Posts Tagged ‘EPA’

Today I am delighted to publish a guest post on asbestos and human health, and their links to the environment. The post is by James O’Shea, content editor of; James K. Bashkin (Site Publisher and Editor; the guest post is the opinion of its author).

January 22, 2009: For more discussion of this topic, please see the comments here and the version of this article, with discussion, that was re-published by me on

January 1, 2009: Today I am somewhat less delighted to point out the comment made by Dennis of, who provided the link This blog, written by Dennis, documents some strange behaviors associated with the sponsors of the center that offered this guest report. While I was fully aware that they were sponsored by a law firm, I was not aware of some apparently predatory practices that Dennis has uncovered. I have removed the live links in this article except the one that I supplied to the literature citation, but you can still get to the site if you want to by typing the url of the center,, into your browser. Meanwhile, I have added to my blogroll. Thanks, Dennis!

The processing of fossil fuels has a long trail of consequences, with some being more obvious than others. There are essentially two tiers of negative ramifications to backwards energy policies. The first of these are the direct environmental consequences of the burning of fossil, which has been well documented in recent years with the recent interest in the effects of global warming. However, the second tier are the human health effects associated with the burning of fossil fuels.

(Revised Editor’s note: this paragraph has been removed.  Some comments refer to the missing text).

Then there are the more indirect costs, and specifically those which are associated with the industry itself. Working conditions in the fossil fuel industry are among the most hazardous of any occupation. One of the hazards workers will encounter is asbestos, which has been classified by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Consumer Product Safety Commission as a known carcinogen. And even though asbestos was banned by the CPSC in the late 1970’s, older asbestos fixtures still exist within nearly all facets of the fossil fuel infrastructure. These older and sometimes damaged fixtures pose and even greater hazard to human health.

When microscopic asbestos fibers are inhaled, they lodge themselves in the lining of lungs. This lays the groundwork for the deadly asbestos cancer, mesothelioma. Perhaps it should come as no coincidence then that rates of pleural cancer (mesothelioma) in oil refinery workers are among the highest of any occupation.

What we begin to see then, is that there are effects of ozone depletion and fossil fuel use and processing, that are detrimental not only to the planet, but also to human health. When the world opens its eyes to the crisis we’re supporting, we’ll not only have sustained the future for our children, but also saved lives.


Environmental Protection Agency

Occupational Medicine 2007 (an Oxford Journal), Mortality of UK Oil Refinery Workers and Petroleum Distribution Workers 1951-2003, by Tom Sorahan, Institute of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, University of Birmingham.

The environment is once again under attack by the US government, this time in a foolish and futile gesture to appease voters who are justifiably angry about high gas prices. In a move destined to have no effect whatsoever on gasoline prices in the near term, and possibly ever, President Bush just lifted the Executive ban on offshore drilling. This ban was actually imposed by the Presidents’s father. A story from Reuters (via Yahoo!News) by Jeremy Pelofsky and Tom Doggett describes the President’s action as

a largely symbolic move unlikely to have any short-term impact on high gasoline costs.

Of course, off-shore drilling isn’t the only forbidden activity that President Bush has just approved- he also approved drilling of 4400 wells in Wyoming and related energy mining activities on Federal land formerly protected by a large number of environmental regulations. In “Heedless Rush to Oil Shale” by Democratic Senator Ken Salazar of Colorado writes in the Washington Post:

Bush and his fellow oil shale boosters claim that if only Western communities would stand aside, energy companies could begin extracting more than 500 billion barrels of recoverable oil from domestic shale deposits. If only the federal government immediately offered even more public lands for development, the technology to extract oil from rock would suddenly ripen, oil supplies would rise and gas prices would fall.

If only.

Since the 19th century, we in the West have been trying to extract oil from the vast oil shale riches that lie under our feet. It is no easy task, and past efforts have failed miserably. Commercial oil shale development would require not only immense financial investments but also an undetermined quantity of (scarce) water from the Colorado River basin and the construction of several multibillion-dollar power plants.

Sometimes it seems that we are getting close to overcoming these barriers. But each time we near a boom, we bust. The last bust, the infamous “Black Sunday” of 1982, left Western communities holding the bill long after the speculators, Beltway boosters and energy companies had taken off.

Senator Salazar goes on to add:

The governors of Wyoming and Colorado, communities and editorial boards across the West agree that the administration’s headlong rush is a terrible idea. Even energy companies, including Chevron, have said we need to proceed more cautiously on oil shale. With more than 30,000 acres of public land at their disposal to conduct research, development and demonstration projects (in addition to 200,000 undeveloped acres of private oil shale lands they own in Colorado and Utah), they already have more land than they can develop in the foreseeable future.

So why is the president hurrying to sell leases for commercial oil shale development in the West’s great landscapes? A fire sale will not lower gas prices. It will not accelerate the development of commercial oil shale technologies.

Senator Salazar continues by saying that he supports the idea of developing technology for removing shale oil in a commercially feasible manner, something I would not be in favor of relative to solar and wind power, but he concludes that Federal land is being given away for no logical reason- not even the oil companies are making any promises about if and when shale oil from the Western US will become a viable commodity.

Returning to the subject of off-shore drilling, I think that this policy change will be considerably more than symbolic to the environment, even if it is only symbolic with regard to our national energy crisis. The construction of drilling platforms and the potential for oil spills, ruined beaches and dead fish and birds may well dwarf the wreck of the Exxon Valdez on March 23. 1989. Let’s hope not, but let’s also remember that the Exxon Valdez spill broke many Federal laws and some prosecution resulted (although, as shown below, the Supreme Court recently protected Exxon from significant financial punishment). The President and his corporate friends should be held to strict environmental standards that they haven’t done well in following, historically: if President Bush’s close friends in the oil industry keep up their poor track record of environmental protection and cause serious damage, they should be prosecuted.

In case some of the details of the Exxon Valdez case may need to be reviewed, here are a few worthwhile quotes and links to the original sources. In a case the went to the Supreme court and was resolved in June of 2008, Adam Liptak of The New York Times reported on June 26, 2008 that (note, you may have to sign up for a free registration to set the Times article)

The Supreme Court on Wednesday reduced what had once been a $5 billion punitive damages award against Exxon Mobil to about $500 million. The ruling essentially concluded a legal saga that started when the Exxon Valdez, a supertanker, struck a reef and spilled 11 million gallons of crude oil into the Prince William Sound in Alaska in 1989.


The spilled oil — somewhere between 11 to 38 million gallons (the figure is elusive because as we learned the hard way, the truth was one of the first casualties of the spill) — created a big mess and broke a lot of federal laws. It shouldn’t surprise anyone that Exxon paid $2.5 billion for its cleanup and another $1 billion for penalties. But, it might surprise people who live outside Alaska to learn that taxpayers, not Exxon, paid a majority of that bill. Exxon recouped most of its remaining expense from its insurance companies and from money it paid to settle damages for natural resources — publicly-owned wildlife and lands.

From the State of Alaska and the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council:

The Exxon Valdez spill, though still one of the largest ever in the U.S., has dropped from the top 50 internationally. However, it is widely considered the number one spill worldwide in terms of damage to the environment. The timing of the spill, the remote and spectacular location, the thousands of miles of rugged and wild shoreline, and the abundance of wildlife in the region combined to make it an environmental disaster well beyond the scope of other spills. Much has been accomplished over the years to prevent another Exxon Valdez-type accident. See the Spill Prevention and Response section of this website.

For more information about the environmental impact, case studies, legal history and science of the Exxon Valdez oil spill, this time from NOAA (the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration of the US Department of Commerce), see here.

Getting back to Monday’s decision by President Bush and the Reuters story by Pelofsky and Dogget,

With prices at the pump over $4 a gallon, Bush pushed the Democratic-controlled Congress to expand offshore oil and natural gas drilling and give companies access to the Arctic Wildlife National Refuge despite fierce opposition from environmentalists.


Democratic leaders in Congress and environmentalists immediately condemned the move as having have no short-term impact on soaring oil prices.

Of further note, from Reuters:

Democratic White House hopeful Sen. Barack Obama’s campaign quickly condemned the move. “It would merely prolong the failed energy policies we have seen from Washington for 30 years,” spokesman Bill Burton said.


Republican White House contender Sen. John McCain, who reversed his previous opposition to offshore drilling, told reporters that he thought the decision was a “very important signal” and that “states should continue to decide.”

Meanwhile, Japan, Germany, Spain, China and many other countries are cornering the market on fuel efficient cars, plug-in electric hybrid vehicles, solar power installations, wind power installations, and manufacturing plants required for producing solar panels, while the U.S. is left in the position of having many innovative companies but no significant tax support or other incentives to reduce our dependence on oil.

This latest act of poor judgment by the President is typical of his actions, where he has consistently fought and overturned environmental protections and the White House has ordered officials to ignore science and the environment in favor of big business. Some of these orders have come from Vice President Cheney’s office, though he has been stealthy while interfering with the EPA and other agencies. For a 2007 report on the Vice President’s role in hampering EPA efforts, see the Washington Post article “Leaving no Tracks” by Jo Becker and Barton Gellman:

Law and science seemed to be on the side of the fish. Then the vice president stepped in.

First Cheney looked for a way around the law, aides said. Next he set in motion a process to challenge the science protecting the fish, according to a former Oregon congressman who lobbied for the farmers.

Because of Cheney’s intervention, the government reversed itself and let the water flow in time to save the 2002 growing season, declaring that there was no threat to the fish. What followed was the largest fish kill the West had ever seen, with tens of thousands of salmon rotting on the banks of the Klamath River.

Characteristically, Cheney left no tracks.

It is long overdue for the USA to develop a reasonable and sustainable energy policy that will diminish our dependence of oil, introduce sustainable energy and transportation on a large scale, and do so without damaging or adding threats to our health or environment. It is long overdue to rein in the the current administration’s reign of international policy, environmental, and financial disasters.

Original text copyright © 2008 James K. Bashkin

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As reported by Juliet Eilperin, Washington Post Staff Writer:

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Stephen L. Johnson favored giving California some authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from cars and trucks … before he consulted with the White House and reversed course, congressional investigators said yesterday.

As the article describes:

An extensive congressional investigation into Johnson’s conduct relied on more than 27,000 pages of EPA documents; interviews with top EPA officials served as other sources of information. The results of the investigation were just announced.

According to the agency’s documents and depositions by staff members, EPA officials unanimously endorsed granting California the waiver, and Johnson initially agreed. EPA Associate Deputy Administrator Jason Burnett testified under oath that Johnson “was very interested in a full grant of the waiver’ in August and September of 2007 and later thought a partial grant of the waiver ‘was the best course of action.”

The White House claims it did not influence Johnson’s decision but has ordered Johnson not to answer questions about White House involvement in the process. Seemingly at odds with his refusal to allow California a waiver of the Clean Air Act that would have imposed more stringent emissions standards on cars and trucks, Johnson did admit to reporters that he considers CO2 to be a pollutant.

Groups including the California Air Resources Board and the Natural Defense Resources Council (NRDC) are poised to show courts how tainted Johnson’s decision was, and how it ignored internal EPA science and external scientific advisers. The NRDC and other advocacy groups will submit a brief to the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals in an attempt to overturn the EPA administrator’s decision.

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As reported in the related story here at,

A briefing prepared by the lead staff lawyer for EPA’s General Counsel stated: “After review of the docket and precedent, we don’t believe there are any good arguments against granting the waiver. All of the arguments … are likely to lose in court if we are sued.”

In fact, the EPA staff interviewed by the Committee were unable to identify any agency documents that argued in favor of denial prior to December 19, 2007, the day California’s petition was denied.

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Basel Action Network, named after an agreement on protecting developing countries from toxic waste, criticized 1-800-Got-junk for failing to promise that their free electronic waste recycling program would avoid shipping toxic waste to developing countries.

The story about the Basel Action Network (BAN) vs. 1-800-Got-Junk is supplemented by the following to give a snapshot of where we stand with “good” and “bad” recycling:

  1. Why and how to recycle your electronics
  2. The recycling program that pays you back heads to Europe
  3. Cell Phone Recycling Giant “Pace Butler” will integrate its efforts with environmental groups
  4. Toxic Waste being Dumped in Italy
  5. How to Recycle Plastic- Advice from the EPA
  6. Eight Ways to Green Your Technology
  7. Toxic E-waste Pouring into the Third World
  8. New Biodegradable Plastics could be Tossed into the Sea
  9. Planetsave | China’s Toxic E-Waste Problem Grows Daily

read more about BAN and e-waste | digg story about BAN and E-waste

© James K. Bashkin, 2008

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The EPA should be contributing to public health, sustainability, education on complex environmental concerns, and related issues. I know that its members work hard to do so, but they are often thwarted by management. Bob Grant of The wrote about criticism from Congress over the EPA shutting down or limiting access to important libraries (note, free registration may be necessary to view this and other articles linked to below below that are found on The .

The Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) closure of several of its research libraries is flawed, unjustified and is depriving academics, government employees, and the public of crucial environmental data, according to a Congressional report released yesterday (Mar. 13).

Of the EPA’s 26 libraries, six libraries have changed their hours of operation, and four others have been shut since 2006. These include its Office of Environmental Information headquarters library and the Office of Pollution Prevention and Toxics Chemical library, both in Washington, DC.

The report, issued by the US Government Accountability Office (GAO),…

Since I know EPA staff and scientists who are dedicated to making information available to researchers, State and Local governments, and the public, I can only speculate that these unfortunate plans must come from a combination of EPA’s politically-appointed “leadership” and budget cuts imposed by the will of the Bush White House.

In what may be a closely related story, Christopher Lee of the Washington Post reported that:

Unions at the Environmental Protection Agency have pulled out of a long-standing partnership with management, saying Administrator Stephen L. Johnson has failed to deal in good faith on issues such as scientific integrity and job evaluations.

In a Feb. 29 letter to Johnson, 19 union leaders, who represent 10,000 EPA employees, complained that he and other top managers have ignored the advice of unionized workers and the agency’s own principles of scientific integrity. They cited issues that include fluoride drinking-water standards, a California bid to limit greenhouse gases, and mercury emissions from power plants.

It is important to note what Mr. Lee reports about the scientific integrity agreements between EPA management and employees:

The agency’s scientific-integrity principles, jointly developed by unions and managers during the Clinton administration, call for employees to ensure that their scientific work is of the highest integrity, and to represent it fairly, acknowledge the intellectual contributions of others and avoid financial conflicts.

We see yet more examples of how the Bush White House has weakened the EPA in times of great environmental turmoil, when data and public understanding of data are critically important. At a time when the US needs public trust in the EPA, the actions of political appointees involved with environmental decision-making continue to erode that trust. Specific examples include denial of the requested changes to California automotive CO2 emissions standards, registration of toxic and highly carcinogenic methyl iodide as a fumigant, refusal of the Federal government to obey court orders to uphold the Endangered Species Act and related denial of scientific data that was later overturned by the courts.

From NPR:

The chief of the Environmental Protection Agency has authority to set the air quality standards to protect public health and the environment. But the White House is now interfering with new efforts by EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson.

From the Los Angeles Times:

Ignoring scientists is nothing new for Bush, but in this case he also ignored the U.S. Supreme Court. The EPA wanted to include a tougher secondary standard during growing seasons, designed to protect forests, crops and other plants from ozone, which retards plant growth and depletes soil moisture. Alarmed at the costs this would exact on polluters, the White House Office of Management and Budget sent a letter to EPA Administrator Stephen L. Johnson saying the EPA couldn’t impose such limits without considering their economic effect. This is flatly untrue; a unanimous decision by the Supreme Court in 2001 held that the EPA did not have to consider the costs of its clean-air regulations, only their scientific basis. When the EPA still refused to back down, the White House sent a curt letter saying the agency had been overruled by the president: The secondary standard was out.

© James K. Bashkin, 2008

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Note: a slightly different version of this article was published previously at BlogCritics Magazine under Sci/Tech.

China is suffering from many environmental disasters in its rush to industrialize, but some of its environmental problems are being addressed. Which is leading the race, industrialization or the environment? I provide some examples that contrast environmental practices in China and fully-industrialized nations, including a recent revelation from The Washington Post about the Chinese industrial plants that supply “polysilicon” for solar panels.

I once worked with industry insiders who had visited a Chinese chemical plant. They told a frightening story in which the chemical plant manager acted essentially like a Warlord and clearly made things dangerous for local villagers, especially those who might protest toxic waste dumping or other questionable activities by the plant. It was related to me that jail, or worse, might be the consequence of any protests, and the visit was, in many ways, a disturbing experience for these Western scientists and engineers.

More recent stories in the press, including some discussed on this blog, have continued to add to concerns about China’s environmental practices, even though there are signs that, at least in some cases, official or corporate protection of the environment is improving in China. However, I was also told during a recent interview with noted Chinese author Qiu Xiaolong that some restaurants in China are now claiming to soak live fish and sea food in “clean water” for several days to wash out toxic chemicals. This is not a technique that I would expect to be very successful. In fact, the title of this article is a reference to the powerful novel about Chinese corruption written by Qiu Xiaolong, When Red is Black.

Now there are revelations from reporter Ariana Eunjung Cha and the Washington Post, published March 9th, 2008: found here or at Solar Energy Firms Leave Waste Behind in China (one or both of these links should work). From Ms. Cha, we learn about the Chinese response to the world’s hunger for polysilicon, or polycrystalline silicon, a material used to make most current solar panels* and whose price has risen more than 10-fold in the past five years. The rush to meet market demands has led to many new polysilicon plants being built in China. One such plant, which belongs to Luoyang Zhonggui High-Technology Co. and is “located in the central plains of Henan Province near the Yellow River,” is a focus of the Washington Post article.

The result of all these new polysilicon plants in China, in addition to supplying the growing worldwide need for solar panels, is a set of serious environmental problems, mainly for poor Chinese villagers who populate the rural areas where Chinese chemical plants spring up. These (and other Chinese chemical plants) plants are typically located outside normal tourist routes, and operate outside the law, or outside the stated laws and policies of the Chinese National Government. In fact, in true Warlord fashion, chemical plant managers are often synonymous with local law.

The specific problem with polysilicon manufacture is the byproduct SiCl4 (silicon tetrachloride) which can be recycled and processed safely, as is done by “developed nations.” Silicon tetrachloride is both used and generated in the process of refining silicon to high purity. When simply dumped in the countryside, silicon tetrachloride releases highly-toxic, corrosive hydrochloric acid, and generates a fine powder containing silicon dioxide, the same material that sand is composed of, though the fine nature of the powder allows in to be inhaled or ingested. From the Washington Post article:

“The land where you dump or bury (silicon tetrachloride) will be infertile. No grass or trees will grow in the place. . . . It is like dynamite — it is poisonous, it is polluting. Human beings can never touch it,” said Ren Bingyan, a professor at the School of Material Sciences at Hebei Industrial University.

Because of the environmental hazard, polysilicon companies in the developed world recycle the (silicon tetrachloride), putting it back into the production process. But the high investment costs and time, not to mention the enormous energy consumption required for heating the substance to more than 1800 degrees Fahrenheit for the recycling, have discouraged many factories in China from doing the same.

An independent, nationally accredited laboratory analyzed a sample of dirt from the dump site near the Luoyang Zhonggui plant at the request of The Washington Post. The tests show high concentrations of chlorine and hydrochloric acid, which can result from the breakdown of silicon tetrachloride and do not exist naturally in soil. “Crops cannot grow on this, and it is not suitable for people to live nearby,” said Li Xiaoping, deputy director of the Shanghai Academy of Environmental Sciences.””

Even though initial capital cost of silicon tetrachloride recycling facilities is high the operating costs are also high, I believe that it would be wrong to think that funds aren’t available in China to implement this waste processing technology, it is simply a question of priorities (and greed). In fact, some Chinese are becoming extraordinarily wealthy from polysilicon companies, and the company focused on by the Post‘s article, Louyang Zhonggui, as reported by Ms. Cha,

“is a key supplier to Suntech Power Holdings, a solar panel company whose founder Shi Zhengrong recently topped the list of the richest people in China.”

Nevertheless, the arrogance displayed by Luoyang Zhonggui officials is unfortunately all too familiar to those who follow civil rights or environmentalism in China, or who follow the continuing struggle to introduce tighter environmental controls to the United States over the past 50 years:

“Wang Hailong, secretary of the board of directors for Luoyang Zhonggui, said it is “impossible” to think that the company would dump large amounts of waste into a residential area. “Some of the villagers did not tell the truth,” he said.”

Apparently even the impossible is commonplace in China. Ms. Cha and the Washington Post are to be congratulated for their investigative field work. In fact, the situation is simply terrible:

“Each night, villagers said, the factory’s chimneys released a loud whoosh of acrid air that stung their eyes and made it hard to breath. “It’s poison air. Sometimes it gets so bad you can’t sit outside. You have to close all the doors and windows,” said Qiao Shi Peng, 28, a truck driver who said he worries about his 1-year-old son’s health.

The villagers said most obvious evidence of the pollution is the dumping, up to 10 times a day, of the liquid waste into what was formerly a grassy field. Eventually, the whole area turned white, like snow.”

As I hope I’ve made clear, the disregard for human safety and environmental health exhibited by Luoyang Zhonggui and numerous other Chinese companies is not unique to China. In the US, we’ve seen this attitude from many sources over the years, including mining companies and various energy and chemical producers (please ask if you would like examples, or read my back pages). In Europe, similar problems also are well documented. However, the US Environmental Protection Agency, the European Union, and growing public awareness (dating back to publication of Rachel Carson‘s Silent Spring) have eliminated, remediated and prevented many environmental problems (even if there are still areas that badly need intervention or need the government to enforce its own laws and regulations).

So, should China be allowed to poison its own people and land just the way other countries did during the rise of industrialism? Of course, outsiders have little influence on internal Chinese policies, even with the so-called pressure of the Olympic Games facing China now. However, that doesn’t mean we should ignore the problems. While developed nations still have a great deal of work to do at home, and must remain vigilant in protecting the environment, it is a tragedy for the Chinese people that their country is unwilling to learn much from the industrial history of more-industrialized nations.

In the meantime, there is new solar panel technology that doesn’t require polysilicon, for example “solar paint” developed by Nanosolar and “solar ink” recently described by Konarka. Nanosolar’s solar technology is reportedly more efficient than coal at generating electricity. We can hope that this new technology will continue to make inroads into the marketplace and will drive the construction of greener manufacturing facilities. Given the growing demand for green electricity from solar power, such advances can’t come soon enough.

James K. Bashkin © 2008

*Related links: Lifecycle Assessment of Crystalline Photovoltaics by Niels Jungbluth (note this links to a PDF!); for more background on polysilicon fabrication and related processes, see The Handbook of Silicon Semiconductor Technology, W. C. O’Mara, R. B. Herring, L. P Hunt eds., Pub.: William Andrew, Inc. (Noyes Data Corporation/Noyes Publications), 1990, 795pp, Chapter 2, “Polysilicon Preparation” by L. C. Rogers, p 33ff. Also see Wacker Polysilicon, the History of the Future, available as a 13-page PDF or as a (less readable) web page.

A slightly different version of this article was published earlier today (3/11/08) by the author under a nonexclusive license at BlogCritics Magazine: When Light is Dark: Waste from Key Solar Cell Ingredient Damages Chinese Environment. I am grateful to their editors for help.

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This page (linked to below) describes the numerous problems associated with the highly toxic substance, methyl iodide. Even though EPA and external scientists argued against it, the agency approved methyl iodide for fumigation. This is bizarre and irresponsible behavior, yet again, from the Bush-controlled EPA.

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© James K. Bashkin, 2008

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From the New York Times, by Bloomberg News:

“The Environmental Protection Agency ignored the advice of its employees in rejecting California’s request to set rules on automotive (CO2) emissions”.

Senator Barbara Boxer (D, California): “It’s clear that E.P.A.’s own experts told Administrator S. Johnson that California’s case … is solid”

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Accounting for 12% of CO2 emissions in the US, emissions from aircraft are significant. As reported by Earthjustice and Climate of Our Future, environmental groups are teaming with cities and states to demand rules from EPA to reduce this CO2 impact or an explanation of why the EPA is failing to act.

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In case you missed it, a gentleman named Burl Haigwood kindly left a long and detailed comment, and rebuttal, to my recent post on the health effects of ethanol as a fuel.

Because I do want to debate the issues, I thought it best to reprint his response and my related comments here, since otherwise they would remain buried in the comments section.


BurlHaigwoodCFDC said in response to An Unfortunate Truth about Bioethanol (from Corn):

I would like to address a few missing and broken links to your argument. When you have only one side in mind during your article and can not give any merit to the only fuel to break the 100 year stranglehold on the oil dominated transportation fuel market – it is just an argument not a debate or discussion. The ethanol program started as an intended consequence to do something about nation’s reliance on imported oil. Since that time we have had several wars in the oil producing region of the world, which has fueled terrorism, we now understand where the greenhouse gases are coming from, we have not discovered any more oil in the US, we are using 40 billion more gallons of gasoline each year, and the oil companies have not produced any alternative fuels out of anything. The issue is about oil not ethanol. Take out ethanol and nothing has been accomplished in 30 years by anyone or anything else. Ethanol is the only fuel that has worked to replace gasoline in 30 years – despite a lot of trying by a lot of people and industries. LPG, electricity, solar, natural gas, biodiesel, and the consumer’s willingness to buy small cars have not worked. Ethanol works and it is better than imported crude oil and gasoline. If you really want to avoid being full of formaldehyde I suggest your try and avoid the estimated 65 carcinogens in gasoline like benzene, toluene, and formaldehyde. Ethanol made in Puerto Rico from sugar cane or from corn in Iowa is the same ethanol and receives the same credits/incentives. Those incentives are available to anyone, including the oil companies, to make alternative fuels in any form from any renewable feedstock. If you believe in a free market, then adding 400,000 barrels of a product that costs less than gasoline to the motor fuel pool should help. In fact DOE says ethanol has lowered the price of crude oil by $2.50 per barrel – that’s $18 billion dollars this year. Other studies show that record oil prices have twice the impact on food prices when compared to ethanol. The oil companies have not made one drop of alternative fuels or anything else to help their customers since they invented lead additives, which took the government 70 years to take out. While you say you are not paid by the oil companies you are doing their work by spreading heated and misguided mistruths about the U.S. ethanol program. That is their intended consequence. I suggest you and others interested in all aspects of a very complex ethanol issue Google The Ethanol Fact Book. Ethanol is not perfect, it is just better than imported crude oil and gasoline. Ethanol is leading the way to a brighter future – not gasoline or imported oil. We need your passion and brains on the solution side of this oil equation problem.




My Response to Mr. Haigwood of the Clean Fuels Development Coalition (CFDC)* is given here:


Thank you for taking the time to respond in such a detailed manner. You make many good points, and I’ll try to address them.

First, I am not approaching this subject with any preconceived point of view. Believe me, I would be very happy if ethanol turned out to be the answer to our problems. If corn ethanol were the answer to our problems, I would be even happier. I just want the problems solved, and I’d like to avoid using more nuclear power.

Each post on this blog tends to report on one or more related articles in the scientific or popular press (including the web). Each article has a focus, naturally. The totality of this blog represents my interests and matters that I think should be discussed, so I am delighted by your comments and by the fact that you took the time to read what I had to say.

You were absolutely correct when you said

“The issue is about oil not ethanol.”


But this is not complete. The issue is also about the environment and food prices.

I am well aware of the carcinogens in smog from gasoline/petrol. They are made worse in strong sunlight by a process that generates photochemical smog. I am grateful to my colleague Hal H. for informing me of the key discoveries in this field from UC Riverside (the link goes to one scientific article).

My blog was based in part on a new study published in the scientific journal Environmental Science & Technology, as reported on the website Highlight Health. This article predicts serious increases in respiratory problems caused directly by worsening air quality, if ethanol displaces gasoline/petrol as automobile fuel (specifically referring to E85, which is 85% ethanol and 15% petroleum). It is a new article. The results surprised me. On its own, I would have taken it seriously, but not as proof. However, Walter, who writes HIGHLIGHT Health does an excellent job researching for his blog, and he described other research, this time experimental in nature, on the growing ratio of formaldehyde to acetaldehyde in Brazilian air since the introduction of ethanol fuel.

I’m not sure exactly why the formaldehyde problem exists, but I will search the literature and report back. I believe that the formaldehyde is at least partly related to sunlight and ozone, as is photochemical smog in general. I suspect that the very high oxygen content of ethanol relative to petroleum is an important factor in formaldehyde generation, but it might not be. I’ll look into this more.

I would expect that car emissions could be improved so that ethanol-run cars did not suffer from this problem, though it would (or might) require new catalytic converters that, as far as I know, nobody is working on. Developing countries might or might not be able to afford the catalytic converters. The truth is that, with the zero or low nitrogen and sulfur content of ethanol-based fuels, cheaper catalytic converters might handle the problem and work well in place of current models designed to survive sulfur and nitrogen impurities.

So, while ethanol has some problems as a fuel, as I see it, these problems do not seem to me to be insurmountable. This hopeful statement is predicated on people admitting that the problems exist and resources being put into solving the problems. We’ll see what happens.


No, the big problem is corn. (Well, oil is a big problem, too.)


It is my conclusion, based on the articles I have read, that we are going to destroy the ecosystem in the Gulf of Mexico and in rivers and lakes and seas and bays around the world if we continue to grow corn for ethanol. Just the fertilizer alone places far too great a burden on the rivers and streams.

From my recent World Headlines and blogroll, take this New York Times article, for instance, which reports on a National Research Council (NRC) study sponsored by our most prestigious scientific body in the US., the National Academy of Sciences, and funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF), Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and other organizations:


“Panel Sees Problems in Ethanol Production


Published: October 11, 2007

Greater cultivation of crops to produce ethanol could harm water quality and leave some regions of the country with water shortages, a panel of experts is reporting. And corn, the most widely grown fuel crop in the United States, might cause more damage per unit of energy than other plants, especially switchgrass and native grasses, the panel said.”

I hope that you read this whole story, Mr. Haigwood. Afterwards, I’d like to see if you still feel the same about corn ethanol. I look forward to continuing the debate.

Personally, I don’t think that we will find a viable solution to the energy and fuel issues without efficient conversion of cellulose-based biomass to fuel and raw materials. There is progress being made in these areas, as I have discussed before.



© James K. Bashkin, 2007


*Note, the mission statement of the organization Mr. Haigwood is connected with is:

“The Clean Fuels Development Coalition (CFDC) is an innovative not-for-profit organization that actively supports the development of new technologies and the increased production of fuels that can reduce air pollution, stimulate our economy, and lessen our dangerous dependence on imported oil. Our goal is to drive the demand for clean low-carbon fuels, like ethanol, through a combination of efforts that include collaborating with industry, educating and communicating with the media and other strategic influencers, and support new legislative initiatives that will help us achieve our mission.”

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