Monday, June 30, 2008

Suit Filed Challenging EPA's "Water Transfer Rule"

Jun 27: As previously promised, Earthjustice filed suit in U.S. Circuit Court in Atlanta to challenge the Bush administration's controversial "water transfer rule" announced on June 9, 2008 [See WIMS 6/10/08]. Earthjustice indicates that the new rule "says polluters don't need to comply with the Clean Water Act when they transfer dirty water -- from canals contaminated by urban or agricultural pollution, for example -- directly into public lakes and streams." Representing Florida Wildlife Federation, Earthjustice contends in its lawsuit that such water transfers should be protected by the Clean Water Act. Earthjustice also said the rule is intended to effectively overrule a 2006 Federal court decision which declared the practice of unpermitted pollution pumping to be illegal (See Friends of the Everglades, Inc. v. S. Fla. Water Mgmt. Dist.).

According to EPA the final rule defines a water transfer as an activity that conveys or connects waters of the United States without subjecting the transferred water to intervening industrial, municipal, or commercial use. This does not apply to pollutants introduced by the water transfer activity itself to the water being transferred. EPA indicates that water transfers are activities that divert water between waterbodies, typically through the use of pumps or passive redirection through tunnels, channels, and/or natural stream water features.

The Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies (AMWA) applauded the rule, calling it essential for ensuring adequate water supplies for communities. AMWA said the rule affirms how water transfers have been regulated for decades, and states will retain the authority they have always had to regulate transfers under state law, should they choose to do so. AMWA had said previously in support of the rule [See WIMS 8/16/06] that requiring NPDES permits for water transfers could impermissibly interfere with local water resource management decisions that Congress intended to protect. They said their position is also held by the Supreme Court. AMWA is an organization of the largest publicly owned drinking water systems in the United States. AMWA's membership serves more than 120 million Americans with drinking water from Alaska to Puerto Rico.

Earthjustice attorney David Guest, said, "The Bush administration has no right to create exemptions in the Clean Water Act that endanger public drinking water supplies. The public won't stand for this last-ditch move to protect polluters." Earthjustice indicated that the Federal court case challenged the practice of "backpumping" water from contaminated drainage canals into Lake Okeechobee a major drinking water supply. The federal court ruled that the polluted water, coupled with routine disinfection at public water plants, creates "toxic disinfection byproducts that can sicken humans."

They said that "transfers of contaminated water have already triggered numerous toxic algae blooms around the United States. The algae growths can make people sick and sometimes kill livestock or pets that drink the water. The drinking water supplies for millions of Americans across the country have been affected, including notable cases in Florida, Colorado, New Hampshire, and California. The dirty water is a health risk for pregnant women, and taxpayers are on the hook for hundreds of millions of dollars in additional treatment costs while polluters put more profits in their pockets."

Access a release from Earthjustice and links to background information (click here). Access the petition to vacate the EPA final rule (click here). Access links to the final rule, fact sheet and 19-page interpretation memo from EPA's website (click here). Access the EPA docket for the rulemaking for background information and comments (click here). Access the AMWA website for additional information (click here). [*Water]

Friday, June 27, 2008

Report: Breaking The Climate Deadlock: A Global Deal

Jun 27: Former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair, in Tokyo presented a report to Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda to coincide with the upcoming G-8 Leaders’ Summit at Lake Toyako [See WIMS 6/25/08] entitled, Breaking the Climate Deadlock: A Global Deal for Our Low Carbon Future. The report represents the first phase of the broader "Breaking the Climate Deadlock" initiative launched by Tony Blair and The Climate Group in March this year which aims to help build decisive political support, over the next 18 months, among key countries for a new international climate change agreement that will effectively address climate change beyond 2012.

Written by a group of recognized climate change experts drawn together by The Climate Group and under the direction of Blair, the report has three key objectives: (1.) Create a shared vision of what is needed to avoid dangerous climate change and show how this can be achieved without sacrificing countries’ growth and development aspirations; (2.) Establish the core elements of a global deal that would deliver this vision, in particular to drive the necessary investments in emissions reduction and adaptation; and, (3.) Provide clear, ambitious but achievable goals for G-8 Leaders, which would help ensure agreement on a new treaty in Copenhagen in December 2009. The report is supported by a range of expert briefing papers -- to be launched in the coming month -- that provide detailed background information and analysis on specific issues.

In a foreword to the report, Tony Blair presents perhaps the most politically realistic overview of the difficulties in negotiating an international climate change agreement that has been publicly stated thus far. He says, "But we should be open about the substantial present political risk. There is a danger of a yawning chasm between, on the one side, those in the scientific, NGO, and expert community who want very radical action immediately to cut greenhouse gas emissions; and on the other side, those in positions of political leadership who fear they are being asked for something beyond their power to deliver without damage to economic growth. . .

"Essentially, we are asking North America, Europe and Japan to move from a situation of rising or static emissions in the last 12 years, to a significant, unprecedented cut in the next 12 to allow global emissions to peak by 2020. Some will say that to have a reasonable chance of constraining warming to approximately 2°C, we need greenhouse gas concentration to peak at 500 parts per million by volume (ppmv); some 450 ppmv; some even less [See WIMS 6/23/08, Launch Of; The Red Line For Human Beings]. Some insist that 2020 is the latest peaking moment we can permit, beyond which damage to the climate will become irreversible; some, though generally not in the scientific community, say 2025 or even 2030 may be permissible. . ." Blair points out, "if the US meets the boldest targets for reductions while China continues on its present path, and India follows, the climate will still suffer irreversible damage.

Blair says, "There is also an immense political danger which anyone who has participated in intricate and politically sensitive multilateral negotiations understands. If the Copenhagen meeting happens without a clear political direction already having been given, then it will be a negotiator’s nightmare. What is more, the danger is that countries then approach Copenhagen with minimalist positions, knowing concessions will be dragged out of them; rather than setting out genuinely the maximum that they think they can realistically achieve. The consequence will be an agreement of lowest common denominator, with a hotchpotch of complicated mechanisms that leaves the world little further forward and public opinion disillusioned and dissatisfied.

"There is a different and better way of approaching a global deal. What is essential is that the world, especially the world of business, gets from Copenhagen a clear, unequivocal, radical direction . . . [Blair outlines 9 points around which a deal can be structured, and concludes:] The challenge is not one of will. It is how to get a deal that sets us clearly on a path to a low carbon future; that is fair; and that is do-able. That is radical and realistic. In this report, we describe the elements that could go into such a deal and the thinking behind them."

The °Climate Group is an independent, nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing business and government leadership on climate change. The organization is based in the UK, the USA, Australia, China and India and operates internationally. It was founded in 2004 by a diverse group of companies, governments and supporters who saw the opportunity to create new momentum in the international effort to stop climate change. The Climate Group works to accelerate international action on global warming with a new, strong focus on practical solutions, and promotes the development and sharing of expertise on how business and government can lead the way towards a low carbon economy whilst boosting profitability and competitiveness. Members include such companies as: Goldman Sachs, Dow Chemical Company, Duke Energy, BP, Google, Johnson & Johnson, JPMorgan Chase & Co., Starbucks, etc.

Access the complete 66-page report (
click here). Access more information on the Breaking the Climate Deadlock initiative (click here). Access the Climate Group website for more information (click here). Access the G-8 Japan Summit meeting website for additional information (click here). [*Climate, *Energy]

Thursday, June 26, 2008

High Court Rules In Exxon Shipping Co. v. Baker

Jun 25: In the U.S. Supreme Court, Case No. 07-219. In a complicated split decision, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that a punitive damage award of $2.5 billion in the tragic Exxon Valdez catastrophe was too large and should not exceed the compensatory damages determined to be $507.5 million. Legal observers are saying the case may established a new legal guideline to use in deciding what is a reasonable dollar value to "punish" a wrong-doer for damages. The new guideline is basically a 1-to-1 ratio of compensatory damages cost to punishment award.

The High Court said in summary, "There are three questions of maritime law before us: whether a shipowner may be liable for punitive damages without acquiescence in the actions causing harm, whether punitive damages have been barred implicitly by federal statutory law making no provision for them, and whether the award of $2.5 billion in this case is greater than maritime law should allow in the circumstances. We are equally divided on the owner’s derivative liability, and hold that the federal statutory law does not bar a punitive award on top of damages for economic loss, but that the award here should be limited to an amount equal to compensatory damages.

Justice Souter delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Justices Roberts, Scalia, Kennedy, and Thomas joined. Justices Stevens, Ginsburg, and Breyer joined, in Parts I, II, and III. Justice Scalia filed a concurring opinion, in which Justice Thomas, joined. Justices Stevens, Ginsburg and Breyer filed opinions concurring in part and dissenting in part. Justice Alito took no part in the consideration or decision of the case.

At issue in the case was the $2.5 billion punitive damage verdict that breaks down to $76,500 per individual plaintiff in the class action composed of 32,677 commercial fishermen, related individuals and businesses, private landowners, Native Alaskans, municipalities, and other claimants from across the country. Exxon argued that it should not be punished at all [See WIMS 2/26/08]. The jury awarded $5,000 in punitive damages against Hazelwood and $5 billion against Exxon. On appeal, the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reduced the damage award against Exxon to $2.5 billion.

In its review the High Court considered the question of whether to allow punitive damages for the conduct of any employee and imposing liability for managerial agents and concluded, "The Court is equally divided on this question. . . We therefore leave the Ninth Circuit’s opinion undisturbed in this respect, though it should go without saying that the disposition here is not precedential on the derivative liability question."

On another issue regarding whether the Clean Water Act (CWA) somehow preempts punitive damages, but not compensatory damages, for economic loss, the High Court agrees with the Ninth Circuit and says, "nothing in the statutory text points to fragmenting the recovery scheme this way, and we have rejected similar attempts to sever remedies from their causes of action."

Finally, on the issue of first impression about punitive damages in maritime law, the High Court indicates that, "by most accounts the median ratio of punitive to compensatory awards has remained less than 1:1." The Court also notes that, "Today’s enquiry differs from due process review because the case arises under federal maritime jurisdiction, and we are reviewing a jury award for conformity with maritime law, rather than the outer limit allowed by due process; we are examining the verdict in the exercise of federal maritime common law authority, which precedes and should obviate any application of the constitutional standard."

The Majority rules, "Applying this standard [1:1, punitive to compensatory] to the present case, we take for granted the District Court’s calculation of the total relevant compensatory damages at $507.5 million. See In re Exxon Valdez, 236 F. Supp. 2d 1043, 1063 (D. Alaska 2002). A punitive-to-compensatory ratio of 1:1 thus yields maximum punitive damages in that amount. We therefore vacate the judgment and remand the case for the Court of Appeals to remit the punitive damages award accordingly."

Access the syllabus, complete opinion, concurring opinions and dissents (
click here). Access the Supreme Court Docket 07-219 (click here). Access the Supreme Court links to all briefs (click here). Access the Whole Truth website for links to extensive information (click here). Access a graphic chronology of the litigation in this case and links to all briefs filed in the Supreme Court case (click here). [*Haz, *Water]

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

NAFTA CEC's State Of The North American Environment Report

Jun 18: The NAFTA environmental organization, the Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC), has released its latest State Of The North American Environment Report. The report adds to other recently released similar reports including: U.S. EPA's 2008 Report on the Environment (EPA 2008 ROE) [See WIMS 5/20/08]; the State of the Nation’s Ecosystems 2008, released by the Heinz Center on June 17, and its companion policy report, Environmental Information: Roadmap to the Future [See WIMS 6/23/08].

The CEC report addresses issues related to air and atmosphere, biodiversity and ecosystems, pollutants, and water. Specific topics include climate change, species of concern -- including the critically endangered vaquita porpoise -- and the quality and quantity of water shared between the North American nations. The report, The North American Mosaic: An Overview of Key Environmental Issues, is a follow-up to the CEC’s 2002 state of the environment report and responds to the CEC Secretariat’s obligation to periodically address environmental conditions in Canada, Mexico and the United States. With the advice of environmental reporting experts from the three countries, the report draws on information from national and international sources for a broad overview of North America’s environment. The report was presented to the environment ministers of Canada, Mexico and the United States in advance of their annual meeting, to be held in Ottawa, Canada, on June 26.

CEC Executive Director Adrián Vázquez-Gálvez said, “Over the next year, we will use this report, along with other important information, to engage the public, subject matter experts and governments in evaluating our progress to date and future opportunities for cooperation. It will help us identify the central environmental challenges confronting North America, as well as the top priorities for cooperative action among the three countries to address these environmental challenges.” In addition to the June 26 meeting of environment ministers, the CEC’s Joint Public Advisory Committee is hosting a major conference -- North America 2030: An Environmental Outlook -- to discuss the report and other issues as they pertain to North America’s environmental future on June 25.

The report, conference and council meeting all explore the following questions: What are the central environmental challenges confronting North America?; What are the greatest priorities for cooperative action among our three countries to address these environmental challenges?; How can we measure our progress and create effective feedback mechanisms?; and How can we enhance the relevance of trinational cooperation through the Commission for Environmental Cooperation?

Access a release on the CEC North American Mosaic report (
click here). Access the State of the Environment website for links to the complete report, chapters, and related information (click here). Access the Environmental Outlook conference website for an agenda, discussion paper, and webcast (click here). Access details on the 15th CEC Council June 26, meeting including a webcast of the meeting (click here).

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Raw Sewage Overflow Notification Bill Passes House

Jun 23: the U.S. House of Representatives passed on a voice vote, bipartisan legislation sponsored by Representative Tim Bishop (D-NY), The Raw Sewage Overflow Community Right-to-Know Act (H.R. 2452), which is designed to protect Americans from hazardous overflows in beaches, rivers and lakes. Every year, sewage-contaminated water sickens millions of Americans who unknowingly swim in it. Bishop said New York City alone discharges 27 billion gallons of untreated sewage annually into surrounding bodies of water. There is no Federal law requiring sewage operators to monitor for hazardous leaks or notify the public of such leaks.

Bishop indicated in a release that, “The best way to avoid human health and environmental concerns from sewer overflows is to ensure that they never occur in the first place. However, even with significant increases in investment, sewer overflows will continue to occur. Therefore, it is imperative that we provide the public with comprehensive and timely notification of sewer overflows. I introduced the Right-to-Know Act to ensure that all Americans can protect themselves and their families from contact with untreated sewage and to reduce economic losses due to waterborne illness.”

Currently, instead of clear federal regulations, there is a patchwork of regulations in states and localities. It has been estimated that between 1.8 million and 3.5 million Americans become sick every year just from swimming in waters contaminated by sewer overflows. The loss of recreational revenue due to contamination has been valued at between $1 billion and $2 billion while economic losses due to swimming-related illnesses are estimated at $28 billion annually. In addition to enforcing tougher public health standards, the bill would make sewage operators eligible for federal clean water funds to monitor their systems and to develop procedures to notify the public.

Commenting on the bill, Rebecca Wodder, President of American Rivers said, “The safety of our water should never be a guessing game. Thanks to the Sewage Overflow Community Right-to-Know Act, people will know when their local rivers have been contaminated by sewage. When contaminated tomatoes were discovered in supermarkets, they were pulled from the shelf. We need the same warning when our waterways are polluted. Knowledge is power, and in this case, knowledge can mean the difference between staying healthy or falling ill.”

The bipartisan legislation, which had 57 cosponsors including Representative Frank LoBiondo (R-NJ) who joined with Bishop on the introduction, enjoys broad support from more than 150 groups including numerous public health groups. Companion legislation, S. 2080, has been introduced in the Senate by Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) and is currently in the Committee on Environment and Public Works.

Access a release from Representative Bishop (
click here). Access legislative details for H.R. 2452 (click here). Access a release from American Rivers (click here). [*Water]

Monday, June 23, 2008

White House Launches Another Environmental Indicators Initiative

Jun 17: The Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ), the Office of Management and Budget, and the Office of Science and Technology Policy directed Federal agencies to begin developing a set of national environmental indicators and to kick off a major pilot project in this area. According to an announcement from CEQ National Environmental Status and Trends (NEST) indicators are envisioned as high quality, scientifically based statistical measures of selected conditions of our environment and natural resources that will facilitate public discourse and decision-making. They will be used by Federal decision makers, other partners and stakeholders, and the public to analyze national trends and assess the impact of national programs on the Nation's environment and natural resources.

The pilot project announced will focus on producing consistent, regularly recurring indicators in the area of water quantity and quality. The NEST pilot will demonstrate collaborative interagency processes and provide a forum to engage the public in the identification of questions that should be addressed by the indicators. CEQ Chairman James Connaughton said, "Our Nation will benefit from a consistent set of indicators for our environment and natural resources. Most NEST indicators will be produced from data collected by ongoing Federal and State programs. This action plan will improve the quality and uniformity of those data to provide nationally consistent, and more widely accessible, indicators."

Clay Johnson, Deputy Director for Management, Office of Management and Budget said, "High-quality, statistical measures of conditions and trends are important indicators of the effectiveness of government policies and programs. We currently lack consistent information on the environment and natural resources to analyze national trends. We sought the advice of the National Academy of Public Administration on the best way to move forward, and this action is based on their recommendations." Dr. John H. Marburger III, director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy said, "The science community has pilot-tested several approaches to national reporting on environmental conditions over the past decade. For example, the project The State of the Nation's Ecosystems conducted for the government by the H. John Heinz III Center for Science, Economics and the Environment, produced a useful, credible set of indicators. But we need to go farther, and the development of such national indicators is a Federal responsibility. So we are moving now to the next level."

Interestingly, the announcement came on the same day that the Heinz Center released its latest, The State of the Nation's Ecosystems 2008 report. A companion report calls for bold federal and state action to strengthen and integrate the nation’s environmental monitoring. Also, the White House announcement did not mention the May 20, release by EPA of its 2008 Report on the Environment (EPA 2008 ROE) [See WIMS 5/20/08], which it called "an important resource that citizens can use to better understand trends in the condition of the air, water, and land and related changes in human health and the environment in the United States." and "a valuable resource that can inform and focus EPA activities to improve and protect America’s environment." The EPA ROE is a major document that follows a lengthy development process that began in 2003, and a public comment period last year [
See WIMS 5/10/07]. EPA says "the 2008 ROE uses scientifically sound indicators to measure and report on overall progress toward protecting the environment and human health."

On June 2, the three White House agencies sent a letter and policy memorandum to agency and department heads indicating that, "We will begin with a pilot project conducted by Federal agencies in collaboration with their non-Federal partners on national status and trend indicators of water availability, including both quantity and quality. The pilot project is designed to test the vision for the NEST Indicators. It will demonstrate the collaborative interagency processes that will be used to select and implement indicators and will improve the consistency and interoperability of data. In addition, a national forum will be convened to identify the topics and questions that should be addressed by the indicators of water availability. The U.S. Forest Service has agreed to lead an Executive Management Team that will guide the pilot project."

In a second phase of the initiative, Federal agencies will work together through an Executive Management Team to convene a national forum on fresh water availability. indicators.The national forum will have broad representation from multiple levels of government and from all affected sectors. Forum participants will identify policy-relevant questions that frame national, cross-cutting concerns as well as regional, state and local concerns for which statistically rigorous, nationally comparable indicators would inform analyses and decision-making at multiple levels of government and across sectors.

According to the policy memo, various Federal Agencies will coordinate their observation and monitoring activities through the subcommittees of the Committee on Environment and Natural Resources (CENR) of the National Science and Technology Council (NSTC). Federal agencies will work together through CENR subcommittees to identify key observations required to provide the consistent statistical basis for the NEST Indicators pilot project.

The State of the Nation’s Ecosystems 2008, announced by the Heinz Center shows that the acreage burned every year by wildfires is increasing, non-native fish have invaded nearly every watershed in the lower 48 states, and chemical contaminants are found in virtually all streams and most groundwater wells, often at levels above those set to protect human health or wildlife. In contrast, ecosystems are increasing their storage of carbon, there are improvements in soil quality and crop yields have grown significantly. The companion policy report, Environmental Information: Roadmap to the Future, notes critical gaps in environmental information and highlights the management challenges. Key recommendations in the Roadmap report urge Congress to establish a national environmental indicator initiative, guided by the federal government, states, the private sector, environmental organizations, universities, and others. This effort would link national indicators with information used by local, state, corporate, and other decision makers, and drive an agenda for improving data collection and reporting.

The Roadmap suggests that the executive branch build on the work of the Heinz Center and others to maintain momentum while Congress moves forward, establish internal processes to improve federal data coordination, and expand dialogue among the many users and providers of needed environmental information. The companion report also suggests that Congress and the executive branch provide additional support for monitoring and related activities and that states demonstrate a heightened commitment to providing the information needed by state, local, and other decision makers to improve the state of the nation’s ecosystems.

Access a release from CEQ (
click here). Access the letter and policy memorandum (click here). Access the NSTC website for additional information (click here). Access EPA's ROE website with links to the complete document and presentations of data by Regions (click here). Access EPA's ROE 2008 Project Summary website for additional information (click here). Access a release from the Heinz Center (click here). Access summary information and details on obtaining the complete Ecosystem 2008 report and links to the complete 104-page Heinz Roadmap report (click here). [*All]

Friday, June 20, 2008

President Claims Executive Privilege Over CAA Documents

Jun 20: President Bush has asserted executive privilege over thousands of pages of documents that would show whether the President and his staff complied with the Clean Air Act (CAA) in overruling EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson on important environmental decisions. The latest White House response comes as a result of Representative Henry Waxman (D-CA), Chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform announcement on June 13 that the Committee would meet on June 20 to consider a resolution citing EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson and Susan Dudley, Administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs of the Office of Management and Budget for contempt of Congress. Waxman claimed that thousands of pages of documents have not been submitted to the Committee as requested relating to EPA's denial of California's petition to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from motor vehicles and EPA's revision of the national ambient air quality standards for ozone.

On May 20, Waxman indicated that the Committee's investigation had uncovered details of White House involvement in EPA’s regulation of ozone on the eve of a court imposed deadline, forcing EPA staff to scrap a standard supported by its independent panel and to perform “emergency rewrites” to the regulation [
See WIMS 5/21/08]. Waxman also released extensive documentation on the Committee's investigation of the California waiver request decision.

According to a June 20, letter from EPA, "I am writing to inform you of the President's decision to assert executive privilege over some of these documents, with the exception of the documents or portions of documents that are being provided to you today. Although EPA will not be providing all of the documents sought by the subpoenas, we are providing the vast majority. . . As set forth more fully in the attached letter from Attorney General Michael Mukasey to the President, the Committee's subpoenas infringe upon the Executive Branch's strong interest in protecting the confidentiality of communications with and/or information received or solicited by the President and his senior advisors. We very much regret that we have arrived at this point and have gone to great lengths in an attempt to find a solution that accommodates both of our interests. Our letter of June 18 sets forth in detail the extensive accommodations EPA has made with respect to the Committee's demand for information about these matters. The Committee has received over 10,000 of the Agency's documents concerning these both of these matters. . ."

A similar letter from OMB to Chairman Waxman indicates, "Without providing any legitimate justification or demonstration of need, you demand 1,735 pages of internal deliberative documents from the President's EOP [Executive Office of the President] staff at OIRA, and 221 pages of communications between the President's staff at OMB and other EOP offices. In order to preserve the confidentiality that is essential to the ability of current and future Presidents to receive candid analyses, advice and recommendations from EOP staff, and for the reasons set forth in the attached letter from the Attorney General, I have been authorized to report to the Committee the President's decision to assert Executive Privilege with regard to the documents that have been withheld by OIRA. Accordingly, we will not be providing them. . ."

In a statement at the Committee's meeting, Chairman Waxman said, "For months, the Committee has been investigating EPA's decision to prevent California and other states from reducing greenhouse gas emissions from motor vehicles and its decision to adopt new ozone air quality standards weaker than those recommended by the agency's scientific experts. These investigations have shown that the decisions in these important environmental matters were made not at EPA, but in the White House. In both cases, the scientists, the agency career staff, and EPA Administrator Johnson wanted to take stronger action to protect the environment. And in both cases, the White House rejected the agency's position.

"Today the President has asserted executive privilege to prevent the Committee from learning why he and his staff overruled EPA. There are thousands of internal White House documents that would show whether the President and his staff acted lawfully. But the President has said they must be kept from Congress and the public. . .

"The Clean Air Act is clear about what can be considered and what cannot be considered when EPA makes decisions under its authority. In both cases, the EPA's methodical and scientific process pointed to specific outcomes. In both cases, the outcome dramatically changed when the White House became involved. . .

"Today's assertion of executive privilege raises serious questions about Administrator Johnson's credibility and the involvement of the President. Without the remaining documents, it will be nearly impossible to fully understand the President's role in overruling the unanimous recommendations of EPA's own experts. We had scheduled a vote on a contempt resolution for this morning for Mr. Johnson and Ms. Dudley. We will not have that vote in light of the executive privilege claim. I want to talk with my colleagues on both sides about this new development and consider all our options before deciding how we should proceed."

Access the Committee's website for links to all documents (
click here). [*Air, *Climate]

Thursday, June 19, 2008

EU Commission Begins Public Dialogue On Nanotechnologies

Jun 17: The European Environmental Commission has begun a public dialogue on nanotechnologies -- "tapping economic and environmental potential through safe products." According to a release from the Commission, "Nanotechnologies have enormous potential benefits for manufacturers, consumers, employees, patients and the environment. They will bring more energy and resource efficient processes, improve computer memories and processors and could usher in a new age of customized pharmaceuticals and medical procedures."

While current EU legislation covers in principle the challenges for health, safety and environment with regards to nanomaterials, there is further need for research and international cooperation. As more and more products involving nanomaterials are reaching the market, the European Commission will start a consultation with stakeholders and Member States in order to increase knowledge and awareness about the potential of nanotechnologies and to continue to ensure an adequate protection of nature, environment and health.

Commission Vice-President Günter Verheugen, responsible for enterprise and industry policy said, “A reliable and stable regulatory framework is essential for enabling the EU’s industry to fully exploit the advances of nanotechnologies. With the right structures in place they will boost innovation and contribute to growth, employment creation and competitiveness.” Commissioner Stavros Dimas responsible for environment policy said, “The regulatory challenge is to ensure that society benefits from novel applications of nanotechnologies, while ensuring a high level of protection of health, safety and the environment and thereby fully applying the precautionary principle.”

The Commission reports, that nanotechnologies process materials are at the atomic, molecular and macromolecular scale, where properties may differ from those seen at a larger scale. Products based on nanotechnologies are already in use and analysts are predicting explosive economic growth in the sector over the coming decade. Nanotechnologies will boost innovation in areas such as public health, Information and Communication Technology (ICT), the manufacturing industry, environmental protection, energy, transport, security and space.

Forecasts for the world market for nanotechnologies span between 750 to 2000 billion € up to 2015, and the potential for the creation of jobs is estimated to 10 million nano-related jobs by 2014, i.e. 10% of all manufacturing jobs world-wide. In the European Union, nanotechnologies are covered by existing legislation such as REACH [Regulation on Registration, Evaluation, Authorization and Restriction of Chemicals], the current legislative framework for chemicals, and other specific-sector legislation for food, cosmetics, medicine and etc.

The Commission says that much work has already been done in this area related to the Working Party on Manufactured Nanomaterials of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), while under the OECD Committee on Scientific and Technological Policy (CSTP) a Working Party on Nanotechnology was established in March 2007. The objective of this Working Party is to promote international co-operation which facilitates research, development and responsible commercialization of nanotechnology in member countries and in non-member economies.

Access the Commission announcement with links to extensive related information (
click here). Access the OECD Working Party website (click here). Access WIMS-EcoBizPort Nanotechnology links (click here). [*Toxics]

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Republicans & Democrats Continue Chiding On Energy Issues

Jun 18: Opening the latest round of back and forth between Republicans and Democrats on energy issues, President Bush delivered a White House Rose Garden speech on energy. The sharp differences on national energy policy direction provide a continuation of the snarling that has occurred in recent days and weeks over actions on energy legislation [See WIMS 6/11/08] and a clear choice for voter this fall.

The President said, "High oil prices are at the root of high gasoline prices. And behind those prices is the basic law of supply and demand. In recent years, the world's demand for oil has grown dramatically. Meanwhile, the supply of oil has grown much more slowly. As a result, oil prices have risen sharply, and that increase has been reflected at American gasoline pumps. Now much of the oil consumed in America comes from abroad -- that's what's changed dramatically over the last couple of decades. Some of that energy comes from unstable regions and unfriendly regimes. This makes us more vulnerable to supply shocks and price spikes beyond our control -- and that puts both our economy and our security at risk.

"In the short run, the American economy will continue to rely largely on oil. And that means we need to increase supply, especially here at home. So my administration has repeatedly called on Congress to expand domestic oil production. Unfortunately, Democrats on Capitol Hill have rejected virtually every proposal -- and now Americans are paying the price at the pump for this obstruction. Congress must face a hard reality: Unless Members are willing to accept gas prices at today's painful levels -- or even higher -- our nation must produce more oil. And we must start now. So this morning, I ask Democratic Congressional leaders to move forward with four steps to expand American oil and gasoline production."

President Bush outlined his four steps including: (1) Expand American oil production by increasing access to the Outer Continental Shelf, or OCS. (2) Expand oil production by tapping into the extraordinary potential of oil shale. (3) Expand American oil production by permitting exploration in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, or ANWR. (4) We need to expand and enhance our refining capacity.

U.S. Senator Pete Domenici (R-NM), Ranking Member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee issued a statement supporting the President's speech. Domenici said, "Today, President Bush identified America’s most pressing energy problem -- increased reliance on foreign oil due at least in part to a lack of supply at home. The President called on Congress to increase American production by lifting the ban on deep sea exploration, lifting the moratorium on oil shale development, permitting exploration in Alaska, and enhancing our refining capacity. The American Energy Production Act (S. 2958), which I introduced on May 1st, accomplishes each of these goals [See WIMS 5/2/08]. The bottom line is that Congress must bypass the political bickering, come together and stop the excuses. Even if we can’t agree on every proposal, I sincerely hope that the Majority will join us to find ways that we can increase American production.” On June 17, Republican Presidential candidate John McCain also called for expanded OCS drilling.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) issued a point-counterpoint statement in response to the President Bush’s proposals and saying, "Bush And McCain Still Don't Get It - We Cannot Drill Our Way Out Of This Energy Crisis." He said, “This week’s flip-flop on offshore oil drilling by President Bush and Senator John McCain is nothing more than a cynical campaign ploy that will do nothing to lower energy prices and represents another big giveaway to oil companies already making billions in profits.

“The facts are clear: Oil companies have already had ample opportunity to increase supply, but they have sat on their hands. They aren’t even using more than half of the public lands they already have leased for drilling [See WIMS 6/13/08]. And despite the huge tax breaks President Bush and Republican Congresses have given oil and gas companies to invest in refineries, domestic production has actually dropped.

“Despite what President Bush, John McCain and their friends in the oil industry claim, we cannot drill our way out of this problem. The math is simple: America has just three percent of the world’s oil reserves, but Americans use a quarter of its oil. And the Energy Information Administration says that even if we do open the coasts to oil drilling, prices wouldn’t drop until 2030. President Bush and John McCain are not serious about addressing gas prices. If they were, they would stop offering the same old ideas meant to pad the pockets of Big Oil and work with Democrats to reduce our dependence on oil, invest in the renewable energy sources, crack down on excessive speculation and stand up to countries colluding to shake down American consumers. Bush-McCain Republicans just don’t get it. Their commitment to the failed policies of yesterday is why we have energy, economic and national security crises today. They want to feed our addiction to oil; Democrats want to end it.” Reid included a fact sheet with his statement providing citations and details countering each of the President's proposals.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi issued a statement in advance of the President speech saying, "The President's proposal sounds like another page from the Administration's Energy Policy that was literally written by the oil industry: give away more public resources to the very same oil companies that are sitting on 68 million acres of federal lands they've already leased. In just the last year, Congress has promoted energy independence by raising efficiency standards for vehicles for the first time in 32 years, investing in American-grown biofuels, and forcing President Bush to increase gas supplies by suspending government purchases for the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. We have provided enforcement tools to go after those who are speculating on oil and manipulating the price and we will continue to push for solutions that end our dependence on foreign oil."

At 2:30 PM, June 17, the Senate voted again on a motion to invoke cloture on the motion to proceed to H. R. 6049; the Renewable Energy and Job Creation Act of 2008 which failed to obtain the 60 votes necessary again by a mostly partyline vote of 52-44 (4 note voting). The bill was introduced by Representative Charles Rangel (D-NY) on May 14, and passed the House on May 21, by a vote of 263-160. Speaker Pelosi issued a statement on the Senate vote saying,

"Senate Republicans blocked legislation that invests in the clean renewable energy that will put our nation on a path toward energy independence. It would also create hundreds of thousands of good-paying green jobs, spur American innovation, and cut taxes for millions of Americans. The number of people this legislation would help is significant: for example, 30 million homeowners would receive property tax relief; 13 million children would benefit from an expanded child tax credit; 11 million families would receive the state and local sales tax deduction; and hundreds of thousands of highly-paid jobs in the energy sector would be created and retained.

“Because this legislation is about our nation’s future, it is fiscally responsible. In order to invest in the energy policies and jobs of the future, it closes loopholes allowing corporations and executives to avoid paying certain taxes by shipping jobs and investment overseas. The New Direction Congress thinks we should focus tax benefits on creating jobs and encouraging investment here at home, and these revenue offsets have typically enjoyed strong bipartisan support. As gas prices soar, and unemployment numbers climb, Americans are looking to Congress for urgent help with their economic challenges. Senate Republicans could have worked with us to invest in the future and the ingenuity of the American people. Instead, they voted to let taxes on American families and businesses increase.”

Access the President's speech and a fact sheet (
click here). Access the statement from Senator Domenici (click here). Access legislative details for S. 2958 (click here). Access the statement and fact sheet from Senator Reid (click here). Access a release from Speaker Pelosi (click here). Access the Senate roll call vote (click here). Access Speaker Pelosi's statement on the H.R. 6049 vote (click here). [*Energy]

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Hearing On Transmission For Renewable Electricity Resources

Jun 17: The Senate Energy & Natural Resources Committee, Chaired by Senator Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), held a hearing to examine the challenges and regional solutions to developing transmission lines for renewable electricity resources. Witnesses testifying at the hearing included: Senator Harry Reid (D-NV); United States Department of Energy; T. Boone Pickens, BP Capital; Western Governors' Association; Wyoming Infrastructure Authority; South Dakota Public Utilities Commission; Bonneville Power Administration; Great River Energy; and the American Wind Energy Association. Senator Bingaman and Ranking Member Pete Domenici (R-NM) both delivered opening statements.

Senator Bingaman said, "The Federal government has been trying to encourage the development of renewable electricity since at least the late 1970s with the passage of the Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act. We also have extended tax credits to renewables, and funded research and development. States have passed aggressive renewable portfolio requirements, or have, in some other manner, set goals and targets. In spite of all of this, renewable generation is still only about 3 percent of our national electricity supply.

"Recent studies and reports have indicated that we can do better than this. The Department of Energy recently released a report that indicating that 20 percent of our electricity could come from wind alone. The Western Governors Association has adopted a goal of 30,000 MW of clean energy resources by 2015. Project 25X’25 has accepted as a target that 25 percent of all energy should come from renewables by 2025. All of these studies and reports agree that we should extend the renewable tax credits. Several of them support a national renewable electricity standard. All of them also agree, however, that these actions are not enough -- and that one of the most important barriers to accomplishing these goals is the inadequacy of the existing transmission system.

". . . renewables do present unique problems. Most wind, solar and geothermal resources are located far from the areas where the electricity is needed. The upper Plains States are rich with potential for wind generation, but these states are sparsely populated and far from large metropolitan or industrial centers. The same is true of the solar potential in the Southwest and the geothermal resources in the mountain West. Development of transmission lines to carry such resources to load centers has to be done across many states and through many jurisdictions and siting the lines is a serious problem. . . Cost allocation is also a real difficulty. Customers in the states where the plants are built and where the transmission is essentially just passing through do not want to shoulder the primary burden of paying for the lines that are supplying somebody else."

In his statement, Senator Domenici said, "that many see [this issue] as the single largest impediment to the development of renewable energy -- the lack of available transmission capacity to bring alternative energy resources online. . . With passage of the Energy Policy Act of 2005, Congress sought to tackle the difficult issue of siting needed transmission lines. We directed DOE to study the country’s transmission constraints and designate transmission corridors in areas of severe congestion. Importantly, we provided FERC with backstop siting authority to counter NIMBY opposition to interstate lines. These are significant federal authorities aimed at ensuring adequate transmission and yet, since its enactment and before they have even been fully implemented, these provisions has been attacked by numerous interest groups, some members of Congress, and even one of the federal Commissioners. All of our witnesses here today have wrestled with the thorny transmission issues -- from planning and siting, to cost-allocation, to the integration of intermittent resources.

Access the hearing website for links to all testimony and a webcast (
click here). Access Senator Bingaman's opening statement (click here). Access Senator Domenici's opening statement (click here). [*Energy]

Monday, June 16, 2008

EPA Proposes Vessel Discharge Permits

Jun 16: U.S. EPA is proposing two general permits under the Clean Water Act (CWA) that will cover "discharges incidental to normal operation" of commercial and recreational vessels. Based on agency estimates, as many as 91,000 commercial vessels and about 13 million recreational boats could be affected. Assistant Administrator for Water Benjamin Grumbles said, “EPA is proposing a practical approach as we work with Congress on a longer-term, comprehensive solution. We believe it is good environmental policy and common sense to promote clean boating without imposing new permits on millions of boaters.”

As a result of a court ruling currently under appeal, vessel owners or operators whose discharges have previously been exempt from Clean Water Act requirements for the last 35 years will require a permit as of September 30, 2008. EPA is proposing control technologies and management practices that enhance environmental protection and are practical to implement.

According to EPA, the commercial and large recreational vessel general permit (VGP) would cover all commercial vessels and recreational vessels 79 feet or longer. For vessels that carry ballast water, it would incorporate the Coast Guard mandatory ballast water management and exchange standards, and have supplemental ballast water requirements. The VGP would provide technology-based and water-quality-based effluent limits for other types of discharges including deck runoff, bilgewater, gray water and other types of pollutants. The permit also establishes specific corrective actions, inspections and monitoring requirements as well as recordkeeping and reporting requirements. Only a subset of the vessels potentially affected by this permit will have to submit a Notice of Intent (NOI) for coverage; for all the other vessels their coverage would be automatic.

The permit for smaller recreational vessels measuring less than 79 feet in length contains simpler provisions. These smaller vessels, which are substantially different in both size and operation from larger vessels, would need to comply with new and established best management practices. In addition, these smaller vessels would not be required to submit an NOI for coverage under the permit; their coverage would be automatic.

EPA is inviting comments on both proposed permits for a period of 45 days. The Agency will be holding public meetings starting June 19, in Washington, DC, and a hearing on July 21, also in DC. Additional meetings are scheduled for June 24 - Portland, OR; June 26 - Chicago; and a July 2 - public Webcast meeting.

On June 12, the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee, Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment, Chaired by Representative Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), held a hearing on discharges incidental to the normal operation of a commercial vessel, and the implications of such discharges under the CWA [See WIMS 6/13/08].

Access a release from EPA (
click here). Access EPA's Vessel Discharges website for links to complete background and prepublication copies of the Federal Register notices. Access the House hearing website for links to the testimony, opening statements, background information and a webcast (click here). [*Water]

Friday, June 13, 2008

Rahall Bill Compels Oil Companies To "Use It Or Lose It"

Jun 12: In an effort to compel oil and gas companies to produce on the 68 million acres of federal lands, both onshore and offshore, that are leased but sitting idle, House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Nick Rahall (D-WV) introduced legislation that gives "Big Oil" one option - either "use it or lose it." Rahall said, "Big Oil, as many Americans already suspect, are perfectly fine with high gasoline prices at the pump while they hold back domestic production on federal leases and enjoy world record profits. I am calling them on the carpet. I am calling their bluff. We are not going to continue to allow them to speculate and profiteer with public resources to the detriment of the American people."

The Responsible Federal Oil and Gas Lease Act of 2008 (H.R. 6251) is a direct response to the facts outlined in the recent House Natural Resources Committee Majority Staff report, The Truth About America's Energy: Big Oil Stockpiles Supplies and Pockets Profits [See WIMS 6/10/08], that illustrate how energy companies are not using the Federal lands and waters that are already open to drilling. The legislation is co-sponsored by Representatives Rahm Emanuel (D-IL), Maurice Hinchey (D-NY), Ed Markey (D-MA), and John Yarmuth (D-KY).

According to the report, the 68 million acres of leased but inactive federal land have the potential to produce an additional 4.8 million barrels of oil and 44.7 billion cubic feet of natural gas each day. This would nearly double total U.S. oil production, and increase natural gas production by 75 percent. It would also cut U.S. oil imports by more than one-third, reducing America's dependency on foreign oil. The Rahall bill would force oil and gas companies to either produce or give up federal onshore and offshore leases they are stockpiling by barring the companies from obtaining any more leases unless they can demonstrate that they are producing oil and gas, or are diligently developing the leases they already hold, during the initial term of the leases.

Coal companies, which are issued leases for 20-year terms, are required, as a result of the Federal Coal Leasing Amendments Act of 1976 to show that they are diligently developing their leases during the initial lease term. The law was enacted in an effort to end rampant speculation on federal coal as a result of the energy crises of the 1970's. Oil and gas companies, however, are not required to demonstrate diligent development. Because of this, oil and gas companies have been allowed to stockpile leases in a non-producing status, while leaving millions of acres of leased land untouched. The Rahall legislation directs the Secretary of the Interior to define what constitutes diligent development for oil and gas leases.

Companies could avoid this new lease prohibition by relinquishing their non-producing leases, thus creating an opportunity for another company to explore for and perhaps produce oil and gas. Rahall said, "As long as oil companies hold oil hostage, they will continue to get away with charging high prices and demanding a greater share of the public's land. This bill forces their hand by compelling them to produce or hand the over their idle leases for someone who will."

Access a release from Representative Rahall (
click here). Access the complete Truth About America's Energy report (click here). Access legislative details for H.R. 6251 (click here). [*Energy]

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Frustration Mounts With Integrated Risk Assessment System Delays

Jun 12: House Science & Technology Committee, Investigations & Oversight Subcommittee, Chaired by Representative Brad Miller (D-NC), held a second hearing on EPA’s Integrated Risk Assessment System -- IRIS. The hearing was entitled, Toxic Communities: How EPA’s IRIS Program Fails the Public. Witnesses testifying at the hearing included representatives from: Jerome Ensminger, retired from the Marine Corps; Center for Public Environmental Oversight; Natural Resources Defense Council; and the Medical University of South Carolina.

In an opening statement Representative Miller expressed his ongoing frustration and said, "The glacial pace at which EPA is completing assessments of chemicals has real consequences for public health and tragic consequences for individuals and their families. Completion of an IRIS assessment is just the first step in the process protecting people from dangerous exposures to toxic chemicals. With an IRIS assessment in place, it is easier to deal with the cleanup of chemical contamination of the air or water, to adopt safer practices in the workplace and to consider steps to regulate toxic substances that can harm our children and our communities."

The Government Accountability Office’s recent report on IRIS [See WIMS 4/29/08] concluded that EPA’s process for initiating and completing IRIS assessments resulted in proposals that are in preparation for more than 5 years, with some assessments taking more than a decade. Miller said, "The new process that EPA and OMB instituted just this past April will add additional years to IRIS assessments. The years of added study and discussion regarding IRIS assessments come on top of a regulatory process that is burdened with very time consuming steps for a complete risk assessment, cost-benefit analyses, and internal and external reviews as laid down in Executive Orders and statute. Even after a regulation is finalized, it can be challenged in court and sent back to the Agency for revision. When finally established a new regulation usually includes some time, often many years, for the affected parties to “transition” away from the practices that are being regulated."

Miller cited the fact that EPA has been working on a revised TCE assessment since 1989. Two years ago, following interventions by NASA, the Department of Energy, the Department of Defense and OMB, the National Academy reviewed EPA’s draft IRIS assessment and the science available on TCE and said that: “evidence on carcinogenic risk and other health hazards from exposure to trichloroethylene has strengthened since 2001. … Priority should be given to finalizing the risk assessment so that risk management decisions can be made expeditiously.”

Miller said, "Expeditiously? Expeditious is not a word that describes this situation. GAO estimates that EPA will not complete their TCE assessment until 2010 – that’s twenty one years from their original start date. If they complete the assessment in 2010, we will still be years away from regulatory action. People will have been exposed to a known toxic substance for decades, for a generation, while the government engages in study after study. Have we become so obsessed with getting the science right that we have lost sight of our real goal -- protecting public health? Or, is getting the science right a pretext for obstruction? This system defies common sense. It is broken, and it is condemning people to future health problems."

On June 11, Miller sent a letter to the White House asking for all documents related to the long-delayed assessment of TCE. Miller said, "Politics should have no role in deciding what toxic effect a chemical may have. The White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) has effectively blocked the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from posting new health assessments of hazardous chemicals by prolonging the assessments because of inevitable uncertainties about the interaction of chemicals and human health. . ."

Access the hearing website for extensive background and links to all testimony (click here). Access a release and link to Representative Miller's letter to OMB (click here). [*Toxics]

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Senators Continue Snarl Over Energy & Climate Legislation

Jun 10: Within minutes Senate Republicans voted to reject cloture motions (requiring 60 votes to proceed) on two major energy bills -- S. 3044 (Consumer-First Energy Act of 2008), rejected 41-53 (6 not voting); and H.R. 6049 (Renewable Energy and Job Creation Act of 2008), rejected 50-44 (6 not voting). H.R. 6049, introduced by Representative Charles Rangel (D-NY) on May 14, passed the House on May 21, by a vote of 263-160. The S. 3044, introduced by Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) with 22 cosponsors, included a windfall profits tax on oil companies, a roll back of tax breaks for oil companies, consumer protections from price gouging, and provisions to stop market price speculation and to stand up to OPEC. The latest Senate standoff follows last week's failed attempt to consider S. 3036, the Boxer-Lieberman-Warner Climate Security Act (See WIMS 6/6/08]

Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), a cosponsor of S. 3044, rebuked Republican members of the Senate who blocked the debate and said, "With prices well over four dollars a gallon, residents are wondering how they are going to afford groceries, support their businesses, and afford their mortgage payments. They are looking for help, and they are looking to Congress for action. My colleagues and I have introduced legislation to reverse seven years of the Bush Administration’s big oil-friendly economic policies, address the underlying causes of high energy prices and begin the process of getting the federal government to back consumers in this energy crisis.

"Unfortunately, today Republicans chose to stick by big oil and tell us that they’re content with the status quo by blocking this legislation. By doing so, Republicans have once again shown that they will choose obstruction over progress, even when it comes to the most important issues Americans face. I have no doubt that the Republicans who blocked this bill today are hearing the same things in their home states that I'm hearing in mine - angst and anger from people who are working hard and still struggling to get by. It's time for them to listen to their constituents, join with us to address the problem, and end the politics of obstruction."

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi issued a statement in response to Senate Republicans blocking consideration of the two bills saying, “Senate Republicans have once again shown themselves to be unwilling to break free of the costly, failed Bush energy policies of the past. They have again adopted President Bush’s ‘drill and veto’ policy that is driving up the price of oil, diesel, and gasoline and leaving us dangerously reliant on Middle East oil. President Bush, Vice President Cheney, and Senate Republicans have shown no leadership on energy issues for seven years, which is why we face a growing energy crisis. If Republicans will not lead us to a cleaner, more independent energy future for America then they should at least get out of the way. The House will soon put forward new, innovative legislation to help tackle high energy costs and make us more energy independent.”

U.S. Senator Pete Domenici (R-NM) Ranking Member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee issued a statement on the S. 3044 vote saying, “After spending last week debating a bill that all independent studies agree will increase the price of gasoline, Senate Democrats today tried to force debate on a different bill that the independent Congressional Research Service says will increase the amount of oil we need to import and have 'several adverse economic effects' -- with the same failed result. At some point, I hope my friends on the other side of the aisle will get the message. The American people don’t want higher prices. The bill we considered today would have imposed a 25 percent “windfall profits” tax on American oil companies. The windfall profits tax has been tried before in our country and failed miserably. It did nothing but decrease domestic production and increase gas prices. . . How high will the price of gasoline need to go before we tap into our own natural resources and reduce our dependence on foreign oil?”

Senator James Inhofe (R-OK), Ranking Member of the Environment and Public Works Committee, criticized the Democrats Consumer First Energy Act as a “No” Energy bill. Senator Inhofe voted against cloture and said, “Here we go again. As the price of gas at the pump continues to go up, Democrats are proposing yet another energy tax,” Senator Inhofe said. “The Democrats don’t appear to have learned anything from their stunning defeat of their climate tax bill last week, which over 20% of Democratic Senators could not even support. This week their attempted ‘solution’ to our energy challenges is to raise taxes again and further harm American families."

Access the cloture roll call vote and link to legislative details for S. 3044 (
click here). Access the cloture roll call vote and link to legislative details for H.R. 6049 (click here). Access the complete statement from Senator Murray (click here). Access the complete statement from Speaker Pelosi (click here). Access the complete statement from Senator Domenici (click here). Access the complete statement from Senator Inhofe (click here). [*Energy, *Climate]

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

House Hearing On Safety of Phthalates and Bisphenol A

Jun 10: The House Energy & Commerce Committee, Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade, and Consumer Protection, Chaired by Representative Bobby Rush (D-IL) held a hearing entitled, Safety of Phthalates and Bisphenol-A in Everyday Consumer Products. Witnesses testifying at the hearing included representatives of the Consumer Product Safety Commission, Food and Drug Administration, National Toxicology Program, U.S. EPA, American Chemistry Council, Science and Environmental Health Network, California Department of Toxic Substances Control, and the Center for Health, Environment and Justice.

Representative John Dingell (D-MI), Chairman of the Full Committee issued a statement saying, "Phthalates are a family of chemicals with more than a dozen individual formulas that are used to make plastics soft. They are used in everything from bathtub mats to toys. Bisphenol-A, or BPA for short, is a component of polycarbonate plastic used to make it hard and shatter proof. It is used in baby bottles and teething rings but also in bicycle helmets and car safety seats. These components have been around for about 50 years, but recent studies have raised significant concerns about the risks posed by use of these substances in certain consumer products and the impact of these and similar substances on human health, especially where fetuses, infants, and young children are concerned. Consumer groups are asking policymakers to take steps to ban these substances in consumer products. . . It is extremely important that Congress, with the help of Government and other scientists, adequately assess the hazards posed by phthalates and BPA, and also to determine the safety of alternative chemicals for essential consumer products. Today’s hearing is a crucial first step in that process.”

WIMS reported on June 9, that on May 29, Health Canada responded to recent concerns about one of the chemicals, bisphenol A (BPA) in canned food, and said, "Based on the scientific evidence available to date, Health Canada does not recommend that consumers make any changes to their dietary habits as a result of the occurrence of trace levels of BPA in canned foods. Consumers should feel confident that canned foods are safe and can continue to be part of a balanced diet. . ." On June 6, in response to the Health Canada announcement, the American Chemistry Council (ACC) issued a statement applauding the Canadian announcement and said, "BPA is one of the most extensively tested of all substances with a track record of safety that spans more than 50 years [See WIMS 6/9/08].

Dr. L. Earl Gray Jr., senior reproductive biologist and toxicologist in the Reproductive Toxicology Division of EPA’s National Health and Environmental Effects Research Laboratory in the Office of Research and Development testified and said his testimony represent his personal views as a scientist and do not necessarily the position of EPA or the Administration. He said, "I have different levels of concern for these two classes of EDCs, with a higher level of concern for some phthalates than for BPA." Regarding phthalates he said he had "concern" for children and women of child-bearing age and "serious concern for children and pregnant exposed to phthalates by medical interventions." Regarding BPA he said he had "some concern" for neural and behavioral effects, and "minimal to negligible concern for other effects."

FDA testified that, "Although the Agency’s review of the newly available reports is continuing, a large body of available evidence indicates that currently-marketed food contact materials containing BPA are safe, and that exposure to BPA from food contact materials, including exposures for infants and children, are below the levels that may cause health effects. We are actively reviewing the data on BPA and will continue to consider the relevance of new data and studies as they appear."

The National Toxicology Program (NTP) submitted 180 pages of testimony and said in part, "There are a number of uncertainties in the scientific information on BPA. The literature from experimental animal studies is large, but with many conflicting findings. Moreover, there are insufficient data from studies in humans to determine directly whether BPA is affecting human reproductive health." On phthalates, NTP said, "The fact that specific phthalates can adversely affect reproduction has been known for more than 25 years, and it is now known is that fetal animals are more sensitive than newborn animals, which in turn are more sensitive than older animals. Since the late 1990s it has been known that certain phthalates specifically affect development of the male reproductive system. Not all phthalates produce adverse reproductive effects in animal studies. . ."

ACC in 31-pages of testimony said, "These materials have been in use for decades. They have been subjected to extensive study worldwide, including by independent researchers as well as government agencies, and scientific review is ongoing. U.S. regulatory agencies charged with regulating these compounds in various applications, after reviewing the large body of scientific data, have reached conclusions supporting their safe use in important applications. The scientific evidence supports the continued use of these important materials."

The Center for Health, Environment and Justice testified that, "Phthalates have been linked to reproductive problems including shorter pregnancy duration and premature breast development in girls and sperm damage and impaired reproductive development in males. . . Safer cost-effective alternatives exist such as PVC-free toys that are manufactured without phthalates as well as phthalate-free plasticizers. . . the European Union and many countries around the world have restricted the use of phthalates in children’s toys. Yet, these chemicals continue to be used in our children’s toys and baby products here in the United States. . .
In the absence of federal action, an increasing number of U.S. states are introducing legislation to ban phthalates and bisphenol A."

On March 6, 2008, the full U.S. Senate approved an amendment by U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) that would impose a nationwide ban on phthalates in children’s toys and products. The amendment (SA 4104) was approved by voice vote in the Consumer Product Safety Modernization Act (S. 2663/H.R. 4040) bill that passed the Senate on March 6, by a vote of 79-13 [See WIMS 3/7/08]. At that time, Senator Feinstein said, “This is a big victory for parents of small children. It will implement a nationwide ban on toys and products that contain these dangerous chemicals. Europe and California have already stepped forward and made sure that toys laden with phthalates are kept away from the hands and mouths of young children. America’s parents should be able to have the same peace of mind that the toys they buy for their children are safe.”

Access the hearing website for links to all testimony (
click here). Access the complete statement from Chairman Dingell (click here). Access the Health Canada release and link to additional information (click here). Access the U.S. Senate hearing website for links to all testimony (click here). Access the House Committee's Bisphenol A inquiry website for additional information (click here). Access the FDA BPA information website with links to additional information (click here). Access a release from Senator Feinstein listing supporting organizations and other countries banning phthalates (click here). Access legislative details for S. 2663 (click here). Access several posting on the WIMS eNewsUSA Blog on BPA issues (click here). [*Toxics]

Update: October 29, 2008 - A special Subcommittee of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Science Board that provides advice primarily to the Commissioner of the FDA and other appropriate officials on specific complex and technical issues has found considerable fault with the draft assessment prepared by the FDA of bisphenol A (BPA) for use in food contact applications [See WIMS 6/10/08, Update September 3]. The temporary Subcommittee was established by the Science Board and consists of two members of the Science Advisory Board and five scientists drawn from academia and government agencies. The focus of the Subcommittee was to provide scientific peer-review of the FDA draft assessment of BPA.

Update: September 3, 2008 - The National Toxicology Program (NTP) Center for the Evaluation of Risks to Human Reproduction (CERHR) released its final report on the potential human reproductive and developmental effects of BPA which provides the NTP's current opinion on BPA's potential to cause harm to human reproduction or development. The report says that current human exposure to bisphenol A (BPA), is of "some concern" for effects on development of the prostate gland and brain and for behavioral effects in fetuses, infants and children. Other recent research from the University of Cincinnati and Yale University suggest new concerns (see links below).

Access a release from NIEHS (click here). Access the complete BPA final report (click here). Access a summary of the NTP evaluation of BPA (click here). Access the FDA draft BPA assessment (click here). Access a release on the UC research (click here). Access a release on the Yale study (click here). Access the FDA statement on the Subcommittee report (click here). Access the Subcommittee's Report (click here). Access the Subcommittee's Briefing Information website for links to extensive BPA documentation (click here). Access the FDA website on BPA with links to additional information (click here).

Monday, June 09, 2008

GAO Report Of 18 Expert Opinions On Climate Change Actions

Jun 9: The Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a letter report entitled, Climate Change: Expert Opinion on the Economics of Policy Options to Address Climate Change (GAO-08-605, May 9, 2008). The report was requested by Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Chair of the Senate Environment and Pubic Works Committee, and Senator Dianne Feinstein, Chair of the Interior, Environment (including EPA) and Related Agencies Subcommittee of the Senate Appropriations Committee.

GAO was asked by the Senators to elicit the opinions of experts on: (1) actions the Congress might consider to address climate change and what is known about the potential benefits, costs, and uncertainties of these actions; and (2) the key strengths and limitations of policies or actions to address climate change. GAO worked with the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) to identify a panel of noted economists with expertise in analyzing the economic impacts of climate change policies and gathered their opinions through iterative, web-based questionnaires. The findings reported here represent the views of the 18 economists who responded to both questionnaires.

According to GAO, all of the panelists agreed that the Congress should consider using a market-based mechanism to establish a price on greenhouse gas emissions, and 14 of the 18 panelists recommended additional actions as part of a portfolio to address climate change, such as investment in research and development of low-emissions technologies. Experts differed on the initial stringency of the market-based mechanism, with 14 of the 18 panelists recommending an initial price between less than $1 and $20 per ton of emissions. In addition, 14 of 18 panelists were at least moderately certain that the benefits of their recommended portfolio of actions would outweigh the costs.

To establish a price on emissions, most of the panelists preferred either a tax on emissions or a hybrid policy that incorporates features of both a tax and a cap-and-trade program. A tax would set a fixed price on every ton of emissions, whereas a cap-and-trade program would limit or cap total emissions and establish a market for trading (buying and selling) permits to emit a specific amount of greenhouse gases.

Under the cap-and-trade system, the market would determine the price of emissions. A hybrid system differs from a traditional cap-and-trade system in that the government would cap emissions, but could sell additional emissions permits if the permit price rose above a predetermined level. Panelists also identified general categories of benefits, such as avoided climate change damages, and costs, such as increases in energy prices, associated with their recommended actions.

Overall the panel rated estimates of costs as more useful than estimates of benefits for informing congressional decision making, with some panelists citing uncertainties associated with the future impacts of climate change as limitations to estimating benefits. Further, the majority of panelists agreed that the United States should establish a price on greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible regardless of the extent to which other countries adopt similar policies. At the same time, the majority of panelists said it was at least somewhat important to participate in international negotiations on climate change.

Panelists identified key strengths and limitations of alternative policy approaches that should be of assistance to the Congress in weighing the potential benefits and costs of different policies for addressing climate change. Many panelists said that a cap-and-trade program would be more effective in achieving a desired level of greenhouse gas emissions because, unlike a tax, it would provide certainty that emissions wouldn’t exceed a certain level. However, some of the panelists also said that taxes would be more cost-effective than a cap-and-trade program because the price of emissions would be certain and not susceptible to market fluctuations. Eight panelists therefore preferred a hybrid approach that incorporates features of both a tax and a cap-and-trade program. On average, the panelists rated cost effectiveness as the most important criterion for evaluating various policy options. Finally, panelists said an important strength of using a market-based approach is the ability for the government to raise revenue through a tax or the sale of emissions permits and to use that revenue to offset the adverse effects of the policy.

The 18 panelists included: Joseph Aldy, Resources for the Future; James Edmonds, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory; Richard Howarth, Dartmouth College; Bruce McCarl, Texas A&M University; Robert Mendelsohn, Yale University; William Nordhaus, Yale University; Sergey Paltsev, Massachusetts Institute of Technology; William Pizer, Resources for the Future; David Popp, Syracuse University; John Reilly, Massachusetts Institute of Technology; Roger Sedjo, Resources for the Future; Kathleen Segerson, University of Connecticut; Brent Sohngen, Ohio State University; Robert Stavins, Harvard University; Richard Tol, Economic and Social Research Institute; Martin Weitzman, Harvard University; Peter Wilcoxen, Syracuse University; and Gary Yohe, Wesleyan University.

Access the complete 81-page report (
click here). [*Climate]