Effect Measure

I’m sure it will be years before we have cleaned up all the garbage — literally and figuratively — from the Bush administration’s Environmental “Protection” Agency. The notoriously conservative DC Appeals Court, in a unanimous decision, did its part recently when it declared the Bush EPA’s standards for air particulates ?contrary to law and unsupported by adequately reasoned decisionmaking.” The language doesn’t get much stronger than that. Just a few days before the Supremes refused to hear a challenge to a lower court decision striking down Bush EPA mercury standards from coal-fired power plants. That’s how you make clean coal. You redefine dirty to mean clean. But it didn’t work. But back to the soot standards:

The court ordered the Environmental Protection Agency to reconsider its standards for the pollutants, fine particulates, which are linked to premature death from lung cancer and heart disease and to other health problems including asthma.

When the agency embraced the standards in 2006, its own scientific staff rejected them as too lax. In Tuesday?s ruling, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit said the agency ?did not adequately explain? why the standards were adequate.

[snip]

In 2006, agency scientists and almost all the members of its Clean Air Scientific Advisory Council recommended that the standard for long-term exposure be lowered to 12 to 14 micrograms per cubic meter of air, from 15. But the agency?s administrator at the time, Stephen L. Johnson, said there was ?insufficient evidence? linking the particulates to health effects. (Cornelia Dean, New York Times)

Back when I first studied air pollution, the soot levels were very crudely measured, first in terms of “smoke” (air was drawn around a transparent tape and the degree of opacity measured), then in terms of Total Suspended Particulates (measured volumes of air were sucked through filters which were weighed before and after), and now with devices that are able to size the particles and give total mass per cubic meter in the various size ranges. As we have improved our ability to measure air pollution we have learned that some of it is much more harmful. For the last fifteen or more years, in an important series of studies, air pollution epidemiologists have shown good correlations between the small particles (less than 2.5 microns equivalent aerodynamic diameter) and mortality and morbidity on a daily basis from cardiovascular events. There are also good associations with pulmonary disease, as might be expected. So far there seems to be no threshold for these effects. Unfortunately the New York Times reporter seems to have drawn the wrong conclusion from this:

These pollutants are regulated under the Clean Air Act, but there is no generally agreed safe level of exposure. So in some ways, setting standards is a value judgment more than a scientific decision.

There is a great deal of science underpinning the idea that fine particulates less than 2.5 microns are associated with substantial burdens of disease. Since it is not feasible to lower the levels to zero, some standard had to be chosen. Science allows us to estimate the consequences of various levels. True enough, it does not tell us how to value the consequences. But I don’t think it is fair to say that the level is a value judgment just because values come into it. Values always come in to it. There is nothing new here. The way it was phrased made it sound as if science didn’t come in to it.

Meanwhile there is much more “undoing” to do. Some of it will be more difficult. This particular piece of nonsense has already cost too much in avoidable disease and just plain money spent on defending the scientifically (and morally) indefensible. Good riddance to these bastards.

Comments

  1. #1 Mike Haubrich, FCD
    March 9, 2009

    What really burns me are the conservatives who say we don’t need any sort of fixes to our health care funding schema because the costs of health care will go down if people just start exercising and eating properly.

    These two changes of lifestyle are important for many reasons, but considering the lack of responsibility that conservatives are willing to take when it comes to light-particulate pollution it seems to be more of a “Blame the Victim” game when it comes to emphysema and asthma (and lung cancers among non-smokers.

    Clean air and good health are “luxuries.”

  2. #2 llewelly
    March 9, 2009

    What really burns me are the conservatives who say we don’t need any sort of fixes to our health care funding schema because the costs of health care will go down if people just start exercising and eating properly.

    And of course they ignore the fact that air pollution makes exercise less beneficial. Harmful, even, if the air is sufficiently bad.

  3. #3 Grace RN
    March 9, 2009

    Remember kids, clean air is a want, not a need………

  4. #4 MoM
    March 9, 2009

    When I was in grad school in the mid ’70s, one of my advisors undertook an ambitious program to try to predict increases in hospital ER visits by chronic respiratory patients, based on a typical weather inversion path that sucked fine particles out of the southeast and southwest (Georgia, Alabama & Mississippi / Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico & Arizona); piled them up together under an inversion layer; and pumped them up the Arkansas / Oklahoma, Missouri / Kansas border.

    He contended that we could recognize the weather pattern starting to build, and warn the hospital ER’s of the impending onslaught of people in respiratory distress. We were able to show some historical correlation between the weather events and local increases in ER visits, but weren’t able to get any funding to go any further. Too bad. It was an interesting theory.

    Bottom line, for folks along that border, if there is a low pressure area parked over Jackson (MS) and a high pressure area parked over Abilene (TX), don’t breathe.

  5. #5 Lea
    March 9, 2009

    Denial is coming to an end in Utah as the weather people are finally saying ‘pollution’ instead of ‘haze’.
    Utah had the worst air in the nation a month or so ago.

    Do these pollution devices measure everything in the air? We have the salt flats to our west where the Nevada mountains give the wind speed and then we have the desert east of the salt flats. A nasty combination in my opinion.

  6. #6 M. Randolph Kruger
    March 9, 2009

    Lea, thats smog thats ALL the way from China. MODIS/TERRA tracked it from there as the winter cold really fired up everything over there to stay warm. Been sitting as a blob on their displays for about two months and it just came to visit on the winds.

    Its the reason that Hawaii and Alaska dont pass the clean air standards. Thats your tip off … How much industry do they have? Those standards, you know, that stuff we have to comply with and they dont in Asia. Thats the reason all the jobs headed over there. Cant compete with them and even with the transportation costs its less than what we can do if for here because of OSHA, taxes, regulations, etc.. No fuss, cause there is no muss. Out of sight, out of mind so we are getting poisoned here from there. Revere would have you think that its the US. Too many people on the planet is what is really the problem. Peak energy or peak people? You can draw your own conclusions and you’ll be right even if you are an APGW or its GW is bullshit type. Just too many footprints, regardless of whether its carbon or not. Now we have Obama, yeah he’ll fix everything.

    The funny thing is that the US even under Bush, Clinton, and Bush II we tightened air emission standards across the board. Know what happened? The air got worse. Every city and state just about…Why? Background shit in the air from China crosses all the way over here. So we start from ugly, tighten our regulations and they get worse as more jobs move over there, then send it here. Lost cause unless you want to live in a cave.

    As for the post Revere, you know how this works. You find a friendly court..Only one better would be the 9th in California and then have them rule in your favor. Then you take that activist court ruling and we get what? The power eventually goes off and there is NO WAY to produce the power that coal, gas or nukes produce with this heavily subsidized Al Gore cramdown.

    The boneheads just dont get it…Standard of living means what? In Africa its goat possession and male sons. In South America its living to 70 and then picking up a 19 year old girl friend because you got it to go. Here its the fact that your lights go on when you turn the switch. You think that this is going to happen with wind/solar in our lifetimes you can forget it. Putting up transmission lines from the West to the East will cost nearly a trillion dollars and 50 years. Then you make the assumptions that this is going to gen power… Yeah right.

    Teddy didnt want them in his back yard so Nantuckets off limits. What else? Its not going to generate many jobs either. Once its up, its over. Turbines turn and thats about it. Those that you see on TV that are stopped generally mean bearing failures and lightning strikes. You’ll have to call God to get that lightning thing fixed.

    They dont generate squat except problems. Flyway problems for migratory birds too. So you’ll end up pitting enviro’s against enviro’s on whether to run power lines in the air which by the way will have to be the 200 footers with 16 wires or better to make the trek to the East and West. How lovely on the landscape. When one goes down, a city will go dark. Think not? When those little 440 KVA’s were burned in the fires in CA the first thing that happened was load shedding. Second thing? Power to the pumps for water. How about a whole day of lost productivity or more because of this ill conceived plan. That leaves nukes… See Jane Fonda about that one.

    Understand this and its been here before… Oil will go the way of the dinos as we will run out of it. Coal is abundant and even though its not clean, its better than nothing. Nothing is not on the table here. There simply isnt enough land or places where electricity can be made from wind or solar to make up for the plants. Okay so we go to renewable but what do we do on the days when the wind doesnt blow or the sun doesnt shine? STILL have to have these nasty plants and it takes a bit for them to pull back up when these sources arent working. STILL have to have the capacity to power all the gizmos with or without it. So your electric bill triples and not doubles. Its clean for someone, but expensive as hell for everyone else. Does the buyoff for one argument make up for the failings of the others? Depends on perspectives.

    These same idiots dont get it that to clean it up, those very same plants that are dirty now should be torn down and new ones built. The dips dont even get it that they could go a long way towards cleaning them up if there was even an allowance to FIX stuff that could get them cleaner… Nope, dips sit back, pontificate and challenge EVERY permit. Allen Steam here in Memphis is almost 100 years old and using the same damned crappy coal feeders that produce so much smog in the air. If they would allow the turbine shredders to be used to get coal dust that is almost impossible to see then it would burn completely. Then maybe they wouldnt use SO MUCH coal and the emissions would go down.

    Mercury is in coal, so is a bunch of other stuff such as coal ash that water pressure blows through lagoons after a hard rain and it floods.But, I personally dont want to regulate an industry to the point that we cant pay our light bills. You tout this stuff like there was a correction Revere, something to be done… There is… Turn them off. But, you do so at the peril of your existence in winter up there.

  7. #7 revere
    March 9, 2009

    Randy: totally wrong. This is not smog (which is photochemical oxidant). Anyway you don’t have smog in the winter. This is PM2.5 and it is measured on a daily basis. I don’t know where you get your allegedly scientific “facts” (Fox News?) but you are not even close to what this is about.

  8. #8 paiwan
    March 10, 2009

    Clean energy remains the best solution.

    Venture capitalists are seriously engaged, it is a good sign. For instance, Sequoia-the one which invested in Google in the early start-up has now invested in clean energy.

    Israel will have 500 electricity stations for electrical cars in 2011. The number one semi-conducting manufacturer-Taiwan has shifted the focus to the material for solar energy. High expectation has been placed on Obama administration and the US leadership.

  9. #9 Phila
    March 13, 2009

    Teddy didnt want them in his back yard so Nantuckets off limits.

    Actually, Cape Wind is very likely to begin construction later this year.

    Its not going to generate many jobs either. Once its up, its over.

    Actually, wind turbines require regular maintenance, as well as repairs. Especially offshore turbines. And a recent study shows that about 60 percent of the country’s turbines are currently behind on maintenance, because of a lack of qualified workers.

    They also need replacement parts. Someone has to make them.

    There simply isnt enough land or places where electricity can be made from wind or solar to make up for the plants.

    Actually, there’s adequate land in the desert southwest to provide enough solar power for the entire country, using both solar PV and solar thermal. That’s why intelligent people are working hard to build them while you rant and rave on the Internets.

    Putting up transmission lines from the West to the East will cost nearly a trillion dollars and 50 years

    Actually, your figures are exaggerated, and they also ignore the fact that the existing grid is desperately in need of an overhaul, because we’ve essentially been ignoring it, and it can’t handle much of an increase in demand regardless of the source. There are ways to get it done faster if we really want to…Texas is demonstrating a couple of methods.

    I love how “patriots” like yourself think America — which completed Hoover Dam two years ahead of schedule, among countless other engineering miracles — is helpless, clueless, and doomed to spin its wheels forever.

    We may not agree on much, but I hope we can at least agree that it’d be a good thing for this country and the world if you were wrong.
    .

  10. #10 paiwan
    March 13, 2009

    Would you speak a bit louder? Phila.

    I don’t believe that Americans need Gordon Brown come here to hint the importance of expanding stimulus plan again. Or in the future to have German Chancellor Angela Merkel to lecture the benefits of wind energy.

    Why the questions become so politicized in this great country?

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