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Archive for the ‘Air’ Category

The American Power Act, the energy / climate bill unveiled yesterdayby Senators Kerry and Lieberman (and not Graham), is a complex 900+ page bill that will attract a lot of discussion in the coming months.  There are pros and cons, of course, but at this point, it is mostly some really difficult legal mumbo-jumbo to wade through. The excellent folks at NRDC posted an outstanding “first reading” summary that we found extremely helpful but also somewhat troubling.  One of the problems NRDC identified is one that is likely to seriously impact us in North Idaho.

As described by NRDC, one of the major flaws in the bill is the “biomass loophole” which gives entirely too much credit and not enough protections when it comes to burning biomaterials for energy.  Those materials around here, of course, are our forests.  Here are NRDC’s (and our) concerns:

Closing the biofuels loophole.  The draft bill creates a large loophole for the carbon emissions from producing and burning biomass, significantly eroding the bill’s carbon pollution reductions. Covered firms are allowed to ignore carbon emissions from burning “renewable biomass” on the assumption that they are completely counterbalanced by carbon uptake when biomass is grown (Sec. 722).  In fact, carbon uptake falls short of combustion emissions for many fuel sources defined as renewable biomass, resulting in net carbon pollution. Not requiring allowances for this carbon pollution gives covered sources an economic incentive to switch to biomass, thus seriously degrading the bill’s stated carbon pollution reductions. Closing the biomass loophole is necessary to ensure the integrity of the bill’s emissions targets.   The bill’s definition of “renewable biomass” also lacks critical environmental sourcing guidelines to protect forests and other sensitive ecosystems (Sec. 700).  The definition provides absolutely no protection for private lands, inviting clearing or converting of sensitive wildlife habitat, old growth forests, and our last remaining native prairies.  Partial protections are included for some federal lands, including roadless areas, and wilderness study areas.  But many of the nation’s public forests remain exposed.  A proper definition would protect areas that are high in biodiversity and that serve as large carbon storehouses, such as mature and old growth forests.  It would also provide strong sustainability guidelines to ensure that bioenergy incentives do not drive increased carbon emissions, deforestation, forest degradation, or loss of wildlife habitat.    

We’ll be watching as the debate progresses, but plugging this loophole needs to be a priority.

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We’ve been waiting quite some time for an announcement, and got the news today: EPA has announced the Obama Administration’s appointment of Dennis J. McLerran to be Regional Administrator for the region that includes Idaho.  (Region 10 is comprised of Alaska, Idaho, Oregon, Washington and Pacific Northwest Indian Country. Its headquarters is in Seattle. )

Because Idaho has declined to administer many of its own environmental programs, EPA has significant jurisdiction in our state, and the Regional Administrator is Idaho’s ultimate environmental decision-maker in many instances.  The Regional Administrator will be responsible for guiding EPA’s role in the Coeur d’Alene basin mine waste cleanup and Clean Water Act permitting. It is probably one of the most important government offices for Idaho not actually based in Idaho.

McLerran comes highly regarded, with lots of state and local government experience and a strong background in clean air.  He was Executive Director of the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency, a regional entity that adopts and enforces air quality standards in Washington. 

We look forward to meeting with the new Regional Administrator and working with him on environmental protection in North Idaho.

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Human-caused pollution and meteorological conditions can combine such that our government needs to take immediate and decisive action to protect the environment and the public’s health.

Global warming? Not this time.

No, we took note of the “stagnant air advisory” for our region issued by the weather service, and the “burn ban” issued by Idaho DEQ.  And actually, since this happens with some frequency in our region, we thought we might look into what it really means.  

The weather advisory, for “elevations in Eastern Washington and the North and Central Idaho panhandle below 3000 feet,” is somewhat terse, but ominous-sounding in its advice: “An air stagnation advisory indicates that light winds and stable conditions are expected…and pollution has the potential to increase to dangerous levels. Persons with respiratory illness should follow their physician’s advice for dealing with high levels of air pollution.”

Although, at the moment, Coeur d’Alene air quality is still in the good range, St. Maries to the south, and Pinehurst to the east are indeed suffering air pollution levels in the moderate range for particulates. The advisory is in place until tomorrow morning (12/30) when a weather front should churn the air up a bit and clear out the smoky haze.

What does it mean? Particulate pollution refers specifically to the very small particles found in smoke that can be breathed deeply into the lungs where they can cause health problems. Moderate air quality means that the air is “acceptable” except that there may be “a moderate health concern for a very small number of people.” These health concerns, however, are no small matter. EPA notes that particulates are linked to increased respiratory symptoms, such as irritation of the airways, coughing, or difficulty breathing; decreased lung function; aggravated asthma; development of chronic bronchitis; irregular heartbeat; nonfatal heart attacks; and premature death in people with heart or lung disease.

DEQ has the power to  issue a burn ban “when concentrations of air pollutants reach or exceed the health-based standards or limits established by state law or regulation.”  So, as a result, DEQ has issued a mandatory ban on outdoor burning for the entire North Idaho region until, probably, tomorrow. In some valleys, DEQ is also asking for a mandatory halt to residential wood heating unless it is necessary.

This reasonable regulation, based on science-based standards, to protect the environment and the public’s health, is pretty much what government is supposed to do. Right?

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