mercury

The Big Mercury Lie

by William Yeatman on January 4, 2012

Post image for The Big Mercury Lie

There’s a big lie making the rounds that EPA’s ultra-expensive new mercury regulation is worth the cost ($10 billion annually) because it will protect fetuses from developmental disorders.

EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson is the most prominent perpetrator of the mercury lie. Recently, she gave a pep talk to a group of collegian environmental activists trying to shut down campus coal fired power plants, during which she said:

“It’s so important that your voices be heard, that campuses that are supposed to be teaching people aren’t meanwhile polluting the surrounding community with mercury and costing the children a few IQ points because of the need to generate power.  It’s simply not fair.”

Over at Think Progress Green, Brad Johnson does his part to spread mercury disinformation, by pooh-poohing Rep. Ed Whitfield (R-Kentucky) for having claimed (correctly) that the mercury rule won’t have any benefit for babies and pregnant women. According to Johnson,

“The glimmer of fact in Whitfield’s claims is that the health costs of mercury poisoning of our nation’s children over decades of unlimited coal pollution are difficult to quantify. Mercury poisoning is rarely fatal and hard to detect, but causes undeniable, insidious developmental harm to fetuses and babies.”

Naturally, environmentalist special interests are the worst propagators of this mercury mendacity. The day that EPA Administrator announced the final mercury rule, Sierra Club launched a television advertisement depicting a little girl learning to ride a bike, while a voiceover states:

“When this little girl grows up her world will have significantly less mercury pollution because President Obama and the EPA stood up against polluters and established the first-ever clean air standards. This action means that our air, water, and food will be safer from mercury pollution and heavy metals generated by coal-fired power plants. Like you, President Obama understands that reducing toxic mercury pollution increases the possibilities to dream big.”

Global atmospheric mercury might or might not be a problem—I don’t know. But I do know that mercury emissions from U.S. coal fired plants pose a negligible danger to fetuses. And I know this because EPA told me so.

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Post image for Mercury Emissions and Exposure

Mercury is making the rounds in the news, with an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, a Lisa Jackson appearance on The Daily Show (and part two), and a bunch of angry blogs. From the angry blogger:

Famed science deniers Willie Soon and Paul Driessen, both of whom have worked for groups that accept cash from Exxon Mobil to pretend global warming isn’t happening, have a new crusade: Mercury denial!

That’s right: They have an op-ed in Wednesday’s Wall Street Journal claiming that breathing toxic mercury isn’t bad for you.

Willie Soon, astronomer. And Paul Driessen, lobbyist with a degree in geology. Expertise in public health? Limited. Willingness to take cash from the coal polluters that pump tons of mercury into our air every year? Extensive.

What’s that? You want to know what actual medical researchers have to say about the subject? Fine, have it your way:

Note that the post begins with a personal attacks on the individuals (as well as their funding), and ignores the number of valid arguments brought up in the piece. It also ignores the similarly esteemed medical researchers have noted that the U.S. accounts for less than 1% of global mercury emissions, so eliminating our mercury emissions (which comes at a cost, despite Lisa Jackson’s assertion that it will create jobs for those who install mercury scrubbers) won’t have a significant effect on atmospheric mercury content, and thus the alleged negative health effects. This paper estimates that man-made mercury emissions account for approximately 30% of total annual emissions, with 70% coming from natural sources. As the WSJ piece notes, this helps to put the ‘coal plants are killing your babies’ into perspective:

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Post image for President Sets Sights on Re-election

The 2012 presidential election is starting to bend some of the Obama Administration’s environmental and energy policies.  I have noted previously that the White House realizes that gas prices are a huge threat to President Barack Obama’s re-election.  Consequently, the President is trying to shift the blame to oil companies and speculators while at the same time talking up what his Administration is doing to increase domestic oil production.  The reality, of course, is that the Obama Administration has moved across the board to decrease oil production in federal lands and offshore areas.

Another sign of the Administration’s focus on the President’s re-election is that the Environmental Protection Agency has suddenly started paying attention to the concerns of industry.  The timetables for new regulations of coal ash disposal and of surface coal mining in Appalachia have been extended.  EPA announced last week that it was reconsidering, but not delaying, some parts of its new Clean Air Act rule for cement plants.  This week EPA suspended indefinitely a similar rule for industrial boilers that it had promulgated in February.  EPA said that it will conduct more analyses and re-open the public comment period for the boiler rule.

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Post image for Primer: EPA’s Power Plant MACT for Hazardous Air Pollutants

Today, the Environmental Protection Agency proposed a major rule to regulate power plants under the Hazardous Air Pollutants (HAP) Section 112 of the Clean Air Act.

This post is a primer on this consequential and controversial decision.

Section 112 of the Clean Air Act

  • In 1970, the Congress added Section 112 to the Clean Air Act, requiring that the EPA list and regulate Hazardous Air Pollutants (HAPs) that could “cause, or contribute to, an increase in mortality or an increase in serious irreversible or incapacitating reversible illness.” The Congress ordered the EPA to establish standards for HAPs that provided “an ample margin of safety to protect public health.”
  • Due to difficulties interpreting what should constitute “an ample margin of safety,” the EPA largely ignored Section 112 for two decades.
  • In 1990, the Congress, frustrated with the slow pace of HAP regulation, amended the Clean Air Act to remove much of EPA’s discretion over the implementation of Section 112. Lawmakers listed 189 pollutants for regulation. They also legislated HAP pollution controls, known as Maximum Achievable Control Technology (MACT) standards. The Clean Air Act amendments set a “MACT floor” (i.e., a minimum HAP pollution control) at “the average emission limitation achieved by the best performing 12 percent of the existing sources.”
  • Section 112 MACT standards apply to both new and existing stationary sources.
  • Notably, the Congress required the EPA to proceed with caution before it regulated Electricity Generating Units (“EGUs,” or power plants). The 1990 Clean Air Amendments mandated a study on the public health threats posed by EGU HAP emissions, and the EPA Administrator was authorized to proceed with the regulation of HAPs from EGUs only after evaluating the results of this study, and concluding that “such regulation is appropriate and necessary.”

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