Archive for the ‘regulatory rollback’ Category

People’s Republic of Chemicals – Preparing for liftoff

Tuesday, February 18th, 2014

CoalBaseTour_Screenshot_520px

- Bill Kelly and I are pleased to announce that the sequel to Smogtown: the Lung-Burning History of Pollution in Los Angeles, (Penguin Group USA/The Overlook Press – 2008) will be out this fall by Rare Bird Books. The title is set. It’s The People’s Republic of Chemicals. We’re beyond excited. Also this year, Shanghai Scientific and Technical Publishers, one of the largest outfits of its kind, will be printing an edition of Smogtown in Mandarin. Here, again, is us talking about Asia’s deplorable air quality and its connections to L.A. on CCTV America, China’s state-owned equivalent of CNN International.

- As part of our pre-launch, Bill is writing a series of China-related articles for Inside Climate News, the environmental New Media site that won the Pulitzer. His first installment, which covered China’s blueprint to erect massive coal plants that could throw climate change over the edge, was popular to put it mildly. Here’s a little leg:

China is erecting huge industrial complexes in remote areas to convert coal to synthetic fuel that could make the air in its megacities cleaner. But the complexes use so much energy that the carbon footprint of the fuel is almost double that of conventional coal and oil, spelling disaster for earth’s climate, a growing chorus of scientists is warning. Efforts by China to develop so-called “coal bases” in its far-flung regions have received scant attention beyond the trade press, but scientists watching the effort say it could cause climate damage that eclipses worldwide climate protection efforts. The facilities, which resemble oil refineries, use coal to make liquid fuels, chemicals, power and “syngas,” which is like natural gas but extracted from coal. The fuels and electricity are then transported to China’s big cities to be burned in power plants, factories and cars. Currently 16 coal base sites are being built and many are operational. One being constructed in Inner Mongolia will eventually occupy nearly 400 square miles—almost the size of the sprawling city of Los Angeles …

- Don’t blame the aliens for this one – a radiation leak in New Mexico. From the L.A. Times:

The Energy Department suspended normal operations for a fourth day at its New Mexico burial site for defense nuclear waste after a radiation leak inside salt tunnels where the material is buried. Officials at the site, known as the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, or WIPP, activated air filters as a precaution and barred personnel from entering the 2,150-foot-deep repository as they investigate what caused the leak. Radiation sensors sounded alarms at 11:30 p.m. Friday, when no workers were in the underground portions of the plant. Officials at the site discounted any effect on human health, saying no radiation escaped to the surface. But they said little about the extent of the problem or how it could be cleaned up.”Officials at WIPP continue to monitor the situation,” spokeswoman Deb Gill said. “We are emphasizing there is no threat to human health and the environment. How long the repository would be closed and the effects on the defense nuclear cleanup program were unclear …

- Drought solution or bank buster, desalinization is not some ivory tower concoction. It may be how we survive climate change. From NBC News

Besieged by drought and desperate for new sources of water, California towns are ramping up plans to convert salty ocean water into drinking water to quench their long-term thirst. The plants that carry out the high-tech “desalination” process can cost hundreds of millions of dollars, but there may be few other choices for the parched state. Where the Pacific Ocean spills into the Agua Hedionda Lagoon in Carlsbad, Calif., construction is 25 percent complete on a $1 billion project to wring 50 million gallons of freshwater a day from the sea and pour it into a water system that serves 3.1 million people. Desalination was a dreamy fiction during the California Water Wars of the early 20th century that inspired the classic 1974 movie “Chinatown.” In the 1980s, however, the process of forcing seawater through reverse osmosis membranes to filter out salt and other impurities became a reliable, even essential, tool in regions of the world desperate for water. The process, however, is energy intensive and thus expensive, making it practical only in places where energy is cheap, such as the oil-rich Middle East. But recent technological advances in membrane materials and energy recovery systems have about halved the energy requirements for desalination, giving the once cost-prohibitive technology a fresh appeal in a state gripped with fear that it may be in the early stages of a decades-long mega-drought. ”I think it will turn out that it is very affordable compared to not having the water here in Southern California, particularly with the drought that we are facing and the fact that the governor has just cut off the flow of water from north to south in the aqueduct, the State Water Project,” Randy Truby, the comptroller for the International Desalination Association, an industry advocate, told NBC News. The multibillion dollar State Water Project is a complex conveyance system that brings water from the wetter northern part of the state to farms, industry, and people in the thirsty south. In times of drought, such as now, banking on that water is a risky bet …

 

 

 

 

 

For a global warming world, get ready for a burst of news about old-fashioned, ever-mutating smog

Thursday, February 16th, 2012

 

Let’s get to it, folks. Clean skies are a wastin’.

* Terrific commentary in KCET  about how California dug its way out of a toxic, car industry/lifestyle fanned pollution epidemic through passage of landmark federal legislation opposed by a lot of big industrial states — the carmaking kind. (Cue “I’m shocked” smirk here from “Casa Blanca.”)

“Perhaps the key single factor is the 1970 federal Clean Air Act. “It was such a huge change in the law,”  Larry Pryor says, nominating the Act as a Law That Shaped L.A, “because local controls were erratic and sensitive to industry costs rather than health costs.”Pryor is an associate professor at the USC Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism** and a prize-winning former editor and environmental reporter for the Los Angeles Times. During a recent interview, Pryor recounted the back story that led to the passage of the federal Clean Air Act, as well as the related creation of the California Air Resources Board to administer the Act at the state level. Signed into law by President Richard Nixon on December 31, 1970, eight months after the first Earth Day, the Clean Air Act set comprehensive emissions limits and allowed the newly established EPA to regulate seven harmful chemicals. The Act and its federal bully pulpit led to the expanded influence – or in some cases the creation of – local agencies such as the California Air Resources Board to administer the Clean Air Act. The Act was updated in 1977 and dramatically in 1990. “There were so many pressures around the country to clean up air, not just in Los Angeles,” Pryor says. “But I think the major impact was on Los Angeles because we were so far behind. We had by far the worst air in the nation and we also had all of the circumstance that were perfect for smog creation.”

* New research connects neurological damage with smog. From California Watch:

“It’s well established that dirty, sooty air is no good for your lungs and probably not great for your skin. But new research indicates it can damage your brain, too. A study in the journal of the Archives of Internal Medicine shows that air pollution accelerates cognitive decline in women …” Not surpisingly, here’s the bigger pitcture. Hint to link slackards: it’s the same old story. “Southern Californians are among those at highest risk of death due to air pollution, according to recent U.S. Environmental Protection Agency research published in the journal Risk Analysis … The study examined air pollution exposure based on 2005 air quality levels and projected there could be between 130,000 and 360,000 premature deaths among adults in coming years. The 2005 data was the best available for analyzing fine particulates and ozone, the EPA said. Among vulnerable populations like children, the EPA also estimates that fine particulate matter and ozone results in millions of cases of respiratory symptoms, asthma and school absences, as well as hundreds of thousands of cases of acute bronchitis and emergency room visits …”

* Not convinced that photochemical junk attacks pretty much every part of the body in some way? Consider this little nugget from MSBNC‘s health page:

” Short-term exposure to air pollution — just a day or a week in some cases — may kick off a heart attack or stroke, scientists now say. Two new studies reveal that the risk of heart attack or stroke can jump after high-pollution days, especially for people who already have predisposing health problems. Up to a week of exposure to most major types of air pollution may be enough to trigger a heart attack, a new analysis published in the latest issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association finds. Heart attack risk went up by almost 5 percent with high carbon monoxide levels and almost 3 percent with higher levels of air particles for up to seven days …”

* Beware Hong Kong. Angelenos — especially air pollution “downwinders” — feel your respiratory pain. From Reuters:

“Air pollution levels in Hong Kong were the worst ever last year, the South China Morning Post reported on Monday, a finding that may further undermine the city’s role as an Asian financial centre as business executives relocate because of health concerns. Worsening air quality in Hong Kong caused by vehicle emissions and industrial pollution from the neighboring Pearl River Delta is already forcing many in the financial community to move to Singapore … This was 10 times worse than in 2005, when very high readings were recorded only 2 percent of the time, it said …”

* London calling … for smog weather reports? With the Olympics coming. Nothing us Southern Californians don’t remember. But does the average Angelno know that England suffered the world’s deadliest smog attack back when we were just grappling with our self-made poisons? You better read our book, Smogtown: the Lung-Burning History of Pollution in Los Angeles if you’re scratching your head now. From the writing of a Green Party member in the Telegraph:

” … Those visitors will spend the day in one of the most beautiful, but most polluted cities in Europe. The weather will be great for sunbathing, but bad for anyone with a pre-existing respiratory or heart condition who spends time in central London … In the meantime, the Mayor must make people aware of what they are breathing in and the subsequent risks to their health, by publicising the details of the Airtext service which enables vulnerable people to get the information straight to their phone. Even better, why don’t we make it part of the weather forecast? That would soon wak the government from its appalling complacency.”

* On the less smudgy-air side, there are some remedies. Most are very recognizable. It’s usually the lack of political will and citizenry commitment that makes them seem pie-in-the-sky unrealistic in places like L.A. Again, read Smogtown for evidence. National Geographic gets into it:

” … While Los Angeles has improved a great deal since the 1970s when smog alerts would often recommend that people stay completely indoors, it’s still no Mount Shasta. The City of Angels was the most polluted city in the middle of the 20th century, but it was also the first one to initiate the country’s first air pollution control program in 1947. This was monumental in addressing decades of air pollution, which was only getting worse, but what can be done now? Cars, people, and factories aren’t disappearing any time soon, so in an increasingly industrialized world, is smog just becoming a regular part of life or can the detriments of air pollution be tempered? Here are some ways that the authorities can continue to innovate and mediate the problem of air pollution. Note that complacency or adopting the status quo is not on the list …”

If we want to ditch fossil fuels, and all the smog and global warming that it manufactures in bulk, perhaps we should we get ourselves far beyond the clouds.

Monday, November 21st, 2011

* We love this type of story. Ingenuity meets necessity. Graps exceeds reach. A scientific revolution that might lubricate social harmony. Orbital power plants: a warming, exhaust-laden envivorment needs you.

From MSNBC:

“The sun’s abundant energy, if harvested in space, could provide a cost-effective way to meet global power needs in as little as 30 years with seed money from governments, according to a study by an international scientific group. Orbiting power plants capable of collecting solar energy and beaming it to Earth appear “technically feasible” within a decade or two based on technologies now in the laboratory, a study group of the Paris-headquartered International Academy of Astronautics said … ” Colonel Michael Smith, the U.S. Air Force’s chief futurist as director of the Center for Strategy and Technology at Maxwell Air Force Base in Alabama, said the idea has the potential to send safe, clean electrical energy worldwide “if we can make it work. “Isn’t that what government and industry should be working to do?” he said in a telephone interview.

Sidebar: how realistic?

“The idea of beaming down power from outer space has surfaced in science-fiction stories and government studies for decades now. Commercial deals have been struck, prototype satellites have been proposed, international initiatives have been announced. But has any real progress been made toward developing space-based solar power systems? That’s what we’re talking about this Sunday on “Virtually Speaking Science.”

* In less inspiring news, check out this New York Times story detailing President Obama’s decision to pare back on anti-smog rules. We’re in 2011, but it’s the same story that it’s been for decades. When political fortunes go south and the economy sputters, hard-won environmental regulation is recast as reckless oversight so our government leaders can water them down, to hell wilth the consequences. Maybe some day Uncle Sam will, green-wise, grow up to the point it stops creating false choices. Maybe.

From the New York Times (with their standard picture of a polluted L.A. skyline):

“The summons from the president came without warning the Thursday before Labor Day. As she was driven the four blocks to the White House, Lisa P. Jackson, the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, suspected that the news would not be good. What she did not see coming was a rare public rebuke the president was about to deliver by rejecting her proposal to tighten the national standard for smog. The half-hour meeting in the Oval Office was not a negotiation; the president had decided against ratcheting up the ozone rule because of the cost and the uncertainty it would impose on industry and local governments. He clearly understood the scientific, legal and political implications. He told Ms. Jackson that she would have an opportunity to revisit the Clean Air Act standard in 2013 — if they were still in office. We are just not going to do this now, he said … The full retreat on the smog standard was the first and most important environmental decision of the presidential campaign season that is now fully under way. An examination of that decision, based on interviews with lobbyists on both sides, former officials and policy makers at the upper reaches of the White House and the E.P.A., illustrates the new calculus on political and policy shifts as the White House sharpens its focus on the president’s re-election …”

Our book, Smogtown: the Lung-Burning History of Pollution, makes clear we are on history’s hamster wheel here.

Autumn green — a terrific (and lung-scarring) video, Central Valley particulates, the mile-high cough and the White House smog fandango

Tuesday, October 11th, 2011

 

* Why Central California — yup, the San Joaquin Valley — is such a smog breeding ground. From the Atlantic:

“… One of the big things we’re dealing with is that we have a 1 to 2 ratio of people to vehicle miles traveled,” says Jaime Holt at the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District. These mobile sources of emissions add to the Valley’s problems, but Holt argues they’re not the main cause. The region’s agriculture is responsible for much of the region’s pollution. Up until a few years ago, farmers in the region would regularly burn brush and cuttings at the end of the season, creating huge sources of particulate matter in the air. A new state law, enforced since 2004, regulates the emissions of the agriculture industry in the state, and Holt says the Valley’s pollution problems have already started to decline. In 2002, more than 4,600 tons of 2.5-microgram particulate matter was recorded. In 2008, that figure was down to 1,600 tons. The problem is getting better, but it’s by no means solved. As agricultural burn-offs continue to decrease, the Valley can expect to see its air quality improve. But regardless of the value of those improvements, its geography and meteorology distinctly disadvantage it to suffer below average air quality …”

* Ever wonder about the quality of the air you breathe on airlines in that closed environment? Yep, we did, , too, and so have others. Here’s a story about potential domino lawsuits and a focus on what is either a dirty secret or an environmental mole-hill. MSBNC has the goods:

“A former flight attendant is believed to be the first person in the U.S. to settle a lawsuit against the Boeing Co. over what she claims is faulty aircraft design that allowed toxic fumes to reach the cabin, triggering tremors, memory loss and severe headaches. The amount and other details of the settlement Wednesday between former American Airlines worker Terry Williams, a 42-year-old mother of two, and Boeing were not made public as a condition of the agreement. But 250,000 pages of company documents turned over to the plaintiff’s legal team by Boeing seem certain to fuel the long-running battle over the safety of cabin air in commercial jetliners. “The issue is really heating up now,” Judith Murawski, a Seattle-area based industrial hygienist for the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, told msnbc.com, adding that she typically handles at least three new cases a week involving crew members exposed to fumes. Many calls come from crew members on their way to emergency rooms or urgent care clinics, she said …”

* You know your president is in trouble when his once bedrock convictions begin crumbling like a cracker dropped into a glass of water. Once more, we are showing ourselves to be the land of the short-sighted. Haven’t we already decided the environment matters and that sweeping, wholesale deregulation is not only recklessly unhealthy but economically dangerous? Who pays for all those pollution-sickened folks? Hint: you and me! The Washington Post, of course, has the lowdown.

“President Obama’s controversial decision last week to suspend new anti-smog standards offered hints — but not the full road map — of how the White House will navigate politically explosive battles with congressional Republicans over which industry regulations to sacrifice and which ones to fight for this fall. The Friday decision, which angered many environmental activists and won praise from business groups, represented the most high-profile case in a debate that carries deep implications for Obama’s reelection campaign as he tries to spur job creation, woo business donors and fire up his voting base. It came as the president prepares for a major address Thursday night to lay out a new employment strategy … The ozone decision signaled a new phase in Washington warfare. For their first two years, Obama and his team pushed through ambitious legislative initiatives such as the economic stimulus, the health-care overhaul and a rewrite of the financial regulatory system. Now, newly empowered congressional Republicans are driving an agenda of smaller government, deficit reduction and regulatory rollbacks that GOP lawmakers say will help spur job growth. And Obama, his presidency on the line amid fading hopes of a near-term economic recovery, is eager to show that he, too, recognizes the need to curb government overreach. At the same time, he needs to reassure anxious advocates on the left, many of whom have complained since last month’s debt-ceiling deal that the president has become too easily cowed by Republican arguments. It is a delicate balancing act for a president still searching for the right formula to spark the economy to life at the same time that he hopes to win back crucial independent voters.