Friday, February 25, 2011

Clean Air Act: A New Approach to Regulating Greenhouse Gas Emissions

With the demise of cap-and-trade legislation during the 2010 session of Congress, the climate action spotlight has shifted to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Clean Air Act (CAA). But efforts are now underway to block EPA regulation of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

Clean Air Act of 1970

In the aftermath of the first Earth Day in April 1970, Congress passed the Clean Air Act and created the EPA to implement the new law. Over the 40 years that the CAA has been in effect, it has yielded dramatic public health and environmental benefits.

CAA programs have achieved major reductions in dangerous air pollutants that cause smog, acid rain, and lead poisoning. The EPA reports that this has prevented hundreds of thousands of premature deaths, has helped millions avoid developing respiratory ailments and heart disease, and (by banning leaded gasoline) has greatly reduced the incidence of low child IQ.

The benefits of these advances have far exceeded the costs of compliance. An EPA analysis of the CAA's first 20 years found that the dollar value of the human health and environmental benefits amounted to more than 40 times the costs of regulation. For the 1990-2010 period, as requirements have become more stringent, the EPA estimates a benefit-to-cost ratio of four to one.

At the same time, CAA programs spurred significant growth in the U.S. environmental technologies industry. By 2007, the industry was generating $282 billion in revenues, producing $40 billion in exports, and supporting 1.6 million jobs. Innovations include catalytic converters, scrubbers, and low-VOC paints and consumer products.

U.S. Supreme Court Ruling

Despite these achievements, concerns about global warming pollution led Massachusetts and 11 other states to sue the EPA over its failure to regulate GHG emissions from the transportation sector. They charged that human-influenced global climate change was causing adverse effects, such as sea-level rise, to the state of Massachusetts.

In a 5-4 decision in April 2007, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that carbon dioxide and other GHGs meet the definition of "air pollutants" under the CAA. The Court directed the EPA to determine whether or not GHG emissions from new motor vehicles (the sector cited in the lawsuit) cause or contribute to air pollution that may endanger the public health or welfare.

In 2009, the EPA responded by conducting an extensive examination of the scientific evidence and, in December 2009, made a determination — the "endangerment finding" — that GHG concentrations in the atmosphere do threaten the public health and welfare of current and future generations. The EPA also found that GHG emissions from new motor vehicles contribute to the atmospheric concentration of these gases and, thus, to the threat from climate change.

Once the EPA had issued its endangerment finding, the agency moved ahead to finalize proposed GHG emissions standards for light-duty motor vehicles.

The Clean Cars Rule

The EPA partnered with the Department of Transportation (DOT) to set increasingly stringent standards for GHG emissions and fuel efficiency for passenger cars and light-duty trucks for model years 2012-2016.

The federal rules mirror California's Clean Car Standards, also adopted by 13 other states, and set a target of 35.5 miles per gallon (mpg) for 2016 model-year vehicles. The auto industry welcomed the uniform national standards.

The new standards surpass the 2007 federal fuel economy law, which required an average fuel economy of 35 mpg in 2020. The EPA estimates that the new rules will cut GHG emissions by 960 million metric tons over the regulated vehicles' lifetime, equivalent to taking 50 million cars and light trucks off the road in 2030. Consumers can expect to save $3,000 over the lifetime of a model-year 2016 vehicle.

The EPA and DOT have since proposed emissions and fuel efficiency standards for heavy-duty trucks and buses, beginning in the 2014 model year, and will also set further standards for light-duty vehicles for model years 2017 and beyond.

Stationary Source Regulations

The EPA is also phasing in regulations for major stationary sources of GHG emissions (e.g., power plants, industrial facilities). As of January 2, 2011, rules requiring new or substantially modified facilities to obtain permits that address their GHG emissions have begun to take effect. These facilities must make use of "best available control technologies" to minimize GHG emissions.

The EPA has taken steps to ensure that the new rules do not affect small stationary sources, such as small businesses and farms, schools, or churches. CAA permitting requirements apply to facilities that emit more than 100-250 tons/year of a regulated pollutant such as lead, sulfur dioxide, and nitrogen dioxide. But GHGs are emitted in much higher volumes than these pollutants.

The EPA, therefore, issued a "tailoring rule" that raises the threshold for GHG emissions so that only the largest sources would be subject to the permitting requirements. The thresholds for GHG emissions are 75,000-100,000 tons/year.

In addition, the EPA has established a timeline for setting limits on GHG emissions for both new and existing power plants and oil refineries. The EPA will propose new rules for power plants in July 2011 and for refineries in December 2011. Final rules for power plants will be issued in May 2012 and for refineries in November 2012. Together, power plants and refineries account for about 40 percent of all U.S. GHG emissions

Challenges to EPA Regulations

Opponents of the new rules are working to block or delay EPA regulation of GHG emissions. Several dozen legal challenges to EPA's recent actions have been filed by a variety of business and industry groups and by several states and members of Congress.

In Congress, bills have been introduced that would, for example, amend the CAA to exclude regulation of GHGs, limit the use of EPA funds, and delay regulation of GHG emissions for two years.

The League of Women Voters strongly opposes efforts such as these to undermine the EPA's ability to establish the urgently needed clean air protections called for by the CAA. It's time for action -- time to reduce dangerous global warming pollution and safeguard "the public health and welfare of current and future generations."

By Eleanor Revelle (LWVIL and LWVUS Climate Change Task Force Member)

For more details, see the Clean Air Defense section of the LWVUS Toolkit for Climate Action (

Produced by the LWVUS Climate Change Task Force

© 2011 by the League of Women Voters of the United States

Monday, February 21, 2011

"Environmental Crisis on your Plate" Cont'd

We had a very informative meeting with the Dearborn Sustainability Roundtable on Feb 15th. Thank you to everyone who came to the program. We had a potluck too, with soup, bread, appetizers, fruit, salad and dessert - YUM! Everything was excellent and we had a lot of people attending.

Kathleen Gapa and Mary Bugeia started the meeting with a brief overview of the League of Women Voters. The League's record for environmental causes showed the significant progress that has been made in the last century by grassroots advocacy, and yet there continues to be a battle to protect our natural resources and public health. What a strange era we are in now as hard-won environmental protections are under attack. We need to move forward on new fronts as we've learned in these round tables, yet we find ourselves also holding the line for protections that should be a given. For example, clean air is not an optional preference, it is a necessity. We should be able to focus solely on healthy sustainable foods, but find that even in the 21st century clean water and air are being jeopardized by misguided policy makers.

Lynna Kaucheck, of Food and Water Watch spoke at this event as well. Not only does Ms Kaucheck work with that organization, but she also serves on the Ferndale Environmental Sustainablity Commission. Since Dearborn is in the early stages of sustainability as a city-wide policy, we can learn a lot from Ferndale's example. If you'd like to learn more about Dearborn's activities, visit their website.

The keynote speaker for this 3-part series has been HFCC Professor Lourdes Lore, a highly credentialed and interesting speaker. We are thankful that she has shared her expertise and vast knowledge with us in the series "Environmental Crisis on your Plate." The problems with our food supply would be overwhelming if we didn't have suggested ways to tackle the issues. Katie Hetrick, reporter for the Dearborn Press & Guide, has written a great article on this particular evening, Dinner bell is call to action at roundtable.

We expect to post handouts from Professor Lore's presentations so that those who miss any of the series can still review the resources she provided. Don't miss the third and last installment, “Who Really Controls Our Food Supply?" which will be on March 23, 2011 from 6-8pm at HFCC SME building. We will reserve time for the audience to ask questions, discuss solutions, make plans and network to wrap up this winter long focus on Sustainable Food.

written by

Mary Ann Baier and Jennifer Dunn

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Dearborn Cool Cities Roundtable

Members of our League recently attended a meeting
put on by the Sierra Club-Dearborn Cool Cities on
January 20 at HFCC’s SME building. The meeting
yielded many innovative and provocative ideas about
ways in which Dearborn is and can be a greener, more
environmentally friendly city.

The evening included presentations by Rick Simek, a
naturalist at the U of M Dearborn’s Environmental
Interpretive Center; Dearborn’s Sustainability
Coordinator Dave Norwood; and Margaret ”Peggy”
Matta, chair of the Detroit chapter of the Green Schools
Committee which is part of the US Green Building

Rick Simek discussed ongoing projects of the EIC, as well
as the unrecognized opportunities for exploration of
nature provided by such areas as the Henry Ford Estate,
which is located on the campus of UM-Dearborn.
The Environmental Interpretive Center is doing a lot of
programs. “We think of it as an outdoor classroom-a
living laboratory", Simek said, explaining that “although
environmental programming has been happening for
forty years, its community charm has exploded since the
EIC opened ten years ago.” February projects include
Tree Tapping Trek, Saturday, February 19 from1:00 to
3:00pm and Maple Sugaring Stroll, Saturday, March 5,
1:00 to 2:30pm.Registration is required. .If interested,
please call Rick at (313) 583-6371.

Sustainability Coordinator Dave Norwood
discussed both steps the city decided to take when a
Federal grant for sustainability work – like recycling
containers and installing LED street lights. Dave said,
“One thing I’ve learned with my job is that I do have a
plan, but if opportunities arise, I have to take advantage
of them.”For example, the city of Dearborn is working
with Friends of the Rouge on the Fordson Island cleanup
project, which eventually hopes to turn the six acre spot
into a lush natural area with native vegetation. Fordson
Island is located on a channel of the Rouge which
connects it to the Ford plants. Marathon Oil owned it
previously, but no longer needed it. Dearborn received a
NOAH grant to acquire the land. Marine Salvage Co.
removed the boats in the channel. Norwood is also
working with the Southwest Detroit Environmental
Vision which is focusing on improving air quality in
southwest Detroit and the south end of Dearborn which
are high in air particulates due to truck traffic and the
factory and steel mill are located there.

The last topic was presented by Peggy
Matta, chair of the Green Schools Committee in
Michigan, She presented ways in which schools
can go green, including adding more windows and
skylights to cut down on artificial light usage,
switching over to low-flush toilets and urinals.
Other projects include rain gardens and solar
panels which not only help schools to meet LEED
certification standards, but provide for educational
opportunities for students. LEED certification
reflects the amounts of electricity used, waste,
CO2 emissions, and water usage in a school

The next program with Sierra Club-Dearborn Cool Cities,
co-hosted by LWVDDH is part 2 of a 3-part series from
HFCC Professor Lore's "Environmental Crisis on Your Plate."
The upcoming presentation on Feb. 15 is
“Chemical Components in Food & Water with
Special Focus on Pesticides, BPA’s & GMO’s ”
Part 3, “ Who Really Controls Our Food Supply?"
will be presented on March 23rd.

Also speaking on Feb 15th will be Lynna Kaucheck
of Food & Water Watch
and the Ferndale Environmental
Commission. She will cover the Alfalfa GMO and
also what Ferndale is doing to become more

These events go from 6:00 to 8:00pm at the SME Building
on the north side of HFCC’s campus - enter the far door
on the north side of the building.