VW Emission Scandal

It was reported on May 3, 2018, that ex-CEO of VW, Martin Winterkorn,  was indicted by a Grand Jury in Michigan for making “false representations to regulators and the public” about the emission levels of VW vehicles.   As reported by the BBC (link provided below), US Attorney General Jeff Sessions said the indictment showed that Volkswagen’s scheme to cheat its legal requirements went “all the way to the top.”

Kudos to Sessions, federal prosecutors,  and the US justice system.   But even if found guilty by US authorities, it’s unlikely Mr Winterkorn, who resigned soon after the scandal broke in 2015, will ever see the inside of a US courtroom, much less prison, as Germany does not extradite its citizens. according to the BBC.

It was front page news in 2015, that VW had special coding within their cars’  computer to detect when their cars were being tested by the EPA, and make the necessary changes so the cars would pass the emissions tests.  The problem was the nitrous oxide levels (NOx).   The problem was enormous.   If they made their cars compliant for emission standards, the fuel economy would be substantially lower.  In the US,  it is mandatory to post the fuel mileage on the window of new cars.  It is also an obvious selling point,  as it suggests to an owner of an older model, that they could save on both car repairs and fuel costs by trading their old car for a new one.   It is also obvious, that consumers would select VW over other car manufacturers based on better fuel economy.   So, any attempt to fix emissions, would result in a fraud case, by all consumers based on gas consumption.

The Wikipedia summary is very good, but I have supplemented it with a couple of links, relating nitrogen oxide in the atmosphere with health problems and agricultural crises.   I would have a requirement that all automotive engineers take at least one course in environmental science.

Things go wrong in companies all the time.   I worked for an oil company (Texaco) and fortunately, never was directly involved in  engineering decisions involving deceit or fraud.   But, I knew of a number of cases, where if an engineer did go public with certain information, it would likely result in the engineer getting fired, and the whole matter covered up.   It is a real tough situation.  This is exactly the situation VW engineers faced.

The real documentation of the fraud in  VW case, is  the computer program itself, which is stored in a non-readable binary machine code in every car that is sold.   It isn’t a problem of the code being locked or encrypted, but the form of the code. There is a solution to this, but let’s wait to the end of the story.

Eleven million cars produced by VW, from 2009 to 2014, had the rigged software.   Of the 11 million, 500,000 cars were sold in the US.   These were diesel cars, which are not very popular in the US.  My guess is engineers were told a lie.  If caught, we’ll do a recall and fix the error.  This has become standard operating procedure.   Of course, it wasn’t fixable.   Perhaps, a second lie was also told, “we can’t get caught, because it’s all buried in the unreadable machine code.”

Per Wikipedia, “Engineers had recognized inadequacies in emissions tests, dating back to 1989.   The Washington Post also reported that in the late 1990s, EPA engineers at Virginia Testing Laboratory had built a system called ROVER, designed to test a car’s emissions on the road. The project was shut down in 2001, despite preliminary tests indicating gaps between emissions from lab tests and real world tests of about 10 to 20 percent.”     They didn’t contemplate how “on the road testing could catch cheaters.”

It was completely by chance that VW got caught. Under a $50,000 grant,  in early 2014, two professors and two students began testing emission under road conditions, using a portable emissions measurement system.  Under real-world driving conditions the Jetta exceeded US emissions limits “by a factor of 15 to 35” while the Passat exceeded the limit “by a factor of 5 to 20, according to Wikipedia.

Now, what Michael Winterkorn is charged with, is not the initial crime of cheating the testing, but the later concealment from the consumer,  after he learned  the VW cars had the defeat device.

Cars have computers to fine tune the performance.   It was pretty inconceivable that the engineers would create the defeat device,  but they are encouraged to be “problem solvers” and to innovative to gain  a competitive advantage over the other car makers.  It seems a simple solution has been suggested,  to require only readable and public code  to be used in cars.     Unfortunately,  EPA is pretty dysfunctional with Scott Pruitt at the helm.

Stay tuned,

Dave

Links:

Wikipedia:  VW Emissions Scandal

BBC: Diesel emissions scandal

Nearly half of Michiganders live in unacceptable smog levels, EPA says

Why ozone levels pose a challenge to food security

 

EPA in self destruct mode – Part 2

The prior blog focused on the Trump administration soon to be announced rules changes  on new cars fuel efficiency and exhaust emissions.

There are a lot more of changes going into effect, to make both the Department of the  Interior and the EPA less effective in doing their job – to preserving and protect our environment.   Our environmental science programs at our universities are some of the finest in the world.   Students come from many countries including China, India, the EU and Brazil, to learn how to protect the environment.  Yet,  scientists with the requisite knowledge will not be welcomed in the Trump administration.

It isn’t hard to make an agency less effective, particularly if it is one that requires most policy decisions to ultimately require  regulations or new laws, and additional staff to actively enforce regulations.   To begin the destruction process, you simply bring in politicians to run things at the top, and let the dedicate staff leave as they become discouraged.   The names Scott Pruitt and Ryan Zinke come to mind.   Then you bring in more people with strong connections to the industries you are supposed to regulate, such as chemical companies,  fossil fuel companies (mining,  hydrocarbon exploration and production, refining and petrochemical) and agriculture related companies. You let them set your agenda.   And finally, you put a muzzle on what is acceptable science.

I commented on how the Love Canal tragedy took decades to be discovered, and the full extent of the harm required nearly another decade.  If this was done during Scott Pruitt’s EPA, he would probably be handing out band aids to children with chemical burns on their feet, and tell their parents the government is doing everything it can.

I think the editorial appearing in yesterday’s New York Times, No studies, No data, No rules.

New York Times Editorial: EPA’s Assault on Science

I fear as the damage done will take years to fix.

Stay tuned,

Dave

I have not included links on this topic, but there are many ones, very similar to the New York Times.

 

EPA in self destruct mode

I’ve commented on this before.  Readers can click on “EPA” to read prior blogs.

Republicans and Democrats drink the same water and breath the same air.  Contaminants in air come from many sources, including car emissions and chemical plants.  Pollutants  discharged into water bodies or the air can travel long distances and  do not know geographic boundaries.  This is the physical reality, requiring  the  federal environmentalists to be involved in preserving the environment beyond our borders.    We are one planet, and environmentalists in Kansas recognize they are affected by decisions in Beijing.     The rising water temperature, aided by increased Chinese carbon emissions and deforestation in Brazil, is a factor in the extreme weather variations as occurring in the northeast of the US now, and the hurricanes in Puerto Rico,  Florida and Texas last year.

I read a recent letter from a former EPA scientist, who made me so sad.  He had lung disease, and needed to live where the air quality was excellent.  Yet, the high standards which he was involved in, were likely not being  enforced by the EPA.

I’ve commented on Scott Pruitt before as the worst EPA Administrator it was created in 1970.   Both Republicans and Democrats have contributed to building the EPA before Pruitt began to destroy it.   One of the best Administrators, was William Rucklehaus,  the first and fifth administrators of the EPA.   He was a Republican, and first nominated to the post by Richard Nixon, and later became the Deputy Attorney General. He was fired by Nixon, for refusing to  firing the Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox, but rehired by Reagan to head the EPA again.  Rucklehaus was able to transfer the approval of all regulations of pesticides to the EPA.   Doug Costle ran the EPA under President Carter, and followed a similar path as Rucklehaus.    President Reagan  campaigned against the EPA as an unnecessary government. He brought in Anne Gorsuch Buford to downsize the EPA.    Buford was  held in contempt of Congress when she refused to turn over documents on Superfund expenditures.

Environmental problems are big in the US because every industry has waste that they want to dispose of,  at the lowest cost, and still be within the law.  Only regulatory groups can evaluate the risk potential, using worse case scenarios.    Love Canal disaster should be taught in schools, as a modern lesson of how dumping of chemicals in the 1950’s underground,  can resurface decades later, and be contributing factors to leukemia.  The chemicals were dump in 1953, and Hooker Chemical thought by donating the land to a school, they could get rid of the mess.  Homes were built close to the school.  Parents noticed their children were betting burns  on their feet when playing barefoot. The impenetrable clay layer  seal was likely fractured by the filtration of water, which expanded as it froze in the winter.  Making American great again, is a fantasy,  because when it comes to environmental action, we are not great.  Not in the 1950’s,  not 1970’s and not today.

I’ll leave out most of this history, but you can check the links below, on Love Canal, and Superfund sites.

The number one threat to our environment is at present is  climate change.   The US should be the leader in curbing carbon emissions, but this was before Trump and Pruitt.  Pulling out of the Paris Accords on Climate Change Mitigation was a giant step backwards.   Transportation accounts for 27% of the greenhouse gases emitted (EPA estimate, 2015)  of which 90% are petroleum based.    We emit around 6,800 million metric tons (mtn) of CO2 equivalent of greenhouse gases, down from a peak of 7,300 mtn in 2007.    According to the EPA (current website, not the Obama archived one)

This decrease was largely driven by a decrease in emissions from fossil fuel combustion, which was a result of multiple factors including substitution from coal to natural gas consumption in the electric power sector; warmer winter conditions that reduced demand for heating fuel in the residential and commercial sectors; and a slight decrease in electricity demand.

The progress, however slight, is an unmistakable downward trend in greenhouse gases, which perhaps will not last much longer.   The lead story in the New York Times on March 30, 2018, reads:

The Trump administration is expected to kick off an effort in coming days to weaken greenhouse gases and fuel economy standards for automobiles, handing a victory to car manufacturers and giving them ammunition potentially to rollback industry standards worldwide.

Car manufacturers and oil companies will be pleased.  It is putting American first only in terms of corporate profits, not its citizens.  California is likely to fight these changes,  with 12 other states expected to follow.  It might end up with 2 sets of standards, one for most of the country, and the second for the California and the allied states.

Regulatory freedom, the right of Americans to choose the gas-guzzlers of their choice, unimpeded by big government will be EPA’s selling points.   Pruitt is expected to make the announcement at a Virginia dealership on Tuesday.   Obama had made auto emissions as strict as California, so auto manufacturers did not have to have two sets of standards for car emissions.

The states allied with California include New York, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania, and together account for a third of all car sales, according to the New York Times.  California can legally require high fuel efficiency and lower emission standards based on a waiver granted by the federal government.   Trump can take California to court, to attempt to void the waiver.   He will likely let the car industry know there will be no renewal for the waivers in 2015.

To some extent,  fuel efficiency is likely to improve as gas prices go up because of consumer demand.   Despite all the talk from Washington,  finding new oil is still increasingly more expensive and the rig count has been increasing.   However,  the consumer is not likely to care about tailpipe emissions, well until they have respiratory problems.   Then they are very interested in everyone’s emission.  So,  a newly converted Democrat, is one with breathing problems.

Thus,  a very chaotic situation is about to unfold.    California may win, at least in the short term, as auto manufacturers are not about to produce two sets of cars.   A court battle is inevitable.

It is all about the Trump administration being weak, and caving in to the big auto manufacturers.

“Environmental preservation is our test.  If we pass it, we get to save the planet.”  (ok, I’ve taken a line from Marjory Stoneman Douglas on preserving the Everglades) We can’t expect China, India and the EU to regulate their emissions when we can’t.   It will take a long time to repair Trump’s damage to our standing in the world.

I wanted write more on Pruitt’s new rules on scientific evidence, which rely solely on public information as a way of further weakening the agency.   I’ll leave this for a separate blog.

Stay tuned,

Dave

Links:

NYT:  US Readies a Plan to Blunt Fuel and Emission Rules for Automakers

EPA:  The Love Canal Tragedy

Wikipedia: Love Canal

EPA: Sources of Greenhouse Emissions

Wikipedia:  US Withdraws from the Paris Agreement

Doug and Kris Tompkins and their incredible contribution

This is a picture of Patagonia Park in Chile.   It is a 10 million acre wilderness park.  The Chilean government owned approximately 8 million acres and the Tomkins owned approximately 2 million acres.  Two million acres – I thought there had to be an error.   Two million acres is equal to  3125 square miles, or viewed as a square piece of land 55 miles on a side.  The land is not all contiguous, but nevertheless, it is an amazingly large area of preserved wilderness.

The idea of starting small but thinking big, is personified in Doug and Kris Tompkins.  Doug Tompkins is not longer with us, but his contribution lives on and will continue to inspire others.  In January 2018,  I read how Kris Tompkins had donated 2 million acres of land in Patagonia, Chile to the Chilean government so they could continue to preserve their heritage.

The first line of Douglas Tompkin’s brief biography in Wikipedia say a lot:

“Douglas Rainsford Tompkins (March 20, 1943 – December 8, 2015) was an American conservationist, outdoorsman, philanthropist, filmmaker, agriculturalist, and businessman who assembled and preserved the land which became the largest gift of private land to government in South America.”

Doug’s incredible life came to a tragic end, dying of hyperthermia on a  kayak trip in 2015, the gift was made by his wife Kristine.

This is a northern California story.   Somehow, there’s a greater feel up there for environmental causes, or what can be done, in a big way, to help our planet.  It makes sense that is why the Sierra Club and many other groups have headquarters in northern California.  Other places have mountains, seashore and scenic views, but everything is so close in northern California.  However,  it isn’t really what’s there, but how you become a part of it.

This is a story which begins at  the epicenter of the 60’s culture, San Francisco.  Susie Russell picked him up Doug as he was hitch hiking in Reno  and in 1964 they were married.    They had attended the same high school, but had not known each other then.  Susie and Jane Tise began a clothing business called “Plain Jane” which ultimately became the brands, North Face and Espirit.  Fast forward a couple of decades, and both Doug and Susie Tompkins were millionaires. In 1986, Espirit had sales of over 800 million dollars.Doug and Susie divorced in 1989.   Both remarried, and continued their philanthropic environmental activism.  Susie Tompkin Buell strongly supported climate change initiatives, the media matters organization and progressive political organizations.

This is the story of  three incredible individuals (Doug and Kris Tompkins and Susie Buell) who became rich because of their talents and hard work, and then  gave so much back to us.  It’s truly inspiring.  It is now up to the Chilean government to maintain their gift from the Tompkins for future generations.

Please see the links below.

Stay tuned,

Dave

 

Links:

Chile Adds 10 Million Acres of Parkland in Historic First

Susie Tompkins Buell

Douglas Tompkins

Kris Tompkins

 

The Keystone XL Pipeline

“The Keystone Pipeline was dead. And the Dakota Access Pipeline was in even in worse shape because they built it but they weren’t allowed to hook it up,” Trump said, referencing two of the most disputed pipeline projects in the country. ” And in my first week, I approved both. It’s 42,000 jobs. The Dakota is already open and Keystone is starting; it’s actually already started. And that was done in the first week—got it approved.”

Trump said this in November 2017 when he visited Japan.  Only problem is that it’s not true.  Keystone XL pipeline isn’t starting.   The Dakota pipeline was completed before Trump took office.  It was only a problem at one of the terminal points.

The reasons for the Keystone XL delays are many, some ironically as a result of White House “pro-energy” policies.   TransCanada Corporation (symbol TRC) wanted to bring the heavy oil from Alberta’s oil sands to the refineries in Oklahoma and Houston and Port Arthur by pipeline.   The little known fact, is Obama approved many of the vital links of the pipeline,  so oil was flowing from Alberta, Canada to the refineries, before Trump was elected.   This was accomplished through completion of the Keystone pipeline Phases 1, 2, 3a and 3b.   The big controversy was on Phase 4, the Keystone to Steele City leg, shown in green.    The pipeline isn’t just about getting oil from Canada to the US.  It is also adds to the pipeline capacity to ship US oil from oil producing areas, to refineries.  Cushing, Oklahoma has a large storage capacity, so this link  (Phase 3b) was pushed when oil prices were dropping, so they could store more oil, to avoid shutting in wells or halting ongoing development.

 

So,  don’t think Obama was “anti-pipeline” construction since the major links of Keystone were completed during his administration.  It was the Phase 4 expansion as shown in green, that  caused so much controversy.  From 2008 to 2015, there were a number of approvals, but the final State Department approval was delayed as alternative routes were being examined through Nebraska, to avoid potential aquifer contamination.  Wikipedia has done an excellent job of summarizing these contentious 7 years of delays.   Ultimately, President Obama decided not to approve Phase 4,  on the grounds that expanding import of a “dirtier oil” with approximately 14% higher carbon emissions,  “would have undercut [the United States’] global leadership on climate change.”  So, it was a matter of how other countries might perceive this approval, and be less inclined to cut their own carbon emissions.  (See Wikipedia discussion)  Obama also downplayed the impact of the pipeline decision, as he stated,  “for years, the Keystone pipeline has occupied what I, frankly, consider an overinflated role in our political discourse. It became a symbol too often used as a campaign cudgel by both parties rather than a serious policy matter. And all of this obscured the fact that this pipeline would neither be a silver bullet for the economy, as was promised by some, nor the express lane to climate disaster proclaimed by others.”

Trump could not immediately reverse Obama’s decision.    He issued an Executive Memorandum to expedite a new  review of the pipeline on January 24, 2017, four days after taking office. A clip from the signing ceremony is provided in the links below.  At that day,  TransCanada stock was about $48 on January 24, 2017.  (see note at bottom).

On March 24, 2017 the State Department issued a Presidential Permit to begin construction (see State Department link).   This wasn’t enough.  It had to be approved by Nebraska regulators, which  occurred on November 20, 2017.   The approved route was not the one that TransCanada wanted.

It is likely in 2018,  on the tenth anniversary of the initial application ,  all issues on the pipeline will come full circle, with new rounds of economic uncertainty and legal problems.   The cost of steel products, needed for the pipeline is going up, due to Trump’s tariffs.   The oil price seems pretty steady at $60 to $62/bbl,  instead of EIA forecast of $80/bbl several years ago.   The heavy oil from Canada sells at a lower price than the sweet Bakken and Permian  crude, from fracked wells.  The Dakota pipeline, which Trump wants to take credit for, doesn’t help the Keystone XL prospects.  So, it is difficult to know if TransCanada will still want to build the pipeline given the soft oil prices and increases in steel.

Finally, legal problems are mounting.  The National Defense Resource  Council (NDRC) has challenged the State Department’s approval in March 2017, saying it was based on old economic evaluations (2014).  They are seeking State Department documents related to the decision.   The Trump administration has provided some documents, but NDRC claims they were only a selected few of the documents they requested.  The rest is considered “privileged information”,  but the government must back their claim  with a “privilege log” – all this could come to a head soon in March.   See link from NDRC.

The pipeline is likely neither a great economic boost nor an terrible threat to global warming as Obama stated.   He recognized that without the pipeline, the heavy oil from Canada could come to the US.   In the end,  if TransCanada can’t find partners, and commitments from refiners, they may decide the pipeline expansion just isn’t worth it.  At least, at today’s oil prices.  TransCanada trades today at $44.00/shr down from $56.00 when Trump signed the Executive Memorandum in January 2017.

Stay tuned,

Dave

— Note:  Original post stated $56.00 but this was today’s price in Canadian dollars.  Stock price  was  $47.71 at the close in New York on Jan 23, 2017.

Links:

Note:  I admit I grossly simplified the story.  I had to!  See links below which do a much better job with all issues.

Wikipedia: Keystone Pipeline

https://www.cnbc.com/2017/01/24/trump-to-advance-keystone-dakota-pipelines-with-executive-order-on-tuesday-nbc.html

March 24, 2017 State Department

Nebraska Allows Keystone XL Pipeline, but Picks a Different Path

NDRC Keystone XL Update

CNBC: Steel tariffs won’t help Trump achieve his goal of ‘American energy dominance,’ oil industry warns

 

The Antidote to Trump

Scott Pruitt, administrator of the EPA,  is systematically weakening the EPA.  We have pulled out of the Paris Climate Change Accords, the Clean Water Rule has been suspended,  and the Clean Power Act is being repealed.   Large areas are being opened to mining and oil exploration with minimal review of potential environmental damage. The EPA budget will be reduced by 31% and 25% of the staff will be fired.

It is a tactic to please the right wing, conservative base of Trump’s administration.  The  harm is increased global warming with more extreme weather conditions, causing loss of lives and destruction of homes.   Global warming does not cause hurricanes, but it can make them more frequent and more intense as a result of warming seas.  Long term effects will be decline in the more fragile ecosystems, in  Florida and the Chesapeake Bay, with profound effects.

While Scott Pruitt is doing everything he can to make the EPA less effective,  Mike Mulvaney is going to extreme measures at the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau, to make the agency ineffective in defending the consumer – just the opposite of what it was set up to do.   I reported that after Equifax security was breached and information on 146 million Americans was stolen,  Mulvaney is not issuing subpoenas for information.  I’ve reported on the atrocious action in allowing Insurance Bi-Weekly to get back in business (not requesting bond equal to their judgement while it was being appealed).

There is a long list of what Trump is doing wrong.  I happen to like Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, but Trump is always undercutting him, and cutting back on the “soft power” of the US,  by diminishing our role in the UN and not filling diplomatic posts.   I think Jeff Sessions is honest and forthright, not allowing the Mueller investigation to become political.    Trump has criticized Sessions for recusing himself from the Mueller investigation, calling him weak.

At this point, the antidote to this, is to elect Democrats to the Senate and House of Representatives in the Fall to help  repair the damage.  There are very few Republicans with a strong environmental record.  We need responsible government and a president that truly believes in a progressive agenda.   I don’t know who I’ll vote for in the next presidential election, but it won’t be for Trump.  The BS coming from Fox News and other conservative outlets is strong, but people can see their way past this stuff.

The best antidote for what is going on in Washington, is an active and informed electorate.  It’s called critical thinking and taking action primarily at the ballot box.

Stay tuned,

Dave

It’s not about puddles, but keeping our water clean

 

“If you had a puddle in your land, (the EPA) called it a lake for the purposes of environmentals.”  Donald Trump,  CPAC, February 23, 2018.  I’m sure he meant environmentalists.  CPAC is the Conservative Political Action Conference.    This claim is  absurd.

I had also wanted to call this dirty water and dirty politics.  It is the collusion of polluters mainly in agricultural states, who allow runoff from farms into streams and wetlands and conservatives within the Republican party.

Scott Pruitt has suspended enforcement of the Clean Water Rule, as enacted in 2015 as of January 31, 2018.   Another words, he made it more difficult for the EPA to do its job – to ensure the US water bodies are free from pollutants and maintain  thriving ecosystems.   He did not abolish the rule, because this requires a formal process.  He will just ignore the rule.

The Clean Water rule was not easy to enact.  It clarified what is meant by the “nation’s water bodies.”  Per the EPA site during the Obama administration:

“Science shows us the most important waters to protect. In developing the Clean Water Rule, the EPA and U.S. Army Corp of Engineers utilized the latest science, including a report summarizing more than 1,200 peer-reviewed, published scientific studies which showed that small streams and wetlands play an important role in the health of larger downstream waterways like rivers and lakes.”

 

 

The web address as shown above is no longer active.      See EPA archive website: Why clean water rules matter?

The website address is archive.epa.gov

The following is from Wikipedia:

“The rule ensures that Clean Water Act (CWA) programs are more precisely defined and intends to save time and avoid costs and confusion in future implementation of the act. The rule intends to make it is easier to predict what action(s) will be taken by the EPA and what processes companies and other stakeholders may have to undergo for projects and permitting. There are no direct changes to the law under the Clean Water Rule. After analysis, the EPA and Department of the Army found that higher instance of water coverage would produce a 2:1 ratio of benefits to costs in implementation after the final rule. Implementation of the rule will discern any implications for environmental justice communities, though it is clear that “meaningful involvement from minority, low-income, and indigenous populations, as well as other stakeholders, has been a cornerstone of development of the final rule.”

 Specific details that have been clarified by the rule as outlined below.
  • Defines more clearly the tributaries and adjacent waters that are under federal jurisdiction and explains how they are covered

A tributary, or upstream water, must show physical features of flowing water – a bed, bank, and ordinary high water mark – to warrant protection. The rule provides protection for headwaters that have these features and have a significant connection to downstream waters. Adjacent waters are defined by three qualifying circumstances established by the rule. These can include wetlands, ponds, impoundments, and lakes which can impact the chemical, biological or physical integrity of neighboring waters.

  • Carries over existing exclusions from the Clean Water Act

All existing exclusions from longstanding agency practices are officially established for the first time. Waters used in normal agricultural, ranching, or silvicultural activities, as well as certain defined ditches, prior converted cropland, and waste treatment systems continue to be excluded.

  • Reduces categories of waters which are subject to case-by-case analysis

Before the rule, almost any water could be put through an analysis that remained case-specific, even if it would not be covered under CWA. The rule limits use of case-specific analysis by providing certainty and clarity of protected vs non-protected water. Ultimately the rule saves time and avoids further evaluation and the need to take the case to court.

  • Protects US “regional water treasures”

Specific watersheds have been shown to impact downstream water health.  The rule protects Texas coastal prairie wetlands, Carolina and Delmarva bays, western vernal pools in Californiapocosins, and other prairie potholes, when impacting downstream waterways.

This is not the way to make America Great Again.

Stay tuned,

Dave

Links:

EDF Blog on EPA’s Suspension will set a dangerous precedent

EPA Under Obama:  Clean Water Rule: Streams and Wetlands Matter

Wikipedia: Clean Water Act (1972)

Clean Water Rule

 

 

 

South Africa’s turn to experience global warming

 

“Is it [global warming] an existential threat? Is it something that is unsustainable, or what kind of effect or harm is this going to have? I mean, we know that humans have most flourished during times of what? Warming trends,” Pruitt said. “I think there’s assumptions made that because the climate is warming, that that necessarily is a bad thing. Do we really know what the ideal surface temperature should be in the year 2100? In the year 2018? I mean it’s fairly arrogant for us to think that we know exactly what it should be in 2100.”

Scientific predictions are inexact and subject to constant correction.  Pruitt’s attacks on climate change  and other environmental problems are  always to find some weaknesses in scientific studies, exaggerate their effects and then attack anyone who might accept these conclusions as either stupid or arrogant. He spent most of last year identifying why global warming might not be occurring and now seems to be saying that it might be a good thing.

Climate change helps create extreme weather events.   It is never a simple case of cause and effect.  It is more that climate change is a significant contributing factor to catastrophic weather events, like the hurricane Maria that destroyed large parts of Dominica and Puerto Rico and the hurricane Irma that caused destruction on both sides of Florida.   Studies indicated that the  sea water in the Gulf of Mexico was warmer than normal and helped these hurricanes to grow in size and strength.

Climate change is worldwide.   Now it’s Cape Town in South Africa’s turn.  Cape Town is experiencing a “one in 1,000  year” drought.  Scientists believe climate change has contributed to this drought.   Also, increases in population and inadequate funding of other water sources, such as desalination plants, contributed to the crisis.  Americans use about 80 to 100 gallons per day.   In Cape Town, this is a crime.  Water usage as of Feb 1, 2018 is limited to 50 liters, or about 12 gallons per day –   not enough for cooking, showers and toilet flushes.  They don’t know exactly  when the supply of water will go to zero, but it’s real soon.  It was May 11, 2018.  Now it’s July 9.  On Day Zero, peoples’ taps will no longer supply water.  People will stand in line with water containers for hours at designated locations.

Name 3 places Scott Pruitt is unlikely to visit:  Cape Town,  Florida and Puerto Rico.  I could name a dozen more.     The evidence of global warming are everywhere.  Ski resorts in Italy and Switzerland are opening later in the winter and closing earlier.  They increasingly depend on artificial snow making machines.  Islands in the South Pacific are getting smaller as water levels rise.  Residents are abandoning their homes.  Same thing is happening in northern Alaska as the ice melts.

It’s bad and getting worse.

Stay tuned,

Dave

Links:

Wikipedia:  Scott Pruitt

Foundation for Climate Change Orientation

South Africa’s drought-stricken Cape Town pushes back ‘Day Zero’ to July 9

 

Coal industry subsidies based on a pretext

I could hardly believe this story when I first read it in the New York Times.  It just seemed too bizarre to be true.  A  DOE proposal which subsidizes  coal usage  in power plants, whose extra cost  will be passed on to consumers in electric bills.  Bob Murray of Murray Coal must be very happy with this one, as his investment in Trump is paying off big time.

Per the NYT EdOp:

 Mr. Perry’s proposal could add around $11 billion a year to the cost of electricity, depending on how the rule is interpreted, according to four separate research reports. Yet it would do little to improve the electrical grid. That’s because less than one-hundredth of 1 percent of power failures between 2012 and 2016 were caused by fuel supply emergencies, according to the Rhodium Group, a research firm.

Aren’t the Republicans known for opposing bailouts of any kind?  This one is based on a pretext, that we have fuel supply emergencies causing power failure outages.  Or we will have in the future.   As stated in the New York Times:

During Hurricane Harvey in Texas, where Mr. Perry was once governor, coal-fired power plants had to switch to natural gas because their fuel became too wet to be moved.

Here are the facts.    About 66% of our electricity comes from the burning of two fossil fuels, natural gas and coal.   The rest comes from nuclear (~19%), hydroelectric (~6%)  and alternative sources (solar and wind).    What has hurt the coal industry is competition from natural gas.  Employment in coal mining jobs has dropped due to automation of the mines.   Environmental air quality regulations have made coal fueled plants more expensive, encouraging a switch to natural gas.

Here is why it is so bizarre.  Opposition comes from environmental groups which would be normal, as the proposal will increase coal consumption.  But, allied with the environmental groups are the big oil and gas companies,  who would be hurt by reduced natural gas demand.   So,  the new regulations are bad for the consumer, the environment and big oil and gas companies (which support Trump on many issues).

The DOE has fast tracked the proposal through the FERC (Federal Energy Regulatory Commission) with 5 members.   Hopefully, they will not approve the DOE proposal.

Please read the New York Times article.

Stay tuned,

Dave

Links:

The Trump Administration’s Coal Bailout

Electricity Customers in 31 States Could Foot the Bill for Perry’s Coal Bailout

Rick Perry’s plan to subsidize coal and nuclear plants is bonkers

EPA Worst Adminstrator Ever: Scott Pruitt

The EPA has existed for 47 years.   It was created by Richard Nixon in 1970, by Executive Order.    Richard Nixon also signed into law, the Clean Air (1970) and Clean Water Acts (as amended 1972).   The first line of the  Clean Water Act states:

The objective of this Act is to restore and maintain the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of the Nation’s waters.

This first sentence is powerful, as the act directs the federal government in conjunction with state agencies to RESTORE  the quality of the  nation’s waters.   Thus, there was an acknowledgement of a problem.   Thus, the creation of the agency was direct the government to take a leadership role in the restoration of  our water and air resources.  Nixon being from California,  likely understood this, as the Colorado watershed encompasses 7 states in the US and 2 states in Mexico.   California is downstream to all pollutants discharged into the Colorado River in the US.

Scott Pruitt may like to see environmental policy run from the state and local level,  mainly for political reasons, but it is the geographical reality which makes so many of our environmental problems, a national problem, requiring federal action.   The pollutants  from the coal burning plants goes to the upper atmosphere,  where there are no signs saying “You are entering Massachusetts” or even, “You are entering Canada.”

Scott Pruitt is an attorney of law.   He has done nothing to restore or improve air or water quality in his home state of Oklahoma, as Attorney General.   Instead, he accepted contributions from Tyson foods, who were being sued for polluting the Illinois River that flows through Oklahoma.

Oklahoma AG and EPA Pick Pruitt Stalled Pollution Lawsuit After Contributions From Poultry Industry

His track record as AG was to attack EPA actions, initiating 13 lawsuits against the EPA.

Now as administrator of the EPA, his actions run counter the core mission of the EPA, to preserve the water, land and air natural resources of the US for future generations to enjoy.   His perspective is one of an advocate for individuals to pollute as much as they want, so long as they don’t endanger the health and safety of general population.   Individual liberties may sound good, but in result can be extremely harmful.

I have posted numerous blogs on the actions of the EPA under the Trump administration, including the most recent one on banning EPA scientists from making presentations at a scientific meeting on the Narraganset Bay estuary.   I was please to see Steven Colbert, the late night show host,   really tearing into Scott Pruitt’s policies, noting that until he pulled the 3 scientists from the meeting, it is likely few people knew about this estuary, or even what an estuary was.

Scott Pruitt latest attack on the agency he runs is to remove as many of the independent and dedicated environmental scientists in the advisory groups in the EPA and replace them with people of his own choosing.   This tactic in this case is to bar anyone who is receiving funding from the EPA from participating in the advisory groups.

Citing The Bible, The EPA Just ChangedAdvisers Its Rules For Science 

In support of his drastic actions,  Scott Pruitt relies on the pretext that scientists receiving funds from the EPA might have a conflict of interest.  However, this was quickly countered by numerous organizations,  noting there was already strict disclosure rules in place, the prevent conflict of interest.    Dr. Tiech from George Washington University stated the following:

” Disqualifying the very people who know the most about a subject from serving as advisors makes no sense.”

More succinctly, he wrote, “Frankly,  this directive is nuts.”   Others voiced similar opinions, as follows:

The change calls into question EPA’s ability to protect the country, according to Rush Holt, chief executive officer of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. “We question whether the EPA can continue to pursue its core mission to protect human health and the environment,” Holt said in a statement issued Tuesday.

Scott Pruitt battled the EPA through lawsuits as Attorney General of Oklahoma.  Now,  he must battle the organization he heads.

Stay tuned,

Dave

PS.  I’ve posted numerous blogs on the EPA and the Trump administration’s indifference to environmental issues.   See the various categories such as Environment, Global Warming. Coal, or Chloropyrisfos.  Also you can search under EPA  or Scott Pruitt.

The leaked DOE Report

The Secretary of Energy, Rick Perry, issued a memorandum on April 14, 2017 directing  preparation of a study that examines whether recent problems associated with baseload power plants may be putting the nations’s energy security and reliability at risk.

It was to be a 3 month study.   A June 26, 2017 draft was leaked and posted to the internet.  The leaked draft report is provided below. It is long detailed technical analysis.

353980477-DOE-Reliability-and-Baseload-Report-Draft-June-26

Many fear that the report would try to blame the government subsidies for alternative energy sources, including wind and solar,  for the decline in the coal use.  The study clearly points out that fossil fuel and nuclear plants also benefit from government subsidies.

Oil is generally not used as a fuel for power plants.  The main fuels are natural gas, coal, nuclear, hydroelectric, solar and wind power, with the latter 3 considered renewables.

What will be interesting, is whether the Secretary will accept the findings of his Department, or attempt to reformulate the report.  It is due to be released next week, so we will know for sure, if the official study is much different from this draft.

Stay tuned,

Dave

 

How we poison ourselves

We do it slowly, in subtle ways.   And we do it, with knowledge of some of the best scientific institutions in the world.  We do it for the love of money. Retired folks who are tired of the noise and pollution of the cities, may feel they have found paradise in rural America, but the dangers of paradise are real and likely to grow worse.   Sending toddlers off to be with grandma and grandpa down on their little piece of tranquility during the summer months may no longer be so good.

The intent of a pesticide is to destroy the specific agricultural pests, without causing harm to the general animal population, which includes fish and bees.  Of course, the agricultural pesticide must also be safe for the human population, which includes people who live near farms and farm workers.

There was strong evidence that the chemical, Chloropyrifos, was  unsafe for agricultural use.  The Administrator  of the EPA, Scott Pruitt is making America great again, only if America can be considered the conglomeration of agricultural interests and agrichemical and fossil fuel companies.

I will say it again- it is a subtle threat.  People don’t know what  they are ingesting.  If a car manufacturer produces a car with faulty air bags, then consumer can sue them.  But only if they survive the accident!  But, if there is slow buildup of harmful neurotoxins as a result of the air we breath or the fish we eat, it may be decades before the full effects are discovered.    We are losing one of the most vital parts of our ecosystem,  bees, which pollinators of  plants.  Without them,  we can’t grow much- see below:

Scott Pruitt

Bees as Pollinators

Organophosphates contain neurotoxins.   The Obama administration proposed regulations on one particular pesticide,  chlorpyrifos, which is particularly harmful to children living near farms as it can effect their brain development.

Pesticides must be approved for use by the EPA.  Once approved, chemical companies invest millions of dollars to produce and market the chemicals worldwide. If there are health risks discovered after approval,  then the chemical companies have the option of withdrawing the pesticide from the market, fearing they might be sued, or continue to produce the pesticide and live with the legal consequences.

Stay tuned,

Dave

Links:

NYT,  March 20, 2017:  E.P.A. Chief, Rejecting Agency’s Science, Chooses Not to Ban Insecticide