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Hassling Electricity: EPA’s Proposed MACT Rules

Presidential candidate Barack Obama promised that his policies would cause electricity rates to “skyrocket” and “bankrupt” any company trying to build a coal-fired generating plant. This is one promise he and his über-regulators are keeping.

President Obama energetically promotes wind and solar projects that require millions of acres of land and billions of dollars in subsidies to generate expensive, intermittent electricity and create (really centrally plan) jobs that cost taxpayers upwards of $220,000 apiece – most of them in China.

His Interior Department is locking up more coal and petroleum prospects, via “wild lands” and other designations, and dragging its feet on issuing leases and drilling permits.

Meanwhile, his Environmental Protection Agency is challenging shale gas drilling and fracking, and imposing draconian carbon dioxide (CO2) emission rules, now that Congress and voters have rejected cap-tax-and-trade.

Across agencies, the war is on against the dense, reliable energies that were part of the Industrial Revolution (see the posts on W. S. Jevons for more) and are behind modern society today.

The beat-down of carbon-based energy goes on. Oil, gas and coal provide approximantely 84% of the energy that keeps America humming, but the administration is doing all it can to reduce each and all. American voters, consumers and workers may want more drilling, mining and use of hydrocarbons, to get the economy going again. But the administration has a different agenda.

EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson has unveiled another 946 pages of regulations that she claims will protect public health. The regs cover 84 “dangerous pollutants” that are already being scrubbed out of power plant emission streams by a host of innovative technologies. In fact, coal-fired generators now emit a fraction of what they did just 40 years ago.

The most frequently cited of these pollutants is mercury. Higher doses cause well-known ill-health effects, from severe neurological damage to brain damage and death. However, it has been all but eliminated in herbicides, light switches, thermometers and other products.

Its presence in coal and power plant emissions is likewise minimal and declining. The last serious cases of human health impacts from mercury poisoning in the U.S. occurred decades ago – and coal-fired power plants remain the largest source of US-based manmade mercury only because other human sources are essentially gone.

Exaggerating Mercury

Nevertheless, EPA and its anti-energy, anti-job allies like Climate Progress and Greenpeace are using mercury to spearhead their latest campaign against a fuel that provides half of all US electricity, and up to 95% in many manufacturing states.  Even worse, they claim minorities somehow are especially at risk from mercury and other power plant pollutants. They even went so far as to hold a people-of-color-only press conference, to stir up fears and persuade minority interest groups to support the new regulations.

A few elemental facts put the alleged “dangers” power plant mercury emissions in perspective – which EPA and its fellow campaigners steadfastly refuse to do. They also illustrate how EPA abuses science, statistics and tax-funded “education” campaigns to promote needless public anxiety and expand its control over our lives, jobs and consumer choices, on a host of pollutants that pose little actual risk.

First and foremost, we are talking about a mere 41 tons of mercury per year. If that sounds like a lot, consider the following.

The United Nations Environment Program estimates that the cremation of human remains results in 26 tons of atmospheric mercury per year – from mercury-silver amalgams in teeth fillings.

China’s coal-fired power plants emit six times more mercury than their US counterparts, and power plants worldwide emit nearly twelve times as much, according to UN and other data. Since the atmosphere, jet streams and weather systems are global phenomena, all this mercury is mixed with US emissions,

But even these manmade sources are dwarfed by natural sources.

According to the National Center for Atmospheric Research, forest fires in the Lower 48 States and Alaska annually put over 44 tons of mercury into the air. Root systems carry naturally occurring mercury from soils into their leaves and wood; forest fires release the mercury into the atmosphere and also “roast” it out of burned soils. (Maybe it’s time to ban forest fires – and wood-burning stoves.)

Recent studies by two Cambridge University scientists calculate that man and Mother Nature discharge up to 9100 tons of mercury into the global atmospheric every year. Most comes from volcanoes, but subsea vents (the Mid-Atlantic Ridge and elsewhere), geysers and forest fires also play major roles.

In other words, U.S. power plants account for less than 0.5% of all the mercury in the air that we Americans breathe. Even eliminating every ounce of this mercury will do nothing about the other 99.5% of that pollutant in America’s atmosphere.

And yet EPA & Company demand that we do just that – at a cost of billions of dollars per year, to “protect” us from infinitesimal or imaginary risks.

Perhaps our helpful bureaucrats and activists could put a Plexiglass bubble over the entire United States, to keep those evil natural and Chinese gases out; plug Old Faithful and Kilauea; keep people (especially minorities) away from Yellowstone National Park; and ban curly mercury-enhanced CFL bulbs.

EPA’s Agenda: Not In the Family Budget

Add up everything EPA is doing to tax, obstruct and penalize coal use, and we are looking at Obama’s ”skyrocketing”  electricity-price agenda in slow motion. But such regulatory taxation hammers family budgets, especially in minority communities, impairing nutrition and health, making it harder for many families to heat, cool and pay for their homes, and increasing illness and death.

Soaring energy prices will also force numerous companies to outsource manufacturing operations and jobs. Electricity is a major cost for factories, offices, stores, hospitals and schools. Every price hike hits them with another $10,000 to $1,000,000, or more, in new annual expenses that they must pass on to consumers – or address by laying off more employees, whose families then suffer even more.

These hard realities must be viewed against 8.9% national, 11.6% Hispanic and 15.3% black joblessness.  (These figures do not include people who have given up on finding a job, or have been forced to take part-time or temporary work.) EPA’s unelected and unaccountable bureaucrats are being completely disingenuous when they say their latest ten-pound stack of rules will bring one milligram of net benefit to human health and welfare, especially for minorities.

EPA’s special “stakeholder briefing” on March 16 certainly conveys the correct image. Environmental activist groups are holding the stake that this rogue agency intends to pound through the heart of America’s economic recovery and civil rights progress.

The Path Not Taken

EPA needs to start basing its policies and rules on science, reality, common sense, and comprehensive public health considerations. Congress needs to reassert its authority over EPA to these ends.

Both need to focus on responsible, science-based air and water quality standards that address real health and economic needs – and recognize that “human health and welfare” means more than eliminating every vestige of U.S. manmade emissions, especially when we can do absolutely nothing about the vast majority of natural and manmade global emissions.

Americans of all stripes await.

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Paul Driessen is senior policy advisor for the Congress of Racial Equality and Committee For A Constructive Tomorrow, and author of Eco-Imperialism: Green power – Black death. His previous post at MasterResource is “Dear EPA: Why is Wind Okay and Shale Gas Not?

1 comment

1 Ross { 05.25.11 at 8:14 am }

You seem to simply brush over the localized effects of mercury emissions, the localized effects of pumping toxic fumes from Coal-Fired Power Plants and the huge amounts of CO2 that they are responsible for generating each year.

Also no mention of the cost that all of the above end up placing on the medical bills that have to be picked-up by the tax payer each year.

If it comes to either:
A) The tax payer having to pay gargantuan amounts in medical bills to treat the illnesses caused by the air pollution scientifically proven to be coming from CFPPs
B) Having a to pay a bit more for electricity, so that the producers of that electricity act in a responsible manner

Then I’m pretty sure the choice is an easy one.

But the energy industry just doesn’t like anything cutting into it’s profits and blows the actual financial effects out of proportion to guard these at all costs.

The same thing happened with the tobacco industry when it came out that cigarettes were harmful to human health.
The same thing happened with the car industry when seatbelts were being made mandatory.

And now it’s the energy’s industry to lie in order to keep “business as usual”.

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