EPA Hits Home Run with Mercury and Toxics Standard

How out of touch can the WSJ ed. board be? See for yourself...According to the folks on the Wall Street Journal editorial board, the sky is falling now that the EPA has taken long overdue steps to clean up mercury and other toxic pollutants from America’s dirtiest power plants.   As the obviously terrified Chicken Littles at the Journal put it: “The economic harm here is vast, and the utility rule saga—from the EPA's reckless endangerment to the White House's failure to temper Ms. Jackson—has been a disgrace.”

Everyone is entitled to their opinion (no matter how unfounded), but if you read other editorial and opinion pages across the U.S. today, you get a very different picture of what the EPA did. 

Consider the following:

Toward Healthier Air, New York Times, (editorial), 12/22/11.  “This is a big victory for environmentalists and scientists who have worked for 20 years to regulate these pollutants — and an even bigger one for the public. When fully effective, the rule could save as many as 11,000 premature deaths a year and avoid countless unnecessary illnesses. The decision compensates, at least in part, for the White House’s lamentable decision two months ago to reject stricter health standards for smog. That and the administration’s failure to give full-throated support to climate change legislation last year had disheartened many of the president’s environmental supporters.”

On mercury standards, better late than never, Newark Star-Ledger, (editorial), 12/22/11. “The rules issued yesterday were 20 years in the making, delayed repeatedly by the powerful clout of the coal industry. It is a travesty that we have been unprotected for so long, a failure that has left thousands of people dead and many more struggling with asthma, emphysema and brain damage.”

Regulating power plants, The (Eugene, OR) Register-Guard, (editorial), 12/22/11. “Americans shouldn’t be fooled. The new regulations will prevent hundreds of thousands of unnecessary illnesses and premature deaths. The EPA is justified, both morally and financially, in looking out for citizens’ health by giving them the clean-air protections they need and deserve.”

A win for air, for health, (Boulder, CO) Daily Camera, (editorial), 12/22/11. “It is a very expensive rule. It also packs powerful, cost-saving and life-saving benefits. The Environmental Protection Agency on Wednesday announced sweeping, $9.6 billion regulations that will force the nation's oldest and most-polluting power plants to clean up or shut down. More than half of the nation's coal-fired power plants have already upgraded their facilities to scrub mercury out of their emissions. The rest of the country's existing plants will have about four years to comply.”

Clearing the Smokescreen: Toxic Air Pollution Standards, Huffington Post, (op ed), 12/21/11. Charles Dean Connor:  “The American Lung Association thanks President Obama and EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson for seeing through the smokescreen and putting the health of our children first. Life-threatening air pollutants from coal-fired power plants have slipped through a ‘toxic loophole’ that has existed for more than 20 years. Finally, all power plants will be cleaned up. Half of the country's plants already have installed modern emissions controls, now is the time to finish the job.” Charles Dean Connor is president and CEO of the American Lung Association.

And what about all that hyperbolic Sturm und Drang from the Wall Street Journal about the EPA rules leading to the collapse of the U.S. economy?  

Cooler heads disagree.  In an article entitled “Will the EPA’s mercury rule cause a wave of blackouts? No.,” the Washington Post explains that:  “At this point, there’s good reason to think that utilities can retire their oldest and dirtiest plants without crushing disruptions. It won’t be simple or cost-free — the EPA estimates that the mercury and air toxics rule alone will cost utilities at least $11 billion by 2016 to install scrubbers on their coal plants, and those costs will likely get passed on to households. On the flip side, the reduction in mercury is expected to prevent some 17,000 premature deaths per year and provide an estimated $59 billion to $140 billion in health benefits in 2016.”

You can see how that works in the real world in Minnesota's St. Paul Pioneer Press, which has a story out today showing how smart utilities already anticipated the EPA regulations and started making the necessary adjustments:   “Because of statewide mercury legislation passed in 2006, Minnesota's six largest coal-fired power plant units already meet or are on the way to meeting the new standards announced by the Environmental Protection Agency, according to state officials. It's a mixed bag, however, for 18 smaller ones affected by the new EPA rule, a specialist for the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency said.”

In other words, the editorial scribes at the Wall Street Journal got it wrong.  That’s not the sky falling.  It’s cleaner air on its way to you soon – thanks to the EPA!