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Thursday, December 22, 2011

EPA finally limits toxic mercury

Posted By on Thu, Dec 22, 2011 at 5:36 PM

The EPA is finally regulating mercury, the bulk of which comes from coal plants. I say "finally" because they've been toying around with regulating the stuff for decades, even as it infests our waterways and makes our fish unsafe to eat, antagonizes respiratory illnesses, causes cancer and more. Too bad it could take up to five years for the regulation to actually be enforced.

Despite that delay, even the Associated Press is calling mercury regulation "long overdue," if expensive:

When fully implemented in 2016, the standards will slash mercury pollution from burning coal by 90 percent, lung-damaging acid gases by 88 percent and soot-producing sulfur dioxide by 41 percent.

Power plant operators will have to choose between installing pollution control equipment, switching to cleaner-burning natural gas, or shutting down the plant. None of those choices come cheap — the EPA estimates the rule will cost $9.6 billion annually, making it one of the most expensive the agency has ever issued.

Read the rest of this article, by Dina Cappiello, here.

That is expensive, though it could be argued that companies could have avoided these expenses long ago had they chosen cleaner energy options from the start.

In better fiscal news, the amount of money our country is estimated to save on health care costs because of the EPA's mercury ruling far outshines the expenses of one industry:

The EPA's own analysis estimates that the newly finalized rules would put the industry out about $10 billion a year and save the country $90 billion in health care costs.

In other words, for every dollar spent under the rule, said Jackson, there would be "up to $9 of health benefits."

The EPA's estimates are actually a small fraction of what could be gained under the new rules, according to experts. The agency could only account for reductions in asthma attacks, heart attacks and strokes, among other health problems associated with soot (or particulates). The prevention of cognitive disorders, kidney disease and cancers caused by mercury, dioxins, arsenic, lead and other toxins was omitted due to limited data.

Part of the problem, according to Jim Pew, a staff attorney for the nonprofit Earthjustice, is that industry has "done their best to stall or block" the kind of research needed to quantify these benefits.

Read the rest of this Huffington Post article, by Lynne Peeples, here.

Did you catch that last part? The industry isn't interested in knowing — or more likely our knowing — about the health impacts or costs pollution can cause. Why? It doesn't impact their balance sheets, but it does impact ours: We'll be healthier with less pollution in our air and water. Healthier people don't spend as much money on medical care. Magic.

While we're talking dollars and sense, know that the EPA's mercury regulation isn't the evil pill the coal industry tries to make it out to be. In fact, North Carolina's big energy buddies are well-situated to comply.

The Charlotte Observer is reporting that both Duke Energy and Progress Energy are already ahead of the game since they "have spent a combined $7 billion in pollution controls over the past decade ..." — thanks in large part to the state's 2002 Clean Smokestacks Act, not to their sense of community or concern about the health of their rate payers.

Both companies spend millions annually lobbying policy makers in an attempt to avoid any sort of regulations at all, all while talking a great greenwashing game:

According to Greenpeace’s coal campaign director Gabe Wisniewski, Duke has been talking out of both sides of its mouth. First, Duke says it’s ready to meet EPA’s updated mercury standards, with plans to retire non-compliant facilities or install a variety of pollution controls. Then, it turns around and is a member of the Electric Reliability Coordinating Council (ERCC), a powerful lobbying group that is aggressively fighting the proposed mercury protections for all it's worth.

Read the rest of this Creative Loafing post, by John Grooms, here.

The bottom line is that the EPA's new mercury rule benefits all of us, even Duke Energy's CEO Jim Rogers, Mr. Fossil Fool 2008.

Too bad it won't immediately be put into effect since the government is more interested in making sure companies, like Rogers', won't have to hustle for our health:

Power plants will have three years to install pollution controls, as the Clean Air Act allows, with the possibility of receiving one-year extensions on a case-by-case basis from local permitting authorities.

Jackson said she will tell states to make “very liberal use of the fourth year for companies putting on controls.”

In addition, the administration is allowing utilities that are needed to ensure electricity reliability to schedule an additional year to install controls through an enforcement process under Section 113 of the Clean Air Act.

Read the rest of this BNA (a Bloomberg subsidiary) post, by Jessica Coomes and Andrew Childers, here.

Up to five years! Can you imagine having up to five years to comply with laws and regulations that are aimed at you or I? We'd be thrown in jail, especially if failure to comply made people sick or killed them, like mercury does.

What we need is for the EPA to stop dicking around and enforce the regulations they've already enacted, make a move on the other regulations they've been pondering for decades and remember their mission, which begins, "The mission of EPA is to protect human health and the environment."

The agency's mission isn't to pander to giant corporations or play politics, it's to protect ours and the environment's health. The end.

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  • Baylor Health Care System, 2009 "Art for Asthma" winner

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