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A lock of hair, the EPA, and a better future

March 16th, 2011 · 1 Comment

Michael Brune, the Sierra Club’s executive director, had his hair clipped in public today.  And, well, I’m interested in learning about that lock of hair. You see, today, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced measures to regulate mercury emissions from coal-fired electricity production.  Expect howling screams from the anti-business Chamber of Commerce, from verbal polluters like Limbaugh and Beck, and from anti-science syndrome suffering Republicans that somehow these measures will devastate the economy.

Sure, they’ll devastate the economy like the Clean Air Act (CAA), which has cost something like $500 billion over 20 years to implement and returned over $20 trillion in value due to improved health, reduced acid rain, etc … Yeah, mercury control measures will be a lousy investment like that.

According to EPA, each year the new protection will save as many as 17,000 lives and prevent 120,000 cases of childhood asthma.

So what about Mike?  Brune’s hair is a leading strand in a Sierra Club effort to bring visibility to this measure by clipping hair and testing it for mercury.

As for the regulation, as the NRDC put it: “Today EPA announced the most important actions to clean up air pollution from dirty coal-burning power plants since the Clean Air Act was last updated in 1990.”   Mercury is, well, a nasty substance such that pregnant women and small children really should limit their intake of species up the food chain (such as (or especially) tuna. (According to EPA studies, the mercury problem in the U.S. is so widespread that at least 1 in 12 – and as many as 1 in 6 – American women of childbearing age have enough mercury in their bodies to put a fetus at risk.) The EPA’s new measures should cut mercury from plants by over 90 percent while also contributing to reducing other pollution.

Due to these tremendous health benefits, the proposed standards are estimated to yield monetized benefits of $59 billion to $140 billion annually, compared to annual compliance costs of approximately $10.9 billion. This represents $5 to $13 in health benefits for every $1 spent to reduce pollution.

By the way, this ‘job-killing measure’ (as Beck will put it, if he hasn’t already) will create some 30,000 temporary construction jobs and something like 10,000 continuing jobs in the utility sector.

Hmmm …

Saves money, creates jobs, and protects health. Certainly a bad and evil thing to do.

As the House Sustainable Energy & Environment Coalition put it,

When Congress passed the bipartisan Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990, it directed the EPA to issue standards to reduce toxic air pollution.  Today, twenty-one years later and following a court remand of the Bush Administration’s inadequate standards, the EPA proposed rules to reduce life-threatening pollution from power plants, the nation’s largest sources of toxic air pollution.“SEEC applauds the EPA and Obama Administration for its proposed Power Plant Toxic Emissions Rule, and for its work under the Clean Air Act to protect the health and welfare of the American people,” said SEEC Co-Chair Rep. Jay Inslee (D-WA).  “For forty years this law has been reducing air pollution in an effective, cost-beneficial manner that has improved air quality and also driven innovations.  This rule, and EPA’s continued work to protect clean air, are vitally important to a prosperous United States.”

“The actions that the EPA are taking today are so common sense, most people think they’re already in place,” said SEEC Vice Chair Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO). “These safeguards are long overdue, over a decade in the making, and will finally start to reduce the hundreds of thousands of tons of toxic coal plant pollutants, from mercury to arsenic, that can have health impacts on nearly every part of the human body.”

EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson just appeared on the WH blog with Removing Mercury and Other Toxics From the Air We Breathe:

Setting commonsense goals for reducing harmful pollution in the air we breathe can save lives, prevent illnesses and promote the creation of new jobs. We’re confident in these expectations for the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards because this has been the history of Clean Air Act protections for the last forty years.In 2010 alone, protections in the Clean Air Act prevented 160,000 premature deaths and 170,000 hospital visits. Cleaner air has meant trillions of dollars in benefits to our nation – not only through fewer medical bills, but by keeping our kids in school and our workers on the job. The Clean Air Act has also helped create jobs. As of 2008 the environmental technology industry – which develops, manufactures and maintains the tools that help keep our air clean – employed more than 1.7 million Americans.

The Mercury and Air Toxics Standards build on this decades-long success.

Yup, decades-long success of ‘job-killing regulation’ that protects lives, reduces student and worker sick-leave, creates jobs, and strengthens our economy and society.

And, as for Mike and the Sierra Club?

As a father of two young children, I am proud to see the EPA announcing such strong protections from toxic mercury,” said Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune. “These protections will benefit women, children and all Americans concerned about the dirty coal industry making them sick.”

In support of this  proposal, the Sierra Club is organizing free testing events around the country where concerned residents – especially women of childbearing age – can get their hair tested by a laboratory for mercury levels. Today, Mike is  hosting a hair testing event at an Ardmore, Pennsylvania salon. There are events planned in Alaskan villages; near Wilmington, North Carolina; and over a dozen other cities.  (I hope that Sierra Club targets testing of television news anchors and talk show hosts. Wonder if Glenn Beck would sacrifice a lock to find out just how poisoned his body is.)

“For decades, Big Coal and Big Oil have fought Clean Air Act protections that would have reduced pollution from their facilities, even though coal plants are the largest sources of dangerous air pollution,” said Mary Anne Hitt, Director of the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign. “I am sure that polluters will try to weaken these protections for our children, but the American people will not let that happen.”

While anti-science syndrome suffering haters of a livable economy system seek to eviscerate the EPA and defang its ability to protect America and Americans, the dedicated EPA civil servants and scientists continue their efforts to develop and implement effective pollution control measures that balance and incorporated environmental, health, and economic imperatives.

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Tags: environmental

1 response so far ↓

  • 1 frflyer // Mar 17, 2011 at 12:08 am

    The hair clipping reminds me of a story the National Geographic ran, about a man who was tested for about 240 toxins in his body. He’s a journalist who wanted to see if there was a story there. NG paid the $15,000 for the testing. He had something like 165 chemicals in his body including high levels of mercury and PCBs. Of the approximately 28 insecticides he was tested for, he had I think 17 in his body. He had never worked or lived anywhere that might have raised his exposure over the norm.

    This is part of Bag It!, as well, with two tests. One before and another after two days of ‘normal’ plastics exposure by someone who had worked to reduce plastics in their household and daily life. A scary part that is rather terrifying to consider for any of us with the exception of the positive side: that one can take actions that will, rather quickly, reduce the levels of these materials in one’s body.