WBEZ | Environmental Protection Agency http://www.wbez.org/tags/environmental-protection-agency Latest from WBEZ Chicago Public Radio en Americans throw out way more trash than we previously thought http://www.wbez.org/news/americans-throw-out-way-more-trash-we-previously-thought-113283 <p><div><div class="image-insert-image " style="text-align: center;"><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/The%20Old%20Dominion%20landfill%20in%20Virginia..jpg" style="height: 349px; width: 620px;" title="The Old Dominion landfill in Virginia. (Bill McChesney/Flickr/CC BY 2.0)" /></div><p>Americans dumped 262 million tonnes of municipal trash into landfills in 2012,<a href="http://www.nature.com/articles/nclimate2804.epdf?referrer_access_token=vBBpOmIS7BfyU58gr65JXdRgN0jAjWel9jnR3ZoTv0Ni8iICE5bSShQpx-7ma0VMYyJsFCzOpM4AWZs4bN-uLqLZCH6old7GJesi_CI-kLp-r6ZDZk5wDC6tRA3GAK1ehubP857G2steuu1Enu-9pv4y7x4aZhVLoxzRyhDWM5o_DaSRdI2uGxOTWbzKCCAa" target="_blank">according to a new study</a>&nbsp;published recently in<em> Nature Climate Change</em>. That&#39;s more than double the EPA estimate for that same year.</p></div><p>&ldquo;That&rsquo;s metric tonnes,&rdquo; says engineer Jon Powell, an author on the study, &ldquo;If we&#39;re thinking US short tons, it&#39;s about 289 million tons.&rdquo;</p><p>Powell tallied up his numbers on trash using census data, Department of Commerce data and other business activity information. He also set out to estimate the amount of methane &mdash; a noxious greenhouse gas &mdash; generated by Americans&rsquo; waste.</p><p>Stinky trash decomposing in landfills is full of organic material being broken down by bacteria. This decomposition creates methane. The EPA requires landfills of a certain size to put in engineered systems to capture and destroy the methane. However, according to&nbsp;Powell, the systems aren&rsquo;t always performing as well as they could.&nbsp;</p><p>&ldquo;That difference that we found between sites that are closed and sites that are open was about 17 percentage points. So essentially what that number tells us is that there&#39;s some extra room for us to improve the way that we&#39;re collecting gas&nbsp;at our open sites,&rdquo; Powell says, adding, &ldquo;Let&#39;s say a site is generating 2,000 cubic feet of landfill gas every minute. If we&#39;re only collecting ...&nbsp;50&nbsp;percent, we&#39;re leaving about 2.5 megawatts of electricity equivalents really on the table.&rdquo;&nbsp;</p><p>Landfills get a bad rap, but Robin Nagle from the New York City Department of Sanitation, and author of the book &ldquo;<a href="http://www.amazon.com/Picking-Up-Streets-Sanitation-Workers/dp/0374534276" target="_blank">Picking Up</a>,&rdquo; says landfills should be more celebrated.&nbsp;</p><p>&ldquo;If we still had open dumps, cities would be very difficult places to live,&rdquo; Nagle says.&nbsp;&ldquo;[The invention of landfills] was a revolutionary change, although not one that&#39;s generally celebrated. Although it should be.&rdquo;</p><p>A little known fact of American&rsquo;s relationship with trash, is how many of our cities are built on top of landfill.&nbsp;</p><p>&ldquo;We built a lot of [New York] city on top of garbage. Quite literally. Approximately&nbsp;20 percent of the larger metropolitan region is built on fill,&rdquo; Nagle says, adding, &ldquo;[That&#39;s] fully 33&nbsp;percent of Manhattan south of 14th Street. So we&#39;re walking on trash pretty much every day.&rdquo;</p><p>&ldquo;Sanitation is, in my very strongly argued opinion, the most important uniformed force on the streets of the city,&rdquo; Nagle adds.&nbsp;&ldquo;If sanitation is not there, we don&#39;t really have a city that we can&nbsp;live in.&rdquo;</p><p>&mdash; <em><a href="http://www.pri.org/stories/2015-10-11/americans-throw-out-way-more-trash-we-previously-thought" target="_blank">via PRI&#39;s Science Friday</a></em></p></p> Mon, 12 Oct 2015 10:16:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/americans-throw-out-way-more-trash-we-previously-thought-113283 EPA pushes for 'smart thermostats' as way to limit pollution http://www.wbez.org/news/epa-pushes-smart-thermostats-way-limit-pollution-113254 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//main-images/AP_800640016224.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>The head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency made an impassioned push Thursday for homeowners to adopt Wi-Fi-enabled &quot;smart thermostats&quot; as a way to limit carbon pollution and improve public health.</p><p>Besides noting the devices save consumers money, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy cast the technology in grander terms, saying it offered an easy way for people to &quot;stand up&quot; and meet &quot;our moral responsibility&quot; to do something about the smog that leads to climate change, premature deaths and asthma attacks.</p><p>&quot;Even if you don&#39;t care about the climate or believe the science &mdash; which we can argue about later &mdash; do it anyways. Just humor me,&quot; she said to laughter and applause at an appearance in&nbsp;Chicago. &quot;You know why? Because you&#39;re going to save money. ... But let&#39;s not forget that behind that saving money are thousands of lives.&quot;</p><p>McCarthy spoke at an event launching the nation&#39;s largest incentives program to encourage the use of the technology. Under the program, utility companies in northern Illinois have joined together to offer homeowners rebates of up to $120, about half the cost of the devices, which allow users to control cooling and heating programs from their smartphones, tablets and computers.</p><p>The goal is to get 1 million of the thermostats installed in northern Illinois homes within the next five years. The rebate applies specifically to Nest and ecobee thermostats. <a href="https://youtu.be/CmvX6YgAqMI?t=7s" target="_blank">Companies including Honeywell also make Wi-Fi-equipped thermostats.</a></p><p>It is considered smart technology because besides being linked to wireless Internet service, the thermostats &quot;learn&quot; costumer behavior and adjust settings accordingly. Motion sensors detect when someone is home and automatically dial back heating and AC usage when no one is home.</p><p>Most people already have traditional programmable thermostats. But studies have shown only about half of users actually program them because of poor design and complicated settings. Commonwealth Edison, the electric utility for&nbsp;Chicago&nbsp;and northern Illinois, found in a study that its customers were wasting about 38 percent of their cooling expense as a result.</p><p>The new generation of smart thermostats that have emerged in the past few years offer a simplified interface via apps for smartphones and other mobile devices. They also compile a trove of data and present it back to customers in a monthly report with suggestions on how to save more.</p><p>If the Illinois program reaches its installation goal, it could capture $80 million to $120 million in customer savings and eliminate 700,000 metric tons of carbon pollution a year, said Howard Lerner, director of the Environmental Law &amp; Policy Center, which pushed for the program.</p><p>The average user can save about $130 a year on bills, Lerner said. Combined with the rebate, that means the device could pay for itself in as little as a year.</p></p> Thu, 08 Oct 2015 17:10:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/epa-pushes-smart-thermostats-way-limit-pollution-113254 VW says it will retrofit diesel cars to fix test-cheating module http://www.wbez.org/news/vw-says-it-will-retrofit-diesel-cars-fix-test-cheating-module-113100 <p><p style="text-align: center;"><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/VW.jpg" style="height: 338px; width: 600px;" title="German carmaker Volkswagen says it has a plan to refit diesel cars that will make them comply with emissions standards. Here, the entrance to a VW branch in Duesseldorf, Germany, is seen on Monday. Patrik Stollarz/AFP/Getty Images" /></p><p>Under fire for misleading governments and customers about its diesel cars&#39; emissions, Volkswagen has a plan to recall millions of vehicles so it can fix the problem. The company has said it sold 11 million cars worldwide that use software to limit emissions only during official testing.</p><p>The news comes from a large internal meeting at the company led by Matthias Mueller, who took over as VW&#39;s leader last week after Martin Winterkorn&#39;s resignation.</p><p><a href="http://www.autonews.com/article/20150929/COPY01/309299962/volkswagen-will-refit-diesel-vehicles-affected-by-emissions-scandal">Reuters</a>&nbsp;reports:</p><blockquote><p>&quot;New CEO Matthias Mueller said the automaker had drawn up a &#39;comprehensive&#39; refit plan to be submitted to regulators aimed at ensuring its diesel models complied with emissions standards.</p><p>&quot;VW will ask customers &#39;in the next few days&#39; to have diesel models equipped with manipulated software refitted and brief authorities on technical fixes in October, Mueller told a closed-door gathering of about 1,000 top managers at the company&#39;s Wolfsburg headquarters in Germany on Monday.&quot;</p></blockquote><p>Over the weekend, reports emerged in Germany that add more detail to the story of how Volkswagen cars went to market with software that detects when government-mandated tests are being conducted &mdash; and only turns on emissions controls during that time.</p><p>As early as 2007, VW was warned by contractor Bosch, which supplied the now-infamous engine management software, that it would be illegal to sell cars with settings that could elude emissions tests, according to the newspaper&nbsp;<a href="http://www.bild.de/geld/wirtschaft/wirtschaft/warnte-schon-2011-vor-abgas-manipulationen-42736218.bild.html" target="_blank">Bild am Sonntag</a>. Bosch had originally created the software for use in testing, the paper says.</p><p>And later, in 2011, a VW technician also aired warnings about the diesel emissions, according to&nbsp;<a href="http://www.faz.net/e-paper/?GETS=pcp;faz-net;pcc;epaper.navitab#FAS">Frankfurter Allgemeine</a>.</p><p>Volkswagen had a further warning in May 2014, when the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency told the company about irregular emissions test results.&nbsp;<a href="http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2015/09/23/442818919/volkswagen-ceo-resigns-saying-he-s-shocked-at-emissions-scandal">As we&#39;ve reported</a>, Volkswagen only produced a limited response to the EPA &mdash; until the carmaker was told that its next-year models might fail to get certified for American markets.</p><p>The EPA cited VW&#39;s response when it announced the violations of the Clean Air Act and ordered the carmaker to recall 482,000 Audi and VW vehicles in the U.S.</p><p>It remains unclear how widely those early emissions warnings circulated; as Car and Driver notes, VW brand chief Wolfgang Bernhard and engineer Rudolf Krebs, who initially developed the diesel engine in 2005, moved on to other jobs in 2007, and they&#39;ve denied knowing about the issue.</p><p>Citing a (subscriber-only)&nbsp;Automotive News&nbsp;story,&nbsp;<a href="http://blog.caranddriver.com/report-bosch-warned-vw-about-diesel-emissions-cheating-in-2007/">Car and Driver reports</a>&nbsp;that after Bernhard and Krebs &quot;realized that an AdBlue urea exhaust-treatment system would be needed to meet U.S. emissions standards,&quot; finance executives at Volkswagen found that solution to be too expensive, at more than $350 per vehicle.</p><p>After the emissions scandal turned into an international recall last week, Volkswagen said it was&nbsp;<a href="http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2015/09/22/442457697/11-million-cars-worldwide-have-emissions-problem-volkswagen-says">setting aside more than $7 billion</a>&nbsp;to deal with the problem. The company also faces the possibility of more than $17 billion in potential fines, in the U.S. alone.</p><p>&mdash; <em><a href="http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2015/09/29/444426362/vw-says-it-will-retrofit-diesel-cars-to-fix-test-cheating-module?ft=nprml&amp;f=444426362" target="_blank">via NPR&#39;s The Two-Way</a></em></p></p> Tue, 29 Sep 2015 11:56:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/vw-says-it-will-retrofit-diesel-cars-fix-test-cheating-module-113100 Obama's climate plan aims to break political deadlock by taking it head on http://www.wbez.org/blogs/chris-bentley/2013-06/obamas-climate-plan-aims-break-political-deadlock-taking-it-head-107845 <p><div class="image-insert-image "><a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/yooperann/7936573880/" target="_blank"><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/coal%20train%20by%20yooperann.jpg" style="height: 343px; width: 610px;" title="A coal train in DuPage County. (Flickr/Ann Fisher)" /></a></div><p>President Barack Obama <a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/power-plant-limits-center-obama-climate-plan-107830">laid out his plan to tackle climate change in a speech Tuesday at Georgetown University</a>. The centerpiece initiative, limiting greenhouse gas emissions from existing power plants, <a href="http://www.midwestenergynews.com/2013/06/25/environmental-groups-rally-to-support-power-plant-rules/">is something environmental groups have long called for</a>.</p><p>The speech, given in front of the same university building George Washington spoke from in 1797, effectively embraced a narrative that many environmentalists feared had fallen on deaf ears after the demise of cap-and-trade legislation gave way to a period of relative silence and inaction on climate change. <a href="http://blog.algore.com/2013/06/statement_on_president_obamas_1.html">Al Gore called Obama&#39;s remarks</a> &ldquo;by far the best address on climate by any president ever.&rdquo;</p><p><strong><a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&amp;v=syEvjcNGFTI">Watch the President&rsquo;s full speech here</a>, and <a href="http://thehill.com/images/stories/news/2013/06_june/25/obama-climate-plan.pdf">read the administration&#39;s climate action plan here</a>. <a href="http://www.whitehouse.gov/share/climate-action-plan?utm_source=email&amp;utm_medium=social&amp;utm_content=062513p2&amp;utm_campaign=climatechange" target="_blank">Here it is in graphic form</a>.</strong></p><p><a href="http://www.wbez.org/blogs/chris-bentley/2013-01/climate-change-warnings-sharp-relief-104942">The latest in a series of National Climate Assessments requested by Congress</a> warned of dire consequences to inaction, many of which Obama acknowledged in setting the stage for his long awaited plan of action &mdash; climate change contributed to the swollen storm surge in New York harbor, exacerbating the effects of Hurricane Sandy; Midwest farms <a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/all-snow-are-we-still-drought-105764">scorched by drought</a> were then <a href="http://www.wbez.org/blogs/chris-bentley/2013-03/climate-change-could-worsen-chicago-floods-106174">scoured by extreme floods</a>.</p><p>So were the proposals as significant as the framing? The plan largely circumvents Congress, relying on a few key efforts:</p><ul><li>Limit greenhouse gas emissions from both new <a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/power-plant-limits-center-obama-climate-plan-107830">and existing power plants</a>, using the Environmental Protetion Agency&#39;s authority under the Clean Air Act. The plan also includes up to $8 billion in Energy Department loan guarantees for carbon capture technology that could rein in pollution from power plants, which contribute roughly one third of the nation&rsquo;s greenhouse gases.</li><li>Speed up and expand renewable energy permitting on federal land. Obama pledged that the federal government will get 20 percent of its electricity from renewable resources by 2020.</li><li>Tighten energy efficiency standards for appliances and vehicles.</li><li>Invest in climate adaptation. Any new project with federal funds needs to prove preparedness for heavier floods, Obama said, and cities and states must assess climate risks.</li><li>Help other countries leap frog polluting technology. Obama said the government would apply &ldquo;private sector tech know-how in countries that transition to natural gas,&rdquo; which he praised as a &ldquo;transition fuel&rdquo; bridging coal and future renewables-based electricity generation. He called for &quot;global free trade in environmental goods and services,&quot; including an end to most public financing for new coal plants overseas. &ldquo;They don&rsquo;t have to repeat all the same mistakes that we made,&rdquo; Obama said.</li><li>Reduce emissions of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) &mdash; an incredibly potent greenhouse gas.</li></ul><p>Those are substantive steps, and not just when measured against the status quo doldrums. David Roberts at <em>Grist</em> has a great post on <a href="http://grist.org/politics/no-drama-obama-unveils-series-of-modest-sensible-steps-on-climate-change/?utm_campaign=daily&amp;utm_medium=email&amp;utm_source=newsletter&amp;sub_email=cabentley234@gmail.com">how Obama&#39;s seemingly bureaucratic indifference to the climate movement actually belies a pragmatic devotion to behind-the-scenes progress</a>. And while it&rsquo;s no carbon tax, <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2013/06/25/is-a-carbon-tax-more-effective-than-epa-rules-you-might-be-surprised/?a">exercising the Environmental Protection Agency&#39;s legal authority to limit carbon emissions just might be more effective</a>.</p><p>Emissions reduction by regulation, instead of a sweeping market-based solution like cap-and-trade or a carbon tax, is a blunt instrument. But it&#39;s the one Obama has. And depending on how the rules shake out (Will offending power plants be given the option of offsetting emissions with investments in energy efficiency in and around their facilities, as well as reducing their own emissions? What role do state EPAs play?), the downward pressure on greenhouse gas emissions could create a de facto price for carbon in a roundabout way.</p><p>Though most observers expected him to avoid the issue of the Keystone XL pipeline, which would transport Canadian tar sands oil to the Gulf of Mexico, Obama made <a href="http://grist.org/news/obama-will-ok-keystone-only-if-it-wont-increase-carbon-emissions/">a surprise announcement</a> about the controversial project (emphasis mine):</p><p style="margin-left:.5in;">&ldquo;Allowing the Keystone pipeline to be built requires a finding that doing so would be in our nation&rsquo;s interest. And our national interest will be served only if this project does not significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution. <strong>The net effects of the pipeline&rsquo;s impact on our climate will be absolutely critical to determining whether this project is allowed to go forward</strong>.&rdquo;</p><p>People on both sides of the issue were heartened by the announcement. It <a href="https://twitter.com/samsteinhp/status/349578426765676545">buoyed the hopes of those against the pipeline</a>, but <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2013/06/25/did-obama-leave-himself-some-wiggle-room-to-approve-keystone-xl/">left sufficient wiggle room for the President to still approve the project</a>:</p><p>&nbsp;</p><blockquote class="twitter-tweet"><p>Clarification to what <a href="https://twitter.com/samsteinhp">@samsteinhp</a> posted: Obama will say <a href="https://twitter.com/search?q=%23KXL&amp;src=hash">#KXL</a> won&#39;t be approved if it would emit more GhG than not building it, sources say.</p>&mdash; Juliet Eilperin (@eilperin) <a href="https://twitter.com/eilperin/statuses/349583024679157763">June 25, 2013</a></blockquote><script async src="//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script><p>&nbsp;</p><p>It&rsquo;s still a major shift in the national dialogue &mdash;&nbsp;carbon is now at the center of what was previously too often cast as a jobs-versus-dirty-hippies dichotomy.</p><p>Before the plan was even on the table, <a href="http://www.theatlanticwire.com/global/2013/05/epa-could-lose-its-power-fight-climate-change-using-it/65354/">legal challenges and political opposition were a foregone conclusion</a>. A National Republican Senatorial Committee spokesman told <em>The Hill</em> that Obama&rsquo;s plan will &ldquo;effectively crush the economy in West Virginia, Kentucky, Alaska, Arkansas, and Louisiana &mdash; not to mention plenty of other states like Michigan.&rdquo;&nbsp; House Speaker John Boehner called it &ldquo;absolutely crazy.&rdquo;</p><p><a href="http://thehill.com/blogs/e2-wire/e2-wire/307507-obama-unveils-climate-plan-that-goes-around-congress">The President&rsquo;s opponents could use the Congressional Review Act, a law from the 1990s that lets Congress overturn agency regulations</a>, or <a href="http://www.theatlanticwire.com/global/2013/05/epa-could-lose-its-power-fight-climate-change-using-it/65354/">challenge the plan in court</a>.</p><p>Conservative politicans<i>&nbsp;</i>have labeled the plan &quot;<a href="http://www.foxnews.com/opinion/2013/06/25/obama-declares-war-on-coal/" target="_blank">Obama&#39;s war on coal</a>,&quot; seizing on the administration&#39;s preference for comparatively cleaner burning natural gas. Coal <a href="http://www.epa.gov/climatechange/ghgemissions/sources/electricity.html" target="_blank">contributes about 40 percent of the country&#39;s electricity, but 80 percent of the sector&#39;s CO<sub>2</sub> emissions</a>. New natural gas-fired power plants have helped expand the domestic energy supply just as efficiency programs have reduced demand. Wholesale electricity market rates have dropped along with stock prices for coal companies.</p><p>Anticipating political antagonism, Obama implored people to speak up, &ldquo;push back on misinformation,&rdquo; and &ldquo;broaden the circle of those who are willing to stand up for our future.&rdquo; He also apparently endorsed, in passing, <a href="http://www.wbez.org/blogs/chris-bentley/2013-02/chicago-students-push-divestment-fossil-fuels-105650">the burgeoning divestment movement underway on hundreds of college campuses</a>. (Or if not their campaigns explicitly, their central message of divesting from outmoded and uneconomic technology.)</p><p>&ldquo;The question now is whether we will have the courage to act before it&rsquo;s too late,&rdquo; Obama said. &ldquo;We don&rsquo;t have time for a meeting of the Flat Earth Society.&rdquo; That barb turned out to be more pointed than perhaps the President intended &mdash; even the leader Flat Earth Society (yes, it exists) <a href="http://www.salon.com/2013/06/25/flat_earth_society_believes_in_climate_change/">believes the (flat) Earth is warming</a>:</p><p>&nbsp;</p><blockquote class="twitter-tweet"><p>Even the president of the Flat Earth Society now thinks humans are warming the planet: <a href="http://t.co/qlS4869DAb">http://t.co/qlS4869DAb</a></p>&mdash; brad plumer (@bradplumer) <a href="https://twitter.com/bradplumer/statuses/349615293695410177">June 25, 2013</a></blockquote><script async src="//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script><p><iframe allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="343" src="http://www.youtube.com/embed/syEvjcNGFTI" width="610"></iframe></p><p>&nbsp;</p><p><em>Chris Bentley writes about the environment. Follow him on Twitter at <a href="http://www.twitter.com/Cementley">@Cementley</a></em>.</p></p> Tue, 25 Jun 2013 16:45:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/blogs/chris-bentley/2013-06/obamas-climate-plan-aims-break-political-deadlock-taking-it-head-107845 EPA rolls back methane emissions from natural gas http://www.wbez.org/blogs/chris-bentley/2013-04/epa-rolls-back-methane-emissions-natural-gas-106891 <p><p>In a revision to <a href="http://www.epa.gov/climatechange/ghgemissions/sources.html">its sweeping inventory of the nation&rsquo;s greenhouse gas emissions</a>, the Environmental Protection Agency <a href="http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=179638846">scaled back its estimate</a> for natural gas, stoking supporters&rsquo; claims that the fossil fuel could be a viable carbon reduction strategy in the short-term.</p><p>But those pushing for a ban of the controversial technique of high-volume hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, say the data are still unclear and that EPA&rsquo;s revision doesn&rsquo;t change the big picture.</p><p>The Illinois legislature is&nbsp;<a href="http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2013-03-17/business/ct-biz-0317-fracking-illinois-20130317_1_oil-boom-illinois-counties-oil-and-gas">at a crossroads on fracking</a> as members prepare to vote on bills that would either regulate the process or ban it entirely for at least two years.</p><p><a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/silverfuture/7769021050/" target="_blank"><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/frack.jpg" style="height: 229px; width: 305px; float: left;" title="File: Activists rally against fracking outside the Thompson Center in July 2012. (Flickr/silverfuture) " /></a>Natural gas is mostly methane, a greenhouse gas 21 times more potent than carbon dioxide, according to EPA standards. Mining and distributing the gas involves some leakage, but the amount that escapes is a point of contention. Supporters contend if methane leakage is contained, the fossil fuel burns about twice as clean as coal. Some say it could serve as a bridge to an electricity grid dominated by renewable energy.</p><p>Using <a href="http://www.epa.gov/gasstar/">new data largely reported by oil and gas industry groups</a>, EPA&rsquo;s report lowered its estimate of methane emissions from natural gas between 1990 and 2010 by about 20 percent.</p><p><a href="http://thehill.com/blogs/e2-wire/e2-wire/155101-report-gas-from-fracking-worse-than-coal-on-climate">Previous studies</a>, however, have <a href="http://theenergycollective.com/david-lewis/48209/epa-confirms-high-natural-gas-leakage-rates">calculated figures that appear to torpedo its viability as a comparatively low-carbon fuel</a>. The EPA&rsquo;s latest inventory comes ahead of <a href="http://www.nature.com/news/methane-leaks-erode-green-credentials-of-natural-gas-1.12123#/b1">work from NOAA scientists and the University of Texas at Austin</a> studying natural gas emissions on a national scale. Their results are expected within a year.</p><p>Most of the data currently used to estimate methane leakage don&rsquo;t come from field tests done at real wells, which has led some to question their worth. Hugh MacMillan, a senior researcher with Food and Water Watch, says EPA raised its estimate of 2010 emissions from fracking itself at the same time that it drastically lowered emissions from another part of the process.</p><p>&quot;EPA is making large changes in how it&rsquo;s arriving at these estimates, and that means there remain large uncertainties,&quot; MacMillan said.</p><p>Food and Water Watch, like many environmental groups, supports an outright ban on fracking.</p><p>A&nbsp;2011 study&nbsp;by the Center for Atmospheric Research <a href="http://thinkprogress.org/romm/2011/09/09/315845/natural-gas-switching-from-coal-to-gas-increases-warming-for-decades/">found methane leakage would have to be below 2 percent to beat coal</a> when it comes to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Using EPA&rsquo;s 2013 and 2012 data to calculate methane leakage, <a href="http://www.wri.org/publication/clearing-the-air">a new report from the World Resources Institute</a> found the recently revised numbers produced a leakage rate roughly one third lower than the agency&rsquo;s previous estimate &mdash; a figure below that 2 percent threshold.</p><p>Even if the lower methane figures prove true, MacMillan is against fracking.</p><p>&quot;&#39;Better than coal&#39; is not an acceptable measure,&quot; he said. &quot;We need to do more to fight climate change.&quot;</p><p>System failures can have effects beyond accelerating global warming. Cement well casings cracked in Dimock, Penn., where methane contaminated some nearby wells, according to the state government.</p><p>And while aquifers are separated from gas wells by thousands of feet of rock, environmentalists worry small fissures in the cement could over time cause failures and foul drinking water. During fracking, large volumes of water flow back to the surface along with the freed oil or gas, and they are laced with naturally radioactive minerals and proprietary chemicals.</p><p>Industry experts counter that wasted gas is wasted product, and that new technology will continue to tamp down leakage.</p><p>In March, Illinois legislators moved toward a vote on a regulatory bill called the <a href="http://ilga.gov/legislation/billstatus.asp?DocNum=2615&amp;GAID=12&amp;GA=98&amp;DocTypeID=HB&amp;LegID=74421&amp;SessionID=85">Hydraulic Fracturing Regulation Act</a>. It would set up regulations and permitting for fracking.</p><p>Negotiations over the regulatory bill hit a snag when oil and gas companies objected to natural resource extraction fees and a surprise <a href="http://ilga.gov/legislation/98/HB/09800HB2615ham003.htm">amendment</a> that would create a licensing board. It would require energy companies to hire a state-licensed water well driller in order to be licensed for high-volume fracking in Illinois.</p><p>Lawmakers could also back moratorium bills in the state house and senate, which call for a two-year ban on fracking so scientists and regulators have more time to study and prepare for the industry explosion that&rsquo;s likely to take place.</p><p>Fracking and horizontal drilling in general are old technologies, but recent advances have allowed them to be used together and on large scales. There are already about 500,000 acres leased mainly in Wayne, Hamilton and Saline counties in southeastern Illinois. The right conditions could go as far north as Jasper and Effingham counties. Fracking grew in the U.S. by at least 48 percent per year in the last five years, according to the&nbsp;<a href="http://www.eia.gov/naturalgas/">Energy Information Administration</a>.</p><p><em>Chris Bentley writes about the environment. Follow him on Twitter at <a href="https://twitter.com/Cementley" target="_blank">@Cementley</a>.</em></p></p> Mon, 29 Apr 2013 21:25:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/blogs/chris-bentley/2013-04/epa-rolls-back-methane-emissions-natural-gas-106891 Six months after Fisk and Crawford, Chicago area coal still struggling http://www.wbez.org/blogs/chris-bentley/2013-04/six-months-after-fisk-and-crawford-chicago-area-coal-still-struggling <p><div class="image-insert-image "><a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/akagoldfish/2926002818/" target="_blank"><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/coal-train.jpg" style="height: 414px; width: 620px;" title="A coal train outside Chicago in 2008. (Flickr/Courtesy the pieces are here) " /></a></div><p>The last barge carrying coal to Pilsen&rsquo;s Fisk Power Plant lumbered up the Chicago canal in late August, dumping a final 1,500 tons of coal to burn in a community whose members were more than happy to see their industrial neighbor go.</p><p>Before they shut down, the Fisk and Crawford coal plants were among the state&rsquo;s largest emitters of toxic chemicals. In 2010, the latest year of data available in the EPA&rsquo;s <a href="http://iaspub.epa.gov/triexplorer/tri_release.chemical" target="_blank">Toxics Release Inventory</a>, the power plants were among the leading sources of barium compounds,&nbsp;hydrochloric acid,&nbsp;hydrogen fluoride,&nbsp;mercury compounds and&nbsp;sulfuric acid. A 2002 Harvard School of Public Health study linked the plants to 41 premature deaths and 2,800 asthma attacks annually.</p><p>It has been a little more than six months since the plants closed, and <a href="http://wbez.org/blogs/chris-bentley/2013-03/fisk-and-crawford-pass-air-and-radiation-tests-lead-persists-nearby" target="_blank">recent tests by the EPA</a> showed <a href="http://www.epa.gov/airquality/particlepollution/" target="_blank">particulate matter</a> concentrations and radiation levels typical for Chicago in the area around Fisk. The readings came from four stationary sensors and a mobile unit mounted to a baby carriage to make sure no odd winds swept pollution between the reach of the monitors.</p><p>&ldquo;Overall it&rsquo;s not unreasonable to expect some air quality improvement since the plants closed,&rdquo; said the state EPA&rsquo;s Andrew Mason.</p><p>There is considerable lag time in analyzing air quality data, and on a regional basis it is difficult to single out individual sources, Mason said, so a definitive breakdown of just what impact the plant closures had on Chicago&rsquo;s air quality doesn&rsquo;t exist.</p><p>But anecdotal evidence abounds. Sulfur oxides can smell like rotting eggs &mdash; an aroma residents are happy to report no longer lingers over their neighborhood. Those compounds, along with nitrogen oxides, also contribute to smog and haze.</p><p>The recent tests seemed to confirm the shuttered coal plants were no longer an air quality concern for neighborhood, but coal is not the only source of particulate matter pollution.</p><p>A <a href="http://www.sciencecodex.com/road_traffic_pollution_as_serious_as_passive_smoke_in_the_development_of_childhood_asthma-109075" target="_blank">new study in the European Respiratory Journal</a> found 14 percent of chronic asthma in kids is caused by car exhaust &mdash; in the same range as the 4 to 18 percent bracket of childhood asthma cases resulting from exposure to second-hand smoke, per World Health Organization estimates. It was the first time they estimated the percentage of cases that might not have occurred if Europeans had not been exposed to road traffic pollution.</p><p>Around the region, coal plants are struggling to compete with low natural gas prices and <a href="http://www.epa.gov/pm/actions.html" target="_blank">tightening EPA restrictions</a>. Dominion Energy, which recently <a href="http://wbez.org/news/dominion-wants-sell-3-power-stations-including-one-outside-chicago-102227" target="_blank">sold off some Chicago area holdings</a>, just settled <a href="http://www.fierceenergy.com/story/dominion-will-pay-mightily-emissions/2013-04-09" target="_blank">to the tune of more than $13 million</a> to resolve Clean Air Act violations. The settlement required Dominion to spend $9.75 million of that on environmental projects, including land acquisition and restoration near the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore.</p><p>But <a href="http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2012-09-28/news/ct-met-will-coal-plants-20120928_1_midwest-generation-plants-fisk-and-crawford-coal-plants" target="_blank">two coal plants in Will County </a>are not among the more than 100 coal plants shuttered nationwide in recent years. A Romeoville plant emitted more than six million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent in 2012, according to the <a href="http://www.epa.gov/climatechange/ghgemissions/usinventoryreport.html" target="_blank">EPA&rsquo;s greenhouse gas inventory</a>, making it the biggest carbon polluter in the Chicago area. Midwest Generation, which owns three operational coal-fired power plants in the area, last week <a href="http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2013-04-04/news/ct-met-coal-plant-delays-20130405_1_coal-plants-sulfur-dioxide-midwest-generation" target="_blank">won a two-year reprieve</a>&nbsp;from new sulfur dioxide emissions standards in light of its December bankruptcy filing.</p><p>While coal&rsquo;s share of the U.S. electricity mix <a href="http://www.eia.gov/forecasts/steo/report/coal.cfm" target="_blank">has fallen</a> markedly in recent years, it remains a major source of electricity. Coal-fired power plants collectively produce more pollution than any other source in the country.</p><p>Chicago&#39;s recent decision to aggregate electricity purchases gave coal the boot from the city&#39;s fuel mix, in a nod not only to the decades of environmental concerns that sped the closures of Fisk and Crawford, but to the flagging economic profile of the fuel source whose command of the country&#39;s electricity portfolio is beginning to wane.</p></p> Wed, 10 Apr 2013 05:00:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/blogs/chris-bentley/2013-04/six-months-after-fisk-and-crawford-chicago-area-coal-still-struggling Sequester would cut funding for environment and energy http://www.wbez.org/blogs/chris-bentley/2013-02/sequester-would-cut-funding-environment-and-energy-105774 <p><p><a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/mick_chgo/7175912324/in/photostream/" target="_blank"><img alt="" as="" class="image-original_image" in="" kosanovich="" milosh="" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/cut-(as-in-budget)-flowers-by-Milosh-Kosanovich-via-Flickr.jpg" title="Flickr/Milosh Kosanovich" via="" /></a></p><p><a href="http://www.scribd.com/doc/127155936/Illinois-Impact">A White House report</a> detailing <a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/infographic-how-illinois-would-be-affected-sequester-105749">the impacts of cuts scheduled to take effect March 1</a> if Congress does not avert <a href="http://www.wbez.org/results?s=fiscal%20cliff">the sequester (part of the &quot;fiscal cliff&quot;)</a> named environmental funding among the hardest hit in Illinois:</p><blockquote><p>&ldquo;Illinois would lose about $6.4 million in environmental funding to ensure clean water and air quality, as well as prevent pollution from pesticides and hazardous waste. In addition, Illinois could lose another $974,000 in grants for fish and wildlife protection.&rdquo;</p></blockquote><p>Illinois EPA declined to comment on the looming budget reductions.</p><p>Congress appears <a href="http://www.marketplace.org/topics/economy/6-degrees-sequestration/sequester-fiscal-cliff-we-will-go-over">unlikely to strike deal that would avoid</a> the mandatory spending cuts totaling $85 billion, to say nothing of the second, albeit much smaller, cuts scheduled for March 27. The cuts are meant to help close a $4 trillion budget deficit.</p><p>While the belt-tightening measures on track to begin Friday amount in aggregate to roughly 2.5 percent of all federal spending, <a href="http://www.cbpp.org/files/2-26-13bud.pdf">a report released Tuesday by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities</a> points out that the sequester will slash more than twice that proportion (5.1 percent) from discretionary non-military programs. (Defense programs actually have it worse, looking at about 7.7 percent cutbacks.)</p><p>Nationwide environmental programs <a href="http://ens-newswire.com/2013/02/24/sequester-spending-cuts-will-hurt-the-environment/">will take a big hit</a>. The National Science Foundation will issue almost 1,000 fewer research grants, and several thousand research personnel could lose their jobs as a result of cuts to The National Institutes of Health. Many national parks will face partial or full closures.</p><p>The sequester would slow down oil and gas permitting, due to cutbacks at the Department of the Interior and other agencies with a hand in that process. Permitting for solar and wind power plants on federal lands could also slow down.</p><p>The cuts would affect energy efficiency, too, <a href="http://www.csmonitor.com/Environment/Energy-Voices/2013/0226/Federal-spending-cuts-How-will-the-sequester-affect-energy">perhaps counting 1,200 home weatherization professionals</a> among those laid off as a result of the sequester.</p></p> Wed, 27 Feb 2013 06:00:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/blogs/chris-bentley/2013-02/sequester-would-cut-funding-environment-and-energy-105774 Toxic releases by Illinois industries rise in 2010 http://www.wbez.org/story/toxic-releases-illinois-industries-rise-2010-95339 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//story/photo/2012-January/2012-01-06/pollution_flickr_aracelli arroyo.jpg" alt="" /><p><p><a href="http://iaspub.epa.gov/triexplorer/tri_broker_statefs.broker?p_view=STCO&amp;trilib=TRIQ1&amp;state=IL&amp;SFS=YES&amp;year=2010">Toxic emissions from Illinois industry </a>increased more than 10 percent in 2010 over the year before, but pollution has still been trending downward over the last decade.</p><p>Illinois companies emitted more than 100 million pounds of poisonous gasses, heavy metals and other chemicals. That’s a jump over the prior year, but still much less than any of the seven years before.&nbsp;</p><p>And many of those toxins were disposed of properly – the amount that actually escaped into the air remained near a nine-year low.</p><p>Still, Environment Illinois’s Bruce Ratain says the state should be doing better.</p><p>“It’s easy to say, oh we’ve done so much in Illinois to promote clean energy, to clean up dirty coal plants,” said Ratain, a clean energy associate with Environment Illinois. “It’s less a question of, is it marginally higher than it was last year, and more, wait a minute, it’s pretty surprising that it’s still as high as it is.”</p><p>The United States Environmental Protection Agency released the new data yesterday as part of its Toxic Release Inventory. A spokesman for the Illinois EPA cautions that the numbers have some limitations, as the totals are based on self-reporting. They might also be affected by the recession.<br> &nbsp;</p></p> Fri, 06 Jan 2012 15:56:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/story/toxic-releases-illinois-industries-rise-2010-95339 Feds okay Chicago River cleanup http://www.wbez.org/story/feds-okay-chicago-river-cleanup-93801 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//story/photo/2011-May/2011-05-03/Chi River.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>After months of back and forth, the federal Environmental Protection Agency has approved Illinois' new water quality standards for several Chicago area waterways.&nbsp; For more than a year, the EPA has encouraged Illinois to make the Chicago and Calumet Rivers clean enough to swim in.</p><p>Former Mayor Richard Daley responded to federal regulators by telling them to "go swim in the Potomac."&nbsp;</p><p>Chicago is one of the few big cities in the country that doesn't disinfect sewage before discharging it. But this past May, the EPA's encouragement became a demand. After overcoming political opposition from local water officials, the Illinois government was forced to change its quality standards. Local water officials will now have to disinfect water discharged into the river system.</p><p>The approved standards will apply to the North and South Branches of the Chicago River, the North Shore Channel, the Cal-Sag Channel and the Little Calumet River.</p><p>An EPA official says the new standards will transform the Chicago River from a sewage canal to a recreational and economic asset.</p></p> Mon, 07 Nov 2011 13:28:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/story/feds-okay-chicago-river-cleanup-93801 Chicago Park District gets over $1 million for lake clean-up http://www.wbez.org/story/chicago-park-district-gets-over-1-million-lake-clean-90625 <p><p>The Chicago Park District has received over $1 million in federal grants from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to help clean up Lake Michigan. The grants are part of the EPA's Great Lakes Restoration Initiative that awards funds to agencies or groups around the region to help restore and protect the Great Lakes.</p><p>The EPA awarded nine grants to groups in Illinois Monday, totalling over $2.6 million dollars. Susan Hedman, program manager for the Great Lakes National Program, said in Chicago, the $1.1 million dollars will be used to help keep the beaches open.</p><p>"Often, beaches in the city are closed because of contamination, and last year EPA funded some projects to help notify people when beaches were closed and to make determinations about when they should be closed. This year we're funding projects that will help to clean up those beaches and prevent beach closures," Hedman said.</p><p>Park District spokeswoman Zvez Kubat said the money will fund many projects ranging from cleaning equiptment to dogs that chase geese off the beaches to reach this end.</p><p>"We were very excited right off the bat, the grant will help us be aggressive beach managers and continue to communicate to public, letting them know if the water is safe and clean," Kubat said.</p><p>The EPA awarded 70 grants totalling nearly $30 million dollars to groups across the Great Lakes Region to aid in cleanup and restoration efforts. Illinois recieved nine of those grants, bringing more than $2.6 million dollars to agencies across the state.</p><p>The Great Lakes Restoration initiative grants are a part of a five-year plan developed by the Obama administration.</p></p> Mon, 15 Aug 2011 23:09:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/story/chicago-park-district-gets-over-1-million-lake-clean-90625