ded reckoning

The Militaristic, Environmental, Telecom blog that doesn't know where it's going

23 March 2005

NOx, SOx, Rocks, Hg and Hot Air

A new rule from EPA was implemented in March that will finally help clean up all the grandfathered coal-fired power plants that did not have to get refitted with pollution control equipment under the Clean Air Act. This is long overdue and though it won't stop people saying Bush is out to rape the environment, it is a clear case of a good cost-benefit study showing there was no reason these plants should not install the scrubbers and bag houses they need to reduce SOx, NOx, and rocks (particulates):

Under the rule, sulfur dioxide pollution is expected to decline by 73 percent over the next decade, compared with 2003 levels, EPA officials said. Oxides of nitrogen are expected to drop by 61 percent. All told, the EPA calculated, the rule will prevent 17,000 premature deaths; 1.7 million lost workdays; 500,000 lost school days; 22,000 non-fatal heart attacks; and 12,300 hospital admissions annually by 2015.
While these pollutants have been going down for decades (and Tim Blair has warned us against this evil reduction in dimming) , the old, large coal-fired units operated mostly by The Southern Company, AEP, and TVA, among others, are contributors way outside of their power production capabilities. The original grandfathering (look here for some good background, but beware, you never know if you are reading science or politics in these debates) of these plants probably made sense in the 1980s when we thought they'd get decommissioned over the next few decades.

Interestingly, the new rule coincides with a new rule on mercury pollution that will take emissions down from 48 tons per year to 23 tons in 2018. As most mercury pollution comes from burning coal, this reduction goes hand in glove with the emission controls applied to the coal plants. But according to the enviro lobby, that 52% decrease is not good enough, especially since a Harvard study says we could save thousands of babies by making greater reductions, and the new rules rely on using trading schemes.

Never say "market based" around the Big Green lobby because they will tell you Bush is purposely enriching his friends while poisoning your children, but here, the science and the economics just don't add up. It seems that most mercury poisoning comes from eating fish, ocean fish specifically. US power plants contribute only 1% of Mercury pollution in the world.

So, the Harvard study that was brutally suppressed by the Bushies (before showing up in the Washington Post), claims that reducing our 1% by much greater than half will save hundreds of thousands of babies whose mothers eat too much tuna. (For an interesting expose on the exposure science, go here, though again, these guys are probably just right wing hacks employed by the energy industry) But then again, back to the famous Harvard study, which you have to wonder about when the researcher who wrote it says this:

Hammitt acknowledged "wide uncertainty" over calculating the benefits. "It could be ten times bigger, or ten times smaller," he said. "Part of the science underlying the subject is just not solid enough to specify things really precisely."
So, ignoring Chinese and Russian, Indian and other coal burning plants which spread most of the other 99% of the mercury (mostly into the Pacific, from which we get most of our tuna), and forcing some expensive, unproven technology into US service when the money could be spent better elsewhere is what the best approach we can take. Makes sense to me, but then again, I support building a bunch of new safe nukes to reduce pollution.


Post a Comment

<< Home