Archives for posts with tag: Obama Administration

Center for Public Integrity: Big polluters freed from environmental oversight by stimulus.

In the name of job creation and clean energy, the Obama administration has doled out billions of dollars in stimulus money to some of the nation’s biggest polluters and granted them sweeping exemptions from the most basic form of environmental oversight, a Center for Public Integrity investigation has found.

The administration has awarded more than 179,000 “categorical exclusions” to stimulus projects funded by federal agencies, freeing those projects from review under the National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA. Coal-burning utilities like Westar Energy and Duke Energy, chemical manufacturer DuPont, and ethanol maker Didion Milling are among the firms with histories of serious environmental violations that have won blanket NEPA exemptions.

Even a project at BP’s maligned refinery in Texas City, Tex. — owner of the oil industry’s worst safety record and site of a deadly 2005 explosion, as well as a benzene leak earlier this year — secured a waiver for the preliminary phase of a carbon capture and sequestration experiment involving two companies with past compliance problems. The primary firm has since dropped out of the project before it could advance to the second phase.

Agency officials who granted the exemptions told the Center that they do not have time in most cases to review the environmental compliance records of stimulus recipients, and do not believe past violations should affect polluters’ chances of winning stimulus money or the NEPA exclusions.

The so-called “stimulus” funding came from the $787-billion legislation officially known as the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, passed in February 2009.

Documents obtained by the Center show the administration has devised a speedy review process that relies on voluntary disclosures by companies to determine whether stimulus projects pose environmental harm. Corporate polluters often omitted mention of health, safety, and environmental violations from their applications. In fact, administration officials told the Center they chose to ignore companies’ environmental compliance records in making grant decisions and issuing NEPAexemptions, saying they considered such information irrelevant.

Some polluters reported their stimulus projects might cause “unknown environmental risks” or could “adversely affect” sensitive resources, the documents show. Others acknowledged they would produce hazardous air pollutants or toxic metals. Still others won stimulus money just weeks after settling major pollution cases. Yet nearly all got exemptions from full environmental analyses, the documents show.

More . . .

Advertisements

From the Washington Post:

The Obama administration finished crafting tough new rules Friday curbing mercury and other poisons emitted by coal-fired utilities, according to several people briefed on the decision, culminating more than two decades of work to clean up the nation’s dirtiest power plants.

As part of last-minute negotiations between the White House and the Environmental Protection Agency, the regulations give some flexibility to power plant operators who argued they could not meet the three-year deadline for compliance outlined by the EPA. Several individuals familiar with the details declined to be identified because the agency will not announce the rules until next week.

The new rules will cost utilities $10.6 billion by 2016 for the installation of control equipment known as scrubbers, according to EPA estimates. But the EPA said those costs would be far offset by health benefits. The agency estimates that as of 2016, lowering emissions would save $59 billion to $140 billion in annual health costs, preventing 17,000 premature deaths a year along with illnesses and lost workdays.

* * *

Several experts said the new controls on mercury, acid gas and other pollutants represent one of the most significant public health and environmental measures in years. The rules will prevent 91 percent of the mercury in coal from entering the air and much of the soot as well: According to EPA estimates, they will prevent 11,000 heart attacks and 120,000 asthma attacks annually by 2016.

“I think this will prove to be the signature environmental accomplishment of the Obama administration,” said Frank O’Donnell, who heads the advocacy group Clean Air Watch. “It will soon mean the end of the smoke-spewing coal power plant as we know it today. At the same time, the administration is trying to add a bit of flexibility to extinguish the bogus claim that these standards could mean lights out.”

* * *

Congress exempted toxic pollution from power plants — which can include arsenic, chromium, lead, formaldehyde and dioxins, among other substances — when it amended the Clean Air Act in 1990. In 2000, under the Clinton administraion, the EPA determined that it should be regulated, but a lengthy legal and lobbying battle ensued.

The EPA finalized the rules Friday to meet the terms of a court-ordered settlement with several advocacy groups that had sued the agency over its 10-year delay in issuing the regulations.

* * *

More.

Image from Flickr.

Press Release from EPA (09/22/10):

WASHINGTON – Today, for the first time in more than a decade, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa P. Jackson and White House Council on Environmental Quality Chair, Nancy Sutley, reconvened the Interagency Working Group on Environmental Justice (EJ IWG) in a meeting held at the White House. The meeting, attended by five cabinet members, demonstrates the Obama administration’s dedication to ensuring all Americans have strong federal protection from environmental and health hazards. Pollution like dirty air and contaminated water can have significant economic impacts on overburdened and low-income communities, driving away investment in new development and new jobs and exposing residents to potentially costly health threats. This historic gathering marks a recommitment to advancing the mandate of Executive Order 12898, “Federal Actions to Address Environmental Justice in Minority Populations and Low-Income Populations, which states that each agency, with the law as its guide, should make environmental justice part of its mission.

The role of the EJ IWG is to guide, support and enhance federal environmental justice and community-based activities. By coordinating the expertise and resources of federal government agencies, the EJ IWG will work to identify projects where federal collaboration can support the development of healthy and sustainable communities. The EJ IWG will also seek opportunities to provide green jobs training in communities in need and promote a clean energy economy.

Attendees at the meeting included Attorney General Eric Holder, Department of Justice; Secretary Ken Salazar, Department of Interior; Secretary Shaun Donovan, Department of Housing and Urban Development; Secretary Ray LaHood, Department of Transportation; Administrator Martha Johnson, General Services Administration; Carol Browner, senior advisor to the president on energy and climate change; John Holdren, director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy; Melody Barnes, director of the White House Office of Domestic Policy; and representatives from the following federal agencies: Labor, Health and Human Services, Energy, Education, Homeland Security, Commerce, Army, Agriculture and Defense, among others.

“Environmental challenges in low-income and minority communities are barriers to opportunity. Dirty air, polluted water and contaminated lands degrade health and the environment while discouraging investments and economic growth,” said EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson. “We believe that the burdens these communities face are best approached with collaborative efforts, built on the strengths brought by a team of different federal agencies. Revitalizing this workgroup creates an important chance to work together on environmental justice issues that have held back the prosperity of overburdened communities for far too long.” Read the rest of this entry »

%d bloggers like this: