December 22 News: NY Times on Mercury Rule: “A Long Overdue Measure for Cleaner Air and a Healthier America”

Other stories below: Tsunami Reveals Durability of Nissan’s Leaf; U.S. Solar Companies Urge SolarWorld to Drop China Case

Toward Healthier Air (NY Times Editorial)

Resisting strenuous last-minute lobbying by some of the nation’s biggest utilities, the Obama administration announced on Wednesday a final rule requiring power plants to reduce emissions of mercury and other toxic pollutants by roughly 90 percent within the next five years.

This is a big victory for environmentalists and scientists who have worked for 20 years to regulate these pollutants — and an even bigger one for the public. When fully effective, the rule could save as many as 11,000 premature deaths a year and avoid countless unnecessary illnesses.

The decision compensates, at least in part, for the White House’s lamentable decision two months ago to reject stricter health standards for smog. That and the administration’s failure to give full-throated support to climate change legislation last year had disheartened many of the president’s environmental supporters.

Obama faces battle on new clean-air rules

The Obama administration has adopted tough new limits on mercury and other toxic emissions from power plants, winning praise from environmentalists and public health advocates but sparking warnings from industry groups that contend the new regulations are too expensive and will place dangerous pressure on the nation’s electrical grid.

The update to the Clean Air Act comes after a relentless 20-year battle in Washington. It marks the first time the Environmental Protection Agency has curbed power plant emissions of mercury, a known neurotoxin that can be profoundly harmful to children and pregnant women. The administration said cutting mercury in the air could prevent as many as 11,000 premature deaths a year.

The announcement marks a strategic shift for the Obama administration, which had labored to mute industry and Republican complaints that environmental rules kill jobs, culminating in a decision this summer to halt standards to cut smog. Since then, the administration has moved to reassure its voter base of its commitment to the environment, most notably by delaying a decision on a controversial oil pipeline from Canada to the Gulf Coast.

Tsunami Reveals Durability of Nissan’s Leaf

Nissan inadvertently gained some valuable insight into the durability of its electric car, the Leaf, when about two dozen of them were destroyed in the tsunami that ravaged Japan in March.

None of the cars caught fire, and their batteries remained fully intact, shielded by an airtight steel exoskeleton and two other layers of protection that surround the 660-pound packs.

“Considering how they were tossed around and crushed, we think that is a very good indication of the safety performance of that vehicle,” said Bob Yakushi, the director of product safety for Nissan North America.

Nissan’s decision to encase the Leaf’s battery in steel may help explain why federal safety regulators investigating postcrash fire risks in the Chevrolet Volt do not have the same concerns about the Leaf. General Motors packages the Volt’s battery cells on a T-shaped steel tray with a plastic cover.

Solar subsidy changes could deal ‘fatal blow’ to industry

Planned government changes to subsidies on solar power may deal the industry a “fatal blow”, two parliamentary committees are warning.

The Environmental Audit Committee and Energy and Climate Change Committee say ministers are right to make changes, but are doing so “clumsily”.

Government plans include restricting access to solar subsidies to houses meeting energy efficiency standards.

Thousands of solar industry jobs could be at risk, the committees warn.

On Wednesday, a group of companies and environmental groups won a legal judgement against one of the changes.

Central to their campaign was the Department of Energy and Climate Change’s (Decc) plan to halve abruptly the level of feed-in tariff (FiT) that small-scale solar installations attract, from 43p per kilowatt-hour (kWh) to 21p.

Online tool anticipates tomorrow’s agriculture today

Coping with the impacts of climate change and trying to stop them getting much worse is already one of the world’s biggest concerns. But scientists at the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) are looking further ahead, in an attempt to get farmers to plan for the effects predicted 20 years or more from now.

Under a CGIAR programme called Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS), researchers have developed a software-based tool that offer farmers a glimpse into their future by identifying places where growing conditions today match those expected in their fields in two to five decades’ time.

The tool can be used to link climate and crop models with agricultural technologies, including improved varieties and agronomic practices, by matching sites that could offer ideas for adaptation to shifting climate patterns.

U.S. solar companies urge SolarWorld drop China case

A coalition that says it represents 97 percent of the U.S. solar industry urged solar panel maker SolarWorld on Thursday to withdraw a petition asking President Barack Obama’s administration to slap punitive duties on China for unfair trading practices.

“The severe tariffs SolarWorld seeks would have a very damaging effect on the solar industry in the United States and would fundamentally undermine many years of effort by all of us who care about the future of solar power,” the Coalition for Affordable Solar Energy (CASE) said in a letter to SolarWorld President Gordon Brinser.

“In simple dollar terms, your petition threatens the planned installation of solar electric power systems in the amount of $11 billion in 2012 and the potential installation of $60 billion currently in the total pipeline,” the group said in the letter signed by CASE President Jigar Shah.

11 Responses to December 22 News: NY Times on Mercury Rule: “A Long Overdue Measure for Cleaner Air and a Healthier America”

  1. Mike Roddy says:

    The utility and coal companies should be ashamed of themselves for having fought changes that save thousands of lives. Their excuse is the same one that toxic chemical companies and logging companies use, too: “We are only responsible to our shareholders”, and describe this as some sort of sacred duty, mandated by “fudiciary responsibility”.

    The notion that corporations are only responsible to themselves is an American one, unless you count old trading companies or royal monopolies. Other countries, especially Sweden, insist that corporations serve the public interest, and retain the power to revoke their charters when they fail this test. No corporate personhood there- and a lot less pollution, bribery of government officials (called “campaign contributions” here), and manufacture of useless and dangerous products.

  2. Spike says:

    A different future is possible as the great work by the Scottish government shows

  3. John McCormick says:

    Mike, since the Supreme Court ruled corporations are persons I am curious how that might affect tort claims against the “person…corporation” that can no longer hide behind its stockholders

  4. Sasparilla says:

    On the EU carbon pricing for airlines flying to and from the EU, I’m adding this article as it has a good quote from the US State Department that the NY Times piece from yesterday left out.

    The expected costs of this carbon price would be 10 – 20 Euro’s per ticket leveled as a tax so it wouldn’t normally even be shown in advertised ticket prices, so its not much of an effect (i.e. this is an easy climate change action point for the Obama Admin if they were remotely serious about tackling it).

    Here’s what the Obama Administration said to the EU:

    In a letter sent to EU officials last week, the US secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, and the US secretary of transportation, Raymond LaHood, urged the EU to reconsider and re-engage with the rest of the world.

    “Absent such willingness on the part of the EU, we will be compelled to take appropriate action,” they said in the letter.

    Good to see the US standing up for what’s “right” – who knows what appropriate action is…

    Obviously the fossil fuel company lobbyists (and airline lobbyists) – and their paid lackies (Obama Administration and House of Reps) see this as the camels nose under the tent for climate change action and want it stopped at all costs.

  5. Mike Roddy says:

    Maybe you found a loophole here, John. I’d suggest that you bring it up with NRDC, which has plenty of lawyers. They are too corporate themselves to pursue it, but you will get a good legal opinion.

  6. Brooks Bridges says:

    Paul Krugman, in his blog, quotes David Roberts (Grist):

    “It’s worth lifting our heads out of the news cycle and taking a moment to appreciate that history is being made. Finally controlling mercury and toxics will be an advance on par with getting lead out of gasoline. ”

    Krugman goes on to say that many progressives, including himself, have been down on Obama for lack of a strong progressive agenda, however, this legislation would not have happened with McCain were president.

  7. John McCormick says:

    Mike, I will contact the Environmental Law Institute and put some questions to them.

    Meanwhile, a bit of googleing brought up an interesting case the Supreme Court agreed to hear. It involves a possible distinction between ‘person’ and ‘individual’.
    Splitting hairs? Maybe.

    The following describes the case:

    On October 17, 2011, the US Supreme Court agreed to use a landmark case involving Nigerian plaintiffs to consider if corporations can be liable for human rights violations, such as torture or genocide, committed overseas. The case is Kiobel v Royal Dutch Shell Petroleum Plc. The defendant, the oil giant Shell, is being accused of committing a series of international crimes through its Nigerian subsidiary, Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria (SPDC). The alleged violations include kidnap, torture and the executions of prominent Nigerian environmental activists in the Niger Delta region in the 1990s.

  8. John McCormick says:

    Mike, the environmental activist was Ken Saro-Wiwa, murdered on Nov 11, 1995.

  9. BillD says:

    While Obama is blamed for pushing an extreme environmentalist agenda in some quarters, his rapid agressive shift actually just involves implementing rules pasted under G H Bush. Recently read an OP-Ed saying that we should clearn up the mercury pollution, but we can’t afford to act so quickly! So, the utility companies have know about this for over 20 years.

  10. mulp says:

    Actually, they have known for 50 years, and the EPA had the power to act under Clean Air four decades ago, but it could do so only by setting limits that would never go into effect before Congress acted to limit the power of the EPA. The action in 1990 merely provided a more flexible way to do what had been required by law for two decades. And by acting 1990, the utilities got another two decades without complying with the 1970 law.

    The power plants impacted are almost entirely more than half a century old and would have been replaced long ago except new plants had to comply with the 1970 law.

    This regulation and the industry compliance of shutting down these plants is the equivalent of the recent trials of Nazis for crimes against humanity in their frail 90s.

    In reality, this regulatory action merely emphasizes four decades of failure by American environmentalists who have been made the messengers to be killed by the mob who doesn’t like the message.

  11. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    Really, Mike-it’s just ‘standard operating procedure’ for business psychopaths, if you’ll forgive the repetition. These are the creatures that peddle cigarettes knowing that they are killing millions, who sell milk formula in slums knowing that it kills babies, who bombard us with mind and spirit molesting advertisement to tempt children to become junk food addicts, and set off on a lifetime journey of metabolic derangement and suffering. Etc, ad infinitum.