Friday, March 14, 2008

Coal Awareness Week, Bonus: RFK Action Front Debates Americans for Balanced Energy Choices

It appears the folks at the coal industry lobbying group Americans for Balanced Energy Choices have seen my new videos. "David, with ABEC" posted a comment on my last post. I thought I would reply -- but rather than making you dig through the comments, I've decided to do a whole post about it here. (A quick note, I've written to ABEC to ask whether "David, with ABEC" is officially authorized to speak on behalf of ABEC -- it appears that he is, but I'll let you know what I find out.)

Here's what "David, with ABEC" wrote,

Hi there. I watched the videos... there's a lot to respond to but I'll focus on what you said about mercury.

First off, over half of the mercury in the atmosphere comes from natural sources. And the government estimates that as much as 70 percent of all of the mercury that is deposited in U.S. waterways come from emission sources outside the United States.

Coal-based power plants in the United States contribute about 1% of total global emissions.

The United States is the only country in the world to regulate utility mercury emissions. About three years ago, the Environmental Protection Agency released new stringent rules to regulate mercury emissions from power plants in the United States. The reduction required is a 70 percent reduction in utility mercury emissions from U.S. power plants, resulting in the need for the industry to invest about $52 billion in new technology.

Human exposure to methyl mercury comes from fish. The methyl mercury in ocean fish comes mostly from natural sources in the deep oceans — there has been methyl mercury in ocean fish since there were fish. Given that our nation’s power plants account for only 1% of global mercury emissions, eliminating them would have no detectable effect on fish.

And here's my reply:

Dear "David, with ABEC":

Thanks for taking the time to write and thanks for watching the videos.

Yes, let's definitely talk about mercury.

According to the EPA, coal-fired power plants are the largest single man-made source of mercury pollution in the United States.

Every 1,000 pound increase in mercury emissions causes a 43% increase in special education rates in the community and a 61% increase in autism. To argue that eliminating mercury from coal-fired power plants would not improve public health is completely disingenuous.

The EPA's March 2005 mercury rule is the best argument you've got? You've gotta be kidding me! As you know, the EPA mercury rule was a WEAKENING of existing standards under the Clean Air Act. The EPA was sued by 14 states as a result. THE EPA JUST LOST THE COURT CASE! THE BEST ARGUMENT YOU'VE GOT IS A RULE THAT WEAKENED AIR STANDARDS AND WAS THROWN OUT IN COURT!? Yes, let's definitely talk about this some more:

"The Washington Post reported that at least a dozen passages in the EPA's proposal were lifted, sometimes verbatim, from memos prepared by West Associates, an industry organization representing western coal burners, and Latham & Watkins, a powerful Washington law firm that often represents corporations on environmental issues and where EPA air policy chief Jeffrey Holmstead once worked... In the following months, the Government Accountability Office, the congressional watchdog agency, blasted the EPA for in effect, cooking its books...

The EPA's mercury rule was finalized in March 2005. Within weeks, fourteen states filed suit to have the new rule overturned, charging that the cap-and-trade scheme was unlawful under the strict requirements for the regulation of hazardous air pollutants in the Clean Air Act." (Big Coal p. 144 - 145.)

And how'd that court case turn out? From the NY Times:

"This month, the D.C. Circuit ruled that the E.P.A. had once again ignored the law by failing to require deep and timely reductions in mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants. Like most clean air cases, this one was mind-numbingly complex. The gist of it was that the E.P.A. — seeking as usual to please industry — had approved a weak set of regulations that would let many plants off the hook for emissions reductions that would be required under any honest reading of the law."

The NY Times continued:

"The D.C. Circuit, by no means a radical group of judges, has become so exasperated that it has taken to quoting Lewis Carroll. In 2006, in a reference to “Through the Looking Glass,” the court said that the E.P.A.’s reading of the law would make sense “only in a Humpty Dumpty world.” This month, invoking “Alice in Wonderland,” the court said the agency’s reasoning recalled “the logic of the Queen of Hearts, substituting the E.P.A.’s desires for the plain text” of the law."

So in defense of your toxic polluting industry you cited a rule that you knew had just been thrown out in court? Does your plan for counteracting bad PR rely on the hope that no one knows how to use Google?

What's maddening about ABEC and other coal industry lobbying groups is that doing the right thing is often easier than your Neanderthal commitment to continuing toxic pollution. You don't even pay for the bill for environmental improvements -- consumers do through rates set by utilities commissions that guarantee that you will recover your costs plus a tidy profit:

"According to one report by state air pollution regulators, installing scrubbers that would remove 90 percent of the mercury from power plants' emissions would add just 15 to 60 cents a month to the typical residential electric bill." (Big Coal, p. 143.)

Don't you think most consumers would be willing to pay 15 to 60 cents a month to dramatically reduce special education rates, autism, asthma, heart attacks, and lung disease? In fact, you and I both know that environmental regulations are incredibly cost-effective and produce a huge net benefit to society at little cost to producers.

I'll close with this quote from Jeff Goodell about the coal industry's bone-headed opposition to sensible regulation of mercury emissions:

"For Big Coal, the obvious question is this: was the fight over mercury worth it? Yes, the industry won a decade or more of delay before it has to install mercury controls on power plants. But in return, it received mountains of bad press, provoked passionate anti-coal outbursts at public meetings around the country, triggered more than a dozen lawsuits, and inspired nearly half a million protest letters to the EPA. One might easily argue that Quin Shea has been correct back in 2000: by engaging in a political street fight over mercury, Big Coal made a mockery of its own PR rhetoric about being "increasingly clean" and undermined whatever credibility it had as an industry willing to face up to tough problems." (Big Coal, p. 145)

So what we know about mercury is that it is a huge public health problem, coal-fired power plants are a big source of the problem, it wouldn't cost the coal industry much to address the problem -- but you (ABEC and the coal industry) still insist on the right to poison our communities with this hideous neurotoxin.

And mercury is just the tip of the iceberg. Coal-fired power plants also release "67 other air toxins, many of which are known or suspected carcinogens and neurotoxins." If you like, I'd be happy to debate the problems created by these other toxic emissions from coal-fired power plants as well.


To see the videos that have gotten ABEC's undies in a bunch click (here and here).

Update #1: I got an e-mail reply from Steve Gates, Senior Communications Director at ABEC. He writes:

"David is in fact a real person. He is a researcher and editor who works for a vendor that helps us with our website."

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