By Climate Guest Blogger on Feb 9, 2012 at 10:04 am
Saving lives, encouraging clean generation, and creating new jobs are not enough for opponents of new mercury rules.
by Daniel J. Weiss and Zachary Rybarczyk
Yesterday’s House Subcommittee on Energy and Power meeting could more closely resemble a kangaroo court than real government oversight.
Here’s why. The subcommittee plans a hearing misleadingly titled “What EPA’s Utility MACT Rule Will Cost U.S. Consumers.” But the Republican majority is playing with words and the health of our children. Its witnesses from industry and their consulting firms suggest that the Republican majority has little interest in learning about the tens of billions of dollars of economic gains due to health benefits derived by the slashing millions of pounds of mercury, lead, arsenic, and other toxic air pollution from power plants that the rule would generate. And the subcommittee majority will pay little heed to the Environmental Protection Agency’s analysis that found the rules will only lead to modest electricity price increases, which are relatively small compared to the electricity price increases experienced over the past decade.
In addition, the majority will likely ignore the independent analysis and data that suggest that retrofitting power plants to cut toxic pollution will cost less than predicted by industry-funded studies. Instead, witnesses are likely to repeat findings from utility-and-coal-industry-financed reports that have already been debunked due to their flawed analysis.
Below we offer information on how the rules will affect U.S. ratepayers as well as the benefits that they will provide to all Americans.
In December, House Republicans attached poisonous riders on the Keystone XL pipeline and mercury-pollution rules to a tax-cut bill for working families. Senate Democrats killed the mercury rider, which would have blocked the so-called Boiler MACT rules, and President Obama rejected the tar sands pipeline after that rider was signed into law. Now the House GOP has new versions of the same poison pills, but Senate Democrats are fighting back. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) told reporters in the Capitol Tuesday that he opposes both poison pills:
Instead of finding commonsense solutions, the Republicans are talking about things that have nothing to do with middle-income taxes — like the Keystone pipeline, rolling back regulations to keep our air safe and our water clean and pure. These tactics are stalling — more evidence the Republicans don’t want to extend this tax cut. They talk about extending it but simply are unwilling to do anything to make it a reality.
Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) agreed. “So we say to Speaker Boehner, instruct your conferees to drop the issue of Boiler MACT.”
By Climate Guest Blogger on Jan 20, 2012 at 10:30 am
The public health benefits from the mercury rule — such as fewer deaths and asthma attacks — result in benefits outweighing project costs by $14 to-$1.
by Jackie Weidman and Kendaleth VanLue
Regulating harmful mercury from power plants will not hurt the reliability of the electricity system, according to analysis from the independent Congressional Research Service.
This adds to the arsenal of research showing that Environmental Protection Agency mercury and toxic rules for power plants are unlikely to hurt the integrity of the grid. This is because most of the power plant phase-outs around the country will occur in places with sufficient reserve electricity margin, the CRS report concludes.
For the few power plants that may have legitimate issues meeting the three year deadline, EPA allows for a one-year extension, along with another one-year extension for plants where installation of pollution reduction technologies on a faster time table would interfere with generation. CRS determined that these are sufficient avenues for power plants to pursue, and “as a result, it is unlikely that electric reliability will be harmed by the rule.”
Many utilities, including Exelon, have testified that three years is more than enough time to implement pollution control technology. Exelon – which has one of the industry’s largest electricity generation capacity portfolios – argued that 60 percent of coal-fired power plants are already equipped with pollution controls. Last September, Exelon’s Senior Vice President Joseph Dominquez called for other power providers to start acting, rather than dragging their feet:
As a climate-denier, GOP candidate Rick Santorum’s rise to a near-tie with Mitt Romney in Iowa does not leave much hope for the environment. The candidate has a long-standing relationship with the coal and fracking industry as a well-paid consultant for a coal mining company, Consol Energy Inc., which has donated $8,500 to his campaign.
Therefore, it isn’t a surprise that on Monday, Santorum attacked a new Environmental Protection Agency toxics rule that prevents mercury pollution from coal-fired power plants, claiming it represents the EPA’s philosophy of “We hate carbon, we hate fossil fuels, we hate blue-collar Americans who work in those area”:
He specifically took issue with the agency’s cost-benefit analysis, calling it “absolutely ridiculous” and “not based on any kind of science.”
But the EPA’s cost-benefit analysis cites peer-reviewed studies extensively in its 510-page “Regulatory Impact Analysis of the Final Mercury and Air Toxics Standards,” which has been two decades in the making.
What Santorum didn’t mention is how uncontrolled mercury pollution has harmed Americans for decades. The EPA’s peer-reviewed analysis found the mercury rule would prevent 11,000 premature deaths, 4,700 heart attacks, and 130,000 asthma attacks annually. Economically, the health benefits outweigh the costs of a few dozen old plant closures — every dollar spent on reducing the pollution would save up to $9 in health benefits.
His standing is also at odds with faith-based groups, according to Media Matters: “Over 100 evangelical leaders have signed a letter calling for stricter mercury regulations, and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has spoken out in favor of tougher emissions standards. Catholics United publicly welcomed the EPA’s rule.” Unlike these groups, Santorum is willing to risk blue-collar Americans’ health to protect the coal industry.
Anyone who pays attention to green news will have spent the last two years hearing a torrent of stories about EPA rules and the political fights over them. It can get tedious. After a certain point even my eyes glaze over, and I’m paid to follow this stuff.
But this one is a Big Deal. It’s worth lifting our heads out of the news cycle and taking a moment to appreciate that history is being made. Finally controlling mercury and toxics will be an advance on par with getting lead out of gasoline. It will save save tens of thousands of lives every year and prevent birth defects, learning disabilities, and respiratory diseases. It will make America a more decent, just, and humane place to live.
A couple of background facts to contextualize what the new rule means:
Today, as EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson announced the final reduction requirements for mercury and other toxics from power plants, Carol Browner, Distinguished Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress and former director of the White House Office of Energy and Climate Change Policy, released the following statement:
President Barack Obama adopted public health safeguards today that will drastically reduce dangerous emissions of mercury, arsenic, acid gases, and other pollutants from coal-fired power plants. The new safeguards are preventative medicine—they will annually forestall thousands of premature deaths, hospitalizations, and respiratory ailments.
In less than three years, President Obama has reduced harmful air pollution from two major sources: power plants and vehicles. Cleaning up toxic and cross-state air pollution from dirty power plants will save 45,000 lives every year, or prevent nearly five deaths every hour. And modernizing vehicle fuel economy standards will slash carbon dioxide pollution and reduce oil use by more than 2 million barrels per day.
Both initiatives will put tens of thousands of Americans to work inventing, manufacturing, and installing modern pollution-control technologies.
The support for the new toxics reduction rules by some major utilities demonstrate that the standards are readily achievable and affordable, and pose little threat to our electricity system.
In the following “Ask the Expert” video, Browner answers two questions:
What are the public health benefits of these new mercury standards? Can coal-fired power plants meet the new standards without harm? How do the president’s actions on reducing air pollution compare to recent administrations?
As U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administration Lisa Jackson announces the first-ever Clean Air Act rules to limit mercury pollution from coal-fired power plants, Republicans are already attacking this historic advance for public health. The health risks of this potent neurotoxin are enormously well-documented. Methylmercury from coal pollution accumulates in fish, poisoning pregnant women and small children. Mercury can harm children’s developing brains, including effects on memory, attention, language, and fine motor and visual spatial skills. But Republicans are willing to argue that the profits of the coal industry outweigh the well-being of America’s children.
“There are already strict regulations relating to mercury emissions,” Rep. Ed Whitfield (R-KY), the chair of the House energy and power subcommittee, falsely claimed in an interview today with Fox News. “Obviously whatever controls the EPA has in place are not working if our fish are tainted,” Fox’s Alisyn Camerota shot back. Whitfield then made the false claim that “there is not going to be any benefit from this new regulation in reducing mercury levels”:
CAMEROTA: As I’m sure you know, for the past years doctors have been advising pregnant women not to eat any fish when they are pregnant because the mercury levels are so high in fish. So what to do about this? Obviously whatever controls the EPA has in place are not working if our fish are tainted.
WHITFIELD: Well, let me just say this to you, the scientists that testified before our committee were unanimous in the view that there is not going to be any benefit from this new regulation in reducing mercury levels. All of the benefits were calculated from the reduction of particulate matter, which is already covered under ambient air quality standard regulations. This is about closing coal plants, and that’s precisely what it is about.
Whitfield and energy committee chair Fred Upton (R-MI) have assiduously avoided having medical experts testify about the EPA’s mercury rules, instead parading utility and coal industry officials before their committee to make exaggerated claims about the costs of upgrading power plants to protect children’s health. At one such hearing, Rep. Joe Barton denied the “medical negative” of mercury exposure.
The glimmer of fact in Whitfield’s claims is that the health costs of mercury poisoning of our nation’s children over decades of unlimited coal pollution are difficult to quantify. Mercury poisoning is rarely fatal and hard to detect, but causes undeniable, insidious developmental harm to fetuses and babies.
Cost-benefit analyses conducted by epidemiologists for the new rule emphasize the equally real live-saving impact of cutting the deadly soot pollution from the few dozen ancient coal plants that emit most of the nation’s mercury pollution. By conceding that cutting the particulate matter would save thousands of lives, Whitfield was in effect admitting that current ambient air quality standards are not sufficient to protect American health either.
A presidential memorandum issued by President Obama this afternoon notes: “Analyses conducted by the EPA and the Department of Energy (DOE) indicate that the MATS Rule is not anticipated to compromise electric generating resource adequacy in any region of the country.”
Long-delayed rules to limit toxins like mercury and arsenic from coal-burning power plants will be approved today, after twenty years of delay that protected coal utility profits at the expense of American health. The Los Angeles Times reports that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will finalize its mercury rule today, marking the end of an era of deliberate pollution despite the scientific knowledge that pregnant women and small children were being poisoned:
The Environmental Protection Agency is expected to approve a tough new rule on Friday to limit emissions of mercury, arsenic and other toxins from the country’s power plants, according to people with knowledge of the new standard. Though mercury is a known neurotoxin profoundly harmful to children and pregnant women, the air toxins rule has been more than 20 years in the making, repeatedly stymied because of objections from coal-burning utilities about the cost of installing pollution control equipment.
In 1990 the bipartisan legislation that amended the Clean Air Act ordered the Environmental Protection Agency to set standards for the emission of mercury, arsenic, and other toxic air pollution from power plants. Although a court decree mandated EPA standards by 2000, the rules were repeatedly delayed again. In 2006, the Bush administration released rules that were thrown out by the courts for failing to protect the public health. The health risks of mercury and arsenic are enormously well-documented. In the 21 years since the EPA was ordered to issue these rules, 17 states have independently acted to limit mercury emissions from power plants. Coal-fired power plants alone produce 772 million pounds of airborne toxins every year—2.5 pounds’ worth for every American.
Of course, the primary economic benefit of the mercury rule comes from its life-saving impact. Methylmercury from coal pollution accumulates in fish, poisoning pregnant women and small children. Mercury can harm children’s developing brains, including effects on memory, attention, language, and fine motor and visual spatial skills. Upgrades to the aged and dirty coal plants will also significantly reduce harmful particle pollution, preventing hundreds of thousands of illnesses and up to 17,000 premature deaths each year. “The ‘monetized’ value of these and certain other health benefits would amount to $55–146 billion per year,” the Economic Policy Institute states.