Daily Archives: Jan. 7, 2012

Pro-con: Do new pollution rules make sense?

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency published a long-awaited final rule strictly limiting how much mercury, arsenic, hydrochloric acid and other deadly toxins that coal-fired and oil-fired power plants can spew into the air. The rule will save America billions more dollars in health care costs than industry will pay to comply with it, to say nothing of the suffering it will spare children, adults and families by reducing the avoidable deaths, developmental disabilities and disease caused or worsened by exposure to the plants’ poisons. The utility, coal, oil and chemical industries waged a long and brutal fight against the anti-pollution rule, which took more than 20 years to enact. Their tactics included warnings of huge costs, skyrocketing electricity rates, massive job losses and even possible regional blackouts, none of which were justified by objective data analyses. Ordinary Americans, businesses that insured their workers and government programs bore the cost of the health damage caused by the toxic substances the plants pumped into the air. Finally, after more than two decades, the cost of controlling those pollutants is shifting, as it should, to the polluters. – St. Louis Post-Dispatch

The so-called utility rule requires power plants to install “maximum achievable control technology” to reduce mercury emissions and other trace gases. But the true goal of the rule’s 1,117 pages is to harm coal-fired power plants and force large parts of the fleet – the U.S. power system workhorse – to shut down in the name of climate change. The Environmental Protection Agency figures the rule will cost $9.6 billion, which is a gross, deliberate underestimate. In return EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson says the public will get billions of dollars of health benefits like less asthma, if not a cure for cancer. Those credulous enough to believe her should understand that the total benefits of mercury reduction amount to all of $6 million. That’s total present value, not benefits per year. The rest of the purported benefits – to be precise, 99.99 percent – come by double-counting pollution reductions like soot that the EPA regulates through separate programs. Therefore, most will happen anyway. As baseload coal power is retired or idled, the reliability of the electrical grid will be compromised, as every neutral analyst expects. The economic harm here is vast, and the utility rule saga has been a disgrace. – Wall Street Journal