Tag Archives: US Environmental Protection Agency

Proposed EPA rule would disadvantage minority communities

[Editor: The excellent article below does not link to the EPA’s proposed new rule.  It can be found here, and note that PUBLIC COMMENTS may be sent on or before July 27, 2020.  Submit your comment here.  – R.S.]

Soot rule thrusts EPA into spotlight on race

E&E News, by Jean Chemnick, June 12, 2020
Louisiana refinery. Photo credit:  John Dooley/Sipa Press/Newscom
A refinery is seen near Venice, La. EPA is changing its cost-benefit analysis to discount the health savings from lower levels of particulate matter and other pollutants. John Dooley/Sipa Press/Newscom

EPA published a proposal in the Federal Register yesterday that critics described as an assault on minority communities coping with the public health legacy of structural racism.

The agency’s plan would mandate changes to the way future rules under the Clean Air Act would weigh the costs and benefits of climate and air pollution regulations.

It’s the first time EPA has attempted such a rulemaking, and critics say the goal is to saddle future administrations with an inflexible set of cost-benefit methodologies that discount benefits from cutting pollutants while stressing cost to industry.

The rule would also bar EPA from giving special consideration to individual communities that bear the brunt of environmental risks — frequently populations of color.

“The rule won’t take into account any benefit that can’t be monetized and quantified, including important things like the effect, say, of a mercury rule on tribal communities that rely on fish and wildlife that are contaminated with mercury or the effect of particulate matter on communities of color and disadvantaged folks who live near the power plants that are being controlled,” said Ann Weeks, legal director of the Clean Air Task Force.

The Obama EPA did give special weight to the benefits that would accrue to specific communities when assessing whether a rule was cost-effective, she said. But this proposal seeks to make that impossible.

“You basically are tying your own hands, if you’re the agency, by saying this is the way you have to do things,” she said.

EPA describes the draft rule as an effort to improve transparency by demanding a strict accounting of costs and benefits for all economically significant air quality and climate change rulemakings promulgated under the landmark environmental law.

But it raises questions about whether a future administration could count so-called co-benefits when drafting regulations. Co-benefits are reductions in pollutants that aren’t the rule’s primary target but that yield public health benefits that EPA has traditionally counted.

Administrator Andrew Wheeler, a former energy lawyer, has long sought to sideline co-benefits, which industry sees as justifying rules whose costs outweigh true environmental benefits.

The co-benefit that has packed the greatest punch in past Clean Air Act rulemakings is fine particulate matter, or soot. Epidemiological studies are chock-full of data linking these tiny particles to pulmonary, respiratory and neurological ailments and death.

So demonstrating that a rule would reduce particulate matter adds to its value — a fact that even the Trump EPA used last year to show that its Affordable Clean Energy rule for power plant carbon dioxide was worth its costs.

‘History of racism’

The proposal comes as communities of color are experiencing some of the worst impacts of the coronavirus, while protests over racism and police brutality continue in cities across the country.

There’s evidence that elevated exposure to soot from highways, industrial facilities and incinerators that have for decades been built in predominantly black, Latino and Asian American communities are disproportionately harming the health of their residents.

“It’s all deeply ingrained in the history of racism and the history of civil rights,” said Sofia Owen, a staff attorney with Alternatives for Community & Environment, an environmental justice group based in Boston. “The siting of these facilities — where our highways are, where incinerators are, where compressor stations or the bus depots and the train depots are — is communities of color and low-income communities.”

The Union of Concerned Scientists released modeling last year showing that Asian Americans are, on average, exposed to particulate matter concentrations from vehicle tailpipes that are 34% higher compared with other Americans.

They weren’t alone. Soot exposure was 24% higher for African Americans and 23% higher for Latinos. White Americans are exposed to 14% less soot from tailpipes than the average American (Greenwire, June 27, 2019).

“It’s primarily the PM2.5 that is responsible for environmental damage and health damage in communities living near highways,” said Maria Cecilia Pinto de Moura, a senior vehicles engineer with UCS, referring to particulate matter 2.5 micrometers or less in diameter. The science advocacy group is now doing similar modeling on proximity to coal-fired power plants by demographic group, she said.

The health impacts of PM2.5 exposure can be severe.

A 2017 study by researchers at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and other institutions found that incremental increases in soot exposure below the standards set by EPA can result in significantly more deaths among senior citizens. The study found that black people were three times more likely to die from soot exposure than other Americans.

“We know that when you inhale fine particulate matter, they penetrate very deep into your lungs, and they can actually get into your bloodstream, and they initiate a form of inflammation that can cause pneumonia and cardiovascular disease,” said Francesca Dominici, a professor of biostatistics at the School of Public Health and an author of the 2017 study.

Dominici also co-authored a recent study showing that counties with higher levels of particulate matter experienced more deaths related to COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus (Greenwire, April 7).

There’s a link between particulate matter and acute respiratory distress syndrome, she said, which causes COVID-19-related deaths.

“If you’re living in a county and you’re breathing polluted air for a very long time, even absent COVID, we know that your lungs are inflamed,” Dominici said. “After you contract COVID, your ability to respond to the inflammatory nature of COVID is severely compromised because your lungs already have inflammation.”

The result is worse for black and Latino people who contract COVID-19. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported in April that 33% of those hospitalized with the disease were black, as were nearly a quarter of those who died. Eighteen percent of the U.S. population is black.

While racial minorities are more impacted by high soot levels, they’re also responsible for producing less of it.

A 2019 study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that non-Hispanic whites consume the majority of the goods and services responsible for particulate matter. Black and Latino people on average are exposed to 56% and 63% more soot, respectively, than is linked to their consumption.

The same study estimated that soot caused 131,000 premature American deaths in 2015.

“The long tail of this is that particularly black Americans and Latinx communities have been discriminated against in this country, and because of their poverty, they are forced to live in neighborhoods that are less expensive and more polluted,” said Aaron Bernstein, director of the Harvard Chan School’s Center for Climate, Health and the Global Environment.

EPA’s cost-benefit exercises could consider that history of racial injustice when assessing whether a rule is warranted, he noted.

“If you clean up the air, there is a pretty good likelihood that we’re going to benefit people of color more. And should we in fact prioritize those actions because of historical and, frankly, present-day injustices?” he said. “That is a highly contentious arena right now, but it’s hard to ignore, given what’s going on.”

Progress

The gap between soot exposure levels of white and nonwhite Americans has actually been shrinking in recent years.

A paper released in January that used satellite-based measurements to track air quality across the country found that disparities between soot levels in predominantly minority and white areas fell by nearly two-thirds between 2000 and 2015.

Reed Walker, an associate professor of economics at the University of California, Berkeley, and one of the authors of the study, said this was partly due to white people moving into cities and minorities heading to the suburbs.

But a much larger part of the story, he said, had to do with the Clean Air Act.

Particulate matter standards set under the law — current ones were implemented in 2005 — require counties that fail to meet National Ambient Air Quality Standards to take aggressive action to reach attainment.

“It just so happens that African Americans are overrepresented in these dirty areas,” Walker said, noting that in the last 15 years, counties with large minority populations have reduced particulate matter more than predominantly white counties.

Still, research shows that soot can cause illness and death at levels below federal air quality standards. This year, EPA declined to tighten the standard despite public health advocates’ warnings that an update is long overdue.

And the proposed cost-benefit rule seems to be directed at making tougher rules harder to promulgate in the future.

“Any failure to tighten the standard is going to continue the disproportionate exposures faced by individuals in those communities,” Walker said.

This story also appears today in Climatewire.

EPA Website: On-scene Coordinator Updates for Alma Spill

Repost from The DOT-111 Reader
[Editor:  Many thanks to the folks at DOT-111.org for locating this EPA website, specific to the Alma, Wisconsin derailment – excellent details, photos and a GoogleEarth link.  FOR FUTURE RESEARCH: the EPA links to other On-Scene Coordinator updates here: http://www.epaosc.org/.  – RS]

EPA Website for Alma Spill

Nov9b

November 9, 2015 | EPA | When hazmat spills occur, the EPA assigns an on-scene coordinator.  The OSC provides updates to the spill on their website. For those wishing to follow EPA reports on the Alma spill, [you can follow along here.]


Here’s a sample of the photos available:

IMG_0458.JPG (11/8/2015) View of ethanol tankers in water

 

EPA Issues Final Guidance on Considering EJ During Rulemaking

Repost from Mailing List, EPA Environmental Justice

EPA Issues Final Guidance on Considering EJ During Rulemaking

June 2, 2015 1:28 PM

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has issued final Guidance on Considering Environmental Justice During the Development of a Regulatory Action. This guidance was created to ensure understanding and foster consistency with efforts across EPA’s programs and regions to consider environmental justice and make a visible difference in America’s communities. The final guidance supersedes the agency’s Interim Guidance on Considering Environmental Justice During the Development of an Action, released in July 2010.

Key improvements from the interim guidance include:

  • Refined discussion of the factors that contribute to potential environmental justice concerns;
  • Refined direction on when and to what extent environmental justice needs to be considered in the rulemaking process;
  • Recommendations added for how to meaningfully engage minority, low-income, and indigenous populations and tribes;

A blog authored by Cynthia Giles and Jim Jones can be found at http://blog.epa.gov/blog/2015/06/integrating-environmental-justice-into-our-work/; a copy of the final guidance and the memo transmitting the guidance to the programs that write national rules can be found at: http://epa.gov/environmentaljustice/resources/policy/ej-rulemaking.html.

The guidance supports EPA implementation of Executive Order 12898, Federal Actions to Address Environmental Justice in Minority Populations and Low-Income Populations (http://epa.gov/environmentaljustice/resources/policy/exec_order_12898.pdf). Rulemaking is a critical part of how we carry out our mission of protecting the environment and health of all Americans.

All questions can be directed to: lee.charles@epa.gov


If you are not already a member, the Office of Environmental Justice would like to invite you to join the EJ ListServ. The purpose of this information tool is to notify individuals about activities at EPA in the field of environmental justice. By subscribing to this list you will receive information on EPAs activities, programs, projects grants and about environmental justice activities at other agencies. Noteworthy news items, National meeting announcements, meeting summaries of NEJAC meetings, and new publication notices will also be distributed. Postings can only be made by the Office of Environmental Justice. To request an item to be posted, send your information to environmental-justice@epa.gov and indicate in the subject “Post to EPA-EJ ListServ”

EPA proposes new smog standards

Repost from the EPA
[Editor: To view the proposal: http://www.epa.gov/glo/.  – RS]

News Release from Headquarters…

EPA Proposes Smog Standards to Safeguard Americans from Air Pollution

Release Date: 11/26/2014
Contact Information: Enesta Jones, Jones.enesta@epa.gov, 202-564-7873, 202-564-4355; En español: Lina Younes, younes.lina@epa.gov, 202-564-9924, 202-564-4355

WASHINGTON– Based on extensive recent scientific evidence about the harmful effects of ground-level ozone, or smog, EPA is proposing to strengthen air quality standards to within a range of 65 to 70 parts per billion (ppb) to better protect Americans’ health and the environment, while taking comment on a level as low as 60 ppb. The Clean Air Act requires EPA to review the standards every five years by following a set of open, transparent steps and considering the advice of a panel of independent experts. EPA last updated these standards in 2008, setting them at 75 ppb.

“Bringing ozone pollution standards in line with the latest science will clean up our air, improve access to crucial air quality information, and protect those most at-risk. It empowers the American people with updated air quality information to protect our loved ones – because whether we work or play outdoors – we deserve to know the air we breathe is safe,” said EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy. “Fulfilling the promise of the Clean Air Act has always been EPA’s responsibility. Our health protections have endured because they’re engineered to evolve, so that’s why we’re using the latest science to update air quality standards – to fulfill the law’s promise, and defend each and every person’s right to clean air.”

EPA scientists examined numerous scientific studies in its most recent review of the ozone standards, including more than 1,000 new studies published since the last update. Studies indicate that exposure to ozone at levels below 75 ppb — the level of the current standard — can pose serious threats to public health, harm the respiratory system, cause or aggravate asthma and other lung diseases, and is linked to premature death from respiratory and cardiovascular causes. Ground-level ozone forms in the atmosphere when emissions of nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds “cook” in the sun from sources like cars, trucks, buses, industries, power plants and certain fumes from fuels, solvents and paints. People most at risk from breathing air containing ozone include people with asthma, children, older adults, and those who are active or work outside. Stronger ozone standards will also provide an added measure of protection for low income and minority families who are more likely to suffer from asthma or to live in communities that are overburdened by pollution. Nationally, 1 in 10 children has been diagnosed with asthma.

According to EPA’s analysis, strengthening the standard to a range of 65 to 70 ppb will provide significantly better protection for children, preventing from 320,000 to 960,000 asthma attacks and from 330,000 to 1 million missed school days. Strengthening the standard to a range of 70 to 65 ppb would better protect both children and adults by preventing more than 750 to 4,300 premature deaths; 1,400 to 4,300 asthma-related emergency room visits; and 65,000 to 180,000 missed workdays.

EPA estimates that the benefits of meeting the proposed standards will significantly outweigh the costs. If the standards are finalized, every dollar we invest to meet them will return up to three dollars in health benefits. These large health benefits will be gained from avoiding asthma attacks, heart attacks, missed school days and premature deaths, among other health effects valued at $6.4 to $13 billion annually in 2025 for a standard of 70 ppb, and $19 to $38 billion annually in 2025 for a standard of 65 ppb. Annual costs are estimated at $3.9 billion in 2025 for a standard of 70 ppb, and $15 billion for a standard at 65 ppb.

A combination of recently finalized or proposed air pollution rules – including “Tier 3” clean vehicle and fuels standards – will significantly cut smog-forming emissions from industry and transportation, helping states meet the proposed standards. EPA’s analysis of federal programs that reduce air pollution from fuels, vehicles and engines of all sizes, power plants and other industries shows that the vast majority of U.S. counties with monitors would meet the more protective standards by 2025 just with the rules and programs now in place or underway. Local communities, states, and the federal government have made substantial progress in reducing ground-level ozone. Nationally, from 1980 to 2013, average ozone levels have fallen 33 percent. EPA projects that this progress will continue.

The Clean Air Act provides states with time to meet the standards. Depending on the severity of their ozone problem, areas would have between 2020 and 2037 to meet the standards. To ensure that people are alerted when ozone reaches unhealthy levels, EPA is proposing to extend the ozone monitoring season for 33 states. This is particularly important for at-risk groups, including children and people with asthma because it will provide information so families can take steps to protect their health on smoggy days.

The agency is also proposing to strengthen the “secondary” ozone standard to a level within 65 to 70 ppb to protect plants, trees and ecosystems from damaging levels of ground-level ozone. New studies add to the evidence showing that repeated exposure to ozone stunts the growth of trees, damages plants, and reduces crop yield. The proposed level corresponds to levels of seasonal ozone exposure scientists have determined would be more protective.

EPA will seek public comment on the proposal for 90 days following publication in the Federal Register, and the agency plans to hold three public hearings. EPA will issue final ozone standards by October 1, 2015.

To view the proposal: http://www.epa.gov/glo/