Thursday, March 29, 2012
On Tuesday, the Environmental Protection Agency issued the first limits on greenhouse gas emissions from newly constructed power plants. On today’s Backstory, Washington Post environment reporter Juliet Eilperin discusses why many are saying that the rule, which was years in the making, will mean the end of new coal-fired power plants.
Tuesday, December 06, 2011
Dr. Marsha Coleman-Adebayo describes her efforts to get the government to investigate allegations that a U.S. multinational corporation was responsible for the deaths of hundreds of South Africans mining vanadium—a vital strategic mineral. When the EPA stonewalled, she blew the whistle. Her book No Fear: A Whistleblower's Triumph Over Corruption and Retaliation at the EPA chronicles the ways the corporation used to retaliate against her, why the EPA cost her her career, and her efforts to bring protection to all federal employees facing discrimination and retribution from the government.
Monday, November 14, 2011
Elizabeth Shogren, who covers environmental stories on the national desk at NPR, and Jim Morris, project manager at the Center for Public Integrity, discuss a joint project from NPR and CPI, which found that the Environmental Protection Agency maintains a watch list of the worst polluters in the country.
Thursday, October 20, 2011
By Ilya Marritz
The Environmental Protection Agency said on Thursday that it will, for the first time, set national standards for disposal of the toxin-laden wastewater that results from hydraulic fracturing, otherwise known as fracking.
Monday, September 19, 2011
Federal and state investigators arrested a dozen people in connection with the sale of illegal pesticides in local stores. The products, mostly imported from China, did not have any of the required regulatory approvals from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and, in some cases, were 40 to 60 times the EPA-approved toxicity levels.
Monday, September 05, 2011
Last Friday, President Obama withdrew a new draft of the Ozone National Ambient Air Quality Standards. This means smog standards will not be updated but instead will remain at the same level since 2008 — levels that George W. Bush’s science advisers declared inadequate. Current EPA administrator Lisa Jackson declared this decision "not legally defensible." Obama cited regulatory uncertainty and burden as the reasons for his decision.
Tuesday, June 14, 2011
(Matt Dellinger – Transportation Nation) Earlier this month, Shelley Poticha, the senior adviser at the Department of Housing and Urban Development in charge of the office of Sustainable Communities, flew into Madison, Wisconsin, to visit the annual gathering of the Congress for the New Urbanism. It was after dinner on a Thursday night, and a small group of community leaders from across the country gathered in a vacant ballroom to hear the latest on livability from Poticha, the former president of Reconnecting America, an organization that promotes transit-oriented development, and a former executive director of the CNU (she has the group’s charter on her office wall, she told the group).
Many of the planners and architects and local officials had been on the receiving end of her initiative’s Sustainable Communities planning grants, some $150 million of which were awarded last October. The grants—and indeed Poticha’s office in general—seek to encourage cooperation and coordination at the local level among federal agencies, primarily the U.S. Departments of Transportation, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Department of Agriculture. As Lynn Richards, a representative from the EPA, described it that night, “When you're putting in a road, you're doing your storm water management at the same time, then you can facilitate the clean-up of a brownfield site next to your transportation hub and have affordable housing on top of that.”
To those who’d come to meet Poticha, the benefits of this type of coordination were obvious, and they were grateful for it. For over an hour, grant recipients took turns describing how far this federal collaboration (and largess) would carry their communities—urban and rural, in every state in the country—toward greater cohesion and sustainability.
But the Obama Administration’s livability initiative had been politicized, at a time when the opposition party was looking to cut government programs. “Our office was lined out of the budget for 2011 and we were out for months,” Poticha told the group. “I think it's only because people in communities called up their representatives that we are still here.” She was happy to report that her office was already getting ready for the next round of grants, which would be $100 million in 2012. “We survived the continuing resolution, we didn't get as much money as the first year, but we're still in business.... We finished 2011, we're now working forward on 2012 and actually I got called to a meeting for 2013,” she said, suggesting perhaps that the White House was internally confident in its agenda and prospects for a second term.
Especially with less money to distribute, Poticha expects the next round of grants to be even more oversubscribed. “It's enormously beneficial to a very non-partisan program like this, that there were many, many, many more applications than we could fund. There were many excellent applications that we could fund and we're hoping the people who did excellent applications come back... because that shows the legislative branch that there are people in their communities who want to do this stuff. And we should be supporting them because it's ultimately about being able to make more cogent decisions, financially prudent decisions, using resources more efficiently.”
Both Poticha and Richards used the familiar hard-to-turn-an-oceanliner metaphor in describing their struggle to harmonize these mammoth federal departments and their national and local offices to collaborate in basic ways. “Part of what our job is to do is to mediate there a little bit. But it's also just going to be a bitch. It's going to be really hard because we're going to have to change the rules by which these monies are sent out,” Poticha said. “Behind the scenes part of what we're doing is trying to build a capacity of these federal folks who have never been asked to be problem solvers, who have never really been taught and educated and been able to really engage in many of these issues, to be your real partners in communities. And that's a huge part of the kind of legacy that we're trying to build here so that when I'm gone it's continuing to live and it's part of the DNA, so to speak.”
Getting federal agencies to spend their dwindling budgets in harmonious ways seems to many conservatives like a wise idea. And at least one conservative Republican Governor, Rick Snyder of Michigan, has embraced the Obama Administration’s livability efforts. Many consider the initiative a non-partisan effort to make government work better.
But some prominent conservatives detect sinister and socialistic intentions. The day after Poticha appeared at the CNU, Oregon Representative (and bike champion) Earl Blumenauer gave a talk. “People in this room know that good planning and design saves money and solves problems. Bad planning, or no planning, and stupid design ends up costing money.” But there were competing worldviews that were clashing in state capitals such as Madison and in Washington, DC.
Confident that most in the room shared his perspective, he went on, tongue in cheek: “Over the course of my checkered career, we’ve been developing an agenda we call ‘livable communities’ so as not to intimidate anybody.” Despite some opinions to the contrary, he said, this plan was “not social engineering so that people do things they don’t like, forcing them onto bikes at gunpoint, squeezing them into those friendly, walkable communities, herding them into streetcars.” Rather, he said, it was about choices. “To make the government, especially the federal government, a better partner, and taking simple, common sense steps to revitalize, strengthen, and make sustainable the places where we raise our families.”
Yet some people are still afraid of being forced onto streetcars. George Will called Ray Lahood the “Secretary of Behavior Modification.” And more recently, a tea party group in the Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C., took to actively fighting livability-funded planning efforts. In March, the Jefferson Area Tea Party held a forum called “The Deceptive Agenda of Sustainability in Local Government,” where they gave a seminar about alleged United Nations-led policies “openly dedicated to global government control over every aspect of our lives including housing, energy, water, food production, transportation, population control, education, social welfare...all in the name of sustainability.” The Jefferson Area Tea Party is not at all happy that the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission got almost a million dollars from Poticha’s initiative.
In case anyone’s interested, Thomas Jefferson himself (quite the independence-minded tea partier his day), was a fan of government-assisted urban planning. In the late 1700s, Jefferson collected city plan drawings from European cities such as Amsterdam, Strasburg, Paris, Lyons, Marseilles, and Milan, and brought them here to the land of the free to give to Pierre Charles L’Enfant, the planner of the new nation’s capital. He also made a shameless attempt to infest these new streets with European building types. “While in Europe,” he wrote to George Washington in 1781, “I selected about a dozen or two of the handsomest fronts of private buildings, of which I have the plates. Perhaps it might decide the taste of the new town, were these to be engraved here, and distributed gratis among the inhabitants of Georgetown. The expense would be trifling.”)
Speaking of trifling expenses, the $150 million Poticia’s office gave out last year would be barely enough to build a new highway interchange.
Wednesday, May 25, 2011
By Jim O'Grady
(New York, NY- Jim O'Grady, WNYC) The EPA says it will require car makers to put labels on new vehicles showing consumers how much they'll spend in a year on fuel. And how much they'll pollute.
The new labels reflect federal fuel standards passed last year that require better gas mileage in cars and trucks. Part of what the labels will show is how much money a buyer will save in fuel costs over five years compared to an average car under the old fuel standard--and how much more money they'll save if the car is electric.
The labels will also rate a vehicle on a one-to-ten scale for smog and greenhouse emissions. Student Rob Renz stopped by an EPA news conference in Lower Manhattan to inspect one of the new labels.
"I'm into cars," he said. "But I like to know a lot before I buy anything. I'd like to know each and every detail of what I'm about to buy."
He said liked what he saw. Use of the labels by car makers is voluntary until 2013, when they become mandatory.
The Departments of Energy and Transportation decided not to include a letter grade for fuel efficiency on the stickers, a proposal for which, some environmental groups had advocated. Read the full DOT announcement highlighting all the changes here.
And for a visual, you can see the sticker online here. There's a slightly different design depending on whether the car is gas powered, plug-in hybrid, or electric.
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Wednesday, April 13, 2011
By Beth Fertig
The city's Department of Education said the hundreds of thousands of lighting fixtures it plans to replace in the city's schools because they contain PCBs are also contaminated with asbestos.
Monday, January 31, 2011
By Beth Fertig
The Environmental Protection Agency has found high levels of PCBs in another school it tested this month during spot checks for the toxic substance in the city's schools.
Thursday, December 02, 2010
The nation's top environmental officer cites cleaner cars as one of the top achievements of the past 40 years. Transportation Nation partner WNYC interviewed Lisa Jackson, Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, about her tenure and her agency's achievements.
WNYC's Ilya Maritz: "What would you say is the single biggest achievement of the EPA in the last 40 years, if you could tout just one, which I know is probably difficult."
EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson: "It's actually impossible. You know, the Aspen Institute just released what they call "10 Significant Achievements by EPA." And there are some on the list that are surprising and some that aren't. It starts with the banning of DDT, which the first administrator did not long after EPA was formed, and you might recall DDT was the subject of the book "Silent Spring," a lot of the early environmental movement.
"There's taking the acid out of acid rain -- making rain rain again.
"There's cleaner cars, when you think about the fact that there are a hundred million more Americans and a lot more drivers than when EPA was formed and a lot more cars on the road, and yet air quality has gotten better."
Read and listen to the full interview at WNYC.
Saturday, October 30, 2010
(Andrea Bernstein, Transportation Nation) -- Four days before election day, Democratic Candidate for NY Governor Andrew Cuomo released a green agenda. It's slighter than some of his other agenda books -- about half the size of his urban agenda -- but it does contain both an endorsement of construction of "sustainable communities" -- a big agenda item of the Obama administration, and a call for "improved public transportation" as part of an environmental agenda. Here's what he has to say about public transportation (in its entirety.)
We must Encourage Alternative Vehicles and Public Transportation. Technology has made it possible for cleaner, greener modes have transportation. From high speed rail to other alternative forms of transportation that reduces pollutants, the State should encourage the research, development and manufacturing of alternative modes of transportation. Such investment is a positive step for the environment and economic development. Moreover, the State must continue to invest and improve public transportation in order to improve the environment.
He does not address the transit financing issue that came up at the press conference releasing his urban agenda.
There's also a section on sustainable communities, which hews closely in philosophy to the Ray LaHood-Shaun Donovan-Lisa Jackson (DOT-HUD-EPA) effort.
You can read that part, after the jump.
Monday, October 25, 2010
(Washington, D.C.—Todd Zwillich, Transportation Nation) Proposed new government fuel efficiency standards for three categories of trucks are out today. Federal agencies say the rules should boost fuel efficiency by 15 - 20 percent over the next eight years.
Officials say their goal is to reduce CO2 emissions and improve fuel efficiency in combination tractors, heavy duty pickup trucks, and vans and vocational vehicles like buses.
The new regulations, released by the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) would take effect starting in 2014. They include new engine and tire standards intended to make commercial fleets more fuel efficient.
The agencies are going for a 20 percent reduction in CO2 emissions and fuel use in combination trucks by 2018. Heavy duty pickups running on diesel fuel are expected to achieve a 15 percent reduction by 2018, while gas-powered heavy duty trucks and vans should cut their fuel use and emissions by 10 percent, according to DOT.
The rules go after a range of fuel-wasting problems in truck fleets, including poor aerodynamics, leaky air conditioners, and sub-optimal tire performance.
Of course, all of these new standards will likely raise short-term costs for trucking owners. Officials say up-front costs will more than pay for themselves by cutting fuel costs over several years.
There’s a 60-day public comment period before regulators set about making the rules final. Read, if you dare, the entire 673-page of proposed regulations here.
Friday, October 22, 2010
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced Thursday a new round of payments to US farmers for growing corn and other crops destined for gas tanks. The goal is to expand domestic production of ethanol and increase consumer demand for the renewable fuel.
Vilsack said his agency would also team up with the Federal Aviation Administration to encourage development of aviation fuel from biomass and farm waste, including switchgrass.
Vilsack framed the move as a way to reduce the United States' dependence on foreign energy. "Today we still send a billion dollars a day outside our shores helping other countries' economies to grow while our economy recovers from a deep recession," he said in a speech in Washington, DC. "We can do better. We have to do better. Rural America is where we will do better," Vilsack added.
The expansion is part of a plan to boost US ethanol production from about 13 billion gallons this year to 36 billion gallons by 2022. The Environmental Protection agency recently approved a plan to increase the standard ethanol concentration in blended automobile fuel from 10% to 15% for newer cars, according to Bloomberg. Boosting ethanol production will mean the US will need more refineries. Vilsack said his agency would come up with a plan within the next two months to help fund the construction of five new refineries.
Friday, October 15, 2010
Newtown Creek, a heavily polluted waterway that separates Queens and Brooklyn, was given designation last month that will allow it to be cleaned up under the federal Superfund program. Now a group of elected officials is calling on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency not to forget the Queens side of the creek. Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney says so far, the EPA hasn't studied the creek's impact on Queens communities.
Tuesday, August 31, 2010
(Houston, TX - Wendy Siegle, KUHF NewsLab) If you’re at the dealership and itching to purchase a new car but wish there was an easy way to tell what its environmental impact would be, hold tight. Next year, it could be as easy as checking the window of your dream car for its fuel economy label.
EPA and DOT officials unveiled two different designs this week, both of which contain information on greenhouse gas emissions and other air pollutants. One of the proposed labels would give new cars a letter grade for overall fuel efficiency and carbon emissions, from A down to D (at right). Gasoline-only autos would score lower than fully electric vehicles and plug hybrids – a proposed change automakers aren’t too happy about. The second proposed sticker shares the same information as the first (including the number of Co2 grams per mile), but it doesn’t have a letter grade (EPA proposals here). Its design looks more like the current label, centering on how many miles per gallon the car gets, and the estimated annual fuel cost. The winning design would start showing up on 2012 models.
Federal regulators are seeking public input on the two labels. What would you put on the label, to tell you what you want to know about a new car? Help redesign it by commenting at left now.
More from the KUHF NewsLab: