The Business of Polluting

by , posted on Wednesday, March 23rd, 2011 at 1:13 pm

In light of the recent environmental tragedy in Japan, awareness of the growing threat of environmental toxins and pollutants has undoubtedly risen. When toxic materials enter our air and water supply, the consequences can be dire. Because the risks can be so severe, the Environmental Protection Agency has been tasked with the job of protecting the public health from these potential threats. Unfortunately, such a job is not too easy when some of the leading polluters are backed by corporate lobbyists who possess nearly endless funds. Proposing a legislation that limits greenhouse gas emissions throws a mighty wrench into the well-oiled machinery of corporate greed.

Just recently, the EPA proposed their first-ever mercury standards for coal-burning power plants. According to the bill, the standards would prevent 17,000 premature deaths and 11,000 heart attacks. Mercury is a well-known environmental toxin, and similarly to asbestos, pesticides, and polychlorinated biphenyls, it can cause neurological disorders, asthma, and other disease. The EPA has stated that their proposed standards would prevent 120,000 cases of childhood asthma. This statistic alone suggests how much of an impact this regulation could have for public health. Asthma is one of the leading causes of school absenteeism; in 2003, an estimated 12.8 million school days were missed due to asthma. Additionally, mesothelioma (a rare lung cancer caused by exposure to asbestos) is often mistakenly diagnosed as asthma. When this happens, the consequences are devastating because the mesothelioma life expectancy is only 14 months long.

So why haven’t these standards been implemented? Why can’t the EPA prevent nearly 20,000 annual deaths?

As you might have expected, the proposal has come under heavy fire by industry groups and House Republicans. Republican Senator James Inhofe from Oklahoma has voiced his concerns.

Sen. James M. Inhofe (R-Okla.), a frequent critic of the EPA, responded by introducing legislation that calls for a formal review of the agency’s regulations.

“EPA’s proposed utility [rule] today could, by itself, shut down up to 20 percent of America’s coal-fired power capacity,” he said. “When you add in all of the rules and regulations from EPA’s cap-and-trade agenda, the outlook for jobs and economic growth looks dire.”

Additionally, Scott Segal, the director of the Electric Reliability Coordinating Council has deemed the proposal as one of the most expensive rules in the history of the EPA.

Segal cited an IHS/Global Insight report estimating that every $1 billion spent to comply with pollution standards will put 16,000 jobs at risk and reduce the nation’s gross domestic product by up to $1.2 billion.

Lisa Jackson, EPA administrator, has admitted that the regulation would cost the power industry $10 billion by 2015. But she also added that the health and environmental improvements would save over $100 billion annually. She claimed that the consumer’s electric bill would only increase by $3 to $4 per month.

So what’s the truth? Who knows for sure, but the fact remains it’s time for the coal industry to stop polluting the air with mercury. I’m sure many would be willing to sacrifice a few dollars per month for the astronomical health benefits that would result from the proposed standards. Regardless of your view on climate change and greenhouse gas, I’m sure most would agree that polluting the air with known toxins for the sake of money is just wrong.


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