published Tuesday, December 27th, 2011

Hope for healthier air

  • photo
    The Jan. 10, 2009 file photo shows a flock of geese flying past a smokestack at the Jeffery Energy Center coal power plant near Emmitt, Kan.
    Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

Health advocacy groups have worked for decades to get the Environmental Protection Agency to require coal and oil-burning power plants to restrict emissions of mercury, dioxin, lead, arsenic and other toxic pollutants that can cause cancer, heart and developmental diseases, asthma and premature deaths. Though more than a dozen states have adopted such rules on their own to spare their citizens the health-damaging consequences of such pollution, electric power industry lobbyists have generally pressured Washington to resist establishment of federal standards on such toxins. Last week, the EPA and the Obama administration finally imposed the standards.

The new rule, 20 years in the making, marks a huge and notable Christmas gift of cleaner, healthier air in the near future. If it is fully implemented over the next four years, studies show it will save tens of thousands of lives and diminish health care costs by an estimated $90 billion.

Those estimates reflect the scale of the problem of toxins emitted by electric power plants, which remain the largest unregulated sources of such pollution. An analysis by the National Resources Defense Council, for example, found that fully half of all industrial toxic air pollution dumped into the air comes from power plants. They are the single biggest source of toxic air pollution in 29 states, and big contributors in most others.

In Tennessee, the electric power industry, which is to say TVA, emits roughly 8.9 million pounds of the 25 million pounds of air toxins emitted annually by industry. In Georgia, electric utilities emit more than 18 million pounds of the state's 42 million pounds of industrial toxic air pollution. Mercury, among the worst pollutants, is especially harmful to children, in whom it causes irreversible developmental diseases.

Contrary to the complaints of the retrograde faction of the electric power industry, the cost of removing such hazardous pollutants over the next four years -- an estimated $9.6 billion annually for some 1,400 electric generation units across the nation -- is manageable. Ralph Izzo, the CEO of New Jersey's largest electric utility and an advocate of the new rule, said his company spent just $1.3 billion -- a relatively manageable amount for emissions-control technology -- to bring all its generation units into compliance with a state standard as strict as the new federal standard.

Rizzo said the rule was "long overdue" and reasonably flexible. Similarly, Duke Power's CEO, Jim Rogers, says the rule is "tight but achievable."

Officials' views of the industry's cleaner systems haven't muted laggard utilities' predictable complaints, nor the criticism of their lackey representatives in Congress. Sen. James Inhofe, the senior and most flagrant anti-environmentalist Republican on the Environment and Public Works Committee, immediately pledged to block the rule. He called it "a thinly veiled electricity tax ...(in) the Obama administration's war on affordable energy and the latest in an unprecedented barrage of regulations that make up EPA's job-killing regulatory agenda."

What hogwash. His boiler-plate complaint (lamentably echoed by Sen. Bob Corker in a roundtable meeting he held here recently) not only ignores the health science against toxic pollutants. It also ignores the long crusade of the dirtiest faction of the electric power industry to maximize profits while dumping poisons on the public. The dirtiest emitters have spent more money fighting against the Clean Air Act of 1970 than it would have cost to retrofit their dirtiest 50-year-old plants over the past two decades.

The new rule to restrict the electric industry's worst emitters of toxic air pollution is, indeed, long overdue. Even TVA agrees its past time to clean-up or shut-down its dirtiest old plants. Resisting this rule in Congress would be myopic and wrong-headed. Americans deserve cleaner, healthier air. It's time they got it.

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conservative said...

The sky is falling! The sky is falling! Baloney!

This Especially Patronizing Administration to the crazies who worship the false god of environmentalism, needs revenue to fund Obamination care. Obamination stated during his campaign that under his plan electricity rates would "necessarily skyrocket." Sen. James Inhofe is correct when he called it "a thinly veiled electricity tax." Obamination knows that when his sheep (sheep are dumb) get their higher light bill, they will blame the "greedy" utility company instead.

December 27, 2011 at 10:49 a.m.
Rickaroo said...

Note to conservative:

It must be a sad and very stressful way to live one's life, thinking that everyone who thinks differently is somehow involved in a massive conspiracy against him and his like-minded ideologues.

No one is claiming the "sky is falling." But it IS filled with nasty and life-threatening toxins that are not conducive to human health. If you want to side with the corporate lobbyists and the owners of the polluting industries who, in your opinion, are ALWAYS blameless, above-board, and NEVER place their self-interest above the welfare of the citizenry; and if you want to bury your head in the sad and deny science at every turn and call environmentalism a "false god," well, that is certainly your small-minded prerogative. But if you and your like-minded conservative cohorts get your way, I would suggest you keep your head in the sand. The walking-around air above won't be fit for breathing. But what does that matter to you anyway? As long as the god you worship – unbridled capitalism – is allowed to go unchecked, all is right in your little world, isn't it?

December 27, 2011 at 1:03 p.m.

Actually I did here about somebody this weekend for whom the sky literally did fall. Somewhere in Siberia. On Cosmonaut street.

Not exactly the issue of this complaint, though, which is the problem with fossil fuel burning power plants, particularly coal ones. Even Ronald Reagan opposed that.

December 27, 2011 at 2:54 p.m.
conservative said...


The EPA is little about science and much about power and big government, using loaded and misleading terms such as "toxins", "carcinogens", "pollution" and "chemicals" to scare the ignorant masses into submission to even bigger government control. Toxins are everywhere including our bodies. It is not the toxin but the DOSE of the toxin that is harmful. There have been recorded cases of people dying from drinking to much water! Carbon Dioxide is essential to life and all humans emit it. Yet now it is considered a pollutant. Yes, you and I are polluters. Let's impose a tax, we will all somehow feel better, the federal government will get more money, but we will still go on polluting.

The asbestos, radon gas, alar in apples, DDT are just some of the scams I recall pushed by the EPA. There are 7 or 8 forms of asbestos, most of which are harmless. The common white asbestos was used as fire retardant, in brake linings, in buildings and is totally harmless. The g overnment ordered removal from buildings especially schools. The children were going to die!But wait, the cost was astronomical so they stopped, so much for the children. It was a scam! Much of this white asbestos was mined in Canada and it was found that the miners had no more instances of cancer than the general population. Recall any apologies?

Radon gas occurs naturally from the ground. Jimmy Carter and the EPA pushed for airtight houses to save our resources. Rut-roh! The gas was trapped inside your home increasing lung cancer chances. I heard many Public Service Announcements about testing your home for Radon gas but none informing you that your house needed to breathe.

Now it's Mercury (not the car). The air is cleaner than it has ever been, I know of no death certificates with dirty air as cause of death or tombstones either. Now it gets really good. The EPA website will tell you that mercury in CFLs posing a danger in your home is a MYTH. However, the site goes into great detail about what to do when one breaks in your home and leaks Mercury! This Lieberal site may have you crawling under your bed in fear - The EPA is not your friend Rickaroo

December 27, 2011 at 4:54 p.m.

I support the regulation of water myself, in fact I'm having to do a little of that with the recent rains. If one of my neighbors started pouring water that got into my property, I'd probably hold them accountable as well.

Same with CO2, though that would come most into play in a sealed environment, such as a submarine or space capsule, or even an underground mine, so it won't come up too much. Fortunately. Incidents like Lake Nyos are quite rare indeed. More likely it'll be other emissions of the body that immediately concern me, and you can damn well bet I am glad that you are required to dispose of them properly and not just dump them out in the street.

But really, you do know that the EPA, and the FDA, along with a host of others are quite aware of the importance of consideration of a level of exposure? Or have you not noticed that they set levels above zero in a wide variety of cases? They even allow some toxic materials to remain in place if kept properly managed rather than insist on removal. It's like they're capable of thought and reason, not just hysterical reaction.

However, if you believe that the amount of mercury in a CFL bulb is dangerous, I suggest you test all of your food for mercury, just to see how much you'll get. And you could also check some death certificates, they will not use such vernacular as dirty air, but they will probably list some cancers and poisonings. Doubt you'll find any on a tombstone, usually the only time a cause of death is on a tombstone is when it's some heroic sacrifice, and even then I'd say you wouldn't see many.

December 27, 2011 at 8:06 p.m.
fairmon said...

What is the reluctance to convert to natural gas? Blocking pipe lines and appropriately regulating drilling are not justified. Advocating and supporting with tax dollars converting vehicles to battery powered without a grid or sources of electrical energy to support them is no less stupid that opposing coal emissions. The nuclear debate has been worn out without reference to valid scientific conclusions.

December 28, 2011 at 2:23 a.m.
Plato said...

I think TVA was a bit ahead of the curve on this one, as they had already committed last year to taking several of the most dirty units off line and one plant will be converted to gas turbine, which is much cleaner than coal.

I think it is totally legitimate to require reasonable air and water quality standards to power production across the board and by doing so, it will make alternative sources of power including nuclear, gas and wind more competitive and help with their proliferation.

Most of the anti-regulation rhetoric you hear coming out of Washington regarding coal-fired steam plants, is bought and paid for by the coal industry, and should be regarded as such.

December 28, 2011 at 11:56 p.m.
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