New EPA rule for dirty power plants fuels strange debate

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Coal-fired power plants are the single largest source of carbon pollution in the United States.

In the downside-up Alice in Wonderland world of Congress, we are about to begin a debate about whether unlimited pollution is a good thing.

It will be triggered by the Obama administration's historic announcement today that for the first time, America’s fossil-fueled power plants will not be allowed to release limitless amounts of carbon pollution – a policy that will improve the chances our children and grandchildren will have a safe and healthy future.

No one, of course, will stand up and say they love pollution.

But you're about to hear elected officials and industry lobbyists talk very loudly about the calamity that will occur if we impose any restriction at all on carbon pollution from power plants.

Never mind that power plants are the largest source of this pollution, or that they cause major damage to our environment and our health. And don’t worry that up until now, there have been no national limits on them at all.

According to these folks, unless we allow companies to pollute as much as they want, we will face catastrophe.

Pollution is bad - period

The new rule from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency would establish standards for carbon pollution from existing power plants, just as they have standards for soot and mercury and other pollutants. The rule is based on decades of science, and will be proposed under authority granted by Congress through the Clean Air Act.

More importantly, it’s based on two pieces of basic common sense:

  1. When there is no limit on pollution, you get a lot of pollution.
  2. Pollution is bad.

It doesn’t seem to reassure the unlimited pollution crowd that every past effort to reduce air pollution has resulted in a net benefit for our economy as well as for our health. In fact, the benefits of most EPA Clean Air Act rules outweigh the costs by 30 to 1.

But as reliably as a humid summer in Washington, critics of the law will wildly over-estimate the cost of complying with new pollution reduction rules.

According to these folks, unless we allow companies to pollute as much as they want, we will face catastrophe.

The impacts of unlimited pollution are scary, as outlined in two recent scientific reports that outline the situation globally and in the United States. Kids will have more asthma attacks, storms will be more destructive, drought more severe, and lots of other dangerous problems.

Compare that future to one in which we have reasonable limits on carbon pollution. They won’t solve all of our problems, but they are a significant step forward. The new EPA rule will kick-start a transition to a clean-energy and low-carbon future, which will lead to economic and health benefits for everyone.

So next time someone tells you that limits on carbon emissions are a bad idea, ask if he (or she) thinks unlimited pollution is a responsible policy – and watch the person change the subject in a hurry.

It’s how these conversations usually end.

Keith Gaby

Keith Gaby

Keith is Environmental Defense Fund’s climate communications director.

 

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Comments

FINALLY we will begin doing something about the GREAT DAMAGE CARBON POLLUTION causes to many of our citizens and the contribution it makes to climate change!

Face the bottom line-the people working in the coal producing lands would love to do something else to make a living. They have families to feed, mortgages to pay. Take away their jobs, as bad as they are and not give them another way to earn a living is not very smart. Get the people, and powers that be, together and fine some way to replace this horrible industry. Yes horrible, just look at a coal miners face. Ask his or her family if they would like to work in some other industry. The politicians should be working to replace this industry not trying to perpetuate it. Oh by the way, won’t this encourage renewal and clean energy industries to expand? Could they have plants built in these States with incentives to provide jobs and training to these workers????? Just asking.

The Fossil Barons are quick to point out the dilemma of "Stranded Assets" following environmental constraints on polluting the commons. The flip side is the "stranded assets" currently incurred by "We the People" in the mitigation costs of increasing forest firers, floods, storms, sea level rise, agriculture loses, acidified oceans, even lives should steps not be made stranding those fossil "assets" while there is still a chance for the survival of the kidders.

Corporations are "People" now . As such they have a fiduciary responsibility to protect planetary life support systems, as do we all. It is past time that Corpro/People learn to play nice with their elders.

Very well Said!!!
We can't shut these steaming Toxic Mercury Polluting Steam Engine Era Machines down fast enough!
Thank you &God Bless You& America

Voices for cleaner environment all over this earth of ours are as if angel's voices to be joined by all politicians all over this earth; just like astronauts from all nations in space station, voices for cleaner environments all over this earth shall join together to prove to ourselves that we are saner than what we were. :)

New rule from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency should step more against carbon pollution. Definitely low-carbon future will be beneficial for health.