A cleaner-burning diesel fuel is now available at many more gas stations around the US. Chuck Quirmbach reports:
A cleaner-burning diesel fuel is now available at many more gas stations around the US. Chuck Quirmbach reports:
The fuel has much less sulfur than conventional diesel. The US Environmental Protection Agency says as more trucks, buses, and cars with diesel engines switch to the low sulfur fuel, there should be major improvements in air quality. The fuel is expected to cost a few cents more per gallon, and some truckers predict slightly reduce engine performance. But independent trucker Odell Hawkins of Chicago says he hopes the environment will benefit.
“I’m sure they know what they’re doing to try and take a lot of the emissions out of the air.”
Come January, heavy duty trucks will have to meet tougher pollution limits. Some vehicle manufacturers are making a new generation of diesel engines to help achieve that goal and take advantage of the low sulfur diesel fuel.
Environmental and health groups from around the country are criticizing the Environmental Protection Agency for its new air quality rules. Dustin Dwyer has more:
Environmental and health groups from around the country are criticizing the
Environmental Protection Agency for its new air quality rules. Dustin Dwyer has more:
The new standard for short-term exposure to particulate matter, or soot, has been cut in
half. The standard on long-term exposure was left unchanged. EPA administrator
Stephen Johnson says it’s the most health-protective standard in the nation’s history:
“These are significant, significant steps to improve the quality of our air.”
Environmental groups, including the Sierra Club have criticized the new rules, and Paul
Billings of the American Lung Association also says the new soot standards do not go far
“They quite simply fail to protect public health.”
Huge areas of the country already failed to meet the previous standards on soot. Now,
another 32 counties are out of compliance. It’s up to the states to force smokestack
industries to reduce soot pollution within the next 10 years.
Many American manufacturing companies are trying to break into the Chinese market. With about a billion people, the idea of selling goods in China is an attractive one, but the GLRC’s Christina Shockley has the story of one company that’s having a hard time reaching Chinese citizens. That’s because local environment and safety regulations often stand in the way:
Many American manufacturing companies are trying to break into the Chinese market.
With about a billion people, the idea of selling goods in China is an attractive one, but
the GLRC’s Christina Shockley has the story of one company that’s having a hard time reaching
Chinese citizens. That’s because local environment and safety regulations often stand in the way:
Motorcycle maker Harley-Davidson opened a dealership in Beijing in April. It’s the
company’s first shop in China in at least 60 years.
Robert Kennedy is Executive Director of the William Davidson Institute at the University
of Michigan. The institute studies business and policy issues in emerging markets.
Kennedy says there’s a huge demand in countries like China for products associated with
the American way of life. He says Harley-Davidson motorcycles are a prime example:
“I mean, they’re associated with a particular lifestyle here, it’s a very American thing.
And they have very low penetration in China and India, and these other countries now,
but because there’s slowed demand growth in the US, if they want to grow, that’s a great
place for them to go.”
Kennedy says it’s very common for companies to try to ease restrictions in other
countries to make it easier for them to export goods and there are several restrictions on
motorcycles in China. The rules vary from community to community, but most large
cities ban, or severely limit, motorcycle use in the city center.
Experts say the rules are in place partly because of safety and environmental issues.
Barrett McCormick specializes in Chinese politics at Marquette University. He says
environmental problems can be intensified because Chinese roads are clogged, and most
motorcycles there are dirty:
“Anyone who’s been to China 10 years ago or something, a common site is some horrible
little motorcycle putting down the road, with a big cloud of smoke behind it, and I think that’s
the kind of thing that the Chinese government has regulated to eliminate.”
McCormick says air quality is one of China’s most pressing problems. A recent report
from the World Health Organization says many of the most polluted cities in the world
are in China. It says one of the main sources of air pollution there is motor vehicles
Zhixin Wu is with a company that’s working with government agencies to develop
Chinese transportation policies. He says emissions from dirty, small motorcycles in
china account for roughly 50 or 60 percent of emissions in urban areas:
“In China almost all the motorcycles use the two stroke internal combustion engine.”
Wu says that type of small engine is very dirty. But, Harley-Davidson says those bikes
are a far cry from the motorcycles it produces:
“The motorcycles in use in China, I guess I wouldn’t even characterize them as
motorcycles. I would call them two-wheelers.”
Tim Hoelter is the company’s Vice President for International Affairs. He says Harley
bikes easily meet environmental regulations in every market in which they’re sold. And
Hoelter says the company is working with officials in the United States and China to get
this point across:
“Not too long ago the Chinese ambassador to the United States came to Milwaukee and
met with local business people. I sat two seats away from him at dinner, and was able to
talk to him about these riding bans.”
Hoelter says the company is also meeting with American trade officials, and authorities
in the Chinese government, to get the rules changed. He says his company has already
helped ease motorcycle restrictions in other countries, such as Vietnam and India.
Robert Kennedy, from the William Davidson Institute, says Harley-Davidson will
probably be able to get the rules changed in a few years, assuming the regulations have
the inadvertent affect of keeping out Harley motorcycles. He says China has a huge trade
surplus with the United States, and that’s a sensitive political issue.
Kennedy says it’s not unusual for countries to have rules that keep foreign goods out,
even if that’s not their intent:
“The US has some of these regulations that keep out other countries products, and other
countries have regulations that keep out our products. It’s not like under the Romans or
the British where a country would send in the army and force them to buy our goods, it’s
just governments working together to sort out the details to allow trade to happen.
Kennedy says even though most Chinese wouldn’t be able to afford Harley motorcycles,
there are many who could, and as people there become more wealthy, the possibility
exists for a huge market.
A lot of studies have linked air pollution with heart and lung problems. A new study suggests your diet can worsen air pollution’s effects on you. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Michael Leland has more:
A lot of studies have linked air pollution with heart and lung
problems. A new study suggests your diet can worsen air pollution’s
effects on you. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Michael Leland
Every time you inhale, you’re breathing in tiny particles from dust, soot
and smoke. They can increase both the plaque buildup in your arteries,
and the risk of a heart attack or stroke.
Now, a study led by Dr. Lung Chi Chen at New York University’s
School of Medicine says a high fat diet combined with bad air led to a
faster buildup of plaque in the arteries of mice. He says that’s because
air pollution affects lipids – fats – in the blood. It changes their
characteristics, or oxidizes them, which leads to more plaque on artery
“If the mice are fed with high-fat, then the level of the oxidized
lipid will be higher, because they have more lipid in their blood.”
Dr. Chen says arteries of mice on a high-fat diet and breathing dirty air
were 42-percent blocked. Mice breathing clean air had arteries that were
He hopes the study not only encourages people to eat better, but also
persuades the government to toughen air quality standards.
A new report publishes how dirty the dirtiest power plants are and where they're located. (Photo courtesy of USGS)
According to a new report by an environmental advocacy group, some of the nation’s “dirtiest” power plants can be found right here in the Great Lakes region. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Steve Carmody has more:
According to a new report by an environmental advocacy group, some of the
nation’s “dirtiest” power plants can be found right here in the Great Lakes region. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Steve
Carmody has more:
Using EPA data from 2004, the Environmental Integrity Project has compiled
its list of the “50 Dirtiest Power Plants” in the U.S. Plants in the region rank high on the list, which compares the plants’ toxic emissions to their electricity output.
The Environmental Integrity Project’s Elain Levine says the result is
unhealthy amounts of mercury in fish and poor air quality in the region.
“All these harms coming out of these power plants are avoidable. Modern pollution controls are available and affordable and are being used today at many plants to significantly reduce these emissions.”
But Dan Reedinger of the Edison Electric Institute, an industry group, says
the EIP report is misleading… insisting plant operators are already
installing scrubbers to reduce toxic emissions at the power plants cited in
The EPA has a new agreement with animal farmers who participate in a study of air quality and its relation to animal waste, which is often kept in lagoons like the one above. However, environmentalists worry about the agreement and what it may entail. (Photo courtesy of the Natural Resources Conservation Service)
Environmentalists don’t like a new agreement between the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the livestock industry. It will give some livestock farms limited immunity from environmental laws while the EPA measures pollution on their farms. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Tamara Keith reports:
Environmentalists don’t like a new agreement between the U.S. Environmental
Protection Agency and the livestock industry. It will give some livestock
farms limited immunity from environmental laws while the EPA measures
pollution on their farms. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Tamara Keith reports:
Animals at so called “factory farms” produce a lot of manure. As it
decomposes it lets off a cocktail of gasses, which can contribute to smog,
and health problems, such as asthma. But, federal regulators say they don’t
have an accurate way of estimating emissions from these farms.
Under a new EPA agreement, some livestock operations will work with federal
regulators to monitor emissions. The farms allow air quality monitoring, and
in exchange, the EPA will agree not to sue them for environmental violations
during the 2 year program. That’s where the problem arises, says Andrew
Hanson, with Midwest Environmental Advocates.
“The way government is supposed to work is that it’s supposed to
protect you from air pollution, not enter into deals that allow facilities
to continue to pollute without threat of enforcement.”
The Environmental Protection Agency will accept public comment on the
agreement, until March 2nd.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Tamara Keith.
A new study indicates that air pollution dropped significantly the day after last year’s power blackout in the Northeast and upper Midwest. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham reports:
A new study indicates that air pollution dropped significantly the day after last year’s
power blackout in the Northeast and upper Midwest. The Great Lakes Radio
Consortium’s Lester Graham reports:
Researchers at the University of Maryland took air samples during the blackout last
August. They found air pollution was dramatically reduced downwind of the blackout
area. They say the better air quality was at least in part due to more than 100 coal-
burning power plants shutting down.
Scott Segal is with the Electric Reliability Coordinating Council, an electric utilities
industry group. He suggests power plants were only part of the reason.
“Not only do power plants go off line. Typically, people don’t go to work, which means
that automobile traffic is depressed. In addition, there are 20 industrial sectors that are
non-utilities that utilize coal-fired capacity or other fossil fuels that are sources of sulfur
dioxide and those are all taken off line in the event of a blackout.”
But the researchers maintain the study shows power plants play a dominant role in haze
and ozone pollution.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, this is Lester Graham.
Researchers are looking at ethanol from corn as an environmentally-friendly way to power fuel cells. However, some studies show corn-based ethanol takes more energy to produce than the fuel provides. (Photo by Lester Graham)
Researchers are looking at ways to use corn-based ethanol as a way to power hydrogen fuel cells. It would appear to be an environmentally friendly way to get into the hydrogen fuel economy. However, ethanol might not be as environmentally friendly as its proponents claim. Backed by the farm lobby and ag industries such as Archer Daniels Midland, ethanol has plenty of political support. But some researchers say corn-based ethanol is a boondoggle. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Mary Stucky reports:
Researchers are looking at ways to use corn-based ethanol as a way to power hydrogen fuel cells.
It would appear to be an environmentally friendly way to get into the hydrogen fuel economy.
However, ethanol might not be as environmentally friendly as its proponents claim. Back by the
farm lobby and ag industry such as Archer Daniels Midland, ethanol has plenty of political
support. But some researchers say corn-based ethanol is a boondoggle. The Great Lakes Radio
Consortium’s Mary Stucky reports…
This reactor is in a laboratory at the University of Minnesota ticking as it converts ethanol into
hydrogen. Researchers here envision thousands of these inexpensive reactors in communities
across America using ethanol to create hydrogen, which would then be used in fuel cells to
Lanny Schmidt, a Professor of Chemical Engineering, directs the team that created the reactor.
“We’re not claiming our process is the cure-all for the energy crisis or anything like that. But it’s
a potential step along the way. It makes a suggestion of a possible way to go.”
Hydrogen is usually extracted from fossil fuels in dirtier and more costly refineries.
Schmidt says it’s much better to make hydrogen from ethanol.
“It right now looks like probably the most promising liquid non-toxic energy carrier we can think
of if you want renewable fuels.”
Not so fast, says David Pimentel, an agricultural scientist at Cornell University. For years,
Pimentel has warned about what he calls the cost and efficiency and boondoggle of ethanol.
Pimentel says ethanol is a losing proposition.
“It takes 30-percent more energy, including oil and natural gas, primary those two resources to
produce ethanol. That means importing both oil and natural gas because we do not have a
sufficient amount of either one.”
Pimentel says most research on ethanol fails to account for all the energy needed to make the fuel,
such as energy used to make the tractors and irrigate crops. Adding insult to injury, says
Pimentel, ethanol relies on huge government subsidies going to farmers and agri-business.
“If ethanol is such a great fuel source, why are we subsidizing it with 2-billion dollars annually?
There’s big money, as you well know, and there’s politics involved. And the big money is leaking
some of that 2-billion dollars in subsidies to the politicians and good science, sound science,
cannot compete with big money and politics.”
Pimentel also points to environmental damage of growing corn – soil erosion, water pollution
from nitrogen fertilizer and air pollution associated with facilities that make ethanol. But
Pimentel has his detractors.
David Morris runs the Institute for Local Self Reliance in Minneapolis. Morris is not a scientist,
but he commissioned a study on ethanol. He says Pimentel relies on out-of-date figures and fails
to account for the fact that ethanol production is getting more efficient.
Morris’ findings – a gallon of ethanol contains more than twice the energy needed to produce it.
As for subsidies…
“There’s no doubt that if we did not provide a subsidy for ethanol it would not be competitive
with gasoline. But what we need to understand is that we also subsidize gasoline, and if you took
the percentage of the Pentagon budget, which is spent directly on maintaining access to Middle-
Eastern oil, and impose that at the pump, it would add 25- to 50-cents a gallon. At that point,
ethanol is competitive, under the assumption that you will not need a large military budget to
protect our access to Iowa corn.”
But more efficient than making ethanol from corn might be grass, or even weeds. David Morris
says that’s because you don’t have fertilize or irrigate those kinds of plants, the way you do corn.
“So if we’re talking about ethanol as a primary fuel to truly displace gasoline, we have to talk
about a more abundant feedstock. So instead of the corn kernel, it become the corn stock, or it
becomes fast-growing grasses, or it becomes trees, or sawdust or organic garbage. And then
you’re really talking about a carbohydrate economy.”
Pimentel scoffs at that idea.
“You’ve got the grind that material up, and then to release the sugars, you’ve got to use an acid,
and the yield is not as high. In fact, it would be 60-percent more energy using wood or grass
While scientists and policy people debate whether ethanol is efficient or not, Lanny Schmidt and
his team soldier on in the lab undeterred in their efforts to use ethanol for fuel. Schmidt
understands some of Pimentels’s concerns, but he thinks scientists will find an answer, so ethanol
can be used efficiency enough to help power the new hydrogen economy.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Mary Stucky in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
A new report says the federal Clean Air Act has been effective in dealing with some of the most serious air quality problems, but also recommends major changes to the law. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Julie Grant has more:
A new report says the federal Clean Air Act has been effective in dealing with some of the most
serious air quality problems, but also recommends major changes to the law. The Great Lakes
Radio Consortium’s Julie Grant has more:
The National Research Council analysis is one of the most comprehensive studies ever done of
the forty-year old law. Republican Representative Ken Calvert requested the report. His district
outside of Los Angeles has some of the nation’s worst air pollution problems.
Rebecca Rubin is Calvert’s press secretary. She says the congressman is impressed with how
successful the Clean Air Act has been, despite the growing economy and population.
“Because of the Clean Air Act they were still able to improve the air quality. So the argument
that development and more people, more cars contribute is not necessarily always true.”
But some environmental groups see the report as a sharp critique of the Clean Air Act. Among
other things, the report’s authors urge the EPA to better enforce current environmental laws, to
pay attention to air quality in poor communities, and to consider the ecological effects of national
air pollution standards.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Julie Grant.
For the first time, the U.S. government is preparing to regulate mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants. Part of the administration’s proposal is to use a market-based approach, called “cap-and-trade.” People in the energy business say “cap-and-trade” programs are proven tools to protect the environment at a lower cost. But some critics say a pollutant as toxic as mercury should have a more traditional and tougher regulatory program. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Erin Toner reports:
For the first time, the U.S. government is preparing to regulate mercury emissions from coal-fired
power plants. Part of the administration’s proposal is to use a market-based approach, called “cap-
and-trade.” People in the energy business say “cap-and-trade” programs are proven tools to protect
the environment at a lower cost. But some critics say a pollutant as toxic as mercury should have a
more traditional and tougher regulatory program. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Erin Toner
Thirty-four years ago, the nation saw its first fish consumption advisory. The state of Michigan
warned people not to eat too much fish from Lake St. Clair, which sits between lakes Huron and
Erie, not too far from Detroit. Michigan environmental officials discovered high levels of mercury
in many kinds of fish. Dow Chemical was dumping 200 to a thousand pounds of mercury a day
through a pipe straight into the St. Clair River.
John Hesse worked for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources back them. Hesse and his
colleagues found that people who ate fish from the lake twice a week or more had unsafe levels of
mercury in their system.
Hesse says in the U.S., the biggest mercury danger is to unborn babies whose mothers eat
“In children exposed at an early stage, they have a slower developmental pattern, onset of
walking might be affected, learning disabilities. It might be very subtle, but still affecting the
The government has stopped a lot of that kind of pollution. But, mercury is still a big problem.
Today, coal-fired power plants are the largest source of mercury pollution. The Bush
administration is calling for a cap-and-trade program to regulate mercury emissions.
Here’s how cap-and-trade works. The “cap” part sets national goals for reducing pollution and it
doles out pollution credits to each power plant based on those goals.
The “trade” part of cap-and-trade lets industries buy, sell or bank pollution credits to stay under
federal limits. It’s a lot like trading commodities in the markets. For example, a company that
pollutes over the limit can buy credits from companies that pollute less. Every plant might not
become cleaner, but nationwide mercury pollution would still be reduced.
Such a program’s been in place since 1990 for sulfur dioxide, a main component of acid rain.
Ohio-based American Electric Power is the biggest player in the sulfur dioxide trading game. The
company’s Dale Heydlauff says emissions trading is good for industry and for the environment.
“There was actually an incentive for utilities to, very early in the program, overcomply –
reduce emissions more than the law required, bank those allowances or those credits and
then trade them either with other facilities within your own company, or with external
parties whose cost of control is higher.”
In fact, sulfur dioxide emissions trading has saved American Electric Power 20- to 30-percent of
what it would cost to retro-fit all of its plants.
Heydlauff and others in the energy business say the EPA’s cap-and-trade plan is the right way to
deal with mercury, too. They say it’s better than traditional programs that demand expensive
upgrades on every plant. Heydlauff says there’s no proven technology to reduce mercury
emissions that will work everywhere.
“So what the trading system does for mercury, is it allows us to innovate. It allows us to
achieve the environmental requirement at a lower cost, but also through a variety of
There’s one major difference between a cap-and-trade program for sulfur dioxide and mercury –
mercury is toxic to people. Environmentalists and people who’ve studied mercury say there’s more
at stake here than just economic costs.
David Gard is with the Michigan Environmental Council. He says there is technology available
today to cut mercury emissions. Gard says municipal and medical waste incinerators have used it
to cut mercury pollution by 90 percent. But Gard says power companies won’t embrace that
because installing the equipment would cost more money. Gard calls the Bush administration’s less
restrictive cap-and-trade programs a gift to the energy industry.
“The percentage reductions that they’re proposing are well below what we know available
technology and near-term technology can deliver. And also, for one of their proposals, it
would delay reductions by almost a full decade, out to 2018, when really, we should be
expecting major reductions from these sources by 2010.”
Gard also worries that a cap-and-trade program could worsen mercury hot spots – places where
contamination is more concentrated. He says under cap-and-trade, companies could pick and
choose which plants in their system to upgrade. Gard says that could leave some communities with
dirty air and big health concerns.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Erin Toner.