Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Reformism: The Clean Air Act of 1970


"Clean air is a basic right. The responsibility to ensure that falls to Congress and the president." - Thomas Carper

"Commercial institutions, proud of their achievements, do not see that healthy living systems - clean air and water, healthy soil, stable climates - are integral to a functioning economy. As our living systems deteriorate, traditional forecasting and business economics become the equivalent of house rules on a sinking cruise ship." - Paul Hawken

"Clean air is essential to the survival of all life on Earth. If that does not make it a natural right, I do not know what does." - Kent Allen Halliburton

The Clean Air Act of 1970 is a United States federal law designed to control air pollution on a national level. It is one of the United States' first and most influential modern environmental laws, and one of the most comprehensive air quality laws in the world. As with many other major U.S. federal environmental statutes, it is administered by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, in coordination with state, local, and tribal governments. Its implementing regulations are codified at 40 C.F.R. Subchapter C, Parts 50-97.

The law has its roots in the 1955 Air Pollution Control Act, which was the first U.S federal legislation that pertained to air pollution and that also provided funds for federal government research on air pollution. The next step was the Clean Air Act of 1963, which was the first federal legislation to actually pertain to "controlling" air pollution. The 1963 act accomplished this by establishing a federal program within the U.S. Public Health Service and authorizing research into techniques for monitoring and controlling air pollution.

This act was first amended in 1965, by the Motor Vehicle Air Pollution Control Act, which authorized the federal government to set required standards for controlling the emission of pollutants from certain automobiles, beginning with the 1968 models. A second amendment, the Air Quality Act of 1967, enabled the federal government to increase its activities to investigate enforcing interstate air pollution transport, and, for the first time, to perform far-reaching ambient monitoring studies and stationary source inspections. The 1967 act also authorized expanded studies of air pollutant emission inventories, ambient monitoring techniques, and control techniques.

It was the Clean Air Act of 1970; however, that was to set the bar for the future of air quality in the United Sates. Amendments to previous laws approved in 1970 greatly expanded the federal mandate, requiring comprehensive federal and state regulations for both stationary industrial pollution sources, as well as, mobile sources. It also significantly expanded federal enforcement. This also created the Environmental Protection Agency, which began formal operations on December 2, 1970 for the purpose of consolidating pertinent federal research, monitoring, standard-setting, and enforcement activities into one agency that would ensure environmental protection.

Further amendments were made in 1990 to address the problems of acid rain, ozone depletion, and toxic air pollution, and to establish a national permit program for stationary sources, and increased enforcement authority. The amendments also established new auto gasoline reformulation requirements, set Reid Vapor Pressure standards to control evaporative emissions from gasoline, and mandated new gasoline formulations sold from May to September in many states. Reviewing his tenure as EPA Administrator under President George H. W. Bush, William K. Reilly characterized passage of the Clean Air Act of 1990 as his most notable accomplishment.

The Clean Air Act of 1970 was also the first major environmental law in the United States to include a provision for citizen suits, which meant that regular citizens could engage legal entities, namely corporations and the like, who they felt were violation of federal environmental laws, in federal court. A victory in such a case would, of course, result in the payment of damages for both property and health. There is one such case that is still in the courts involving the the American Smelting and Refining Company based in El Paso, Texas. They have been found guilty of willfully violating EPA environmental regulations, but they are trying to get out of paying damages to the families in the class action suit brought against them by claiming bankruptcy. In the mean time, numerous families in El Paso have lost loved ones due to health related issues resulting from the company's environmentally reckless and illegal actions. As always, in cases such as this, the company always has more money to spend than do the families who suffer from their reckless behavior. See, the government gives to the people in one hand and takes away from them in the other.

How Does This Relate to Reformism?

Let's continue with the American Smelting and Refining Company. After the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment sued ASARCO for damages to natural resources in 1983, the EPA placed the ASARCO Globe Plant on its National Priorities List of Superfund sites, with ASARCO to pay for the site's cleanup.

In 1972, ASARCO's downtown Omaha plant in Nebraska was found to be releasing high amounts of lead into the air and ground surrounding the plant. In 1995, ASARCO submitted a demolition and site cleanup plan to the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality for their impact on the local residential area. Fined $3.6 million in 1996 for discharging lead and other pollutants into the Missouri River, ASARCO closed its Omaha plant in July of 1997. After extensive site cleanup, the land was turned over to the City of Omaha as a 23-acre (93,000 m2) park. All of East Omaha, comprising more than 8,000 acres (32 km²), was declared a Superfund site. As of 2003, 290 acres (1.2 km²) had been cleaned.

Pictured above is the ASARCO smelting plant that continued to spew hazardous chemicals into the atmosphere over the greater Omaha, Nebraska region well into the middle of the Twentieth Century.

In 1991, the Coeur d'Alene Tribe filed suit under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act of 1980, known also as Superfund, against Hecla Mining Company, ASARCO and other defendants for damages and cleanup costs downstream of what has been designated as the Bunker Hill Mine and Smelting Complex Superfund site. Contamination had affected Lake Coeur d'Alene and the Saint Joe River, as well as, related waters and lands, and cleanup had been under way since the early 1980s. In 1996, the United States joined the suit. In 2008, after emerging from bankruptcy, ASARCO LLC settled for $452 million for contributions to this site. This was part of a nearly $2 billion settlement with the US for a total of 26 sites.

In 2007, the Environmental Protection Agency released the results of soil and air tests in Hayden, Arizona taken adjacent to the ASARCO Hayden Smelter. The results showed abnormally high amounts of pollutants that violated prescribed health standards. Arsenic, lead, and copper were among the most egregious pollutants found in Hayden. As a consequence of the contamination, the EPA proposed to add Hayden, Arizona to the list of Federal "Superfund" sites. This action would provide funding to clean up the contamination. ASARCO fought the action, supported by Democratic Gov. Janet Napolitano, who said: "I am asking that the EPA delay final decision on listing until March 31, 2008. This would provide ample time for the EPA, in close coordination with Arizona Department of Environmental Quality, to enter an agreement with ASARCO to conduct remedial actions..."

After emerging from Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2008, ASARCO made a settlement with the government in the amount of $1.79 billion for contamination at various sites; the funds were allotted to the EPA for cleanup at 26 sites around the country. This does not include the case in El Paso, Texas. What this all basically means is that a company that has been found to have been damaging the environment for over a century can get get past all of the criminal sanctions of the EPA laws by simply paying their way out of trouble. No one is going to jail, no one has to pay bail, no one is losing their job, and no one has to worry about a pay check. Oh wait, unless that is, of course, they are the people who's lives were dependent upon the smelter for a living wage and who's health is now at risk with no money to pay for it to get better. See, the government gives to the people in one hand and takes away from them in the other.

How Else Might This Relate to Reformism?

If you have been following Refuse to Cooperate for any lengthy period of you time, you will know that we support Renewable Energy, and there is a very good reason that we do this. Wind turbines on the continental USA could generate 37 PWh a year, according to a new study by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. That output is three times the level of previous studies, says the American Wind Energy Association. The study is the first state-by-state update of the potential for wind energy since 1993, and examines the potential for electricity from wind if turbines were perched 80 m above the ground, higher than previous studies.

The top state for wind energy potential is Texas, which has 435,638 km2 of wind land area where the capacity factor for wind at 80 m hub height is thirty percent. After excluded lands, protected lands, parks, wilderness, urban area, airports, wetland, water features, are subtracted, the remaining 380,306 km2represents fifty-five percent of the state which could install 1,901,530 MW of wind turbines and generate 6,527,850 GWh a year of renewable power.

Further, solar power is more affordable, accessible, and prevalent in the United States than ever before. Since 2008, U.S. installations have grown seventeen-fold from 1.2 gigawatts to an estimated 30 GW today. This is enough capacity to power the equivalent of 5.7 million average American homes. Since 2010, the average cost of solar PV panels has dropped more than sixty percent and the cost of a solar electric system has dropped by about fifty percent.

Markets for solar energy are maturing rapidly around the country, and solar electricity is now economically-competitive with conventional energy sources in several states, including California, Hawaii, Texas, and Minnesota. Moreover, the solar industry is a proven incubator for job growth throughout the nation. Solar jobs have increased about one-hundred and twenty-three percent since November of 2010, with nearly 209,000 solar workers in the United States.

Despite this massive potential for growth in the field of renewable energy, the federal government continues to subsidize the coal industry, which powers coal power plants, which then pollute the air that we breath, in direct violation of EPA air quality standards. Federal coal subsidies are forms of financial assistance paid by federal taxpayers to the coal and power industries. Such subsidies include direct spending, tax breaks and exemptions, low-interest loans, loan guarantees, loan forgiveness, grants, lost government revenue such as discounted royalty fees to mine federal lands, and federally-subsidized external costs, such as health care expenses and environmental clean-up due to the negative effects of coal use. External costs of coal include the loss or degradation of valuable ecosystems and community health.

Pictured above is the W.A. Parrish Coal Burning Power Plant. It produces 2,697 MW of electricity in service of the Greater Houston Metropolitan area. The plant releases 1.6 million tons of CO2 into the atmosphere annually.

According to research done by GigaOm analyst Adam Lesser, buried deep in a 2011 report from the International Energy Agency, fossil fuels currently receive subsidies via at least 250 mechanisms. In June of 2010, the U.S. Energy Information Administration said $557 billion was spent to subsidize fossil fuels globally in 2008, compared to $43 billion in support of renewable energy. In a July 2011 EIA report on federal fossil fuel subsidies, coal was estimated to have tax expenditures, provisions in the federal tax code that reduce the tax liability of firms, with an estimated value of $3.3 billion in FY 2007. Other numbers are coming out that show that subsidies to fossil fuel companies are starting to drop, but they still get way much more money than they are worth. In the mean time, the pollutants that they release into the atmosphere are putting all life on Earth at risk of extinction, while rich businessmen rake in enough money to buy off an entire country and more. See, the government gives to the people in one hand and takes away from them in the other.

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