It’s been a few weeks since I updated everyone on executive and legislative actions. Sadly, this is not because there has been nothing to update; so this will be a long one! However, one reason this update is delayed is because I attended an inspiring conference two weeks ago that replenished my “hope budget” and gave me new energy to tackle the many and ever-growing attacks on clean air. Since I blogged last month, several new developments have cropped up and we have new updates:
- March 6, 2017: White House Announces Plan to “Close Out” Energy Star program: A spending blueprint would slash Energy Star and related programs, leaving $5 million “for the closeout or transfer of all the climate protection voluntary partnership programs.” According to our friends at ACEEE, Energy Star spend about $50 million through EPA and $7 million through the Department of Energy. According to the Obama administration, the Energy Star program saved consumers $34 billion in electricity costs and prevented more than 300 million metric tons of GHGs in one year while improving ambient air quality.
- March 8: The HONEST Act (H.R. 1430): This proposed bill is sponsored by Lamar Smith, R-TX. The bill works “[t]o prohibit the Environmental Protection Agency from proposing, finalizing, or disseminating regulations or assessments based upon science that is not transparent or reproducible.” This bill is an attempt to revise the EPA’s scientific review process that guides their rulemaking. The bill was introduced on March 8, 2017 and passed by recorded vote in the House (228 – 194) on March 29, 2017.
- March 13: Executive Order on a Comprehensive Plan for Reorganizing the Executive Branch: President Trump signed this Executive Order, where the stated purpose is “intended to improve the efficiency, effectiveness, and accountability of the executive branch by directing the Director of the Office of Management and Budget (Director) to propose a plan to reorganize governmental functions and eliminate unnecessary agencies (as defined in section 551(1) of title 5, United States Code), components of agencies, and agency programs.”
- March 15: Republicans Joint Resolution on Climate Change: A group of 17 Republican members of Congress signed a resolution vowing to seek “economically viable” ways to combat global warming. It pledges to “study and address the causes and effects of measured changes to our global and regional climates” and seek ways to “balance human activities” that contribute.
- March 17: Ozone Standards Implementation Act of 2016 (H.R. 4775). This proposed bill, sponsored by Pete Olson, R-TX, was reintroduced and aims to update to the national ozone standards, with various provisions that would change the way the Environmental Protection Agency reviews standards for particulate matter, lead and other air pollutants. The same bill failed last year and we blogged about its potential disastrous effects on air quality and public health.
- March 21: President Trump is Not Considering a Carbon Tax: despite a meeting between Republican elder statesmen and Trump Administration officials, President Trump announced he is not considering a carbon tax.
- March 28: Presidential Executive Order on Promoting Energy Independence and Economic Growth: President Trump signed this Executive Order. The goal is to halt the United States’ government’s attempts to curb carbon dioxide emissions with the goal of encouraging American business. We borrowed the words of our friends at NAACP on this day to express our extreme disappointment with this negligent and potentially disastrous change in course for addressing the impacts of climate change.
- April 5: Congressional hearing on the RECLAIM Act of 2017 (H.R. 1731): At the hearing, ranking member Alan Lowenthal, D-CA, stated “[t]he idea behind the RECLAIM Act is to take part of the large unexpended balance in the [AML Fund] and devote it to projects where cleaning up mines leads to economic and community benefits. This is, quite frankly, a win-win.” There was testimony from the bill’s lead sponsor, Hal Rogers, R-KY, and three witnesses. The hearing itself was a major milestone for the RECLAIM Act.
FOLLOW UP ON ACTIONS PREVIOUSLY COVERED
- Congressional Review Act put into play by U.S. Congress: The CRA allows senators and representatives who disapprove of a regulation to enter a resolution eliminating it. The resolutions require the signature of the president. So far this year, the following rules protecting the environment and human health have been targeted under the CRA:
- The Department of Interior’s Stream Protection Rule: Update: On February 16, 2017, President Donald Trump signed the repeal of the Stream Protection Rule.
- Department of the Interior Methane Flaring Rule: The House voted on February 3, 2017 with no action so far from the Senate as of the date of this post. Update: on March 21, 2017, some Republican lawmakers came out against using the CRA to repeal this rule. Specifically, Sen. Lindsey Graham said he believed the rule could be subject to improvement, not just cancellation. “I think we can replace it with a better reg, rather than a CRA.”
- Drilling and Mining on Public Lands: On January 31, 2017, the House introduced a joint resolution that would repeal the rules that allow the National Park Service to manage private drilling and mining in 40 parks across the country.
Status of Bills in U.S. Congress covered in previous posts:
||Jason Smith, R-MO
||Establishes a commission to identify obsolete and unnecessarily burdensome regulations to be repealed. It also sets goals for the commission to reduce costs by 15 percent and to prioritize major rules that are more than 15 years old and rules that can be eliminated without diminishing effectiveness.
||No action since the bill passed the House on 3/1/2017.
||Paul Mitchell, R-MI
||Requires independent agencies to submit rules to the Office of Management and Budget before they are published—essentially giving the president tight control of the rule-making process
||No action since the bill passed the House on 3/1/2017.
||Tim Walberg, R-MI
||Would require agencies to publish more detail of forthcoming rules and regulations
||No action since the bill passed the House on 3/2/2017.
||Gary Palmer, R-AL
||Blocks the EPA’s ability to address climate change
||No actions taken since the bill was introduced. You can read our analysis of the bill here.
||Matt Gaetz, R-FL
||Would abolish the EPA effective December 31, 2018
||No actions taken since the bill was introduced.
||Sam Johnson, R-TX
||Would leave EPA with a budget of less than $1 billion. This bill would eliminate EPA climate change programs and would also close all of the EPA’s regional offices, halt new regulations on ground-level ozone pollution and require the agency to lease unused property
||No actions taken since the bill was introduced.
- February 21, 2017: Letter sent from automobile manufacturers to Scott Pruitt asking him to relax emissions requirements: The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers sent a letter to Scott Pruitt (EPA Administrator) asking him to withdraw the Final Determination on Appropriateness of the Model Year 2022-2025 Light-Duty Vehicle Greenhouse Gas Emissions Standards under the Midterm Evaluation. Update: on March 15, 2017, President Trump announced plans to re-examine the CAFE (Corporate Average Fuel Economy) standards, taking a step back from Obama-era environmental regulations.
- OMB Proposed Budget Cuts to EPA and NOAA: The proposed budget cuts would reduce EPA’s staff by one fifth in the first year and eliminate dozens of programs. Specifically, EPA’s staff would be slashed from 15,000 to 12,000. The proposed budget would also cut EPA’s grants to states, including air and water programs, by 30 percent and eliminate 38 separate programs in their entirety. Media outlets also discovered a four page budget memo that would slash NOAA’s budget by 17 percent, delivering steep cuts to research funding and satellite programs. Any such cuts would have to be codified through the congressional appropriations process. Update: U.S. Congress is currently in recess for the Easter holiday but are expected to consider OMB’s budget proposal upon their return.
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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Gasp Launches New Online Air Quality Tool
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (Jan. 5, 2017) — In an effort to reduce exposure to the harmful health effects of air pollution, Gasp this week announced that it has released a new online tool for users to get the current and next day’s air quality for the Birmingham area.
The Air Quality Widget displays the current air quality index, or AQI, with a corresponding color code based on the Environmental Protection Agency’s AirNow data. It updates twice per hour. The Widget also displays the following day’s forecasted AQI.
Gasp is making the Widget available for other websites to use as well. The code is available at gaspgroup.org/air-quality. Website administrators can simply paste the script into their website’s source code to render the Widget anywhere on their site. The Widget code is also available for different cities anywhere in the United States.
“As part of our mission for healthy air, we feel it is absolutely vital for everyone to have quick and easy access to the air quality report — just like the weather report,” said Outreach Director Kirsten Bryant. “We encourage everyone to bookmark our website so they can simply open their browser and get the current air conditions in just a click.”
The widget also links to information about the air quality index; the color-coding system used by the EPA; and information about the health effects of individual pollutants.
The new Air Quality Widget is an updated of a prior version of the tool that became obsolete after the EPA improved its security and data management.
Please contact Executive Director Michael Hansen at 205-746-4666 or firstname.lastname@example.org for more information about the Air Quality Widget or other programs.
Gasp is a nonprofit health advocacy organization based in Birmingham, Ala. Our mission is to reduce citizens’ exposure to air pollution, educate the public on the health risks associated with poor air quality, and encourage community leaders to serve as role model by advocating for clean air and clean energy. gaspgroup.org
On September 7, 2016, The EPA finalized Federal Implementation Plans (FIPs) in the Cross State Air Pollution Rule (CSAPR) Update to address air quality impacts of the interstate transport of ozone air pollution in the eastern United States.
CSAPR addresses summertime (May through September) transport of ozone pollution in the Eastern U.S. that crosses state lines. CSAPR aims to cut emissions of nitrogen oxides from power plants in 22 states, including Alabama, that contribute to downwind ozone problems.
The final version will not take effect until May of 2017. However, the updated CSAPR helps downwind states meet the old 75 parts per billion standard instead of the 70 parts per billion standard that became final in October of 2015.
EPA estimates that CSAPR will cut NOx releases next year by about 80,000 tons in the affected states, constituting about a 20 percent drop from last year’s levels. EPA estimates the benefits will amount to about $880 million per year, including prevention of harmful health effects such as:
- Over 67,000 asthma attacks;
- Almost 56,000 days of missed work and school;
- Over 240 hospital and ER visits; and
- Up to 60 premature deaths.
The budget emissions for Alabama in the Final CSAPR update are:
- 2015 Emissions: 20,369
- Proposed 2017 Update CSAPR Update Budget: 9,979
- Final 2017 CSAPR Update Budget: 13,211
Ozone exposure leads to premature death, coughing, sore throats, damage to the lungs, exacerbation of respiratory conditions such as asthma, emphysema and chronic bronchitis. This dangerous ozone is known as ground-level ozone, which forms when nitrogen oxides react with volatile organic compounds.
Coal-fired power plants, large industrial facilities, vehicles and gasoline vapors all contribute to ozone pollution. Transient weather events and weather conditions play a crucial role in ground-level ozone concentrations. Summers with hotter temperatures and dryer conditions yield higher ozone days than wetter and cooler summers. From May through June of 2014, temperatures in Alabama were below average while precipitation was above average.
The CSAPR update is welcome news from the EPA, where Jefferson County experienced two “orange,” ozone days (unhealthy for sensitive groups) this week. Metro Birmingham so far this year has had a significant number of ozone days:
Our mission is to reduce the burden of air pollution on people who live, work, and learn in Alabama through education and advocacy. To support this vital work, become a member today!
“Air pollution has emerged as a significant contributor to global stroke burden, especially in low-income and middle-income countries, and therefore reducing exposure to air pollution should be one of the main priorities to reduce stroke burden in these countries.”
That’s the summary of a newly published study in the journal Lancet Neurology. Researchers blame dirty air for nearly one-third of the global stroke burden is attributable to air pollution.
Other risk factors included: high blood pressure, low fruit intake, high body mass index (BMI), high sodium intake, smoking, low vegetable intake, household pollution, low whole grain intake, and high blood sugar.
Researchers used data collected from the Global Burden of Disease Study to estimate the disease burden of stroke associated with 17 risk factors in 188 countries.
According to their scientific analysis, the worldwide stroke burden attributable to environmental air pollution (specifically, fine particle pollution) has increased by over 33 percent from 1990 to 2013.
- About 15 million people a year suffer a stroke worldwide
- Globally, nearly 6 million die from stroke
- About 5 million people worldwide are left with permanent disabilities (e.g., loss of sight and speech, paralysis and confusion)
- 3rd leading cause of death in the U.S.
- Number 1 cause of serious disability in the U.S.
- Alabama has the 2nd highest death rate from cardiovascular disease in the country, according to the American Heart Association
- Stroke is Alabama’s 4th leading cause of death
“Although air pollution is known to damage the lungs, heart, and brain, the extent of this threat seems to have been underestimated. Air pollution is not just a problem in big cities, but is also a global problem,” the researchers said in a news release.
“With the ceaseless air streams across oceans and continents, what happens in Beijing matters in Berlin.”