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Archive for May, 2019

ISEE taking on the US EPA

The President of the International Society for Environmental Epidemiology (ISEE) has written to the Administrator of the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) criticising the EPA’s proposal (84 Fed. Reg. 2670, Feb. 7, 2019) to reverse a prior well-founded finding that it is “appropriate and necessary” to regulate the emissions of mercury and other toxic air pollutants from coal-fired power plants.

Excerpt from letter follows:

The original finding by the US EPA was promulgated to protect the public from health damaging pollution emissions from electric generating power plants, and was the basis for the 2012 Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS). The EPA’s newly proposed approach is based primarily on a narrowing of the economic calculation of monetised benefits resulting from mercury exposure reduction measures, and now inappropriately ignores the multiple ancillary human health co-benefits that the current regulatory approach includes, making the regulation of Hg appear less justified than it is. Indeed, the proposed assessment would completely, and inappropriately, ignore the substantial monetised human health benefits to the US public that would result from reductions in non-target pollutants that would also occur as a result of the Hg control measures, such as co-reductions of fine particulate matter (PM2.5) air pollution.

As scientists who have studied the human health effects of PM2.5 and other air pollutants over the past few decades, we can state with scientifically-based certainty that the human health benefits that are now being ignored by the US EPA are large and significant to the public health.

…Thus, the human health co-benefits from the co-reduction of PM2.5 air pollution that will be achieved by going forward with the MATS rule (and other future EPA air quality rules) must not be ignored. Moreover, if the benefits analysis were to be properly conducted to include those public health co-benefits, it would be clear that the MATS rule should be left in place as originally proposed by the US EPA.

On behalf of the ISEE, we strongly urge that the US EPA withdraw this harmful proposal, and instead retain its prior sound finding that it is both appropriate and necessary to regulate hazardous air pollutant emissions from electric generating units under Section 112(n)(1) of the Clean Air Act.

Full letter here .

[Source: ISEE]

It is also worth noting that secondary formation of PM2.5 is not routinely considered in air quality assessments in New Zealand.


UN agency meets to tackle pollution and emissions by ships

by Fiona Harvey

International Maritime Organization aims to halve global emissions by 2050

What is this meeting and why is it important?

This week is the 74th meeting of the marine environmental protection committee of the International Maritime Organization (IMO), and it represents one of the best hopes of reducing greenhouse gas emissions from a large and growing sector.

Based in London, the IMO is the UN agency with responsibility for the safety and security of shipping and the environmental impact of ships, and the only organisation bringing all the world’s nations together to regulate marine transport.

Shipping accounts for at least 3% of global greenhouse gas emissions. This may not sound a lot but if shipping were a country it would be the sixth biggest in terms of emissions share. And it is growing fast – shipping could produce 17% of global emissions by 2050, if left unchecked. About 90% of the world’s trade is carried by sea.

Even more significantly, those emissions are particularly harmful because they are mostly the result of burning heavy, pollutant-ridden fuels that are usually banned or subject to regulation onshore because of their toxic effects. Ship fuel produces sulphur dioxide, a fast acting respiratory irritant; ships burn more than 3m barrels a day of residual fuel oil, with a sulphur content more than 1,000 times that of petrol for road vehicles. The dirty fuel also releases large quantities of black carbon – soot, made up of unburned particles – that is borne on the winds to the Arctic, where it stains the snow and increases the greenhouse effect, because dark snow absorbs more heat.

What will be discussed at the meeting?

Climate change and shipping’s contribution to it will be high on the agenda, the secretary-general, Kitack Lim, confirmed in his opening speech on Monday. There will be a discussion of the IMO’s target of halving emissions by 2050, compared with 2008 levels, and of a new review – its fourth – of shipping’s greenhouse gas emissions.

Also on the table will be IMO 2020, a plan to reduce the environmental harm from sulphur by stipulating that ships can only use fuel with a sulphur content of less than 0.5%. Marine plastic pollution will be discussed, with recent developments such as the UN’s agreement, excluding the US, to take steps to reduce the flow of plastic waste to the developing world.

What is the likely outcome?

There is expected to be progress on all of the above, probably in the form of resolutions to reaffirm existing commitments and the frames of reference for a new greenhouse gas study. The IMO on Monday evening also produced a blueprint for one of its main outcomes from the talks: GreenVoyage-2050, co-funded by the government of Norway, a plan to expand port management capacities in the developing world and set up demonstration projects that will help poor countries meet the goal of halving emissions by 2050.

Is that good enough?

Far from it, according to civil society groups and protesters. Extinction Rebellion activists are protesting outside the meeting in London, offering delegates deckchairs which they can rearrange as if on the Titanic – a reference to the futility of the efforts to regulate shipping so far, which have shown little progress over more than a decade.

Campaigning groups have differing demands from the talks. The Clean Arctic Alliance wants a ban on heavy fuel oil in the Arctic and moves towards a wider ban. A group of ten NGOs led by Stand.Earth is calling for a moratorium on the use of “scrubbers” to remove sulphur from ship exhausts, in favour of a straightforward switch to lower sulphur fuel. The Environmental Defense Fund wants to see zero-emissions ships on the water as soon as possible. Extinction Rebellion has a very specific demand: to reduce the speed of ships by 10%, which would result in a carbon saving of 30% on current levels.

Liam Geary Baulch, a spokesman for Extinction Rebellion, said: “It’s only our future at stake, so either the shipping industry can just keep rearranging the deckchairs … or they can tell the truth today and declare a climate and ecological emergency. They should act now by reducing emissions immediately. This can effectively be achieved through an immediate reduction in speeds.”

We have known about emissions from shipping for years. What progress has been made up to now?

Very little. The IMO first announced plans to move ships to fuels with a lower sulphur content in 2008. These plans will not come into force until next year. On greenhouse gases, the long-term target is a halving by 2050, compared with 2008 levels, but the industry is still stuck on carrying out yet another review. Shipping has largely escaped public scrutiny, as its emissions take place far out to sea, invisible to the consumers of the goods the ships carry

Part of the problem is that shipping, along with aviation, has been excluded from international talks on climate change almost from the start. The initial reason was pragmatic – in the run-up to the Kyoto protocol of 1997, countries could not agree how international transport should be accounted for, and whether the ships’ home countries or the countries where the cargo was landed should be deemed responsible for the emissions. In order to get the agreement through, shipping and aviation were left out altogether.

This is effectively still the case, even though in the intervening two decades emissions from these sectors have risen sharply. The industries have largely been left to regulate themselves on a voluntary basis, and their plans to do so have been slow in coming, low on ambition, weak on enforcement and, so far, inadequate to the scale of the problem.

For the IMO to turn that situation around this week is as unlikely as a supertanker sailing up the Thames to its headquarters, but protesters are hoping that their activities will at least draw public attention to what has so far been largely a hidden scourge of the seas.

[Source: (amended slightly from) The Guardian]

We’ll soon know the exact air pollution from every power plant in the world. That’s huge.

By David Roberts@drvoxdavid@vox.com May 7, 2019

A nonprofit artificial intelligence firm called WattTime is going to use satellite imagery to precisely track the air pollution (including carbon emissions) coming out of every single power plant in the world, in real time. And it’s going to make the data public.

This is a very big deal. Poor monitoring and gaming of emissions data have made it difficult to enforce pollution restrictions on power plants. This system promises to effectively eliminate poor monitoring and gaming of emissions data.

And it won’t just be regulators and politicians who see this data; it will be the public too. When it comes to environmental enforcement, the public can be more terrifying and punitive than any regulator. If any citizen group in the world can go online and pull up a list of the dirtiest power plants in their area, it eliminates one of the great informational barriers to citizen action.

The plan is to use data from satellites that make theirs publicly available (like the European Union’s Copernicus network and the US Landsat network), as well as data from a few private companies that charge for their data (like Digital Globe). The data will come from a variety of sensors operating at different wavelengths, including thermal infrared that can detect heat.

The images will be processed by various algorithms to detect signs of emissions. It has already been demonstrated that a great deal of pollution can be tracked simply through identifying visible smoke. WattTime says it can also use infrared imaging to identify heat from smokestack plumes or cooling-water discharge. Sensors that can directly track NO2 emissions are in development, according to WattTime executive director Gavin McCormick.

Between visible smoke, heat, and NO2, WattTime will be able to derive exact, real-time emissions information, including information on carbon emissions, for every power plant in the world. (McCormick says the data may also be used to derive information about water pollutants like nitrates or mercury).

WattTime is partnering with Carbon Tracker, a think tank that’s done previous work with satellite imagery, using it for financial analysis of power plants (including a pioneering study showing that 42 percent of global coal power plants are operating at a loss), and the World Resources Institute, which operates the world’s most comprehensive Global Database of Power Plants.

[Source: Vox]