Air Pollution

STAPPA/ALAPCO's Becker explains state viewpoints on EPA budget and mercury

With Senate appropriators set to mark up the U.S. EPA's fiscal 2007 budget, interest groups are lobbying hard to ensure adequate funding for various EPA projects. During today's OnPoint, Bill Becker, executive director of the State and Territorial Air Pollution Program Administrators and the Association of Local Air Pollution Control Officials, explains why cuts to the EPA budget could have devastating effects for individual states. Becker also talks about why some states are breaking with the Bush administration on mercury rules, and on the issue of climate change.


Darren Samuelsohn: Welcome to OnPoint. I'm Darren Samuelsohn. Joining us today in Washington is Bill Becker, the executive director of STAPPA and ALAPCO, two associations representing state and local air pollution officials. Mr. Becker thanks for coming on the program.

Bill Becker: Thank you Darren. It's great to be here.

Darren Samuelsohn: It's EPA budget season right now. The Senate is set to market the EPA appropriations bill. Your organization is advocating more funding for diesel retrofits and also for air quality monitoring. Explain for us what kind of money you're looking for.

Bill Becker: Well, we're not really asking for more money, we're asking for money that was going to restore the $35.1 million cuts that the president had requested in the fiscal 2007 budget. These cuts will have devastating effects if they go through. And we're asking the House and the Senate to restore those cuts to last year's levels. But in addition, on the diesel retrofit funds, we have joined a coalition of industry and environmental and health groups to increase their funding to $50 million. We think it's very important. They've helped us with restoring our money. We're helping them with increasing money for a very good project.

Darren Samuelsohn: What's the significance of diesel retrofits? Why are they necessary?

Bill Becker: Diesel retrofits are essential. Diesel particulate not only leads to respiratory problems and cardiovascular problems, it leads to thousands of premature mortalities. It kills people. And this is one of the most effective ways to clean up the air to reduce air pollution. And these are very cost effective measures that states and localities support.

Darren Samuelsohn: And we're talking school buses and other vehicles too?

Bill Becker: We're talking on-road vehicles, like school buses. We're talking off-road equipment, non-road equipment and anything that diesel powers to generate activity, on-road or off-road, needs to be cleaned up.

Darren Samuelsohn: And explain the air quality monitoring issue. What exactly, what's the purpose of this?

Bill Becker: Well, we use monitors for several purposes, but the main one is to ensure the public that the air they're breathing is clean and healthy. And we collect data on a daily basis and that determines whether an area is in attainment or non-attainment. If the area is in non-attainment than the area must develop a plan to demonstrate, to EPA satisfaction, that it's going to clean up the air by statutory deadlines. The cuts in the fiscal 2007 budget not only cut the monitoring program by $17 million or so, but it also cuts the program under section 105 of the Clean Air Act that funds people to do the work at the state and local agencies by another $17 or $18 million. And those cuts, for monitoring and for people, under sections 103 and 105 of the Clean Air Act, we're working to restore. The House has restored those funds. We're very hopeful that the Senate will also restore those funds.

Darren Samuelsohn: Are you saying that if these cuts were enacted there'd be less people, fewer people telling us how bad the air quality is out there?

Bill Becker: Well, there would not only be fewer people telling us how bad the air quality is, there will be fewer people working on state implementation plans, the state strategies, to demonstrate clean air. There will be fewer people analyzing regulations. There will be fewer people helping industry analyze regulations to make it easier for them to comply. This is the wrong time to be cutting state and local governmental support to implement very daunting and horrific air pollution problems.

Darren Samuelsohn: Is this a more important priority than some of the other things though that are being cut from the EPA budget, the waste water account? You see science and technology research also being cut. How do you square what's a more important priority?

Bill Becker: Well I know air very well. I don't know the benefits of those other programs as well. I do know from a benefit standpoint, from a risk standpoint, air pollution trumps most other problems. We're not here to say where EPA should find the money or where Congress should find the money to restore cuts from this budget. But we are here to demonstrate to everyone that restoration of those funds is vitally important for public health and welfare.

Darren Samuelsohn: Turning to some other issues that the states across the country have an interested in. Mercury and global warming I wanted to ask you about. First on mercury, the states are implementing the U.S. EPA power plant regulations to cap-and-trade mercury, but not all states are. And I kind of wanted to get a sense from you why the division? Why are some states implementing the EPA plans, but other states aren't?

Bill Becker: Well that's a good question. And it boils down to the fact that states generally were very upset with the EPA federal rule on mercury with respect to utilities. They felt the deadlines were too protracted, the emission limits weren't stringent enough and they didn't feel that interstate trading of a neurotoxin was appropriate. It's not. It's poor public policy and it's probably illegal. I've never seen the kind of response that we saw with mercury from the states. And the states asked our office, our very small office, to develop a model rule to help them fill the gaps, eliminate some of the deficiencies in the federal program. And what we have found is that there are probably 20 or so states that have taken the EPA rule and either rejected it entirely or have made significant changes to it to improve it. And that's because mercury resonates with people. They understand the consequences to women of childbearing age and to others that this is a terrible problem. That utilities should not be emitting as much as they are. That there are technological solutions and states throughout the country are indeed going beyond the federal program, not everybody, but many.

Darren Samuelsohn: It seems like there's about two dozen states that are going to follow the EPA's lead as well. Does that get pretty complicated, if you had two dozen states that are trying to implement the EPA program and two dozen that aren't? They're not going to be working together are they?

Bill Becker: Probably not. The reason that a dozen or two may be following EPA's lead is some like EPA's program. There's not unanimity on this program, on this position. But many states are prohibited by state law or policy from deviating, if any or much, from the federal program. So that's one of the reasons why they're sticking to the federal program. But unless you have a lot of states engaged in this interstate trading program it's not going to be nearly as robust nor used as widely as EPA thought. And that's a good thing.

Darren Samuelsohn: Your organization is also tracking global warming policies out of the different states in the country. Can you give us a sense, where are the states headed? Some are taking actual action right now and implementing caps, others are not. Where, from your perspective, are the states going with this?

Bill Becker: I think the states are using their discretion widely and appropriately. And it's not just states, it's localities. Let me start with the localities. There are probably 150 to 200 local cities, counties that are working with mayors and under the auspices of ICLEI, the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives, to adopt action, climate action plans. There are regions from around the country, the Northeast has its regional program that's designed to reduce greenhouse gases by 10% from today's level by 2019. There are states in the West that have developed collaboratives. There are southwestern states, governors, that have worked together. And everyone is doing it a bit differently. And this brings up a very important point and it's not just on climate change, it's not just on mercury, it's not just on New Source Review. The states generally would much prefer a strong national approach. And it may not be identical, but at least it would establish some federal consistency, some national consistency, and then programs could work pretty well together. But what the states and localities won't accept is inaction by the federal government or a deficient program. And rather than accept that they will do anything they can, on their own, with our help if we have to, to try to fill those gaps and to take action. We won't sit idly by where there is federal inaction or federally deficient programs. And climate change and New Source Review and mercury and many of these other programs are good examples of that.

Darren Samuelsohn: I want to jump to two other issues that are on the Hill right now, refineries and gasoline. First off the Refinery Revitalization bill that moved through the house last week and there's now hearings planned in the Senate on this issue. Your organization has taken the position that no bill is necessary. Can you explain why?

Bill Becker: No bill is necessary because our experience shows, and it's been backed up with data, that when an industry submits an adequate plan, an adequate permit, state and local permitting authorities act quickly. Conversely, when there are gaps in the permit, when the industry is fighting a certain emission limit there will be delays. But where we have an adequate permit we act quickly, within a matter of months, not years. And there's no data that suggests otherwise. There are other provisions in the bill that's being debated that will provide more bureaucratic delay at the state and local level. There's a federal coordinator that's going to intrude in the operations at the state and local level. They preempt some of the judicial state and local requirements and send it to the federal courts and that's problematic. So states and localities are concerned with the bill. It's much better than the initial bill that had tried to codify EPA's New Source Review provisions, but it still has some problems.

Darren Samuelsohn: Can you give any sense, would there be more air pollution if this bill were to be enacted into law?

Bill Becker: Well, we think there will be more delay in permitting, which is exactly counter to what the proponents want. They would like to see quicker decisions. We think the Energy Policy Act of last year addressed this issue and this will actually cause delay. I don't know the extent to which it's going to increase emissions significantly, but it could. Taking away our authorities will make it more difficult for states and localities to clean up the air.

Darren Samuelsohn: On gasoline, there are some proposals out there to limit the number of reformulated gasoline blends, the boutique fuels. Your organization, on this one as well, has come out opposed to limiting the number of boutique fuels. What's the benefit of boutique fuels? And why have you taken the position that you have?

Bill Becker: Well, thank you for asking that. We prefer to call them state clean air fuels. Whether you call them boutique or state clean air fuels, the benefit is these fuels are much cleaner than conventional gasoline. The Government Accountability office says they reduce emissions by up to 25 percent more than conventional gasoline. We are already constrained under the Clean Air Act and under the Energy Policy Act. We have to go, surpass high hurdles in the Clean Air Act merely to adopt a state clean fuel program. And the Energy Policy Act prohibits the number of fuels to increase beyond the merely seven that there are today. No one has made a case and EPA has just announced, published its report that says boutique fuels are either contributing to higher gas prices, EPA estimates 3/10 of a cent to three cents a gallon. And no one has made a case, and EPA acknowledges this, that there's any data, there's any empirical evidence suggesting that there is correlation between boutique fuels and supply and distribution problems. Given that, given the constraints, there is no reason why boutique fuels or state clean air fuels should be constrained anymore than they already are.

Darren Samuelsohn: Do you think that, Chairman Barton has put this bill aside for the moment, do you think there's any chance that this is going to move through the Congress this year?

Bill Becker: No. And I think Chairman Barton was thoughtful in his analysis in pulling back. He said to the reporters that, I read it in Greenwire, that he was convinced at the hearing, that he conducted, that I testified at, that there was no support for this. Interestingly, on boutique fuels one of the reasons there are boutique fuels, which are lower volatility fuels, is not because the states necessarily wanted it, it's because the industry, back a decade ago, came to the states and said we have a cheaper better alternative than federal consistent reformulated gasoline. And so the irony is that the states are being criticized for making decisions that industry had asked for 10 years ago.

Darren Samuelsohn: OK Bill, well we're out of time. Keep reading your Greenwire and we'll see you back on the show another time.

Bill Becker: Thanks for inviting me.

Darren Samuelsohn: Until next time, this is Darren Samuelsohn for another edition of OnPoint. Thanks for watching.

[End of Audio]



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