Sunday, August 26, 2018

New EPA rules designed to Make America Grey Again

Trump’s EPA (Extreme Profits Always) is about to make “change that could breathe new life into scores of aging coal power plants.” The thing is, that change is also likely to come at a cost of human lives due to increased pollution from burning coal. First, what’s the change?

Trump’s Plan Could Prolong the Lives of Coal Plants and Their Smog writes Jennifer Dlouhy at Bloomberg Quint. (Reprinted by the Daily Star with “Pollution” subbed for “Smog”.)

Tucked inside the Trump administration’s plan to ease carbon dioxide limits is a change that could breathe new life into scores of aging coal power plants.

Experts say the shift could also unleash an additional tens of thousands of tons of nitrogen oxide emissions into the air each year.

The proposal would permit upgrades to old power plants without triggering an existing legal requirement to install costly pollution control systems at the same time. The upgrades could extend the lives of those plants by making them more reliable or cheaper to run.

For coal power plant owners, “this proposal seems to want to let them have their cake and eat it too: to improve their efficiency, run more often and not trigger” the requirements, said Andres Restrepo, a staff attorney with the Sierra Club.

More than a third of American coal-fired units lack modern controls to pare smog-forming nitrogen oxide emissions, according to a Bloomberg News review of Environmental Protection Agency data.

Some of those plants went into operation in the 1950s and 1960s, predating advanced catalytic-reduction equipment and regulatory requirements compelling its use.

All told, at least 33 percent of electricity generated by burning coal last year was not subjected to advanced pollution controls, according to EPA data.

For years, owners of those aging facilities have faced a major challenge: The plants might benefit from equipment replacements and upgrades that would make them more reliable and less costly to run – and better able to compete with natural gas-fired units. Yet any change that would bolster nitrogen oxide emissions by 40 tons a year – perhaps just because the plants would run more as a result of the upgrades – would also trigger requirements to install modern controls to keep those pollutants at bay.

President Donald Trump’s EPA is offering a revision as part of its proposal to replace an Obama administration regulation slashing carbon dioxide emissions across the nation’s electric grid with modest requirements for efficiency upgrades at individual power plants.

’Longstanding Dream’

At issue is the federal government’s so-called New Source Review program, which allows power plants, refineries, factories and other industrial facilities to keep running with existing pollution-control equipment – even if it has become outdated – so the systems don’t constantly need upgrades.

Under the New Source Review program, requirements for better pollution-control systems are triggered whenever the sites undergo construction, renovations or some operational changes expected to significantly boost annual emissions.

The Trump administration’s proposed changes would make it harder to trigger the requirement by adding an additional test: insisting that emissions also go up on a short-term, hourly basis – in addition to the annual surge.

“That’s a test designed to never be triggered,” said John Walke, clean air director at the Natural Resources Defense Council. “This has been the longstanding dream of coal power plant lawyers and lobbyists dating to at least the late ‘70s.”

Emissions from coal plant
The dream includes emissions from
coal plant in Kentucky

What the coal lobby is not telling you, however, is the human cost of their “longstanding dream.” Here is the short version from 538’s significant digits this last week.

1,400 premature deaths annually
The Trump administration revealed its new coal-plant pollution rules yesterday [Aug. 21st]. The document, the so-called Affordable Clean Energy rule, acknowledges that the plan would increase pollution and lead to 1,400 premature deaths a year. [The New York Times]

The cited NY Times article, Cost of New E.P.A. Coal Rules: Up to 1,400 More Deaths a Year, has more. The mortality numbers for the Trump administration plan are calculated using a modeling system reviewed by the National Academy of Sciences.

The Trump administration has hailed its overhaul of federal pollution restrictions on coal-burning power plants as creating new jobs, eliminating burdensome government regulations and ending what President Trump has long described as a “war on coal.”

"We love clean, beautiful West Virginia coal,” Mr. Trump said at a political rally Tuesday evening in West Virginia, the heart of American coal country. “And you know, that’s indestructible stuff. In times of war, in times of conflict, you can blow up those windmills, they fall down real quick. You can blow up pipelines, they go like this,” he said, making a hand gesture. “You can do a lot of things to those solar panels, but you know what you can’t hurt? Coal.”

You know what you can hurt?

The administration’s own analysis, however, revealed on Tuesday that the new rules could also lead to as many as 1,400 premature deaths annually by 2030 from an increase in the extremely fine particulate matter that is linked to heart and lung disease, up to 15,000 new cases of upper respiratory problems, a rise in bronchitis, and tens of thousands of missed school days.

Never mind. The trade-off is just what you would expect from Trump. Two other aspects of the new rule are noteworthy. One is that the Trumpians are passing off a global, planetary problem to individual states. California will have cleaner air. West Virginia? Not so much.

At its heart, the administration’s Affordable Clean Energy rule will give individual states vast authority to set more modest goals and to regulate emissions from coal plants as they see fit. Critics assailed it on Tuesday as a shortsighted effort that could set back the effort to tame global warming.

But that is just plain nuts. When it comes to the atmosphere, since when does Mother Earth respect arbitrary borders?

Equally disturbing is the demotion of science in the Trumpian rewrite of the role of data in decision-making.

The agency is considering a separate rule that would restrict the use of any study for which the raw, underlying data cannot be made public for review. The argument for the rule is that the research work isn’t sufficiently transparent if the data behind it isn’t available for analysis.

But scientists overwhelmingly oppose the move, pointing out that participants in long-term health studies typically agree to take part only if their personal health information won’t be made public.

The E.P.A. didn’t respond to questions about its proposal to limit the scientific research used in its assessment.

“The Trump administration sees political value in this rollback, but our health and the economic promise of clean energy is at stake,” former Vice President Al Gore said in a statement.

In addition, Steve Benen (MSNBC/MaddowBlog) is Coming to terms with just how dangerous Trump’s pollution plan is.

The New York Times reports that the “fine print” in the administration’s new plan “includes an acknowledgment that the plan would increase carbon emissions and lead to up to 1,400 premature deaths annually.” The article added:

[T]he hundreds of pages of technical analysis that accompany the new proposal indicate that emissions would grow under the plan.

Compared to the Obama-era plan, the analysis says, “implementing the proposed rule is expected to increase emissions of carbon dioxide and the level of emissions of certain pollutants in the atmosphere that adversely affect human health.” […]

[Under the most likely projected scenario], the Trump E.P.A. predicts its plan will see between 470 and 1,400 premature deaths annually by 2030 because of increased rates of microscopic airborne particulates known as PM 2.5, which are dangerous because of their link to heart and lung disease as well as their ability to trigger chronic problems like asthma and bronchitis.

This is the price Donald Trump and his team believe we should collectively pay to help support pollution from a dying industry. Some Trump voters may not have realized this is what they were endorsing in 2016, but it’s what they’re getting now.

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