The thoroughly discredited Dr. Charles Driscoll, leader of the “Indirect Health Benefits Study” of the Clean Power Plan (CPP), opines about the new EPA rule, replacing the 2015 CPP with a more balance, less Federal Government. Did I mention the Study was jointly done with Harvard?
Old environmentalists don’t fade away, they patiently wait for the media to forget their last scientific gaffe, false claims of “no skin in the game” objectivity, or example of funding bias. Just for the record, the Studies participating universities and their scientific staffs received a total of $46 million in general government funding and EPA grants for the Clean Power Plan. And, yes, there is a significant paper trail to demonstrate the accuracy of my comments.
EPA rule changes put clean air at risk (Commentary)
By Charles Driscoll | Special to
Air quality in the U.S. is generally good, but it hasn’t always been this way. In the 1950s and 1960s, air quality was poor in many areas due to powerplant, industrial and motor vehicle emissions. In 1963, Congress established the Clean Air Act and air quality has been steadily improving ever since.
Clean air is cost-effective. According to the Institute for Policy Integrity at NYU, annual costs of clean air regulations were $20 billion in 2000, increasing to $65 billion in 2020, while the health benefits from improved air quality were $770 billion in 2000 and are expected to increase to $1.2 trillion in 2020, more than a 30-to-1 benefit-to-cost ratio. Not considered are ecosystem benefits important to New York state, such as recovery of the Adirondacks and Catskills from acid rain impacts and improved crop and tree production. Recent improvements in air quality have been supported by new technologies, resulting in a shift from coal to cheaper, cleaner fuels, including natural gas and renewables, and improved energy efficiency. Although much progress has been made, many areas still do not meet air quality standards, particularly in highly urbanized regions.
Unfortunately, efforts are underway by the current U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to roll back aspects of the Clean Air Act. The administration is proposing to repeal the current Clean Power Plan, which would control carbon dioxide emissions that contribute to climate change, replacing it with the Affordable Clean Energy (ACE) plan. The “ACE” is a limited alternative which improves the heat rate efficiency of coal plants, causing them to operate longer and emit greater quantities of air pollution. Why would the administration incentivize coal when an energy transition is underway and technologies and economic drivers are moving us toward cleaner, more modern and sustainable energy solutions? The ACE would decrease carbon dioxide emissions by a paltry 0.7% by 2030, compared to a no policy option. Moreover, under ACE, we would not realize health benefits projected under the Clean Power Plan. By the EPA’s own analysis, under ACE by 2030 up to 1,498 premature deaths would occur due to poor air quality every year, compared with the Clean Power Plan.
EPA is also proposing to weaken the Mercury and Air Toxics (MATS) rule. Mercury is a naturally occurring toxin. Health effects of mercury include neurodevelopmental impacts, reductions in IQ and cardiovascular impacts. There are no safe concentrations of mercury. There are also adverse effects on the reproductive and behavioral health of wildlife at low levels of environmental exposure.
In the U.S., coal plants are the major source of mercury to the atmosphere; subsequently, the atmosphere is a large source of mercury contamination in fish. Human and wildlife exposure to mercury largely occurs from consumption of mercury-contaminated fish. In New York, there are 102 fish consumption advisories for lakes and rivers, as well as blanket advisories for the Adirondack and Catskill regions. These freshwater advisories do not address ocean fish, which is the major source of fish people consume.
Since the MATS rule was finalized in 2011, there have been marked decreases in mercury pollution and we are seeing decreases in mercury in fish, including fish in the Adirondacks and tuna in the Atlantic Ocean. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has noted decreases in mercury in the blood of U.S. women of child-bearing age. Despite these successes, EPA is now concerned with the cost to industry.
At the heart of the EPAs concern is: What should be considered a benefit? In 2011, EPA found annual compliance costs of $9.6 billion for MATS. The EPA also found the direct benefits from decreasing mercury would be only $4 million to $6 million per year. However, this analysis was based on a single health endpoint associated with decreases in exposure from only freshwater fish for a small part of the U.S. population. Controlling mercury in power plants would also reduce other air pollutants that cause soot and smog. In its original analysis, EPA concluded that total benefits for all air pollutants (both mercury and other pollutants) from MATS would range between $37 billion and $90 billion annually, far exceeding the costs of regulation. EPA now considers it inappropriate to include benefits other than those solely from mercury. However, a recent, comprehensive analysis by MIT researchers found that cumulative U.S. economy wide benefits associated with decreases in mercury exposure from MATS exceeds $43 billion.
So what are the implications of these policy changes? We have long benefited from improvements in air quality with decreases in health consequences (premature deaths, hospitalizations, heart attacks, childhood asthma), natural resource effects (crops, trees, aquatic) and exposure to mercury. Rolling back these air quality rules will halt this progress. The Clean Power Plan is the first significant federal effort to decrease carbon dioxide emissions to help mitigate climate change. It is important that the U.S. demonstrate to the world its commitment and leadership on this important issue. Finally, underneath these policy actions would be fundamental changes in way we implement the Clean Air Act. These changes would limit the effectiveness of the Clean Air Act to protect our air resources, and public health and welfare.