The Environmental Agenda of a Second-Term Obama Administration

Yeah, we don't know what it is either. We suspect not even Lisa Jackson knows. But of course, that doesn't keep the chattering class from speculating about what will or won't happen in the next four years on the energy and environment front. So without further ado….

Here's a pretty banal piece from the Hearst Chain that includes the premise the president is free "to approve natural gas exports and the controversial Keystone XL pipeline without fear of alienating environmentalists he needed at the ballot box."

Ah, but here's a piece from USA Today that quotes heavily from Romney supporters in industry to suggest the president will reject the pipeline and propose a slew of anti-oil and gas regulations.

Then there's this much longer and better Bloomberg piece that actually focuses on EPA rules already in the, er, pipeline, such as new lower Particulate Matter ambient air standards, the possibility of the lower ozone standard Jackson was originally going to propose before she got mugged by the White House re-election campaign, and new greenhouse gases limits for power plants.

It also mentions the possibility – brought up by industry lobbyist and Dallas native Scott Segal, no less  – of a carbon tax as part of a solution to the "fiscal cliff" now getting so much post-election coverage, and talks about whether Lisa Jackson is staying or going. 

Liberal thinktankers at Think Progress just posted this article advocating the "Five Essential" environmental rules that should be the focus of Obama's second term.

Finally, not mentioned in any article so far, but on the minds of kilnheads across the country, is the fate of the inane proposed revisions in cement plant emissions rules that were the subject of an August EPA national hearing at the Arlington City Hall that many of you attended. A final decision on those is due by December.

As His Replacement is Announced, Dr. Al Speaks Out in Austin

Maybe the EPA knew their former Region 6 Administrator Al Armendariz would be doing a one-on-one interview with the New-York Times-connected Texas Tribune as part of its annual festival on Saturday, or maybe it's just coincidence that the Agency named Armendariz's replacement very late Friday evening.

Whatever behind-the-scenes coordination did or did not take place, the appointment of New Mexico's Ron Curry as the new Region 6 chief gave Armendariz a slightly more removed historical perspective, and maybe willingness to talk, than he might have had otherwise.

Here's a live blogging of the interview that the Tribune's Evan Grant did with Armendariz from the Tribune festival itself in the middle of a forum on energy and the environment (11 am to 12 noon). Elizabeth Souder's recap for the Dallas Morning News is behind the paper's paywall, but here's a peak:

Former EPA regional admin Armendariz said anti-EPA court cases delay the inevitable

AUSTIN — Recent court cases striking down Environmental Protection Agency rules are just delaying the inevitable, said former regional EPA administrator Al Armendariz, who quit after a video surfaced showing him comparing his approach to Roman crucifixion.

Armendariz, who resigned as Region 6 administrator earlier this year and now works on an anti-coal campaign with the Sierra Club, said the agency will just re-write and re-apply the cross-state air pollution rule on coal plant emissions and its rejection of Texas’ flexible air permit rules. Some conservative Texas politicians regarded court decisions knocking down those rules as major victories.

Further, Armendariz said, the court decisions don’t show that the EPA was wrong. No, he said, the decisions show that the courts are wrong.

“They point out to me the importance of getting the President to appoint justices on the federal judiciary that will follow the law,” Armendariz said at a conference held by the Texas Tribune.

“I’m confident those actions, as written, were written completely in compliance with the law, and when those rules are revised that the agency is going to win any future litigation,” he said.

Armendariz defended his former employer and praised his successor at the Saturday appearance. He said the EPA and the White House have been working to implement the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act, laws passed by Congress decades ago but never fully applied.

He criticized Texas environmental regulators who enable polluters, and called on energy regulators and lawmakers to create a plan to meet the state’s electricity needs with renewables.

Armendariz resigned in April after criticism over his comments in a video. In the video, he makes an analogy about his philosophy of enforcement. He said: “It was kind of like how the Romans used to conquer little villages in the Mediterranean. They’d go into a little Turkish town somewhere, they’d find the first five guys they saw and they’d crucify them. And then, you know, that town was really easy to manage for the next few years.

“And so you make examples out of people who are in this case not compliant with the law. Find people who are not compliant with the law, and you hit them as hard as you can and you make examples out of them, and there is a deterrent effect there.”

Arendariz on Saturday said he had apologized because his analogy offended people, which wasn’t his intent. But he didn’t back off the idea of deterring illegal polluting by punishing lawbreakers.

“I do stand behind the concept of my comments,” he said. “When you find someone who is violating the law, you do, within the boundaries of the law, vigorously prosecute.”

He said doing so ensures that illegal polluters don’t gain an unfair advantage over companies following the rules.

Texas Tribune chief executive Evan Smith said some people regarded the video as confirmation that Armendariz had it in for the energy industry.

Armendariz said such criticism was unfair, since in the video, he says his enforcement philosophy is for companies breaking the law.

Nor did he act alone by going after polluters. He said EPA administrator Lisa Jackson and her Washington staff had been “very involved with what we were doing in Texas.”

But he said leadership at the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, the state regulatory arm of the EPA, is lax.

“There are some fantastic staff at TCEQ, and I think they’ve got poor leadership. I think the Governor’s appointees at that commission are preventing the staff from doing its job,” he said.

TCEQ chairman Bryan Shaw has criticized the EPA’s recent rules that would tighten regulations on coal plant pollution and greenhouse gas emissions.

And he praised his successor at the EPA, Ron Curry, the first non-Texan to lead the region that covers Texas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Louisiana. The president announced the appointment last week.

“Ron is pragmatic, he’s very smart. He understands the need for conservation and the need for economic development,” Armendariz said.

Armendariz also said people who don’t believe in climate change are doomed to become irrelevant, just as doctors who don’t believe smoking causes cancer.

“I think the science of climate change is really irrefutable and those folks who are continuing to deny that climate change is a problem are really on the wrong side of history,” he said.

Now, Armendariz leads the Sierra Club’s anti-coal campaign, which aims to keep coal in the ground. He said so-called clean coal plants, which pollute less than traditional coal plants and capture greenhouse gases, are too expensive to justify coal mining. 

“Clean coal I think is technically feasible, but I think it’s completely unnecessary,” he said.

He conceded the country will continue to use coal for the next decade. But he said coal isn’t necessary to keep the lights on.

The Electric Reliability Council of Texas has said the state is in danger of outages in the next few years because power plant developers haven’t build enough new generation to keep up with growing demand. The prospect of shutting down coal plants because of stiffer environmental regulations has left some regulators nervous about blackouts.

Armendariz said the reliability problem is due to a “complete lack of leadership and forethought.” He called on regulators and lawmakers to solve the problem with long-term planning and a vision centered on renewables, such as wind and solar.

1, 2, 3 Many Dr Als

What made it possible for someone like Dr. Armendariz to become a Regional Administrator? Years of experience as an environmental engineer? Check. Desire? Check. But also opportunity. Before Downwinders selected him to be our scientist to help enforce the Holcim Cement settlement, he’d never done work for a grassroots group in DFW. He was a blank slate. We were considering other, better-known, more traditionally citizen-friendly candidates in other parts of the country but two factors influenced us greatly. We wanted someone local who could respond quickly in case of an accident or “upset” at the Holcim plant. And we wanted to develop local scientific expertise. We wanted to grow our own. And boy did we. As if some dormant civic DNA had been activated, Dr. Al took to his new public policy-making role like a Polisci major. He outgrew us quickly and became the air pollution expert of choice for a wide variety of groups. All of that work led to him becoming a logical consensus choice for Regional Administrator among the Texas environmental community. And whatever role he assume now, he’ll be a formidable force for good for the foreseeable future. But that all begins with a grassroots group with a garage-sale-size budget taking the leap of faith on an unknown local SMU scientist with no history of environmental advocacy. We keep trying to develop and deploy local expertise as much as we can. Last year, we persuaded UTA Prof. Melanie Sattler to write the first report of its kind detailing how much more profit gas operators could make in the DFW area by installing off-the-shelf air pollution control equipment. What we and other grassroots groups need are more opportunities to be able to pay and cultivate this expertise. Only the fact that Holcim was covering Dr. Armendriz’s tab as part of the settlement agreement with Downwinders allowed us to hire him in the first place. We have to find ways to institutionalize this kind of intellectual agricultural locally. Groups have to seek local expertise out. Funding sources must allow for it in their grants. Not every story will turn out to be as dramatically successful as Dr. Armendariz’s, but we won’t be able to repeat his success unless we’re out there trying.