Archive for May 27th, 2010

Avoiding the slick spots: Agency more adept at blowing hot air

May 27, 2010

By Steve Milloy
Washington Times, May 27, 2010

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is a perplexing beast. While the agency remains hellbent on regulating colorless, odorless and likely harmless greenhouse gas emissions, it has been utterly incapable of living up to its name with respect to the Gulf oil spill.

Not only was the EPA caught entirely unprepared for the oil spill, but also last week it actually tried to interfere with BP’s efforts to use a chemical called Corexit to speed up dispersal of the oil. When the EPA told BP that it should use a less toxic chemical, BP rightly ignored the order because it’s the oil, not the dispersant (stupid) that is the real threat to the environment, and there is no better option than the detergentlike Corexit.

Though laboratory toxicity tests show that Corexit will kill 50 percent of the fish exposed to a concentration of 15 parts per million over a period of four days, what the EPA seems to have overlooked is that there are no fish still living in an oil slick in the first place. By the time the oil has dispersed, so too will have the Corexit, down to nontoxic levels. But in the EPA mindset, all chemicals are bad and to be avoided – even ones that help and are, practically speaking, harmless.

But that is not the extent of the EPA’s failure.

Millions of feet of boom are desperately needed to corral the expanding slick and protect coastlines. Only a small fraction of that boom has arrived in the Gulf region, and not even all of that has been deployed. Let’s not forget the initial failure to have fire boom available nearby, which could have corralled the oil so that it could be burned – a 1990s-era requirement developed by the Clinton administration but not implemented by the EPA.

None of this is to excuse BP, the rig owners, and the other federal agencies whose performances have been far from inspiring, but at least none of them is called the Environmental Protection Agency.

As real pollution spews forth uncontrollably in the Gulf, the clueless EPA is meanwhile busy scheming to skirt the law and regulate the non-pollution that emanates from the nation’s power plants and manufacturing facilities.

Although the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 in 2007 that the EPA could regulate greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act, that law would require that EPA regulate all sources of greenhouse gases that emit more than 250 tons per year. As the average American emits about 20 tons per year, it’s easy to see how the law would require the EPA to regulate virtually every small business and apartment building.

So, to avoid the obvious political problem of having to microregulate virtually all of society, the EPA devised a scheme (called the “tailoring rule”) to limit regulation to facilities that emit 100,000 tons of greenhouse gases per year. This may sound like a reasonable approach, except that the EPA lacks the legal authority to change the Clean Air Act, which sets the threshold for regulation at 250 tons.

Barring successful legal challenge, the EPA is planning to regulate large greenhouse-gas emitters starting in 2011.

The only remaining roadblock to the agency plan is a resolution introduced by Sen. Lisa Murkowski and 40 other Republican and Democratic senators to block the EPA from regulating greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act. Debate and vote on the resolution has been scheduled for June 10.

Despite its 41 co-sponsors, the Murkowski resolution is no cinch to get the 51 votes it needs to pass the Senate. Democratic moderates like Virginia’s Jim Webb and Mark Warner, Pennsylvania’s Arlen Specter and Bob Casey, North Dakota’s Kent Conrad and Byron Dorgan, Ohio’s Sherrod Brown and Republicans like Maine’s Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe have not yet publicly embraced the bill.

This is despite the fact that the EPA is showing precisely how unprepared and inept it is at dealing with a genuine environmental crisis. In contrast, the agency and its lawyers have been quite creative and adept at devising a scheme to create and regulate a non-crisis.

Passing the Murkowski resolution should be Congress’ first step in a longer process of re-evaluating what the EPA is all about.

Steve Milloy publishes and is the author of “Green Hell: How Environmentalists Plan to Control Your Life and What You Can Do to Stop Them” (Regnery 2009).

The standard for an environmental hazard: Litigators clean up while taxpayers are taken to the cleaners

May 27, 2010

By Steve Milloy
The Washington Times, May 27, 2010

The EPA has a history of impeding environmental protection, most notably with toxic-waste-site cleanup and nuclear waste storage.

In the wake of the 1978 Love Canal controversy, a lame-duck Congress and president enacted the Superfund law in December 1980 to provide for the cleanup of so-called toxic-waste sites. But the Superfund law was poorly designed. By the early 1990s, few sites had been cleaned up. Moreover, while it would take only about two years to actually clean up a site, it would take 10 years to progress to the point of implementation. An average cleanup cost $25 million. The Department of Energy was looking down the barrel of $300 billion worth of cleanups. More money was spent litigating cleanups than actually cleaning up.

Although there were many problematical aspects of the Superfund law, the EPA’s control over cleanups was the greatest obstacle to the program’s goals. “How clean is clean?” was the famous rhetorical question of the time. In the early years of Superfund, the EPA doggedly maintained that sites had to be cleaned up virtually to something near Garden of Eden status – an obviously silly goal for a dump or an industrial facility. It wasn’t good enough just to seal off the facilities and prevent public exposure to substances at the site. Such standards added unnecessary millions to the cost of every cleanup. Because private parties had to pay, they fought the EPA every step of the way.

Sites began getting cleaned up faster and more cheaply during the Clinton administration after cleanup standards became more reasonable in a practical effort to get the program moving. No longer was the groundwater at sites being pumped and treated until it was good enough to be bottled. No longer was soil treated to the point where a hypothetical child could eat spoonfuls of soil from the site’s most contaminated or “hot” spot.

Another example of EPA impeding environmental protection is the now-abandoned project to store spent nuclear fuel at the Yucca Mountain facility in Nevada. Although the Yucca Mountain site was in a remote part of the Nevada desert and the spent fuel would have been stored in sealed casks one mile underground, the EPA set standards that virtually guaranteed the facility would never open.

The EPA decided that the Department of Energy (DOE) would have to be able to guarantee that there would be no significant exposures to the public from radiation for a period of 1 million years – about 200 times longer than recorded history. The DOE was being forced by the EPA to figure out how it might communicate with and warn future civilizations that might not understand English-language warnings about the spent nuclear fuel stored beneath the mountain.

DOE, of course, could never hope to meet the EPA’s standards. Despite 25 years of engineering and $30 billion in costs, Yucca Mountain was a dead man walking when the Obama administration defunded it early in 2009. Because of the lack of a long-term storage facility for spent nuclear fuel, nuclear power plants are forced to continue storing spent fuel in on-site storage pools – facilities that are running out of space.