Thursday, September 30, 2010

DOI Issues New Rules To Address OCS Drilling & Oil Spill Issues

Sep 30: The Department of the Interior (DOI) announced two new rules which they said will help improve drilling safety by strengthening requirements for safety equipment, well control systems, and blowout prevention practices on offshore oil and gas operations, and improve workplace safety by reducing the risk of human error. DOI Secretary Ken Salazar, who announced the rules in a speech at the Woodrow Wilson International Center said, "These new rules and the aggressive reform agenda we have undertaken are raising the bar for the oil and gas industry's safety and environmental practices on the Outer Continental Shelf [OCS]. Under these new rules, operators will need to comply with tougher requirements for everything from well design and cementing practices to blowout preventers and employee training. They will also need to develop comprehensive plans to manage risks and hazards at every step of the drilling process, so as to reduce the risk of human error."
    The Drilling Safety Rule and the Workplace Safety Rule join a host of reforms that DOI has undertaken in the five months since the Deepwater Horizon oil spill that touch every stage of the offshore planning, review, permitting, drilling, and development processes. In his speech, Salazar said, "The Deepwater Horizon oil spill shook us as a people. Eleven men died. The public watched as oil spilled into the Gulf of Mexico for 86 days. And armies of citizens, volunteers, and public servants battled to keep oil off our shores, to save birds and turtles, and to seal off a well below 5,000 feet of ocean. It took the best engineers, our top scientists, and the relentless response of the United States government to beat back the oil and kill the Macondo well."

    Michael R. Bromwich, director of the new Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement (BOEM) said, "These two rules are part of a broader series of reforms we are undertaking to reduce the risks of offshore energy operations. We are substantially raising the standards for all offshore operators, and are doing it in an orderly and responsible way. We will continue to move forward with other changes and reforms in what will remain a dynamic regulatory environment. We owe the public nothing less."

    The Drilling Safety Rule, effective immediately upon publication, makes mandatory several requirements for the drilling process that were laid out in Secretary Salazar's May 27th Safety Report to President Obama. The regulation prescribes proper cementing and casing practices and the appropriate use of drilling fluids in order to maintain well bore integrity, the first line of defense against a blowout. The regulation also strengthens oversight of mechanisms designed to shut off the flow of oil and gas, primarily the Blowout Preventer (BOP) and its components, including Remotely Operated Vehicles (ROVs), shear rams and pipe rams. Operators must also secure independent and expert reviews of their well design, construction and flow intervention mechanisms.

    The Drilling Safety Rule is being issued under an emergency rule-making process. Director Bromwich said that BOEM will soon move forward with a standard rulemaking process that includes greater opportunity for public comment and that considers implementing additional recommendations of the Secretary's May 27th Safety Report, such as the requirement that BOP's have two sets of blind shear rams.

    The second regulation, known as the Workplace Safety Rule, requires offshore operators to have clear programs in place to identify potential hazards when they drill, clear protocol for addressing those hazards, and strong procedures and risk-reduction strategies for all phases of activity, from well design and construction to operation, maintenance, and decommissioning. The rule also requires operators to have a Safety and Environmental Management System (SEMS), which is a comprehensive safety and environmental impact program designed to reduce human and organizational errors as the root cause of work-related accidents and offshore oil spills. The Workplace Safety Rule makes mandatory American Petroleum Institute (API) Recommended Practice 75, which was previously a voluntary program to identify, address and manage safety hazards and environmental impacts in their operations. BOEM indicated that it will undertake additional workplace safety reforms, such as requirements for independent third-party verification of operators' SEMS programs, through an additional rulemaking process that BOEM will be launching soon.

    In his speech, Salazar also outlined the Administration's plans to move beyond oil. He said, "the Deepwater Horizon oil spill also lays bare a more fundamental challenge that we must confront as a nation. Our energy policy has failed us, time and time again, for decades. Our economy relies too much on foreign oil. We are falling behind China and India in the race for clean energy technologies and clean energy jobs. And our oceans, our coasts, and our climate are at risk. So where do we go in the post-Deepwater Horizon world? President Obama has charted a path to a safe, secure, and clean energy future. He understands that the jobs of tomorrow are in clean energy. Those jobs are in places like Holland, Michigan, where the Recovery Act's $2.4 billion investment in advanced battery technology has helped get a new battery manufacturing plant under way. 300 people are helping build the plant, and another 300 will find jobs when it opens. . ."
    And then he discussed the new regulations being implemented. He said, "The Deepwater Horizon oil spill laid bare fundamental shortcomings in the oil and gas industry's safety practices on the Outer Continental Shelf. For thirty years, under the oversight of both Democratic and Republican administrations and congresses, industry ventured into deeper and deeper waters without adequate oversight. Drilling technologies accelerated, but safety technologies and the government's regulatory framework were left behind. That gap is unacceptable. That is why we have launched the most aggressive and comprehensive reforms to offshore oil and gas regulation and oversight in U.S. history. We are raising the bar for safety, oversight, and environmental protection at every stage of the drilling process. . ."
    The API upstream director Erik Milito commented on DOI's interim final offshore rule and said the Agency should ensure that the rule establishes an effective process to improve safety performance while providing the framework needed for companies to get approval from the government for exploration and development projects. He said API would review the rule and provide analysis during the comment period.  He also called for ending the deepwater moratorium.

     Milito said, "The rule must serve the interests of improved safety and energy development. There has to be a clear, practical, and certain process for project review that will protect the environment.  We cannot have an approval process that creates unpredictable delays that could place at risk the flow of domestic energy in our country. Operators want regulations that provide certainty. Unpredictable, extended delays in permit review and approval discourage investment in new projects, which hampers job creation, reduces revenue to the government, and restricts energy production.

    "Getting a good offshore safety rule in place is critical to the nation's energy future.  The Gulf and other parts of the nation's offshore areas are vitally important to helping meet the nation's future energy needs.  The rule will affect every offshore energy project for years to come. It has to be right.

"We also still have the issue of the Gulf deepwater moratorium. Every day the moratorium remains exacts an economic penalty on the people of the Gulf and on our nation. The costs are already too high. We continue to urge the government to end it as soon as possible."

    Access a release from DOI including fact sheets on the new rules and BOEM recent reforms (click here). Access the full text of Salazar's speech (click here). Access a release from API (click here).

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

DOE Finalizes $1 Billion Commitment To FutureGen 2.0

Sep 28:  U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Secretary Steven Chu announced that the Department of Energy has signed final cooperative agreements with the FutureGen Industrial Alliance and Ameren Energy Resources that formally commit $1 billion in Recovery Act funding to build FutureGen 2.0. DOE said the FutureGen 2.0 project will help to position the United States as a leader in innovative technologies for reducing carbon emissions from existing coal-fired power plants. As part of the new initiative, DPE will partner with the FutureGen Industrial Alliance to select an Illinois host community for the carbon storage site as well as a geologic sequestration research complex and a craft labor training center. The site could eventually become a regional CO2 storage site in downstate Illinois. The project partners estimate that FutureGen 2.0 will bring 900 jobs to Illinois and another 1,000 to suppliers across the State.

    Secretary Chu said, "Today's milestone will help ensure the U.S. remains competitive in a carbon constrained economy, creating jobs while reducing greenhouse gas pollution. Developing innovative, cost effective carbon capture and storage technologies is critical to the country's transition to a clean energy future." Illinois Governor Pat Quinn said, "This $1 billion federal commitment is a critical step to bringing FutureGen to Illinois. We look forward to demonstrating to the world that we can use one of our greatest natural assets in a way that protects our environment and puts more people to work."

    U.S. Senator Dick Durbin said, "If there was any remaining question as to whether FutureGen is really coming to Illinois, today we have the answer. Soon, we will announce a process to evaluate the more than two dozen Illinois communities that have expressed interest in hosting the sequestration, research and training facilities for FutureGen 2.0. I thank President Obama and Secretary Chu for their leadership on this project and for putting Illinois at the forefront of cutting-edge technology that will improve the environment and create good-paying jobs."

    In August, DOE announced its intention to fund FutureGen 2.0 as part of an integrated strategy to repower America's coal industry [See WIMS 8/20/10]. Ameren Energy Resources, Babcock & Wilcox, and Air Liquide Process & Construction, Inc. are leading the project to repower Ameren's 200 megawatt Unit 4 in Meredosia, Illinois with advanced oxy-combustion technology. The plant's new boiler, air separation unit, CO2 purification and compression unit will deliver 90 percent CO2 capture and eliminate most SOx, NOx, mercury, and particulate emissions. The Ameren Energy Resources team estimates that the retrofitting of the plant is expected to create approximately 500 construction jobs and allow Ameren to add approximately 50 workers to the plant staff, once the repowered unit is operational. The FutureGen Industrial Alliance and the Ameren, B&W, and Air Liquide team are developing a technical cooperation agreement to ensure coordination among each element in FutureGen 2.0 and to provide the foundation for rapid commercial deployment for this exciting new technology once this first-of-a-kind facility is operational.

    Ken Humphreys, FutureGen Alliance Chief Executive Officer said, "FutureGen 2.0 will develop oxy-combustion technology that can repower the world's fleet of coal-fueled power plants in a manner that largely eliminates their CO2 emissions and spurs job creation. It will create the world's first permanent CO2 storage hub and substantially advance the science of CCS. Through FutureGen 2.0, the FutureGen Alliance will continue with its mission of advancing clean-coal technology integrated with CCS. We look forward to working with the DOE, the State of Illinois, and the project partners to make FutureGen 2.0 a success."

    The FutureGen Industrial Alliance, working with the State of Illinois, will develop a permanent CO2 sequestration facility, research and visitors facilities, and a labor training center at the site. The Alliance will also build a CO2 pipeline network from Meredosia to the sequestration site. The pipeline and storage site will transport and store more than 1 million tons of captured CO2 per year. The project partners estimate the new pipeline network is expected to create additional construction and permanent jobs. The pipeline network, along with the storage site to be selected in early 2011, will help to lay the foundation for a regional CO2 network. The Illinois storage site will be used to conduct research on site characterization, injection and storage, and CO2 monitoring and measurement.

    DOE said it is working with the FutureGen Industrial Alliance, with details to be announced in the coming weeks, to develop a competitive process to select the host for the CO2 storage site, the visitors complex and training center, and vendor(s) to build the pipeline and the injection and monitoring wells. In August DOE said it was encouraging communities that are interested in being considered as a storage site to continue contacting the Agency. The eventual site will need strong geological characteristics, access to acreage pipeline right of ways and subsurface rights on ten square miles of contiguous acreage for sequestration, clear community support, and should be within approximately a 100 mile radius of Meredosia.

    Access a release from DOE (click here). Access a release from the FutureGen Alliance (click here). Access the FutureGen Alliance website (click here). Access the CEQ Interagency Task Force on Carbon Capture and Storage for additional information (click here).

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Confusion Continues In Two Competing Electronics Recycling Programs

Sep 28: Within the last 10-days, the two major competing electronic waste recycling programs, operated by Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries and the Basal Action Network, have announced major developments in their programs designed to prove their validity, independence and authentication [See WIMS 3/10/10 for background]. The two programs have now created a confusing system for the public and private sectors to participate in responsible electronics recycling. While U.S. EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson has said that the issue of proper management of E-waste is a major international priority of the U.S. and the Commission for Environmental Cooperation, EPA has done little to provide clarity to the two competing and confusing programs.
    On September 28, the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries, Inc (ISRI) announced the creation of R2 Solutions, a stand-alone, non-profit organization formed to manage and continually develop the Responsible Recycling (R2) Certified Electronics Recycler® Program within the Recycling Industry Operating Standard (RIOS). According to a release, R2 Solutions will oversee the R2 Practices which provides a comprehensive set of standards for electronics recyclers that require responsible management of used computers and consumer electronics. The R2 Practices, were developed under the aegis of an EPA facilitated, multi-stakeholder process that has been accredited by the ANSI-ASQ National Accreditation Board as a third party auditable global standard. 
    To date, according to ISRI, there are 21 electronics recycling facilities certified to the R2 Practices -- a set of requirements that establishes a high bar for quality, environmental protection, health & safety, and data security, and that precludes shipping of hazardous materials to countries that have laws prohibiting their import. Robin Wiener, ISRI president said, "ISRI, as one of the original supporters of the R2 Practices, applauds the creation of R2 Solutions as a stand-alone, non-profit organization, whose sole purpose is to manage and sustainably develop the R2 Practices in an open, transparent manner. We firmly believe that a neutral, third-party organization such as R2 Solutions is a more appropriate administrator of the R2 Program going forward, and we [ISRI] look forward to its progress in advancing responsible electronics recycling globally."
    The newly created R2 Solutions body will manage continual development of R2 Practices, with standards development and stakeholder consultations on R2 Practices publicly available. A full set of standards is available on the R2 Solutions website (see link below). ISRI indicated that w
ith the creation of R2 Solutions, a governance structure embraced by the EPA, vendors can now have confidence that used electronic equipment is being recycled safely and responsibly by accredited recyclers.
    According to ISRI, R2 Solutions will act as the Secretariat for the R2 Standard, and the governing council empanelled by R2 Solutions will operate under a set of bylaws that will require a decision-making forum, including an appeals process, in which all interested stakeholders may participate. The Board of Directors of R2 Solutions includes: John DeVillars, Managing Partner of BlueWave Capital; John Howard, independent public policy consultant former Bush Administration Federal Environmental Executive; John Lingelbach, environmental mediator, Acting Executive Director of R2 Solutions; Pete Regan, former CEO and Chairman of the Board of ERM, Inc.; Lynn Rubinstein, Executive Director of the Northeast Recycling Council (NERC).
    The ISRI announcement follows a competing announcement from the other major electronics recycling program operated by the Basal Action Network (BAN) and known as the Certified e-Stewards® Initiative. On September 17, the e-Stewards program announced its worldwide, "
third-party audited, accredited international certification program for electronics recyclers that prohibits the export of e-waste to developing countries and enjoys the support of more than 70 environmental organizations." The e-Stewards announced its first Leadership Council which is designed to help guide the early development and promotion of the program "to ensure truly responsible electronics recycling across the globe."

    Jim Puckett, BAN Executive Director said, "We are very fortunate to have this first group of ardent and expert supporters of the e-Stewards Certification volunteer to help advise and shape this program to not only be the most principled electronics recycling certification in existence but the most practical and useful one as well."

    The new e-Stewards Leadership Council consists of representatives of five leading U.S. e-Recyclers: Capstone Wireless (TX), CloudBlue (OH), Electronic Recyclers International (CA), Surplus Exchange (MO) and WeRecycle! (NY). Philips Services Corp., with e-recycling collection facilities across the U.S., will represent e-waste collectors. Samsung and Wells Fargo, both enrolled in the e-Stewards Enterprise program, will represent electronics manufacturers and corporations that generate e-waste. A representative of the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and two government representatives will round out the Council, ensuring a diversity of viewpoints but all sharing in the common goal of ending e-waste mismanagement.

    The Leadership Council will provide recommendations to BAN in the areas of technical and business issues, policy expertise, marketing and, as appropriate, promotional efforts and governmental lobbying. All members have demonstrated a depth of knowledge of industry issues and a passion to facilitate the achievement of the e-Stewards mission.
    Access a release from ISRI (click here). Access the ISRI Certified Electronics Recycler® Program (click here). Access the R2 Solutions website (click here). Access a release from BAN (click here). Access the Certified e-Stewards® Initiative (click here). Access more information on the e-Stewards Leadership Council (click here). Access EPA's release on priority issues (click here). Access EPA's eCycling website for more information (click here). [*Haz, *P2]

Monday, September 27, 2010

UNFCCC Head & Island Nations Urge Action On Climate Change

Sep 23: At a press conference in New York City, Christiana Figueres, Executive Director of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), stressed the need for governments to move forward in their negotiations ahead of the major climate change conference in Cancun, Mexico [November 29 -December 10, 2010], where they will be expected to conclude agreements related to issues such as technology transfer, mitigation and adaptation, and funding.
    Figueres said, "We are barely two months before the UN climate change conference in Cancun -- the place where governments need to take the next firm step on humanity's long journey to meet the full scale challenge of climate change. Their negotiating session in Tianjin, just a week from now [October 4-9, 2010], is where governments will need to cut down the number of options they have on the table, indentify what is achievable in Cancún and muster political compromises that will deliver what needs to be done at Cancún.
    "Governments from both industrialized and developing worlds have made many pledges to cut and limit greenhouse gas emissions. Industrialized countries have promised both short and long-term funding to help developing countries deal with climate change. Governments are converging on the need to mandate a full set of ways and means to launch a new wave of global climate action. At Cancún, they can decide how and when to capture these promises in accountable and binding ways. They can deliver the short -term finance for the urgent needs of the poorest and most vulnerable and they can decide on a package of measures to act.
    "This year has presented us with a series of disasters that have illustrated the vulnerability of all humanity to extreme climate events. Such impacts on society and economies are a mild taste of what science says will come, if we do not continuously raise our ambition to protect the global environment. There are four major trends shaping the future -- energy supply and security, natural resource depletion, population growth and climate change. And unchecked climate change is the flame that would make the other three burn most seriously.
    "Governments can stand together to turn these four threats into a new development paradigm that harnesses the full power of society, science and business . . . or they will fail divided. Let me be clear -- there is no magic bullet, no one climate agreement that will solve everything right now. To expect that is naïve -- it does not do justice to the crucial steps already achieved since the beginning of the Convention and it dangerously ignores the need to keep innovating. However, I am certain the world can do this step by step. . . but only if we keep on walking firmly in the right direction, including at Cancún."
    On September 25, three Pacific Ocean countries appealed to United Nations Member States to act fast to combat climate change and start mobilizing the resources needed to mitigate the effects of global warming, especially in small island developing States that are particularly vulnerable to rising sea levels. President Iroj Jurelang Zedkaia of the Marshall Islands during the third day of the General Assembly's high-level debate said, "Those most vulnerable and those willing to confront the challenges facing us must take leadership in this process by putting forward our own agreement spelling real and ambitious commitments and actions to address climate change -- we urge others to follow."
    Echoing the same message, the Vice President of the Federated States of Micronesia, Alik Alik said, ". . .delays in adopting a comprehensive and legally-binding agreement to avert global climate disaster was inexcusable. . . we are deeply disappointed in the glacial progress at the negotiating sessions and climate change meetings of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. At the same time, we are growing increasingly alarmed by the prospect of lowering ambitions for the meeting in Cancun, Mexico, later this year."
    Kiribati's President Anote Tong told the high-level debate that coastal erosion in heavily populated areas in his country is occurring at a rate that exceeded the Government's capacity to respond, adding that lack of resources is exacerbating the problem. He said, "Long before our islands are inundated by the rising seas, they will become uninhabitable as freshwater aquifers are contaminated by saltwater intrusion from rising tides,"
    Access the UNFCCC director's statement (click here). Access links to complete information on the upcoming Tianjin and Cancun meetings (click here). Access a release from the UN on the three island nations (click here).

Friday, September 24, 2010

Senate Hearing On Impact Of EPA Regulations On Agriculture

Sep 23: The Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry, Chaired by Senator Blanche Lincoln (D-AR) held an oversight hearing to examine the impact of U.S. EPA regulation on agriculture. Witnesses included: U.S. EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson and representatives from: Arkansas Farm Bureau; Croplife America; and Kansas Corn Growers Association.
    In an opening statement, Chairman Lincoln said, "As a farmer's daughter, I learned firsthand that farmers, ranchers, and foresters are the best stewards of our land.  They have provided us with the safest, most abundant, and most affordable food and fiber supply for generations – and this could not happen without the careful stewardship of their land. In fact, much of the conservation gains made over the past half-century have been achieved through voluntary, incentive-based cost-share programs, many of which were developed on a bipartisan basis by members of this Committee, both past and present. Truly remarkable improvements have been made in reduced soil erosion, improved water and air quality, and wildlife habitat restoration. . .
    "As one who has been a part of this progress, it has been my experience and it is certainly my judgment that the carrot has time and again proved mightier than the stick when it comes to advancing important conservation and environmental objectives on farm, ranch and forest lands. Unfortunately, farmers and ranchers in rural Arkansas and all over our nation are increasingly frustrated and bewildered by vague, overreaching and unnecessarily burdensome EPA regulation.  Farmers face so many unknowns -- the last thing they need is regulatory uncertainty.  . . "
    She outlined several issues of concern saying: EPA's recent proposed spray drift guidance was vague, unenforceable and would have left producers uncertain about whether they were complying with the law when they spray; EPA's recent practice of settling Clean Water Act lawsuits while only allowing environmental groups a seat at the table; EPA's proposed boiler MACT regulation, which would inhibit the use of biomass by subjecting new facilities to needlessly expensive emissions controls; and EPA's proposed ambient air quality standards for particulate matter which could lead to stringent regulation of dust on farms. 
    Finally, she said, "I flat out disagree with EPA's regulation of greenhouse gases. Because the legal foundation for the tailoring rule is shaky at best, I fear that federal courts will order EPA to regulate small sources of greenhouse gases.  This could mean unnecessary regulation for thousands of farms all around the country.  We cannot allow this to happen. And as I have said time and again, it should be Congress, not unelected bureaucrats who should be writing the laws to regulate greenhouse gases."
    In a release following the hearing Senator Lincoln voiced concerns that EPA would soon begin inspecting poultry farms in Northwest Arkansas for compliance with the Clean Water Act. EPA has identified the Illinois River Watershed in Arkansas as a "priority watershed" and announced the proposed inspections last week at a public meeting in Fayetteville. She said, "I have heard from many Arkansas producers voicing their concerns about EPA coming onto their farms to inspect their poultry operations. I am extremely disappointed at the lack of consultation provided by EPA before moving forward with their inspections.  It is the responsibility of the EPA to clearly define the goal post and give farmers time to comply before moving forward.  I can't emphasize this enough – Arkansas's farmers work hard every day on razor thin margins and this type of potential action threatens to place increased costs and bureaucratic red tape to an already strapped bottom line." 
    She said, "At a time when every American feels anxious about his or her own economic future, our farmers, ranchers, and foresters are facing at least ten new regulatory requirements that will drive up their costs and make it more difficult to compete in the global marketplace. These regulations rely on dubious rationales and, as a consequence, will be of questionable benefit to the goal of conservation and environmental protection. Farmers face so many unknowns -- the last thing they need is regulatory uncertainty. Our farmers, ranchers and foresters need clear, straightforward, and predictable rules to live by that are not burdensome, duplicative, costly, unnecessary, or in some cases just plain bizarre."  

    Senator Saxby Chambliss (R-GA), Ranking Member of the Agriculture Committee highlighted examples of the more than 20 different efforts underway at EPA that affect agriculture. He cited the EPA's suite of regulations that will drive up costs for all energy users, bring large and small agribusinesses into a permitting program and within a few years require large farms to obtain air permits. Additionally, he discussed EPA's plans to impose "an unnecessary paperwork burden on pesticide users." Earlier this summer, he cosponsored a bipartisan bill (S.3735) introduced by Senator Lincoln which they said would "clarify that additional permits are not required for pesticide application in accordance with the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act."

    Senator Chambliss said, "According to the Food and Agriculture Organization, the world will need to produce 70 percent more food to feed an additional 2.3 billion people by 2050. I seriously question whether anyone has made the connection between the central role that America must play to solve this challenge and the regulations that EPA has put forth for agriculture -- the very industry that will be responsible for the solution. No one disputes the need or desire for clean air and water, bountiful habitat and healthy landscapes. But at some point, which I believe we are getting dangerously close to, regulatory burdens on farmers and ranchers will hinder rather than help them become better stewards of the land and more bountiful producers of food, fiber and fuel."
    Access the opening statement from Senator Lincoln (click here). Access a release from Senator Lincoln (click here). Access a release from Senator Chambliss (click here). Access the hearing website for a link to the webcast (click here, testimony posted soon).

Thursday, September 23, 2010

House Republicans Issue "A Pledge to America"

Sep 23: House Republicans put forth "A Pledge to America," which they said is "a new governing agenda built by listening to the American people and focused on addressing their top priorities – including creating jobs, cutting spending, and changing the way Congress works."  This new governing agenda was unveiled during a press event at Tart Lumber Company, a family-owned small business located in Sterling, VA. Republicans stressed that this governing agenda could be implemented right now if President Obama and Democratic Leaders would allow it, and called for action before Congress adjourns.

    House Republican Leader John Boehner (R-OH) said, "Across America, the people see a government in Washington that isn't listening, doesn't get it, and doesn't care. Today, that begins to change. This new governing agenda, built by listening to the people, offers plans to create jobs, cut spending, and put power where it belongs: in the hands of the people. 'A Pledge to America' offers a new way forward that hasn't been tried in Washington: an approach focused on cutting spending instead of accelerating spending, and eliminating uncertainty for the private-sector innovators and entrepreneurs who create jobs.  These are the solutions the American people are demanding, and Speaker Pelosi and Majority Leader Reid should act on them before Congress adjourns for the fall."
    A preamble to the Pledge indicates, "In a self-governing society, the only bulwark against the power of the state is the consent of the governed, and regarding the policies of the current government, the governed do not consent. An unchecked executive, a compliant legislature, and an overreaching judiciary have combined to thwart the will of the people and overturn their votes and their values, striking down longstanding laws and institutions and scorning the deepest beliefs of the American people. An arrogant and out-of-touch government of self-appointed elites makes decisions, issues mandates, and enacts laws without accepting or requesting the input of the many. Rising joblessness, crushing debt, and a polarizing political environment are fraying the bonds among our people and blurring our sense of national purpose. . ."
    Among other items the Pledge calls for: "stopping all tax hikes, reining in red tape, and repealing ObamaCare's '1099 mandate.'"; "cutting government spending to pre-'stimulus', pre-bailout levels, imposing a hard cap on future discretionary spending, and ending TARP once and for all"; "implementing 'read the bill' reform, allowing for more open and fair debate, and requiring that every bill contain a citation of Constitutional authority"; "repeal and replace the job-killing health care law with common-sense reforms focused on lowering costs and protecting American jobs"; and "passing clean troop funding bills, keeping terrorists off American soil, and fully funding missile defense."
    Within the 48-page Pledge details, Republicans say: "We will fight to increase access to domestic energy sources and oppose attempts to impose a national 'cap and trade' energy tax. . . The constant threat of new taxes and new regulations prevents investors and entrepreneurs from putting capital at risk. These private sector employers must be given the certainty that if they take a risk to expand their company or hire a new employee, Washington won't yank the rug from under their feet. . .
    "Excessive federal regulation is a de facto tax on employers and consumers that stifles job creation, hampers innovation and postpones investment in the economy. When the game is always changing, small businesses cannot properly plan for the
future. To provide stability, we will require congressional approval of any new federal regulation that has an annual cost to our economy of $100 million or more. . ."
    Nadeam Elshami, spokesman for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, issued a statement saying, "Congressional Republicans are pledging to ship jobs overseas; blow a $700 billion hole in the deficit to give tax cuts to millionaires and billionaires; turn Social Security from a guaranteed benefit into a guaranteed gamble; once again, subject American families to the recklessness of Wall Street; and take away patients' rights. Republicans want to return to the same failed economic policies that hurt millions of Americans and threatened our economy.

    "Democrats will protect Social Security, give tax cuts to the middle class and help the middle class through our 'Make it in America' manufacturing strategy. Ironically, the Republican Party that voted against small business tax cuts enacted into law by this Congress is actually holding its press event at a small business just outside Washington and then racing back presumably to vote against the Small Business Jobs Act, which is crucial to get small businesses hiring." 
    Access a release from Representative Boehner (click here). Access the Pledge (click here). Access the statement from Speaker Pelosi's office (click here).

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

21 Senators Including Some Republicans Sponsor National RES Bill

Sep 21: A release from a bipartisan groups of Senators led by Energy & Natural Resources Committee Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) indicates that a strong renewable electricity standard (RES) is an essential component of any forward-looking energy policy. "Not just an important part of such a strategy, but an essential component." The Senators indicated that a national RES also "will increase our energy security, enhance the reliability of the electricity grid by creating more homegrown renewable energy and reduce our greenhouse gas emissions."
    In addition to Bingaman, some of the Senators making the announcement included Sam Brownback (R-KS), Byron Dorgan (D-ND), Susan Collins (R-ME), Tom Udall (D-NM), and Mark Udall (D-CO). Fifteen other Senators are listed as cosponsors of S.3813, which would amend the Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act of 1978 to establish a Federal Renewable Electricity Standard or RES. The legislation would require sellers of electricity to retail customers to obtain certain percentages of their electric supply from renewable energy resources. The bill rapidly ramps up clean, domestic sources of electricity by requiring the gradual increase of the amount of renewable energy utilities produce.
    According to the release, sellers of electricity must obtain the following percentages of their electricity from renewable energy resources or from energy efficiency improvements by the years specified: 2012-2013 (3%); 2014-2016 (6%); 2017-2018 (9%); 2019-2020 (12%); and 2021-2039 (15%). Utilities selling less than 4 million megawatt hours per year would be exempt. Qualifying renewables (including distributed generators) are wind, solar, ocean, geothermal, biomass, landfill gas, incremental hydropower, hydrokinetic, new hydropower at existing dams and waste-to-energy. The sponsors said The Federal RES will not affect state programs.
    Senator Bingaman (D-NM) said, "I think that the votes are present in the Senate to pass a renewable electricity standard. I think that they are present in the House.  I think that we need to get on with figuring out what we can pass and move forward." Senator Brownback (R-KS) said, "A sensible and modest renewable energy standard will help encourage home-grown supplies like wind in Kansas and help diversify our nation's energy sources."
    Ways of meeting the standard would include: Producing the specified amount of electricity or efficiency savings; Purchasing renewable energy or efficiency savings; Purchasing renewable energy credits or energy efficiency credits from entities who have excess; or Making alternative compliance payments to the Secretary at a rate of 2.1 cents per kilowatt hour. Payments would be made directly to states whose utilities have paid into the fund, for development of renewable resources, or to offset increases in customer's bills.
    Senator Bingaman indicated that with only a few date changes and a couple of scoring/technical fixes, the 43-page bill is almost identical to the RES included in the American Clean Energy Leadership Act, S.1462, that received bipartisan approval in the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee last year by a vote of 15 to 8 [See WIMS 6/17/09].
    Access a release from the Senators (click here). Access legislative details for S.3813 (click here).

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Environmental Regs Drive Regulatory Costs Up For Small Firms

Sep 21: Small businesses still face a disproportionate burden when it comes to costs of Federal regulations, compared to larger firms according to a study released by the Small Business Administration, Office of Advocacy. The report titled The Impact of Regulatory Costs on Small Firms, was released and presented by its author W. Mark Crain at the Office of Advocacy's symposium celebrating the 30th anniversary of the Regulatory Flexibility Act. The purpose of the study was to look at the overall cost of Federal regulation on small business, not to evaluate the benefits of Federal regulations. The findings are consistent with previous studies on this topic conducted by the Office of Advocacy.

    Winslow Sargeant, Chief Counsel for Advocacy said, "Small businesses still face higher costs when they encounter government regulations compared to larger firms. Today's report shows that on a per employee basis it costs small firms $2,830 more than larger firms to comply with government regulations. That is a 36% difference and that is an unfair burden to place on American small business." The cost of environmental regulations appear to be the main driver when determining the severity of the disproportionate impact on small firms. Compliance with environmental regulations costs 364 percent more in small firms than in large firms. The cost of tax compliance is 206 percent higher in small firms than the cost in large firms.

    This report details the distribution of regulatory costs for five major sectors of the U.S. economy: manufacturing, trade (wholesale and retail), services, health care, and other (a residual category containing all enterprises not included in the other four). The sector-specific findings reveal that the disproportionate cost burden on small firms is particularly stark for the manufacturing sector. In addition the "other" category also indicates a high level of disproportionally between small and large firms. The compliance cost per employee for small manufacturers is more than double the compliance cost for medium-sized and large firms. In the service sector, regulatory costs differ little between small businesses and larger firms. The distribution of the regulatory burden across firm sizes in the other major business sectors falls somewhere between these two cases.

    According to the executive summary of the report, "The annual cost of federal regulations in the United States increased to more than $1.75 trillion in 2008. Had every U.S. household paid an equal share of the federal regulatory burden, each would have owed $15,586 in 2008. By comparison, the federal regulatory burden exceeds by 50 percent private spending on health care, which equaled $10,500 per household in 2008. While all citizens and businesses pay some portion of these costs, the distribution of the burden of regulations is quite uneven. The portion of regulatory costs that falls initially on businesses was $8,086 per employee in 2008. Small businesses, defined as firms employing fewer than 20 employees, bear the largest burden of federal regulations. As of 2008, small businesses face an annual regulatory cost of $10,585 per employee, which is 36 percent higher than the regulatory cost facing large firms (defined as firms with 500 or more employees)." 

    Access a release from the OA (click here). Access a research summary (click here). Access the complete 83-page report (click here).

Monday, September 20, 2010

153 Days & $9.5 Billion Later; BP Well Is Sealed

Sep 19: BP confirmed that well "bottom kill" operations on the MC252 well in the Gulf of Mexico were complete, with both the casing and annulus of the well sealed by cement. The MC252 well has been shut-in since July 15 and cementing operations in August, following the static kill ("top kill"), provided an effective cement plug in the well's casing. The relief well drilled by the DDIII drilling rig intercepted the annulus of the MC252 well on September 15, followed by pumping of cement into the annulus on September 17. BP, the Federal government scientific team and the National Incident Commander (NIC) have now concluded that these operations have also successfully sealed the annulus of the MC252 well. While it was leaking the well is estimated to have spewed some 4.9 million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico.
    President Obama issued a statement on September 19, saying, "Today, we achieved an important milestone in our response to the BP oil spill -- the final termination of the damaged well that sat deep under the Gulf of Mexico. I commend Admiral Thad Allen, Secretaries Salazar, Chu, Napolitano, Administrators Jackson and Lubchenco, Carol Browner, the federal science and engineering teams, and the thousands of men and women who worked around the clock to respond to this crisis and ultimately complete this challenging but critical step to ensure that the well has stopped leaking forever. However, while we have seen a diminished need for our massive response that encompassed more than 40,000 people, 7,000 vessels and the coordination of dozens of federal, state and local agencies and other partners, we also remain committed to doing everything possible to make sure the Gulf Coast recovers fully from this disaster. This road will not be easy, but we will continue to work closely with the people of the Gulf to rebuild their livelihoods and restore the environment that supports them. My administration will see our communities, our businesses and our fragile ecosystems through this difficult time."
    NIC Thad Allen issued a statement saying, "After months of extensive operations planning and execution under the direction and authority of the U.S. government science and engineering teams, BP has successfully completed the relief well by intersecting and cementing the well nearly 18,000 feet below the surface. With this development, which has been confirmed by the Department of the Interior's Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, we can finally announce that the Macondo 252 well is effectively dead.   Additional regulatory steps will be undertaken but we can now state, definitively, that the Macondo well poses no continuing threat to the Gulf of Mexico.  From the beginning, this response has been driven by the best science and engineering available.  We insisted that BP develop robust redundancy measures to ensure that each step was part of a deliberate plan, driven by science, minimizing risk to ensure we did not inflict additional harm in our efforts to kill the well. I commend the response personnel, both from the government and private sectors, for seeing this vital procedure through to the end.  And although the well is now dead, we remain committed to continue aggressive efforts to clean up any additional oil we may see going forward."
    BP America Chairman and President Lamar McKay on completion of the MC252 Relief Well in the Gulf of Mexico issued a statement saying, "Today's completion of relief well operations on the Macondo well is a significant technological accomplishment and another important milestone in our continued efforts to restore the Gulf Coast. Our work is not finished, however. BP remains committed to remedying the harm that the spill caused to the Gulf of Mexico, the Gulf Coast environment, and to the livelihoods of the people across the region. BP will continue sharing what we have learned in an effort to prevent a tragedy like this from ever being repeated. We also believe that the industry will gain important insights on how to be better prepared to respond to any future incidents."

    Tony Hayward, BP group chief executive said, "This is a significant milestone in the response to the Deepwater Horizon tragedy and is the final step in a complex and unprecedented subsea operation -- finally confirming that this well no longer presents a threat to the Gulf of Mexico. However, there is still more to be done. BP's commitment to complete our work and restore the damage done to the Gulf of Mexico, the Gulf coast and the livelihoods of the people across the region remains unchanged."

    BP said it will now proceed to complete the abandonment of the MC252 well, which includes removing portions of the casing and setting cement plugs. A similar plugging and abandonment of both relief wells will occur as well. BP will also now begin the process of dismantling and recovering containment equipment and decontaminating vessels that were in position at the wellsite. BP said that a
pproximately 25,200 personnel, more than 2,600 vessels and dozens of aircraft remain engaged in the Gulf response effort. The company indicated that no volumes of oily liquid have been recovered from the surface of the Gulf of Mexico since July 21 and the last controlled burn operation occurred on July 20. BP, as part of Unified Command, continues to conduct overflights and other reconnaissance to search for oil on the surface. At peak, approximately 3.5 million feet of containment boom was deployed in response to the oil spill. Currently 670,000 feet of containment boom remains deployed.
    On August 23 processing of claims from individuals and businesses related to the Deepwater Horizon incident transferred to the Gulf Coast Claims Facility (GCCF). To date, over 68,000 claims have been submitted to the GCCF, with over 19,000 claims totaling over $240 million being paid, including a $34.5 million fund for real estate brokers and agents. Prior to the transfer to the GCCF, BP had made 127,000 claims payments, totaling approximately $399 million.

    BP said the cost of the response to September 17 amounts to approximately $9.5 billion, including the cost of the spill response, containment, relief well drilling, static kill and cementing, grants to the Gulf states, claims paid and Federal costs. On June 16, BP announced an agreed package of measures, including the creation of a $20 billion escrow account to satisfy certain obligations arising from the oil and gas spill.
    The Department of Interior, Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement (BOEM) and Department of Energy (DOE) reported on the next steps and said; Oversight of the well now transitions from the National Incident Command to BOEM under a process laid out in the National Response Framework; DOI and BOEM will oversee the continuing decommissioning of the Macondo well and its associated relief wells; The relief wells will be plugged and decommissioned accorded to the regulatory guidelines that require the setting of multiple cement plugs and testing of plugs; and Before proceeding with the decommissioning of the relief wells, BP will be required to submit to BOEM an Application for Permit to Modify (APM) for approval that outlines its procedures to permanently plug the relief well.  
    Access a statement from President Obama (click here). Access a statement and further details from Thad Allen (click here). Access a release from BP on the closing including a statement from Tony Hayward (click here). Access the statement from BP's McKay (click here). Access a release from DOE and DOI (click here). Access more information on BP activities from the BP response website (click here). Access the Restore the Gulf website for more information (click here).

Friday, September 17, 2010

Day 149 BP Oil Spill: Relief Well Intercept; Bottom Kill Underway

Sep 17: At about 10 PM, last evening (September 16)National Incident Commander for the BP Gulf of Mexico oil spill disaster, Admiral Thad Allen issued a brief statement on the relief well intercept operation designed to initiative the "bottom kill" of the well. Allen said, "I have received extensive briefings over the last 24 hours regarding the final effort to intercept the Macondo well. Through a combination of sensors embedded in the drilling equipment and sophisticated instrumentation that is capable of sensing distance to the well casing, BP engineers and the federal science team have concluded that the Development Driller III relief well has intersected the Macondo well. 
    "This determination was made based on a loss of drilling fluids that indicated communication had been established beyond the relief well, the pressure exerted against the drill bit as it came in contact with the well casing and, finally, an increase in pressure in the choke line of the Macondo well blow out preventer. While each of these indicators taken separately would not necessarily be conclusive, the aggregate data available supports the conclusion that the two wells are joined. It is also important to note that none of the measurements supported a scenario where the annulus of the well is in communication with the reservoir. Accordingly, we intend to proceed with preparation to cement the annulus and complete the bottom kill of the well. Further information will be provided as cementing procedures are completed." Estimates are that the well will be completely sealed this weekend.
    Since the BP oil spill response began, the administration reports that it has worked to hold the responsible parties accountable for repairing the damage, and repaying Americans who have suffered a financial loss -- first by directing BP to improve its claims process and then by establishing the Gulf Coast Claims Facility (GCCF), the independent agency administered by Kenneth Feinberg which was formed in June as part of an agreement between the Obama Administration and BP. To date, 62,983 claims have been opened through the GCCF, from which more than $156.9 million have been disbursed -- in addition to the more than 150,000 claims filed and $395 million disbursed through the BP claims process.
    Also, on September 16, the Administration released a 25-page report entitled, Estimating the Economic Effects of the Deepwater Drilling Moratorium on the Gulf Coast Economy Inter-Agency Economic Report. The report indicates that in response to the BP oil spill, the Secretary of the Interior exercised his authority to suspend certain deepwater drilling activities. Given uncertainty about the adequacy of existing safety regulations, the moratorium provided time to determine whether and how deepwater drilling could continue in a safe and environmentally-sound manner. The current moratorium is in effect until November 30, 2010. The report estimates the economic consequences of this moratorium in the five Gulf Coast states.
    The report indicates that, "Based on conversations with a number of rig operators along with other publicly-available information, we estimate that during the six-month period of the moratorium average employment of rig workers in the Gulf of Mexico fell by about 2,000. Total spending by drilling operators is estimated to decline $1.8 billion over the six-month period. . . We estimate that the six-month moratorium may temporarily result in up to 8,000 to 12,000 fewer jobs in the Gulf Coast. These jobs would not be permanently lost as a result of the moratorium; most would return following the resumption of deepwater drilling in the Gulf of
Mexico. . .
    "The other primary economic consequence of the moratorium is delayed oil production. Consistent with other studies, we estimate that the moratorium will reduce Gulf of Mexico oil production by about 31,000 barrels per day in the fourth quarter of 2010 and by roughly 82,000 barrels per day in 2011. These are small reductions compared to world production, and are occurring at a time when both crude oil and product inventories and global spare oil production capacity are at high levels, hence they are not expected to have a discernable effect on the price of oil."
    In the meantime, the organization, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), has filed a lawsuit accusing the Obama administration of "hiding the memos and e-mails behind official scientific assessments of the size of the massive BP oil spill." PEER said, "Estimates of the leak rate inexplicably rose five-fold amid reports that political appointees sought to low ball the size of the spill." Over the course of the BP incident, "official" oil leak estimates ranged from 1,000 barrels per day (bbl/day) to 55-000-62,000 bbl/day.
    On July 6, 2010, PEER requested the release of all of the Technical Group papers, including directives from Marcia McNutt, Director of the Interior Department's U.S. Geological Survey and other Interior political appointees but they say virtually none of the materials has been released. PEER filed a lawsuit in Federal district court in Washington, DC claiming that hundreds of pages of reports and communications are being withheld in violation of FOIA.
    PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch said, "This lawsuit will produce Exhibit A for the case that science is still being manipulated under the current administration. Our concern is that the administration took, and is still taking, steps to falsely minimize public perception about the extent and severity of the BP spill -- a concern that the administration could start to dispel by releasing these documents."

    Access the statement from Allen (click here). Access the 25-page moratorium economic report (click here). Access a release from PEER and link to the lawsuit and related information (click here). Access more information on BP activities from the BP response website (click here). Access the Restore the Gulf website for more information (click here). Access the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling for additional information (click here).

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Most States Ready For GHG Tailoring Rule Implementation

Sep 15: The National Association of Clean Air Agencies (NACAA), representing air pollution control agencies in 53 states and territories and over 165 major metropolitan areas across the United States released a summary indicating that "the vast majority of states are moving full speed ahead and expect to have rules in place to permit greenhouse gases (GHGs) under the higher thresholds in the GHG Tailoring Rule by January 2, 2011, or shortly thereafter [See WIMS 5/14/10]." In the final Tailoring Rule, EPA asked states to send letters to the Agency by August 2, 2010 with information regarding how the state intends to implement the Tailoring Rule. EPA asked each state to respond by indicating whether or not the state needs to undertake a regulatory or legislative process in order to incorporate the provisions of the Tailoring Rule, as well as the timeline for completing any such process.
    States were also asked to notify EPA if they do not have any authority to permit GHGs and; if not, to indicate whether or not they intend to revise their rules to include GHGs. NACAA reviewed and briefly summarized letters from all applicable states, as well as those from a number of local and territorial air pollution control agencies. NACAA's analysis shows that the vast majority of states are working quickly to prepare for GHG permitting and incorporate the provisions of the Tailoring Rule into applicable state and local rules and State Implementation Plans (SIPs) as soon as possible. NACAA said, "Nearly 80% of states expect to have rules in place by January 2, 2011 or shortly thereafter. Of the minority of states that will not yet have rules in place by January 2, 2011 or shortly thereafter, most are working to incorporate the provisions of the Tailoring Rule, but will be delayed due to state legislative and/or regulatory requirements."
    Access the 10-page summary from NACAA (click here). Access links to complete information on EPA's GHG Tailoring Rule and related information (click here).

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Dems +2 GOPs Assure Small Business Bill Passage

Sep 14: In a White House blog posting, Valerie Jarrett Senior Advisor to the President, highlights the importance of small business to "the engine of job creation in our economy." She pointed to a new report from Business Roundtable highlights what she says are "the principles and priorities that provide the foundation for the President's new ideas to accelerate business investment and increase the competitiveness of American firms. The report acknowledges the critical linkages between small and large businesses in our economy, and argued that 'government policies should be aiming to promote investment growth and job creation for all U.S. businesses.'"
    Jarrett said, "To build on these efforts, we need to pass the Small Business Jobs Bill that is currently pending in the Senate. That bill would provide an additional 8 small business tax cuts, designed to help encourage hiring and promote small business growth. The bill would: Make 4 million small businesses and individuals eligible for higher small business expensing limits; Extend bonus depreciation for 2 million small businesses and individuals; Make 1 million small businesses eligible for zero capital gains taxes; Allow 2 million self-employed to receive a deduction for health insurance costs on their self-employment taxes; Enable virtually all small business owners to more easily receive a deduction for their use of cell phones. Acting on the small business bill along with the new proposals the President laid out would provide businesses large and small with unprecedented support and encouragement to invest and grow, not only in the short term but over the long term as well."
    On September 14 the Senate amendment to the bill [S.Amdt. 4594 to H.R. 5297 (Small Business Jobs and Credit Act of 2010)]passed a critical hurdle and received a cloture vote of 61 to 37 (2 Republicans not voting) which virtually guarantees its passage in the Senate. Nearly all Republicans voted against the bill, with the exception of George Voinovich (R-OH) and George LeMieux (R-FL). The Senate was expected to act on the bill September 15 and then it would have to be reapproved in the House before being delivered to the President for signature.
    U.S. Department of the Treasury released a statement on the Senate cloture vote for the Small Business Jobs and Credit Act of 2010 saying, "The Senate, under the leadership of Senators Reid, Baucus, and Landrieu, has taken a vital step forward to help provide small businesses with the critical support they need to expand and hire in their local communities. Small businesses are the backbone of our economy and a critical source for growth. This common sense legislation to provide targeted tax cuts and increase lending will help spur the creation of private sector jobs and strengthen our nation's recovery. I urge the Senate and House to move quickly to deliver legislation to President Obama's desk for his signature as soon as possible."
    According to a Senate Finance Committee summary, the fully-paid for Small Business Jobs Act will provide small businesses access to capital, robust incentives for investment, and support for innovation and entrepreneurship. Among other items, the bill is projected to: Gives small businesses $12 billion in tax cuts; Help small businesses create 500,000 new jobs; and Incentivizes and increases small business lending. The bill would provide $1.5 billion in grants to support $15 billion in new small business lending through already successful state programs and create a targeted $30 billion Small Business Lending Fund to provide small community banks with capital to increase small business lending.
    President Obama issued a statement saying, "Today's vote brings us one step closer to ending the months-long partisan blockade of a small business jobs bill that was written by both Democrats and Republicans. This is a bill that would cut taxes and help provide loans to millions of small business owners who create most of the new jobs in this country. It is fully paid for, it won't add to the deficit, and small businesses across the country have been waiting for Washington to act on this bill for far too long. I am grateful to Senators Reid, Baucus and Landrieu for their leadership on this issue as well as the two Republican Senators who put partisanship aside and joined Democrats in overcoming this filibuster. I urge all members of the Senate to support final passage as soon as possible."
    Access the Jerrett blog posting (click here). Access the Business Roundtable report (click here). Access a release from the Treasury Secretary (click here). Access the statement from President Obama (click here). Access a bill summary and link to more details (click here). Access a Democratic fact sheet on Republican opposition to the bill (click here). Access legislative details for H.R. 5297 (click here).

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Varying Government Response To Widespread Perchlorate Occurrence

Sep 13: The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report entitled, Perchlorate: Occurrence Is Widespread but at Varying Levels; Federal Agencies Have Taken Some Actions to Respond to and Lessen Releases (GAO-10-769,  August 12, 2010). The report was prepared at the request of Senator James Inhofe (R-OK), the Ranking Member of the Committee on Environment and Public Works (EPW).
    GAO reports that perchlorate is both a man-made and naturally occurring chemical. It is used in rocket fuel, explosives, fireworks, and other products. Naturally occurring perchlorate is produced through atmospheric processes and then settles on surface water or land. Perchlorate can disrupt the uptake of iodide in the thyroid, potentially interfering with thyroid function and negatively affecting fetal and infant brain development and growth. As of June 2010, there is no Federal regulatory standard for perchlorate in drinking water, and U.S. EPA, which has the authority to regulate contaminants in public drinking water systems, had not determined whether to establish one. The Department of Defense (DOD), the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), and the Department of Energy (DOE) are the primary Federal users of perchlorate.
    GAO was asked to examine: (1) what is known about the extent to which perchlorate occurs in the nation's water and food supply and its likely sources; (2) what actions DOD, NASA, and DOE have taken to respond to or lessen perchlorate releases; and, (3) what actions states, such as California and Massachusetts, have taken to regulate perchlorate. To address these questions, GAO analyzed data from EPA, DOD, NASA, and DOE, reviewed agency documents, and interviewed federal and state officials, researchers, and others. This report contains no recommendations.
   GAO found that perchlorate has been found in water and other media at varying levels in 45 states, as well as in the food supply, and comes from a variety of sources. EPA conducted one nationwide perchlorate sampling, between 2001 and 2005, and detected perchlorate at or above 4 parts per billion in 160 of the 3,865 public water systems tested (about 4.1 percent). In 31 of these 160 systems, perchlorate was found above 15 parts per billion, EPA's current "interim health advisory level." Sampling by DOD, NASA, and DOE detected perchlorate in drinking water, groundwater, surface water, soil, and sediment at some facilities. For example, GAO's analysis of DOD data showed that perchlorate was detected at almost 70 percent of the 407 installations sampled from fiscal years 1997 through 2009, with detections ranging from less than 1 part per billion to 2.6 million parts per billion. A 2006 Food and Drug Administration study found perchlorate in 74 percent of 285 food items tested, with certain foods, such as tomatoes and spinach, having higher perchlorate levels than others. According to researchers, concentrations of perchlorate at or above 100 parts per billion generally result from activities involving man-made perchlorate, such as the use of perchlorate as a rocket propellant. Lower concentrations can result from the use of man-made perchlorate, atmospheric processes, or the use of fertilizer containing naturally occurring perchlorate.
    According to DOD, NASA, and DOE officials, the agencies have sampled, monitored and, at several sites, begun cleaning up perchlorate. When DOD detects perchlorate at or above threshold levels—currently 15 parts per billion for water—DOD is to investigate further and may take additional actions. DOD has taken actions beyond initial sampling at 48 of the 53 installations with perchlorate detections above 15 parts per billion. NASA is in the midst of a cleanup at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California and is monitoring the level of perchlorate in groundwater at three other facilities. In addition, DOE is cleaning up perchlorate at two facilities involved in high explosives research, development, and testing and is monitoring the level of perchlorate in groundwater at two other facilities. According to DOD, NASA, and DOE officials, the perchlorate detected at their facilities is largely the result of past disposal practices. Officials at these agencies told us that by complying with current federal and state waste disposal laws and regulations, they have lessened their perchlorate releases. In addition, DOD is developing perchlorate substitutes for use in weapons simulators, flares, and rockets.
    In the absence of a federal regulatory standard for perchlorate in drinking water, California and Massachusetts have adopted their own standards. California adopted a drinking water standard of 6 parts per billion in 2007, and Massachusetts set a drinking water standard of 2 parts per billion in 2006. The key benefits of a regulatory standard cited by state officials include protecting public health and facilitating cleanup enforcement. However, limited information exists on the actual costs of regulating perchlorate in these states. Also, at least 10 other states have established guidance levels for perchlorate in drinking water (ranging from 1 to 18 parts per billion) or in groundwater.
    In April of this year U.S. EPA's Office of Inspector General (OIG) issued a major 216-page report (plus appendices) entitled, Office of Inspector General Scientific Analysis of Perchlorate (April 19, 2010, No. 10-P-0101). OIG report that on February 18, 2005, EPA issued a perchlorate RfD that corresponds to a drinking water equivalent level of 24.5 parts per billion (ppb). The OIG analysis implemented a cumulative risk assessment that found the following among other items that EPA's perchlorate RfD is conservative and protective of human health, and further reducing the perchlorate exposure below the RfD does not effectively lower risk [See WIMS 4/20/10].
    Access the complete 63-page report (click here). Access the extensive 216-page OIG report (click here); and Appendix D (206-pages, click here) and Appendix E (81-pages, click here).

Monday, September 13, 2010

IAC Recommends Fundamental Reform In IPCC Climate Assessments

Aug 30: A new report from the InterAcademy Council (IAC), an Amsterdam-based organization of the world's science academies including the U.S. National Academy of Sciences (NAS), indicates that the process used by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) to produce its periodic assessment reports has been successful overall, but IPCC needs to fundamentally reform its management structure and strengthen its procedures to handle ever larger and increasingly complex climate assessments as well as the more intense public scrutiny coming from a world grappling with how best to respond to climate change.
    Harold Shapiro, president emeritus and professor of economics and public affairs at Princeton University and chair of the committee that wrote the report said, "Operating under the public microscope the way IPCC does requires strong leadership, the continued and enthusiastic participation of distinguished scientists, an ability to adapt, and a commitment to openness if the value of these assessments to society is to be maintained."
    In a release the IAC indicates that The IPCC was established in 1988 by the World Meteorological Organization and the United Nations Environment Programme to inform policy decisions through periodic assessments of what is known about the physical scientific aspects of climate change, its global and regional impacts, and options for adaptation and mitigation. Representatives of 194 participating governments make up the Panel, which sets the scope of the assessments, elects the Bureau that oversees them, and approves the Summaries for Policymakers that accompany the massive assessment reports themselves, which are prepared by thousands of scientists who volunteer for three Working Groups.
    These assessment reports have gained IPCC much respect including a share of the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize. However, amid an increasingly intense public debate about the science of climate change and costs of curbing it, IPCC has come under closer scrutiny, and controversies have erupted over its perceived impartiality toward climate policy and the accuracy of its reports. This prompted U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and IPCC chair Rajendra K. Pachauri to issue a letter on March 10 this year requesting that the IAC review IPCC and recommend ways to strengthen the processes and procedures by which future assessments are prepared.
    The IAC report makes several recommendations to fortify IPCC's management structure, including establishing an executive committee to act on the Panel's behalf and ensure that an ongoing decision-making capability is maintained. To enhance its credibility and independence, the executive committee should include individuals from outside the IPCC or even outside the climate science community. IPCC also should appoint an executive director -- with the status of a senior scientist equal to that of the Working Group co-chairs -- to lead the Secretariat, handle day-to-day operations, and speak on behalf of the organization.
    Given that the IAC report was prompted in part by the revelation of errors in the last assessment, the committee examined IPCC's review process as well. It concluded that the process is thorough, but stronger enforcement of existing IPCC review procedures could minimize the number of errors. To that end, IPCC should encourage review editors to fully exercise their authority to ensure that all review comments are adequately considered. Review editors should also ensure that genuine controversies are reflected in the report and be satisfied that due consideration was given to properly documented alternative views. Lead authors should explicitly document that the full range of thoughtful scientific views has been considered.
    Additionally, the report indicates that the use of so-called gray literature from unpublished or non-peer-reviewed sources has been controversial, although often such sources of information and data are relevant and appropriate for inclusion in the assessment reports. Problems occur because authors do not follow IPCC's guidelines for evaluating such sources and because the guidelines themselves are too vague, the committee said. It recommended that these guidelines be made more specific -- including adding guidelines on what types of literature are unacceptable -- and strictly enforced to ensure that unpublished and non-peer-reviewed literature is appropriately flagged. The committee also called for more consistency in how the Working Groups characterize uncertainty. In the last assessment, each Working Group used a different variation of IPCC's uncertainty guidelines, and the committee found that the guidance is not always followed.
    Also, among other recommendations the IAC indicated that IPCC's slow and inadequate response to revelations of errors in the last assessment, as well as complaints that its leaders have gone beyond IPCC's mandate to be "policy relevant, not policy prescriptive" in their public comments, have made communications a critical issue. The report recommends that IPCC complete and implement a communications strategy now in development. The strategy should emphasize transparency and include a plan for rapid but thoughtful response to crises.
    Access a lengthy release from IAC summarizing the recommendations (click here). Access the complete report (click here). Access a UN webcast (click here). Access an opening statement from Chairman Shapiro (click here). Access a statement from UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (click here).