A Round of Thanks for Standing Up to Polluters

Late last year the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) updated Clean Air Act safeguards to protect our children’s and families’ health from mercury and other dangerous air toxics from power plants.

The move wouldn’t have been possible without the full support from the White House. As Politico and ClimateWire (subscription required) note, NRDC is airing this television ad which recognizes the President’s commitment to stand up to polluters, and challenges Congress to do likewise.

NRDC is not alone in thanking the President and the EPA for decisions that will save tens of thousands of lives. While the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is taking some real shots with politicians in Congress and out on the campaign circuit, there is no sign that the EPA has lost any favor in the “real world.”  Consider these editorials that greeted the Agency’s urgently needed update of mercury pollution rules

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. 

Victory on mercury, Toledo Blade, (editorial), 12/23/11. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that the new regulations will provide $90 billion of public-health and economic benefits a year -- as much as $9 for every dollar spent to reduce pollution from power plants. More important, EPA officials say the rules will prevent 11,000 premature deaths each year, along with 4,700 heart attacks, 130,000 cases of childhood asthma symptoms, and 6,300 cases of acute bronchitis in children.

Clearing the air on mercury, Los Angeles Times, (editorial), 12/23/11. Despite the cries of outrage from conservative Republicans, the regulations are neither job-killers nor the result of Democratic regulatory overreach. 

New pollution rules tardy and necessary, Charlotte Observer, (editorial), 12/23/11. Mercury is especially dangerous for pregnant women, because in high enough doses, it can cause mental retardation and cerebral palsy in newborns - and in low doses it might slow a child's brain development. These frightening dangers have been suspected for decades - and confirmed more than a dozen years ago. That's why we applaud the Environmental Protection Agency's new rules, announced Wednesday, to finally limit mercury and other toxic air pollutants produced by coal-fired power plants.

In fact, we have looked high and low  and we find very few editorial boards and op-ed pages that have rallied around the medically deleterious impact of mercury pollution:

New for 2012: Cleaner air, Baltimore Sun, (editorial), 01/03/12. Such fears over power shortages and job losses are greatly over-hyped by the industry and its supporters desperate to maintain the profitable status quo. 

When enacting stronger pollution rules, the sooner, the better for all, Austin American Statesman, (editorial), 01/03/12. The EPA says the mercury rule will prevent 11,000 premature deaths a year nationwide and 130,000 asthma attacks. It will save tens of billions more dollars in annual health care costs than it will cost to implement the rule — as much as $9 for every dollar spent on retrofitting a power plant. The health benefits are incalculable, and it's amazing it's taken so long for such standards to be issued, given the damaging health effects that mercury has on children and the environment.

Long-delayed cleanup will make U.S. healthier, Billings Gazette, (editorial), 01/08/12. Air pollution emitted by coal-fired power plants can cause cancer and cardiovascular disease; harm the kidneys, lungs and nervous system; and even kill. The Mercury and Air Toxics Standards will reduce these pollutants and prevent 130,000 childhood asthma attacks and 11,000 premature deaths each year, the American Lung Association says…Reducing toxic emissions is responsible public policy and good business. The success of these rules will demonstrate that coal-fired plants can provide reliable power — and cleaner air. America doesn’t need to shut down coal power; it needs to clean it up.

DN Editorial: Clear the air with new emissions regulations, Philadelphia Inquirer, (editorial), 12/29/11. The EPA says that the new standards will prevent 11,000 premature deaths and 130,000 cases of aggravated asthma among children per year. The new standards will cost $10 billion in cleanup costs, but will save over $90 billion in medical costs. Sounds like a pretty good deal, and there are other economic benefits: retrofitting facilities and installing and monitoring pollution control devices will result in 1.5 million new jobs over the next five years.

Long time coming for mercury rules, Denver Post, (editorial), 12/28/11. Contaminated fish is the main way that people ingest mercury. It's particularly dangerous for infants, children and developing fetuses, who would be exposed if their mothers ate contaminated fish. The primary effect is impaired neurological development. Such exposure can result in problems with cognitive thinking, attention span, memory and fine motor skills, according to studies cited by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Even a mother who shows no symptoms of nervous-system problems can give birth to a child with profound disabilities.

New EPA rules mean fresher air, fairer utility rates, Lewiston Sun Journal, (editorial), 12/27/11. The new rules won't come without a cost to ratepayers in the affected states, estimated at $9.6 billion annually. But those costs are far outweighed by the estimated health care savings, estimated between $37 and $90 billion annually by 2016 when the new law fully goes into effect. But there's more: The U.S. Lung Association estimates that the stricter standards will prevent 130,000 childhood asthma attacks each year and 11,000 premature deaths.

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.

I could go on, but I’d rather close with an editorial that makes the point:  If you can have new jobs created by cleaning up pollution that harms the health of Americans, versus no new jobs and ongoing health harms that would go unaddressed, why in the world would choose the latter option?

Where the Real Jobs Are, New York Times, (editorial), 01/02/12. The country obviously needs more jobs. Mr. Obama needs to lay out the case that industry, with government help, can create hundreds of thousands of clean energy jobs without incurring environmental risks — by upgrading old power plants to comply with environmental laws, retrofitting commercial and residential buildings that soak up nearly 40 percent of the country’s energy (and produce nearly 40 percent of its carbon emissions) and promoting growth in new industries like wind and solar power and advanced vehicles.  By even the most conservative estimates, the power plant upgrades required by the new rule governing mercury emissions are expected to create about 45,000 temporary construction jobs over the next five years, and as many as 8,000 permanent jobs as utilities install pollution control equipment. 

Enough said!