Radiation in Southern California–Newsletter from the AQMD

This morning, I received the following from William Burke at the South Coast Air Quality Management District:

You have probably heard news reports about harmful radiation escaping from damaged nuclear power plants in Japan following the recent tsunami. Some have even voiced concern that this radiation could travel across the ocean and impact California. There is no increased risk of harmful levels of radiation exposure in the United States, based on the situation to date and a review of actual monitored levels by AQMD as well as other public health officials and technical experts.

The South Coast Air Quality Management District, your local air pollution agency, has operated radiation monitors for several years for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). AQMD monitors radiation levels at three sites in Southern California and sends the radiation measurements every hour to EPA. The California Department of Public Health also operates an additional radiation monitor in Southern California.

Starting today, you can get a daily update regarding levels of radiation in Southern California at AQMD’s website at http://www.aqmd.gov. Monitors operated by AQMD/EPA will detect any change in outdoor radiation levels.

Further general information on EPA’s radiation monitoring network can be found at http://www.epa.gov/narel/radnet/. The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s response to the situation can be found at http://www.nrc.gov/.

Monitoring radiation is a very small part of the many activities AQMD does to protect public health and clean the air that we breathe. For more information on how you can help clean the air, go to http://www.cleanairconnections.org .

William A. Burke, Ed.D., Chairman
South Coast Air Quality Management District

Environmental benefits of the service economy

This volume of Ecological Economics has a manuscript that examines the environmental benefits of the transition from services to manufacturing. From the abstract:

A service transition is supposed to lead to the decline of energy intensity (energy/GDP). We argue that this interpretation is overly optimistic because the shift to a service economy is somewhat of an illusion in terms of real production. Several recent studies of structural effects on energy intensity have made the error of using sector shares in current prices, combined with GDP in constant prices, which is inconsistent and ignores the different behaviour of prices across sectors. We use the more correct method of sector shares in constant prices, and make an attempt to single out the effect from the real service transition by using two complementary methods: shift share analyses in current and constant prices, and Logarithmic Mean Divisia Index (LMDI) for 10 developed and 3 emerging economies.

A service transition is rather modest in real terms. The major driver of the decline in energy intensity rests within the manufacturing sector. Meanwhile, the transition to a service sector had a small downward impact on energy intensity in 7 of the developed countries (and no impact in the others). For emerging economies like Brazil, Mexico and India, it is the residential sector that drives energy intensity down because of the declining share of this sector as the formal economy grows, and as a consequence of switching to more efficient fuels.

This is an interesting paper, one that drives home the necessity of manufacturing transformation rather than simply trying to chase polluters elsewhere.

The full citation:

Henriques, Sofia Teives and Astrid Kander. 2010. The modest environmental relief resulting from the transition to a service economy. Ecological Economics 70 (2): 271-282.

Davis and Kahn on the effects of used vehicle imports on emissions

Davis, Lucas and Matthew Kahn. 2010. International trade in used vehicles: The environmental consquences of NAFTA. Economic Policy. 58-82.

Davis and Kahn set up a nice little set of models to help us understand what has likely happened in the durable goods market for vehicles. In comparatively higher income countries, used durables like cars are likely to get traded out to lower income countries–here, the US and Mexico. And since older durables emit more than new cars, they find that this robust trade in used vehicles increases lifetime emissions as Mexico consumers substitute away from transit use to used car consumption and those cars stay in use longer. An excellent paper: I highly encourage you to go read (and to spring for membership in the American Economic Association: you get lots of good journals and a calendar with economist centerfolds! One of my happiest investments this year.)

A couple of weak points: they say at the beginning that they establish that trade makes emissions go up in both countries. No, they actually show that emissions go down in the US but up in Mexico, and the increases in Mexico outstrip the reductions in the US. I don’t love the way they calculate emissions: they have to make some assumptions about the distribution of vehicle miles of travel, and I suspect that it is possible, given their analysis, that trade make makes VMT go up in both countries. Moreover, they note that costs of repairs are low in Mexico, yet they really don’t calculate how repairs can significantly improve engine performance. A car isn’t as good as new, but that doesn’t mean it stays a clunker after it’s traded. This may be particularly true depending on where the used car ends up in Mexico: Mexico City has different incentives and regulations for fixing up a car than other parts of the country.

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Mapping particulates from satellite data

In a recent issue of Environmental Health Perspectives. Canadian researchers Aaron van Donkelaar and Randall Martin at Dalhousie University, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, created the map by blending total-column aerosol amount measurements from two NASA satellite instruments with information about the vertical distribution of aerosols from a computer model.

link: NASA – New Map Offers a Global View of Health-Sapping Air Pollution

Here is a link to the original article in Environmental Health Perspectives. And here is another link where the authors respond to additional comments.

Watching the maritime emissions controls change

The US EPA has been pursuing Emissions Control Areas with the International Maritime Organization (IMO). Currently, there is a 200 mile ECA for sulfur oxides, particulate matter, and nitrogen oxides. The EPA is looking to expand it:

The latest component of EPA’s coordinated strategy for addressing emissions from ocean-going vessels is a proposal, from August this year, to designate an Emission Control Area for the U.S. Caribbean. The United States submitted a proposal to IMO in advance of the September 2010 IMO meeting, requesting that waters around the coasts of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands be designated as an ECA. Other EPA programs to address harmful emissions in the U.S. include voluntary partnerships under EPA’s Clean Ports USA program and implementation of a Clean Air Act rulemaking that EPA finalized last December.

link: Air Emission Regulation Update

These are pretty significant gains for the EPA, as it allows for the control of emissions just offshore

The other good news:

For the latest Emission Control Area (ECA) initiative for the U.S. Caribbean, EPA estimates that the total costs of improving ship emissions from current performance to ECA standards while operating in the proposed ECA will be approximately $70 million in 2020. The costs to reduce a ton of NOx, SOx and PM are estimated at $500, $1,000 and $10,000, respectively.

link: Air Emission Regulation Update

That’s pretty low-hanging fruit in terms of new regulation or building programs.

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Railroads and emissions in southern California

Argh. I am writing a paper right now on how planners can and should win more often in public conflicts.

They could learn a lesson from the railroads. The LA Times reported a few days ago that, in order to avoid emissions regulation in southern California:

The lawsuit filed by the Assn. of American Railroads and the BNSF and Union Pacific railroad companies challenged restrictions imposed in 2005 and 2006 by the South Coast Air Quality Management District, which covers Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino counties.

link: Local agencies can’t limit train emissions, court rules – latimes.com

This would be known as an end-run around the communities and the state and regional air quality management agencies.

So much for collaboration and win-win solutions.

This ruling in general worries me; I’ve fretted for some time about whether all sort of local air quality measures–likely to be more efficient for many sectors than federal regulations–were going to get hit with these types of challenges.

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The Impact Project’s Moving Forward Together Conference

When: October 22-23, 2010
Where: Carson Community Center, 801 E. Carson Street Carson, CA 90745

This is a national conference promoted by The Impact Project looking at how to improve the environmental health of whole freight process. Every year, they have some very good speakers, and you find out what is going on with the environmental impacts of freight.

Here’s a look at the Impact Project’s mission. You can cruise around the website and see some of the organization’s accomplishments as well!

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Black Lung Lofts: Infill and Neighborhood Exposures to Ozone

LA Weekly’s article about a month ago summed up a problem that has bothered me for years: the problem of exposure to poor air quality at the neighborhood level resulting from infill. LA Weekly’s article coined the term “Black Lung Lofts.” Forthcoming in JAPA is:

Neighborhood Air Quality, Respiratory Health, and Vulnerable Populations in Compact and Sprawled Regions – Journal of the American Planning Association

Problem: Recently, public health researchers have argued that infill development and sprawl reduction may improve respiratory outcomes for urban residents, largely by reducing vehicle travel and its attendant mobile-source emissions. But infill can also increase the number of residents exposed to poor air quality within central cities. Aside from emissions studies, planners have little information on the connections between urban form, ambient pollutant levels, and human exposures or how infill changes these.

Purpose: We examined neighborhood exposures in 80 metropolitan areas in the United States to address whether neighborhood-level air quality outcomes are better in compact regions than in sprawled regions.

Methods: We used multilevel regression models to find the empirical relationship between a measure of regional urban form and neighborhood air quality outcomes.

Results and conclusions: Ozone concentrations are significantly lower in compact regions, but ozone exposures in neighborhoods are higher in compact regions. Fine particulate concentrations do not correlate significantly with regional compactness, but fine particulate exposures in neighborhoods are also higher in compact regions. Exposures to both ozone and fine particulates are also higher in neighborhoods with high proportions of African Americans, Asian ethnic minorities, and poor households.

Takeaway for practice: Compact development and infill do not solve air quality problems in all regions or for all residents of a given region. Planners should take differences in neighborhood air quality and human exposure into account when planning for new compact developments rather than just focusing on emissions reductions.

Research support: This project was supported by a grant from the ShenAir Institute at James Madison University and by the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration.

Author Posting. (c) ‘Taylor & Francis, 2010.
This is the author’s version of the work. It is posted here by permission of Taylor & Francis for personal use, not for redistribution.
The definitive version was published in Journal of the American Planning Association, , June 2010.
doi:10.1080/01944363.2010.486623 (http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/01944363.2010.486623)

Transit emissions and the importance of ridership

Streetsblog Capitol Hill highlighted a very nice FTA report that tracks urban transit emissions. A pdf of this report appears here.

As I have ranted before here, we have to know ridership in order to make claims about emissions benefits. This graphic, taken from the report, does a good job of showing us this effect. We’d be better off filling up cars on the road than we are running underutilized trains. Now, this is a much different story if we are getting people to use the trains. This is why a reasonable accuracy in ridership forecasts matters. I’m not asking for perfection; I’m asking for an honest assessment of how many people we’re building something for so that we can fairly assess what we are doing here.

The other possible way of changing this figure would be to change the feedstock of the energy sources for all of the vehicles. Cleaning up electricity generation would change the emissions per passenger mile.

Zheng, Kahn, and Liu on property values, pollution, and Chinese cities

UCLA economist Matt Kahn has the nice manuscript along with Siqi Zheng and Hongyu Liu in Regional Science and Urban Economics: Towards a System of Open Cities in China: Home Prices, FDI Flows and Air Quality in 35 Major Cities. They have a hedonic analysis that shows a nice negative correlation between home values and particulate matter and sulfur dioxide. These are city-level regessions, though, with a limited number of observations. Their take-away point however, stands, in that it seems that at least some Chinese cities are moving from manufacturing- to service-based employment, and that there is labor sorting. I tussle with their conclusion somewhat; merely shifting away from being manufacturing regions does not itself suggest sustainability–not if the manufacturing activity simply moves and dirties another region.