Bad News For Breathers

By Sun Journal,
Posted Aug. 27, 2012, at 1:25 p.m.

Sun Journal, Lewiston (Aug. 26)

New England states should demand the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reverse a court ruling delaying tougher cross-state air pollution standards.

The new rules would cost coal-fired power plants and their customers in the Midwest and Southeast about $1 billion, according to the EPA.

But they could also prevent 11,000 premature deaths, 130,000 asthma attacks, 4,700 heart attacks and 5,700 hospital visits a year, says the EPA.

This should be a no-brainer, and it is outrageous to think we are again delaying rules these power companies have known were coming for more than a decade.

Four years ago another federal appeals court ruled that the EPA was moving too slowly to protect public health.

But Tuesday, a D.C. Federal Appeals Court ruled the EPA was moving too quickly and had exceeded its authority. It is worth noting that two Bush-era appointees to the court voted to postpone the regulations, while the Clinton appointee blasted the decision as an “absurdity” unsupported by the factual record.

And absurd it seems from here in New England, where Maine has one of the highest asthma rates in the country and has earned a reputation as the nation’s tailpipe for the way prevailing winds deliver out-of-state pollution.

These emissions include hydrochloric acid, arsenic, beryllium, chromium, dioxins and formaldehyde. Add to that lead, manganese, nickel, benzene and toluene.

All of these chemicals are linked to respiratory problems and cancer.

The decision simply reflects the politics of greed and selfishness. Consumers and businesses in Southern and Midwestern states would pay a fractionally higher rate for their electricity to pay for the improvements.

The EPA calls this a “good-neighbor” standard. There is no reason a neighboring state should have to breathe another state’s toxic byproducts.

And that’s exactly what this is. It arrives in Maine and other Northeastern states just as dependably as if it came packed in tractor-trailers or tanker cars.

The only bright side to all this is that coal-fired power plants are gradually closing in the face of competition from natural gas and, to a much lesser extent, renewable energy.

Natural gas does not produce the complex unburned hydrocarbons associated with oil and coal, and about half as much carbon dioxide.

And with new hydraulic fracturing techniques being used to extract gas from shale, the U.S. may have more than a century’s worth of reserve.

Still, even fracturing, known as fracking, is not without environmental consequences.

Methane has been driven into homes and wells near fracking wells, while spills of toxic fracking chemicals have resulted in fish kills.

If fracking can be done in an environmentally responsible way, and that remains a big if, natural gas should gradually replace coal as a source of electrical generating fuel.

Still, that transition could take decades and result in untold human suffering, death and medical expense unless these plants are forced to clean up their smokestacks.

The EPA can appeal the decision to the full District of Columbia Court of Appeals, and it should do so as quickly as possible.

http://bangordailynews.com/2012/08/27/opinion/bad-news-for-breathers/ printed on August 22, 2014