March 18, 2005

In This Issue

EPA SETS RULES TO CUT POWER PLANT POLLUTION

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) finalized new standards requiring sharp reductions in sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions from coal-fired power plants over the next decade, fulfilling President Bush’s pledge to complete the rule if his proposed Clean Air Act overhaul failed on Capitol Hill. The EPA ruling followed the defeat of President Bush’s “Clear Skies” initiative in the Senate, after a tie vote in the Environment and Public Works Committee blocked the bill’s path to the Senate floor.

EPA said the so-called Clean Air Interstate Rule (CAIR) would reduce acid-rain causing sulfur dioxide emissions by more than 70 percent and smog-forming nitrogen oxide by more than 60 percent when the standards are fully implemented in 2015.

Pollution limits spelled out in the CAIR plan affect electric utilities in 28 Eastern states and the District of Columbia. They would be achieved through a market-based cap-and-trade system similar to other air pollution programs EPA has put into practice over the last decade.

Separately, EPA released another rule for controlling mercury emissions from power plants (see below). The plan will allow utilities to trade mercury emission credits while still making a 70 percent reduction from the current 48 ton emission level down to 15 tons by 2018.

EPA'S MERCURY RULE TO FACE CHALLENGES

The Environmental Protection Agency released its first mercury rule, which will mandate the use of a cap-and-trade system to control mercury emissions from power plants.

EPA’s mercury plan formally rescinds a Clinton administration regulatory determination calling on EPA to require the installation of maximum achievable control technologies for mercury on nearly all of the nation’s 1,300 power plants. Instead, utilities will be allowed to either install emission control technologies or purchase credits that essentially allow them to do nothing.

EPA will establish a 38-ton emission limit on nationwide mercury pollution in 2010, with a second tier requirement to lower mercury to 15 tons by 2018. Current levels of mercury emissions from U.S. power plants are now about 48 tons, meaning the first cuts will reduce emissions of the toxic pollutant by 21 percent.

EPA anticipates a series of collateral benefits created through a separate regulation it finalized last week — the Clean Air Interstate Rule — will force industry to reduce its mercury emissions to the 38-ton level. The longer-range cut would hover at about 70 percent and force the electric utilities to go beyond its requirements with the CAIR plan, EPA says.

The rule is almost certain to be challenged in court bycritics of the Bush administration’s regulatory decisions. Many members of Congress are also critical, with 29 senators on record this year encouraging EPA to take a different regulatory route.

Eleven moderate House Republicans formally criticized the mercury ruling in a letter to acting EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson, arguing the plan does not go far enough to protect public health and the environment. House Science Committee Chairman Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY) and 10 others said EPA should have done a better job taking into account mercury-specific emission control technologies that can reduce the toxic emissions at upwards of 90 percent from existing levels.

At least a dozen states have pursued their own mercury standards that press for far greater cuts from utilities than would be required under the EPA rule. State and local air pollution officials have predicted that many agencies will reject the federal standard in favor of their own, creating a patchwork system that may create competitive disadvantages for some companies.

The Ecological Society of America, together with the BioDiversity Research Institute, held a Congressional briefing on the environmental effects of mercury on March 9, 2005. Contact Laura Lipps at Laura@esa.org for more information.

SENATE VOTES TO ALLOW DRILLING IN ANWR

President Bush’s long-stalled plan to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) to oil drilling cleared a major hurdle on Capitol Hill when the Senate voted to include the proposal in its budget, a maneuver that smoothes the way for Congress to approve drilling later this year.

By a vote of 51 to 49, Republicans defeated an effort by Democrats to eliminate the drilling language from the budget. The vote does not ensure that drilling will be approved. But if the budget is adopted, Senate rules would allow the passage of a measure opening the refuge with a simple majority of 51 votes, escaping the threat of a filibuster, which has killed it in the past.

The budget language assumes roughly $5 billion over the next five years in oil drilling revenues from the Arctic over the next decade, with the state of Alaska and the federal government to split the money. But advocates on both sides of the debate dispute how much oil is underneath the tundra, and how much the oil companies care about drilling there. Some opponents hypothesize that drilling in ANWR will open the door for industry to drill elsewhere in the U.S.

Senator Pete V. Domenici (R-NM), a leading proponent of drilling, has said the refuge could produce up to one million barrels of oil per day. He and other proponents of drilling say it could be done with modern equipment that would minimize the disturbance to the environment.

The Ecological Society of America has a position statement on ANWR available at:
http://www.esa.org/pao/esaPositions/Statements/ArcticNationalWildlifeRef
uge.php

CORAL MAY GET NEW PROTECTION

Two coral species, whose numbers have plummeted by 97 percent, would be the first corals to gain protection from the Endangered Species Act under a new Bush administration plan.

Staghorn and elkhorn corals, which live off the southeastern Florida coast and throughout the Caribbean, have suffered declines of 97 percent across their range, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) says. NOAA is expected to formally propose a threatened listing later this month, launching a public comment period that would be followed by a final decision next year.

“These formerly abundant corals have remained at low levels without noticeable recovery, and in cases where we have targeted monitoring data, they continue to decline,” said NOAA Administrator Conrad Lautenbacher in a written announcement of the proposal last week. “Threats to the species include physical damage from human activities and hurricanes, as well as disease and temperature-induced bleaching.”

Classifying the species as threatened could conceivably lead to regulation of fishing (which removes the herbivores that keep algae in check) and emissions of greenhouse gases (which make the seas uncomfortably warm for coral), says marine biologist Ellen Pikitch, Executive Director of the University of Miami’s Pew Institute for Ocean Science. But coral researcher Andrew Baker of Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) in New York predicts that the listing would be “no silver bullet, since many of the factors contributing to the decline [of corals] may well be beyond the scope of the Endangered Species Act to regulate.”

Still, a listing will provide helpful public relations for coral, says Baker. “It will also signal leadership for the U.S. in coral reef conservation in the Caribbean region and hopefully lead to basin-wide initiatives to protect the few remaining populations of these species,” adds Tim McClanahan of WCS in Mombasa, Kenya. He notes that many other, less visible coral species are probably also being lost.

At least one Capitol Hill lawmaker agrees that global warming must be addressed to save reefs and other marine resources. House Fisheries Subcommittee Chairman Wayne Gilchrest (R-MD) said last week that the time may be ripe for the government to consider larger questions of reef health.

“The local action plans can be very effective with sedimentation or overfishing and those kind of issues,” he said in comments to NOAA and Interior Department officials at a hearing on the matter. “But they do not have much effect on climate change and global warming, and that is where the federal government needs to reach in and have some understanding of at least the science on that, and step in and help.”

DHS ENVIRONMENTAL EXEMPTIONS ATTACHED TO EMERGENCY SPENDING BILL

This week, the House took up the emergency supplemental spending bill, including provisions to exempt the Homeland Security Department from environmental and other laws to build fences and roads along U.S. borders.

The DHS exemption language is part of a broader immigration reform bill, H.R. 418, that passed the House in February. But since the Senate has shown little interest in moving H.R. 418, Rules Committee members attached the bill to the emergency supplemental measure. That means new momentum for the proposed DHS exemptions since the supplemental is a must-pass bill that includes $81 billion in funding for the war in Iraq, tsunami relief and other purposes.

H.R. 418 allows the Homeland Security Secretary to waive all laws “necessary to ensure expeditious construction of the barriers and roads.” It also bars the courts from hearing claims challenging the secretary’s decision or granting compensation for damages arising from DHS actions.

The provision stems from a long-standing dispute over the construction of a 14-mile border fence near San Diego. The California Coastal Commission voted early last year to block completion of a 3.5-mile section, arguing it would remove vegetation and cause environmental damage. Supporters of the fence argued terrorists could exploit the gap to illegally enter the country and target Naval Station San Diego.

The change could potentially affect all areas where the United States borders Canada or Mexico.

CRITICAL HABITAT BILL REINTRODUCED

Rep. Dennis Cardoza (D-CA) reintroduced his proposal to revamp the Endangered Species Act’s critical habitat requirements, placing the bill, which passed out of the House Resources Committee last year, back into the fray of the debate over altering the Act.

The bill is identical to Cardoza’s measure from last year, which passed out of committee in a 28-14 vote but never made it to the House floor. The measure met with criticism last year from Resources Ranking Member Nick Rahall (D-WV), other Democrats, and environmental groups.

The legislation aims to further define the critical habitat designation process, altering the deadlines for habitat and excluding land that is involved in any other federal, state or local habitat conservation plan from critical habitat consideration. The bill also gives more weight to landowners and state and local governments in the decisionmaking process.

“We need a system that enables the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to make more informed decisions on critical habitat designations and how to actually preserve a species,” Cardoza said. House Resources Committee Chairman Richard Pombo (R-CA), Senate Environment and Public Works Chairman James Inhofe (R-OK), Sen. Mike Crapo (R-ID) and Rep. Greg Walden (R-OR) all endorsed Cardoza’s effort.

ESA’s critical habitat requirements have been a source of contention and lawsuits for years. The Act mandates designation of critical habitat — an area deemed essential for a species’ survival and recovery — for almost all federally listed species.

But FWS rarely designates critical habitat when it lists a species. Current and Clinton-era FWS officials have said that in 30 years of implementing ESA, they have found little to no additional protection from the designation.

Environmental groups maintain designation of habitat is crucial for species health and have frequently sued FWS to force the designations. Once habitat proposals are made, they often meet more lawsuits from industry groups, which have dragged FWS back into court for allegedly not weighing economic effects adequately.


Sources: Environment & Energy Daily; Greenwire; New York Times; Science

Comments are closed.