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Posts Tagged ‘EPA’

Joseph Romm, ClimateProgress, June 22, 2009

cathy-zoiOn June 19th, the United States Senate, by voice vote, confirmed Cathy Zoi to be the Assistant Secretary for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy.

Cathy Zoi, CEO of Al Gore’s Alliance for Climate Protection, will now serve as Assistant Secretary for Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy (EERE) under Energy Secretary Steven Chu.

Zoi has a unique combination of expertise in clean energy and high level federal government experience — she was Chief of Staff in the Clinton White House Office on Environmental Policy, managing the staff working on environmental and energy issues (recent writing below). Since I have known Zoi for nearly 2 decades and since in 1997 I held the job she is now nominated for, I can personally attest she will be able to hit the ground running in the crucial job of overseeing the vast majority of the development and deployment of plausible climate solutions technology.

What does EERE do? You could spend hours on their website, here, exploring everything they are into. Of the 12 to 14 most plausible wedges the world needs to stabilize at 350 to 450 ppm — the full global warming solution — EERE is the principal federal agency for working with businesses to develop and deploy the technology for 11 of them!

The stimulus and the 2009 budget dramatically increases — more than doubles — EERE funding for technology development and deployment. Zoi’s most important job is deployment, deployment, deployment. And again she is a uniquely qualified to get clean energy into the marketplace. Zoi was a manager at the US Environmental Protection Agency where “she pioneered the Energy Star Program,” which was the pioneering energy efficiency deployment program launched in the early 1990s.

So we know Zoi gets energy efficiency. Here’s what she wrote last year about “Embracing the Challenge to Repower America“:

Many Americans have a hard time thinking about our energy future, largely because their energy present is so challenging. With gasoline prices hovering near $4 per gallon and rising energy bills at home and at work, our economy is struggling with the burden of imported oil and reliance on fossil fuels. The need to satisfy the nation’s oil appetite has shaped our foreign and defense postures, and is a primary reason for our current entanglements overseas. Extreme weather here in the U.S. has us feeling uneasy. And the scientists remind us more urgently every week about the mounting manifestations of the climate crisis.

To solve these problems, we must repower our economy. Fast.

Vice President Gore has issued a challenge for us to do just that: Generate 100% of America’s electricity from truly clean sources that do not contribute to global warming — and do so within 10 years. It is an ambitious but attainable goal. American workers, businesses and families are up to it.

Meeting the challenge to repower America will deliver the affordability, stability and confidence our economy needs, as well as a healthy environment. And it will generate millions of good American jobs that can’t be outsourced.

It will involve simultaneous work on three fronts. First, get the most out of the energy we currently produce. Second, quickly deploy the clean energy technologies that we already know can work. Third, create a new integrated electricity grid to deliver power from where it is generated to where people live.

The first front involves energy efficiency. The potential here is vast and largely untapped. Now is the time to begin a comprehensive national energy upgrade that will reduce the energy bills of homeowners and businesses — even as costs of energy supplies may be on the rise.

The second front requires expanding the use of existing generation technologies. This will include accelerated growth in our wind energy industry. We have a strong running start — the U.S. was the leading installer of wind technology last year. Texas oilman T. Boone Pickens says we can get at least 20 percent of America’s electricity from wind power. We think he’s right.

Solar thermal power is also booming and poised for rapid acceleration. The resource potential is so vast that a series of collectors in the American southwest totaling just 92 miles on a side could power our entire electricity system. Utilities in Arizona, Nevada, and California have already begun to tap this potential, with plans for powering nearly one million homes underway.

Advances in thermal storage technologies, along with investments in our grid, mean that solar thermal power will be able to provide electricity at night, like coal power does today.

Nuclear and hydroelectric power facilities currently combine to contribute roughly 25% of America’s electricity. That will continue. Coal and natural gas can also play a significant role by capturing and storing their carbon emissions safely. Our hope is that this CCS emissions technology can be developed and commercialized quickly. Without it, coal isn’t “clean.” There are reportedly a few CCS plants now proposed in the U.S., although another roughly 70 proposed coal plants have no such plans to capture their carbon pollution.

The third front is the creation of a unified national electricity grid. A “super smart grid” will form the backbone and the entire skeleton of our modern power system. Efficient high voltage lines will move power from remote, resource-rich areas to places where power is consumed.

It will also allow households to make money by automatically using energy at the cheapest times and selling electricity back to the grid when a surplus is available can. A smart meter spins both ways.

Meeting this 100% clean power challenge will require a one-time capital investment in new infrastructure, with the bulk of funding coming from private finance. If policies reward reducing global warming pollution, private capital will flow towards clean energy solutions.

But the most important cost figures to consider may be the ones we’ll avoid. American utilities will spend roughly $100 billion this year on coal and natural gas to fuel power plants. And more next year and the year after that — until we make the switch to renewable fuels that are free and limitless.

The 10-year time frame is key.

The science, the economic pressures and our national security concerns demand swift, concerted action. The best climate scientists tell us we must make rapid progress to turn the corner on global carbon emissions or the ecological consequences will be irreversible.

The solutions are available now — there are no technology or material impediments. Failing to move swiftly will deprive the U.S. economy of earnings from one of the fastest growing technology sectors in the world.

We’ve done this before. We mobilized the auto industry in 12 months to service the hardware needs of WWII. The Marshall Plan to reconstruct Europe was executed in four years. And as Vice President Gore pointed out, we reached the moon in eight years, not ten.

We can do this. With support from the American people and leadership from elected officials, America can accept the challenge of building a safe, secure and sustainable energy future.”

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MendoCoastCurrent, March 11, 2009

17transition2-6001Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar announced today that he has just signed his first order establishing renewable energy generation as the top priority of the Department of the Interior. Following President Obama’s lead in steering the United States into this new energy path, he said this agenda would create jobs and grow investment and innovation at home. Also noted was that the DOI will focus mostly in western states for generation of electricity through renewable energy (solar, wind, wave, geothermal, biomass).

Secretary Salazar illustrated this opportunity with the Bureau of Land Management backlog over 200 solar energy projects and over 20 wind projects in western states alone. There have yet been any permits or jobs created for these renewable energy projects to be fast-tracked in consideration, evaluated in terms of environmental impact and anticipating the acceptable projects will move forward swiftly.

Starting today, renewable energy projects in solar, wind, small hydro, geothermal and biomass will benefit in priority treatment to generate electricity and renewable energy. And Secretary Salazar stated that a newly-formed energy and climate change task force is already working hard, nights and weekend to develop these plans (since January 20th) for presentation to a Dept. of Energy committee soon. 

In tandem, Secretary Salazar indicated that through cross-departmental effort (BLM, EPA, Dept. of Energy, MMS, FERC and others), his goal is to rapidly and responsibly move forward with Obama’s renewable energy agenda to develop and upgrade the United States electric transmission grid.  

When asked about Cape Wind off Cape Cod, Mr. Salazar indicate that “after we hold our hearings around the country [for MMS rulemaking] the jurisdictional issues between the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and Minerals Management Service shall be accomplished within this year.” Many projects are being inhibited and we are actively clearing the path to move forward.

The roadshow planned by Secretary Salazar shall help identify renewable energy zones (solar energy in western states minus ecological sensitivity (reduction). He explained that today, through solar energy in the western states alone, we may produce 88% of all of the energy needs and adding wind takes it over 100%. This also fuels the need for a national transmission system as a high priority.

Salazar also called for the need to finalize and renew offshore renewable energy rules that protect the United States landscapes, wildlife and environment as we serve as steward of our lands.

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DANIEL B. WOOD, The Christian Science Monitor, February 11, 2009

Less than a month into his administration, President Obama is making good on campaign promises to move toward a comprehensive approach to US energy and to broaden environmental protections. The administration has moved over the past few weeks to undo many of Bush’s last-minute drilling and environmental decisions, including putting the brakes Tuesday on a plan to open up vast new areas off the Atlantic and Pacific coasts to offshore drilling.

In swift succession, the Obama administration has:

  • Ordered the Environmental Protection Authority to reconsider its decision to deny California permission to set standards controlling greenhouse-gas emissions from motor vehicles – if permitted, this would allow 13 more states to follow suit.
  • Abandoned a Bush administration legal appeal in a major air pollution case – signaling it will allow tougher rules to cut mercury emissions from power plants.
  • Canceled 77 Bush-era oil and gas leases over 100,000 acres of public land near national parks in Utah.
  • Announced an intent to develop an offshore energy plan that includes renewable resources, giving states and the federal government more time to study and assess the future of offshore energy planning.

“There’s clearly a new kid in town. The Obama administration is moving quicker on the environment than anything else,” says Robert Stern, president of the Center for Governmental Studies. “They are concerned that untoward things are going to happen before they can get new policies in place, so they are trying to reverse old ones.”

In the most recent move to stall Bush policy, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced Tuesday that the time period for public comment on a draft five-year plan for offshore oil and gas leasing would be extended for another 180 days. He also ordered the US Geological Survey and the Minerals Management Service to develop an extensive profile of the nation’s resources offshore.

The plan, which was proposed by the Bush administration on its last day in office and published the day after President Obama took office, originally allowed 45 days for scoping and comment.

Describing the plan as “a headlong rush of the worst kind,” Mr. Salazar said that “Bush’s “midnight action” accelerated by two years the regular process for creating a new plan for the outer continental shelf.

“It opened up the possibility for oil and gas leasing along the entire Eastern Seaboard, portions of offshore California, and the far eastern Gulf of Mexico, with almost no consideration of state, industry, and community input and … with very limited information about the nature of offshore resources,” he said.

The new administration will look at offshore drilling as part of a comprehensive energy plan, he said. The changes are to “fulfill President Obama’s commitment to a government that is open and inclusive and makes decisions based on sound science and the public interest.”

“I intend to do what the Bush administration refused to do; build a framework for offshore renewable-energy development so that we incorporate the great potential for wind, wave, and ocean current energy into our offshore energy strategy.”

In a similar move last week, the Interior secretary announced that the Bureau of Land Management would withdraw drilling leases that were offered on 77 parcels of US public land near national parks in Utah. The leases, on land totaling 103, 225 acres, are under litigation in district court.

Development of oil and gas supplies was needed to help reduce dependence on foreign oil, but it must be done in a “thoughtful and balanced way that allows us to protect our signature landscapes and culture resources,” said Salazar, adding that the BLM would return $6 million in bids from an auction last December.

Also last week, the Justice Department said it is withdrawing a US Supreme Court appeal filed by the Bush administration against a court ruling governing mercury emissions from coal- and oil-fired power plants.

The Obama administration has also told the EPA to reconsider denying California the power to regulate vehicular pollution. The Bush administration’s EPA in 2007 had denied California the waiver needed to authorize its special status under the Clean Air Act. That law gives California the authority to regulate vehicular pollution because the state began doing so before the federal government did.

Leading environmental groups, which were often at odds with Bush, are breathing a palpable sigh of relief. “We are encouraged by Obama’s announcement that he is going to restore order to a broken system and that is what this is,” says Kristina Johnson, deputy press secretary for the Sierra Club.

“This five-year offshore drilling program that Bush tried to push through wasn’t based on sound science, and there was no public input,” she said. “It’s part of a new way of doing business. [The Obama administration understands] that the answer to America’s energy problems isn’t more drilling and that we need to be investing in clean energy.”

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ROB DAVIS, VoiceOfSanDiego.org, February 8, 2009

images1With California’s water supplies crimped and cuts on the way, the idea of a new water source in San Diego is making politicians salivate.

The seawater desalination plant proposed by Poseidon Resources Corp. is advertised as being able to tap into the Pacific Ocean, a drought-proof supply. Now the state sits in a drought. And with the project’s permitting nearly finished, state leaders are lining up in support — from Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to Linda Adams, the state’s environmental protection secretary.

Their message to the San Diego Regional Water Quality Control Board, the last agency to withhold needed permits: Enough already. Stop slowing down construction.

So the regional board, the local water pollution regulator, is being assailed from both proponents and opponents of the project. Environmental groups have sued the regional board for giving conditional approval to the desalination plant. And state leaders are flexing their political muscles, urging the board to go all the way.

“The political interest in this item is huge,” said John Robertus, the regional board’s executive officer. “And every day it doesn’t rain, it goes up a notch.”

The regional board in 2006 granted a necessary permit to Poseidon, which will allow it to discharge into the Pacific. But it came with conditions, including developing a specific plan for mitigating the plant’s impact on marine life. The agency’s staff proposes to continue withholding approval until Poseidon refines its mitigation plans. The discussion is scheduled Wednesday. Asked whether the agency is feeling political pressure, Robertus said: “Certainly. Water is about politics.”

The desalination plant has always had the region’s attention. But with mandatory water-use restrictions likely coming to Southern California this summer, the project has grabbed the attention of the governor and other state officials. The plant, which could begin operating in December 2011 at the earliest, would boost San Diego’s supply 10%. The project will set the precedent for other desalination efforts.

At least one will follow on the Carlsbad plant’s heels. Poseidon, a private Connecticut-based company, is seeking permits for a plant in Huntington Beach. But Carlsbad’s challenges were greater, and so it has pushed that project first. The regulatory examples set there will be followed in Huntington Beach and in any other seawater desalination plants.

“As goes Carlsbad, so goes the rest of the coast,” Robertus said. “This is a contentious issue. And it’s going to get more intense as we get closer to the date when they begin to pump water.”

At the center of the current debate is Poseidon’s plan to mitigate the plant’s impacts on marine life. It will suck in 304 million gallons of seawater daily and turn 50 million gallons into drinking water. The filtered-out salt will be diluted with the remaining 254 million gallons and sent back to the ocean.

The pumps that draw in that water will kill about two pounds of fish each day. (Poseidon says this is less than the daily consumption of an adult brown pelican). They’ll also squash 11 million to 16 million fish larvae daily — four billion to five billion annually.

State regulators are requiring Poseidon to mitigate that damage by restoring 37 acres of wetlands. The company estimates it would cost $10 million wherever it decides to repair damaged habitat and build a functioning ecosystem.

This hang-up has everyone’s attention. The regional board wants Poseidon to pick a specific site. Poseidon has identified 11 and says it will decide on a specific location later. Five are in San Diego County: the Tijuana River Valley, San Elijo Lagoon, San Dieguito River Valley, Agua Hedionda Lagoon and Buena Vista Lagoon. Others are in Orange, Los Angeles and Ventura counties.

The company says picking a site now would require a lengthy environmental review and delay the plant’s construction. The company promises to choose a site and finish mitigation before the plant begins operating, Poseidon spokesman Scott Maloni said.

The environmental groups that have sued say Poseidon has the process backward. The company should not be able to get approval for building its project, they say, before completely identifying its mitigation plans.

“It’s not responsible for the agencies to approve a project without these questions being answered,” said Gabriel Solmer, legal director for San Diego Coastkeeper. “Just because Poseidon has said ‘We’ll do whatever it takes and we’ll find a place to do mitigation,’ that shouldn’t be sufficient. You should know where the mitigation is going to occur.”

As that debate continues, state leaders are interjecting their comments. The regional board has received letters urging approval from Schwarzenegger; Linda Adams; Mike Chrisman, the natural resources secretary; and A.G. Kawamura, the food and agriculture secretary. Donald Koch, director of the state Department of Fish and Game, wrote that mitigation plans were sufficient.

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SIOBHAN HUGHES, Dow Jones News, January 26, 2009

U.S. President Barack Obama on Monday ordered the Environmental Protection Agency to consider allowing California to regulate greenhouse-gas emissions from automobiles, a policy that could spur the development of new vehicles.

“The federal government must work with, not against, states to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions,” Obama said at a press conference filled with environmental activists and members of his cabinet. He ordered the EPA to “immediately review” a 2007 decision to deny California the waiver it needs to go forward.

The action marks a sharp reversal from the administration of President George W. Bush, which concluded that California wasn’t entitled to its own standards as global warming wasn’t unique to the state. In putting the U.S. on a different course, Obama was signaling a broader commitment to reshaping U.S. energy habits.

“America’s dependence on oil is one of the most serious threats that our nation has faced,” Obama said. “It puts the American people at the mercy of shifting gas prices, stifles innovation, and sets back our ability to compete.”

It isn’t clear how quickly the EPA will make its decision — or how quickly the Obama administration can move the U.S. away from fossil fuels. The new administration already faces a severe economic recession, something that could make it harder for car companies to finance innovation. On Monday, General Motors Corp. (GM) said in a statement that while it was “ready to engage” with the Obama administration, any talks should take into account “economic factors” and the pace at which new technologies can development.

“We hold no illusion about the task that lies ahead,” Obama said. “I cannot promise a quick fix. No single technology or set of regulations will get the job done. But we will commit ourselves to steady, focused, pragmatic pursuit of an America that is freed from our energy dependence and empowered by a new energy economy.”

Obama acted with the backing of the environmental wing of his base, which rushed out press releases to praise his action. Environment America, an environmental group, estimated that applying the California standard in just 13 other states would save 50 billion gallons of gasoline by 2020, for a total savings of $93 billion, and reduce greenhouse-gas emissions by more than 450 million metric tons in total by 2020.

Obama separately ordered the U.S. Department of Transportation to finalize new automobile fuel-efficiency standards so that they will be in place for the 2011 model year. The Bush administration was supposed to implement the rules, mandated by a 2007 law, but left the issue to Obama.

EPA staff has already told Congress that allowing California to regulate greenhouse-gas emissions from vehicles could spur technological innovation not just in California, but across the country. That is because states are free to stick with federal standards or adopt the California standard. Fourteen other states have already adopted the California standard and four more are considering doing so.

The California rules apply to greenhouse-gas emissions, and aren’t fuel- efficiency standards. But California regulators have said that their standard would result in vehicles that average 44 miles per gallon. That compares with a 35 mile-per-gallon standard established by Congress for 2020.

Among the possible new technologies to be developed: electric cars. As part of a broad rule-making on greenhouse-gas emissions last year, the EPA staff said that between 2020 and 2025, vehicle fuel-efficiency standards could be well above the 35-mile-per gallon mandated by Congress, based on technologies such as plug-in hybrid vehicles, which run partly on rechargeable batteries. As if to underscore the point, acting Federal Energy Regulatory Commission Chairman Jon Wellinghoff said Monday that regulators and the automobile industry must integrate electric vehicles into the national power grid.

“If you’re an automobile company, you’d better get on the bandwagon, because if you don’t, you’re going to be left out of the band because there is definitely going to be a move toward electrification worldwide,” Wellinghoff said.

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Environmental News Service, July 29, 2008

The governors of California, Oregon and Washington Tuesday announced the details of their plan to address ocean and coastal management issues such as polluted runoff, oil spills and marine garbage along the West Coast.

The West Coast Governors’ Ocean Action Plan is the result of a 2006 agreement signed by the three governors that established a long-term partnership to tackle obstacles facing the Pacific Ocean and its coastal communities.

The three states will work together on 26 actions. They promised to advocate for stricter ocean going vessel emission standards, prevent the introduction of invasive species, explore the feasibility of offshore alternative ocean energy development, improve ocean research, increase ocean education and prevent and respond to offshore oil spills, among other efforts.

Each action within the plan contains benchmarks and a timeframe for action. The governors have formally committed to report on the status of actions at the end of two years.

“This agreement is another key step in our aggressive efforts to maintain clean water and beaches along our coast,” said Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger of California, speaking with his fellow governors via satellite.

“I believe our commitment to working together and putting this plan into action will help effectively tackle critical issues up and down the West Coast,” he said, “ensuring a healthy ocean environment for current and future generations.”

Governor Ted Kulongoski of Oregon views the effort as another successful regional compact. “Just as we’ve seen with the Western Regional Climate Action Initiative, collaboration on complex natural resource issues leads to improved management, inspires innovation and ensures a healthier environment. Together, we can sustain our marine resources and the communities that depend upon them.”

“While Washington is making significant strides with state initiatives such as the Puget Sound Partnership, the crisis facing salmon this year is an example of why we must address these issues together as a region,” said Governor Christine Gregoire of Washington. “Our waters know no boundaries.”

“This plan commits us to combining our resources and ideas, and prioritizes restoring and maintaining the health of our marine and coastal waters to ensure a sustainable future,” she said.

California, Oregon and Washington have worked closely with key federal agencies as well as ocean users, academic institutions, the public, tribes, and other state and regional entities to develop the plan and will continue to collaborate with these groups to accomplish the tasks identified in the plan.

The three governors sent a joint letter to Congress asking for $5 million in federal support for implementation of the action plan. Congress has provided funding and support for similar regional ocean initiatives, such as the Gulf of Mexico Alliance.

To support the states’ agreement, a Federal Working Group, co-led by the U.S. Department of Interior, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, has been established and will work with the states in implementing the actions.

The action plan commits the three states to collaborate with each other and federal partners on seven priority areas related to ocean protection:

  • Ensuring clean coastal waters and beaches;
  • Protecting and restoring healthy ocean and coastal habitats;
  • Promoting the effective implementation of ecosystem-based management of our ocean and coastal resources;
  • Reducing adverse impacts of offshore development;
  • Increasing ocean awareness and literacy among our citizens;
  • Expanding ocean and coastal scientific information, research and monitoring; and
  • Fostering sustainable economic development throughout our diverse coastal communities.

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DAVID A. FAHRENTHOLD & MEG SMITH, The Washington Post, July 19, 2008

Someplace else, people might tell you that human life is priceless. In Washington, the federal government has appraised it like a ’96 Camaro with bad brakes.

Last week, it was revealed that an Environmental Protection Agency office had lowered its official estimate of life’s value, from about $8.04 million to about $7.22 million. That decision has put a spotlight on the concept of the “Value of a Statistical Life,” in which the Washington bureaucracy takes on a question usually left to preachers and poets.

This value is routinely calculated by several agencies, each putting its own dollar figure on the worth of life – not any particular person’s life, just that of a generic American. The figure is then used to judge whether potentially lifesaving policy measures are really worth the cost.

A human life, based on an economic analysis grounded in observations of everyday Americans, typically turns out to be worth $5 million to $8 million – about as much as a mega-mansion or a middle infielder.

Now, for the first time, the EPA has used this little-known process to devalue life, something that environmentalists say could set a scary precedent, making it seem that lifesaving pollution reductions are not worth the cost.

“By reducing the value of human life, which is really a devious way of cooking the books, the perceived benefits of cleaning up the air seem less,” said Frank O’Donnell of the District-based group Clean Air Watch. “That has the effect of weakening the case for pollution cleanup.”

To grasp the mind-bending concept of a Blue Book value on life, government officials say it is important to remember that they are not thinking about anyone specifi c. That happens in lawsuits, when plaintiffs seek to be compensated for a life lost – and there, it can involve personal factors such as the deceased’s lost income.

Here, officials say, they are trying instead to come up with the value of a typical life, without any personal information attached.

They might know, for instance, that a new cut in air pollution will save 50 lives a year – though they don’t know who those people might be. Still they want to decide whether saving them is worth the cost, officials say, and it helps to assign a dollar value to each life saved.

An example of this kind of analysis was used by the federal Consumer Product Safety Commission this year:

A proposal to make mattresses less flammable was expected to cost the industry $343 million to implement. But, a spokeswoman said, the move was also expected to save 270 people. The commission calculated that each life was worth $5 million, which meant a benefit of about $1.3 billion.

That was greater than the expense, she said, so the move made sense.

“It is, sometimes, a weird idea” to weigh lives against other costs, acknowledged Jack Wells, chief economist for the U.S. Department of Transportation. “But, if you think about it, people behave that way all the time. . . . We could eliminate a lot of the [highway] fatalities by imposing a 10-mile-per-hour speed limit.” But, he said, society implicitly tolerates greater highway deaths in return for the economic benefits of faster travel.

But how do you put a dollar value on a life, even in a generic sense?

It wouldn’t work for researchers to survey Americans at gunpoint and ask how much they would pay not to die. Instead, an unlikely academic field has grown up to extrapolate life’s value from the everyday decisions of average Americans.

Researchers try to figure out how much money it takes for people to accept slightly bigger risks, such as a more dangerous job. They also look at how much people will pay to make their daily risks smaller – such as buying a bike helmet or a safer car.

“How much are you willing to pay for a small reduction . . . in the probability that you will die?” asked Joe Aldy, a fellow at the D.C.-based think tank Resources for the Future.

The rest is more or less multiplication: If someone will accept a 1-in-10,000 chance of death for $500, then the value of life must be 10,000 times $500, or $5 million.

But it is one thing to calculate the numbers and another to explain them to the public. The EPA has been fighting that battle since last week, when the Associated Press revealed that the agency’s air office had reduced its Value of a Statistical Life.

Al McGartland, the director of the agency’s National Center for Environmental Economics, said the air office had revised the old figure in 2004 after new academic research showed it was skewed too high.

“It’s based on better methods,” McGartland said of the air office’s assessment. He said the new number would increase over time, in part because of inflation.

The EPA’s value for life remains one of the highest. Earlier this year, the Department of Transportation raised its value – but even after the increase, it stood at $5.8 million, more than a million dollars less than the EPA’s.

Still, environmental activists said the decision made it more likely that the EPA’s regulations would allow greater air pollution, because deaths triggered by the pollution would seem to count for less. Experts say serious air pollution can make heart and lung conditions worse, sometimes resulting in death.

One of the researchers whom the EPA cited said he was puzzled at the agency’s calculations on the value of a human life.

“Nobody’s ever lowered it,” said W. Kip Viscusi of Vanderbilt University. EPA came closest: In 2003, it tried to count senior citizens’ lives as worth less than those of other adults. After a loud outcry from seniors, the agency backed off.

Viscusi said most researchers believe the value should generally be going up, as Americans have become wealthier and more willing to spend money to avoid risks.

“I personally wasn’t in favor of lowering the value of life, let’s put it that way,” he said.

Lowering the value of life. In some bureaucratic corners of Washington, it is the kind of phrase that nobody blinks at anymore.

But it still can sound odd to those accustomed to thinking of life’s worth in other ways.

Daniel Zemel, rabbi at Temple Micah on Wisconsin Avenue NW, said Wednesday that the idea of a dollar value on life brings to mind the teaching that “you put one human life on the scale, and you put the rest of the world on the scale, the scale is balanced equally.”

Zemel said h e could understand officials’ logic for making decisions this way. But he said he would counsel anybody whose job involved “Statistical Lives” to think about what they really represent.

“Numbers on a piece of paper are, at the end of the day, somewhere out there,” Zemel said, “real people whose lives are being impacted.”

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