission increases.  Available emission reduction credits was not public information.  This lack of information may have dissuaded companies from considering non-attainment areas for expansion.  This hurts areas like Cleveland which is non-attainment for both ozone and P.M. 2.5.

Ohio EPA will now be establishing a state-wide emission trading bank to help facilitate communication between companies that hold emission trading credits and those that need to purchase the credits to build or expand.  The emission trading bank is in reality a web site that will list the available credits by non-attainment area and pollutant.  It's kind of like a giant advertising billboard for companies holding credits they want to sell.  As further explained below, credits will be listed in the bank as either "verified" or "unverified." 

Ohio EPA has finalized the rules that will govern the emission trading bank, known as the emission reduction credits (ERC) rules.  See,OAC Chapter 3745-111. The rules will become effective on January 8, 2009.  

Basic Overview of Offset Requirement: Under U.S. EPA's New Source Review (NSR) program a company looking to build or expand a facility in a non-attainment area may be required to offset its air emissions before receiving a permit (Permit to Install and Operate- PTIO) to construct the facility from Ohio EPA.  Only new or expanded facilities that are "major" sources need offset their emission.  Generally, a "major" source is a source that will emit over 100 tons of the non-attainment related pollutant or 40 tons if it is an expansion of an existing source.  However, these thresholds vary depending upon the pollutant and how the severity of the non-attainment designation.

Ohio EPA's ERC Program is Voluntary:  There is no requirement to participate in Ohio EPA's emission trading bank.  The ERC rules only apply to those who elect to list their emission credits on Ohio EPA's website.  Private transactions between companies outside of the Ohio EPA's emission trading bank is still permissible.

ERC Program Will List Verified and Unverified Credits:  A company who holds ERC's may elect to have them reviewed and certified by Ohio EPA before listing them.  If Ohio EPA validates the credits they will be considered "verified" and will be listed as such on the web site.  The company will be issued a ERC certificate with a unique number for tracking purposes.

Verified credits have advantages- 1) a buyer should not have to worry as to whether the credits are valid once they turn them in to get their NSR permit; and 2) the permitting process for a new source offsetting its emissions will be faster if it uses verified credits.  For sellers of credits, the disadvantage to verified credits its the administrative costs associated with completing the process. 

Unverified credits can be included in the bank.  However, Ohio EPA's rules will not allow for the transfer of unverified credits.  A company would either have to withdraw the credits and transfer them outside the bank or go through the verification process.

What Types of Activities Generate Credits?  Other states (Pennsylvania, Michigan and New Jersey) have operated banks for a long time with a mixed degree of success.  Studies have shown that 80% of all ERC credits in other states were generated as a result of facility shut downs.  However, ERCs can be generated by installing new pollution control equipment, a change in process or reduced hours if they meet the regulatory requirements (quantifiable, reliable, enforceable and replicable).  Stationary and mobile source reductions can both result in ERCs.

What Should You Consider if You Are a Buyer or Seller of Credits? 

  1. Verified credits should be worth more- Verified credits should command a higher price.  They have already been certified by Ohio EPA and therefore carry far less risk than unverified credits.
  2. Transfer contracts should allocate risk-  All transfers of credits should be governed by well developed contracts that address the issues associated with the particular transaction.  For instance, are the credits sold "as is" or does the contract contain guarantees as to their validity.  When will payment be made?  What happens if the credits are invalidated?
  3. Assess the market-  Whether you are a buyer or seller you should assess the market before making decisions.  What types of credits are available?  How many credits are available?  If you are a buyer, make preliminary inquiries as to price to determine the viability of completing the project.

Are There ERCs in Ohio Right Now?  Ohio EPA has not established the website.  Now that the ERC rules are finalized, Ohio EPA can start to promote the bank.  Hopefully, this will lead to an expansion in the number of credits available.  Based upon limited information from Ohio EPA companies have submitted potential credits for consideration.  Submissions so far include the following types of credits in the locations specified:

Generated in Scioto County
17.75 tons of PM 2.5 ERCs
26.62 tons of SO2 ERCs
14.51 tons of NOx ERCs


Generated in Portage County
57.91 tons of VOC ERCs


Generated in Hamilton County
45.60 tons of VOC ERCs
 

 

Court Saves CAIR, Remands to EPA

The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals issued its much anticipated decision in response to U.S. EPA's request for reconsideration of the decision vacating the CAIR program.  The decision marks an important victory for U.S. EPA, the State and provides some level of certainty for utilities.

The Court decided to remand the rule to U.S. EPA so it can fix the rules "fatal flaws" identified in its earlier decision.  This decision has the effect of preserving the CAIR rule in the interim while EPA overhauls the rule.  The Court also rejected the request by some to establish a firm deadline by which EPA must re-issue the rule. 

Here is how the Court explained the rationale for its decision:

Here, we are convinced that, notwithstanding the relative
flaws of CAIR, allowing CAIR to remain in effect until it is
replaced by a rule consistent with our opinion would at least
temporarily preserve the environmental values covered by
CAIR. Accordingly, a remand without vacatur is appropriate in
this case...

We explained that vacatur was appropriate
because of the depth of CAIR’s flaws, the integral nature of the
rule, and because other statutory and regulatory measures would
mitigate the disruption caused by vacating the rule. Id.
However, on rehearing, EPA, petitioners, and amici states point
to serious implications that our previous remedy analysis,
including our consideration of mitigation measures, did not
adequately take into account. The parties’ persuasive
demonstration, extending beyond short-term health benefits to
impacts on planning by states and industry with respect to
interference with the states’ ability to meet deadlines for
attaining national ambient air quality standards for PM2.5 and
8-hour ozone, shows that the rule has become so intertwined
with the regulatory scheme that its vacatur would sacrifice clear
benefits to public health and the environment
while EPA fixes
the rule.

While not addressing the issue, the Court rejected its request for reconsideration of what EPA identified as key issues.  One such issue was whether EPA has the authority to adjust the value of Acid Rain allowances under CAIR. 

While this decision is very good news for EPA and the States who are trying to plan for meeting air quality standards, it still leave a tremendous amount of uncertainty.  The Court is not reconsidering any of the "fatal flaws" it identified with CAIR, which were numerous.  The rule that will emerge after being fixed by EPA will look vastly different than before.

Now utilities will be left with making key decisions about the use of allowances and construction of new controls without the benefit of knowing what the new CAIR rule will look like.  While the picture got a little clearer today, there is still a whole bunch of uncertainty.

 

CAIR Update- Court Considers a Stay Allowing EPA to Fix the Cap and Trade Program

Is the Court showing signs that it may have gone too far is throwing out CAIR?  After EPA filed a request for rehearing, a hopeful sign emerged last month when the Court asked the parties challenging CAIR to respond to two questions:

  1. Does any party really want the entire rule thrown out (vacatur)?
  2. Should the Court stay the effectiveness of its decision to throw out the rule until EPA fixes and re-issues a new rule addressing the Court's issues?

In response, twenty-two (22) states, including North Carolina, told the Court they don't want the rule thrown out.  The States requested the Court to stay the effectiveness of its decision to allow EPA to fix the rule.  However, North Carolina was concerned with how much time EPA would have to fix the rule-it opposed an indefinite stay.  Rather, N.C. proposed a deadline of July 2009 after which the stay would end. 

The Utilities were split on the issue.  Some asked for the rule to be thrown out, while others preferred remand.  The argument in support of throwing out CAIR can be summed up by this quote from the brief filed by the Florida Association of Electric Utilities:

Regulatory certainty is critically important, and granting rehearing or staying the mandate would require CAIR states to immediately implement, and affected sources to immediately comply with a rule the Court has declared contains "more than several fatal flaws."

The Utilities opposing remand or a stay ask a valid question- What portion of a "fundamentally flawed" program are going to remain after EPA fixes the rule.  EPA has said it will take 2-3 years to fix CAIR.  The Utilities argue why should they be forced to comply with provisions of the rule that Court has said are fundamentally flawed for the next several years.

U.S. EPA also filed a brief in response to the two questions posed by the Court.  EPA says it prefers a stay of effectiveness of the vacatur decision while it fixes the program.  However, it also says it must have rehearing on certain critical issues or CAIR will be ineffectual at reducing pollution even if the Court grants a stay.

Principally, U.S. EPA wants rehearing on the Court's decision that EPA does not have the authority to adjust Title IV (acid rain) allowance under the CAIR program.  Without the authority, EPA argues it cannot create a program that will impose greater reductions of SO2 emissions. This would mean the less stringent caps under the old Acid Rain Program will remain.

EPA says this will also impact the emission reductions achieved during a potential stay.  Without clear authority to adjust Acid Rain caps and allowances, Utilities will have no incentive to hold banked allowances for future compliance.  This is because Utilities will not anticipate a stronger program will emerge after EPA fixes the rule.  Rather, Utilities will simply use up the allowances during the stay and emission reductions will not occur.

EPA raises an interesting issue-  Even if a stay is granted there will be tremendous uncertainty as to what the Utilities will do with allowances during the stay.  While EPA makes a valid point, they may have ended the possibility of a stay if the Court is unwilling to reconsider its position that the rule is fundamentally flawed. 

Given all the posturing by the Parties, it will be interesting to see what course of action the Court takes in response.

There appears to be growing awareness that the CAIR decision has major implications beyond just the Utilities. For instance, what about upcoming deadlines for attaining federal air quality standards (NAAQS)?  Without the CAIR SO2 reductions States will likely not be able to comply in time.  Should the State's be punished for EPA's failure to develop a legally enforceable program?

In yesterday's U.S. News and World Report  there was an article covering the uncertainty that swirls around the future of clean air post CAIR.  

Five months after a federal court struck down the Bush administration's top program aimed at curbing air pollution, the fate of air quality regulation—and, therefore, air quality—in much of the country is increasingly uncertain, if not imperiled.

I was interviewed for the story and was able to point out that the States can't fix air quality issues on their own.  Federal help through programs like CAIR is needed to address what is a regional issue, not a local issue.

"In the case of fine-particulate pollution, there is a huge regional soup of it," says Joseph Koncelik, an Ohio-based environmental lawyer and the former Ohio EPA director. "So, it's somewhat ineffective if states are working on their own, just trying to control a few factories in their jurisdiction."

If the Court doesn't grant the stay and issues its mandate effectively throwing out CAIR, will EPA  still hold the States accountable for the 2010 deadline to meet the fine particle standard (PM 2.5)?

CAIR III: Creating Key Legal Precedent on Cap and Trade

In my prior posts on CAIR, I analyzed the real world impacts of the Court's decision to vacate the program.  In my final post on CAIR, I highlight some of the legal implications from the Court's decision on business and policy makers.  This is not meant to be a legal brief for lawyers, but rather a quick summary of what matters most from the CAIR decision.

 

 

 

  • Deadlines and Dates-  I had the pleasure of testifying in the U.S. Senate on the issue of ozone/soot deadlines and implementation of federal control programs.  The Court made an astute conclusion in finding that U.S. EPA should have coordinated attainment deadlines for ozone and soot that are applicable to the States with the reductions required under the CAIR program.  The Court held "EPA ignored its statutory mandate to promulgate CAIR consistent with provisions in Title I (of the Clean Air Act) mandating compliance deadlines in downwind state's."  (page 25) 

 

  • Coordination with State Pollution Control Plans- It is illogical to create federal air pollution reduction programs for power plants and vehicles that take 10-25 years to fully implement while requiring States meet federal air quality standards in 3-5 years. Depending on the State, power plants and vehicles make up roughly 30-50% of the ozone problem.  You are handcuffing the State's by designing federal programs that won't assist their efforts to meet federal air quality standards until after applicable deadlines have past.  Especially when much of the ozone and soot problem is regional in nature, not local. (see CAIR II:  Short Term/Long Term Implications)

 

  • Cap and Trade "on the ropes"-  For pollutants with both regional and local consequences it may be enormously challenging to create a valid trading program using the current authority in the Clean Air Act. Both CAIR and CAMR have been vacated by the Courts.  Both represent the newest  cap and trade pollution trading programs developed by U.S. EPA.  Is this the end of cap and trade?    Examine the following quotes from the Court's decision attacking the very foundations of a regional cap and trade program:
    • "Theoretically, sources in Alabama could purchase enough NOx and SO2 allowances to cover all their current emissions, resulting in no change in Alabama's contribution to Davidson County, North Carolina's non-attainment." (page 16)
    • "In Michigan we never passed on the lawfulness of the NOx SIP Call's trading program."  (page 17)  Seems like a less then subtle suggestion the Court may have thrown out the NOx SIP Call if similar challenges were made.
    • "EPA's approach-regionwide caps with no state-specific quantitative contribution determinations or emissions requirements-is fundamentally flawed." (page 59)

 

  • Economics of Compliance, Costs Cannot be the Driver-The Courts have rebuked EPA efforts to increase the relevance of the economic cost of pollution controls.  The CAIR decision once again declares costs secondary to environmental consequence. 
    • "EPA can't just pick a cost for a Region, and deem significant any emissions that sources can eliminate more cheaply." (pg. 37)
    • "EPA's interpretation cannot extend so far as to make one State's significant contribution depend on another state's cost of eliminating emissions." (page 39)
    • The Court strongly criticized EPA's fuel adjustment method of granting more allowances to states with coal burning power plants versus gas or oil.  "The net result will be that states with mainly oil- and gas-fired EGUs (electric generating units) will subsidize reductions in states with mainly coal-fired EGUs...EPA's appraoch contravenes [the Clean Air Act]." (page 41)

 

CAIR Part II: Update on Short Term/Long Term Impacts

In my previous post on the CAIR decision, I discussed the environmental and practical ramifications of the Court's decision vacating the program.  While speaking at a large permitting seminar for manufacturer's, I had a chance to discuss the conclusions of my prior post with some State officials.  While I was correct that the CAIR decision complicates the State pollution control plans for ozone and soot, the environmental consequences discussed in my prior post need to be adjusted to account for additional factors. 

It is unclear how U.S. EPA will treat State air pollution control plans (SIPs) that rely on CAIR.  However, in the short term, not all the CAIR controls will be scuttled or switched off.  AEP and First Energy have entered into major settlements with U.S. EPA stemming from New Source Review (NSR) violations. 

These settlements require installation and operation of billions of dollars in new air pollution controls on power plants in Ohio.  The consent orders will act as a backstop now that CAIR is gone.  Perhaps some additional state actions will be needed to put additional backstops in place where no federal decree covers the plant.  In summary, it appears the Ohio may have the tools to deal with the short term issues presented by the absence of CAIR for sources within the State. 

The longer term consequences still remain and by 2015 will be felt if Congress does not act by replacing CAIR quickly.  CAIR was designed to drive a second wave of major reductions that will be very difficult to replace without some new federal program.  This second wave of reductions are essential for state's trying to meet the tougher ozone standard (.075 ppm) and soot standard (fine particle- pm 2.5).  If State's fail to meet either the ozone or soot standards, then existing businesses will likely be squeezed for additional air pollution reductions.  Also, economic development is more difficult in areas not attaining federal air quality standards.

Another consequence of the absence of a CAIR like program will be a lot more litigation between the states. It won't just be North Carolina or the East Coast suing upwind sources.  Even Ohio may be suing its neighbors like Indiana to try and force additional reductions.  

Why?  Ozone is truly a regional issue.  Even City's that some may think have no one to blame for their air pollution, such as Cleveland, in fact receive a substantial contribution from upwind sources. Take a look at the figures to the left.  They demonstrate how both ozone and P.M 2.5 are regional issues.  The majority of pollution in these major cities is from regional not local sources.

All this points to the need for Congressional action to replace CAIR to avoid a serious and costly problem for the State's and businesses.  Unfortunately, any action is very unlikely until we have a new President.

CAIR Decision Will Have Many Aftershocks

The recent decision issued by the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeal vacating the CAIR rule  has far reaching implications.  It probably justifies at least one more post.  Understandably, reaction has been related to the fact that this major clean air initiative was dismantled with a stroke of a pen.  A fact highlighted by EPA's announcement in 2005 when the CAIR rule was implemented.

“CAIR will result in the largest pollution reductions and health benefits of any air rule in more than a decade. The action we are taking will require all 28 states to be good neighbors, helping states downwind by controlling airborne emissions at their source.”

--Steve Johnson, Acting EPA Adminstrator
3/10/2005

The Court included editorial comments trying to suggest the impact would be minimal.  For instance, the Court points to two power plant pollution control programs (the NOx SIP call and Acid Rain Program) that will still be effective in reducing emissions even after CAIR is gone. The Court also suggests that State's could simply sue one another if more reductions are needed (using its Clean Air Act Section 126 authority).  Litigation is hardly an effective pollution control strategy.

Bottom line, there is simply no way to minimize the impact of its decision or the ramifications for States and US EPA.

 

The map to the left is a good representation of the breadth of the CAIR program.  Each dot represents advanced pollution controls on a power plant. (Click on the map to enlarge the view)  This map shows US EPA's projections as to controls on power plants by 2010 after CAIR and CAMR (power plant mercury control program), both of which have been vacated by the Court.  While some of the dots may remain due to the NOx SIP Call and Acid Rain Program, many will disappear or be on hold. 

How many dots disappear?  US EPA projected that CAIR would result in 116 more units having advanced air pollution controls in 2010.  By 2020, the number was 287 more units. 

While the decision certainly impacts efforts at cleaner air, it also makes a mess of state air pollution control plans (called State Implementation Plans- SIPs) that have been submitted for approval by US EPA.  Most of the SIPs submitted rely on CAIR as a primary control method to achieve federal air quality standards for ozone and soot.  The ruling brings tremendous uncertainty as to how these state plans will be reviewed.

To support CAIR, US EPA provided modeling to show air quality improvement that would result from reductions brought about by the program.  State's relied upon this modeling as part of their air pollution control plans to achieve federal air quality standards.

 

What was the magnitude of air quality improvement that US EPA projected? The Agency showed that in 2005, 104 areas didn't meet ozone standards and 43 areas didn't meet pm 2.5 (soot) standards.  By 2010, EPA projected the number of areas not meeting ozone and soot standards would be reduced to 14 and 20 respectively due in part to CAIR.

 

Now that the State's cannot rely on CAIR as a cornerstone of their air pollution control strategies, those reduction must come from somewhere.  Without these massive reductions State's face missing deadlines to meet federal air quality standards.  Missing the federal deadline can bring sanctions and more rigorous air pollution control requirements on businesses within the state. 

 US EPA has even adopted a tougher ozone standard which is currently being implemented.  The State's face enormous challenges in meeting this new standard if there is no federal air pollution control program applicable to power plants.  From reading the decision, it may be very difficult to craft a legal program using administrative authority.  Congress may have to amend the Clean Air Act to give US EPA the authority, but since 1990 Congress has shown its reluctance to re-open the Clean Air Act.