Press Releases & Bulletins
TO: Editors and Reporters Covering the Environment
DATE: October 19, 2001
AIR QUALITY TRENDS: WHAT EPA DIDN'T TELL YOU
We were intrigued at the news release issued late yesterday by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency regarding air quality trends in the nation (see http://www.epa.gov and note news releases for 10/18/01). So we read the actual report and related background material. Here are a few things the EPA didn't tell you:
- In the release, EPA Administrator Christie Whitman hailed a recent National Governors Association (NGA) policy as a "remarkable step forward" toward addressing pollution from electric power plants. This is unfortunate and misleading propaganda. In fact, during its recent annual meeting, NGA adopted a policy similar to that of the Edison Electric Institute (EEI): it urged changes in EPA's "new source review" program to promote "fuel diversity," which is code language for increased coal burning. NGA also mimicked EEI rhetoric by calling for "regulatory certainty" and a "flexible, market-based program." Again, like EEI, the governors opposed any mandatory reductions of the heat-trapping gas carbon dioxide. It's no wonder, by the way, that NGA came up with such a blatantly pro-industry approach. The policy was developed behind closed doors without input from the general public.
- Despite progress in reducing pollution, EPA's press release neglected to mention that more than 121 million people were still living in areas that violated basic public health standards in 2000. In a footnote to its report, EPA noted that "this number may increase" as new monitors go up to track fine particulate soot. These sobering statistics dramatically underscore the continuing need for enforceable programs to protect air quality at the state and local level. Unfortunately, EPA's Whitman has said that she, like industry, would like to scuttle many of those programs, including new source review.
- EPA's release failed to note that smog-and-soot-forming nitrogen oxides emissions actually increased by three percent during the past decade. This is mainly due to increased emissions from diesel trucks and buses and from so-called "nonroad" diesel engines, including construction equipment. The pollution increase underscores the need to press ahead with efforts to clean up diesel trucks and highway diesel fuel (the oil industry is suing to block EPA's cleanup plan) as well as for EPA to initiate a bold new initiative to clean up nonroad diesel engines and diesel fuel.
- EPA's release failed to note the shocking fact that during the past decade, smog levels rose in 29 of our national parks, including "significant upward trends" in the Great Smoky Mountains, the Everglades, Yellowstone, Yosemite and Canyonlands, among others. The fine print of EPA's report also suggests that visibility is becoming worse at western national parks. These statistics underscore the need to move forward with tough "regional haze" rules, which Whitman has said she would like to eliminate, as well as to maintain new source review requirements.
- EPA failed to note that a recent National Academy of Sciences report found that mercury exposure may cause neurological problems in 60,000 children born in the U.S. each year. Or that 40 states have issued fish consumption warnings because of mercury. Or that electric power plants are the biggest source of mercury. EPA has discussed eliminating upcoming EPA "toxic" air pollutant rules on mercury in favor of a system that would allow utilities to buy and sell toxic mercury "credits."
- EPA's release also failed to note that greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. rose 11 percent between 1990 and 1998. Electric utility emissions went up even more. Obviously, the "voluntary" reduction efforts touted in EPA's press release aren't doing the job.
As always, please don't hesitate to call (202) 785-9625 if you'd like to discuss these or related issues.