US EPA head says crisis won't lead to letup on environmental efforts

Stephen Johnson to 'Post': "Just last week I signed off on the final regulation of a health protective lead air standard."

October 23, 2008 23:22
3 minute read.
US EPA head says crisis won't lead to letup on environmental efforts

Stephen Johnson 224.88. (photo credit: Courtesy)

US Environmental Protection Agency administrator Stephen Johnson declared Thursday night that the US had no intention of easing up on environmental regulations or delaying new regulations in light of the current financial turmoil. "We have not [lessened the regulations]," Johnson said emphatically. "No, [we will not delay any programs either]," he responded to a query from The Jerusalem Post, "Just last week I signed off on the final regulation of a health protective lead air standard. The last time the issue was examined was 30 years ago and the new regulation is 10 times more health protective." Johnson added during a talk at the Porter School of Environmental Studies at Tel Aviv University on Thursday night that he had been in on talks about the crisis held between US President George W. Bush, Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson and other high ranking officials. He noted that it was a good sign that even at such a moment the environment was still being considered. Johnson, a 27-year veteran of the EPA and its head for the last three years, was the guest of Environmental Protection Minister Gideon Ezra and the ministry. Israel and the US have a signed Memorandum of Understanding regarding cooperation on environmental issues. Johnson said he had had discussions with government officials from the ministry and other key agencies to discuss the issues of hazardous waste and homeland security; in particular, securing essential infrastructure. Johnson noted that the US and Israel had several similar environmental challenges to deal with, such as "legacy" sites to clean up [old factories and the like] and air quality issues. Johnson told the Post that the US and Israel were struggling with the same dilemma regarding energy production. "In the US, there are three aspects that people talk about regarding energy: the environment, a sustainable economy and energy security. The reality needs to balance all of them. "Fifty percent of US energy will come from coal. We have a 200 year supply of coal, so from a security and economic perspective we don't want to give it up. At the same time, the president has ordered investment in solar, wind as well as clean coal technologies, nuclear and even more advanced technologies like hydrogen fuel cells," he said. "The president signed into law the Energy Independence and Security Act which says 36 billion gallons of fuel must come from renewable sources by 2020. The regulations will be written by the EPA," so we are striving for that balance," he added. Earlier in the day, National Infrastructures Ministry Director-General Hezi Kugler assured Johnson that all future Israeli coal-powered power plants would use "clean coal." The Rotenberg plant near Ashkelon is Israel's only coal burning power plant at present, but the ministry would like to build a second one nearby within six years. Johnson focused his talk at the Porter School on an explanation of how the EPA and the government have managed to reduce emissions in the US by more than 50% while the population grew by 40% and energy demand by 50%. He pointed to environmental regulations "with teeth" which made it more economically feasible for companies to comply with regulations rather than pollute. He also pointed to a strict enforcement division in the EPA. Environmental protection has also taken advantage of market economics through the cap and trade programs, he said. The program puts a total cap on certain types of emissions and then allows companies to trade allowances. For instance, a company that exceeds regulations can sell its allowance to another company which is lagging behind. He cited several reasons why companies were increasingly interested in going green. "First, businesses recognize it is more cost effective to avoid pollution and minimize waste. Second, workplace safety. Companies want to avoid the high cost of litigation and public disapproval. They are replacing toxic chemicals [in the production process], and thinking about the total life of product. "Third, consumers are demanding greener products and companies are responding. For example, the EPA's EnergyStar program provides info to consumers about environmentally friendly products which are also cost effective [energy-wise]. "In 2006 alone, Americans saved $14 billion on their utility bills. Those purchases also prevented greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to 25 million cars," he illustrated. The EPA's programs also give companies the opportunity to showcase their "good green works" which garner them public recognition, he said. Johnson also praised the Porter school's intention to build a green building on the TAU campus. He noted that "buildings account for 39% of US energy use and more than a third of greenhouse gas emissions. The green building movement is developing worldwide because it is both environmentally smart and economically smart."

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