(HOST) You win some, you lose some. Commentator Ruth Page reports on both good and bad news in recent EPA regulations.
(PAGE) I’ve got Good News and Bad News. Maybe we’ll do the Bad first, then cheer ourselves up before the end. (There are always occasional scraps of Good News about the environment, but many are so drowned under the Bad they barely surface.)
A more-or-less constant piece of Bad News is the short shrift government agencies often give to science; when it contradicts the political will, it may be either ignored, or (when it’s a report official- ly requested) tossed away, while another report is sought that fits what the politics call for.
That makes no sense. For example, the EPA has announced a very weak requirement for mercury pollution, even though the heavy metal is a strong poison. A couple years ago, Vermont even gave free human-temperature thermometers to all of us who turned in the old mercury-based ones: a small step, but a forward step.
The new EPA rule was written over strong objections from several environmental organizations. Such organizations base their deci- sions on science. The EPA rule cuts back on requirements for power plants to regulate mercury. It even postpones seeking im- portant cuts in mercury pollution for ten more years. It also allows mercury trading: some power plants can avoid cutting back by paying a cleaner plant to “adopt” their overage. Such actions cause higher emissions in total, but keep both companies nom- inally in line with the law. Country-wide, the result can be more mercury-laden air than ever.
One of EPA’s own toxicologists, who has studied the problem, says it could expose 630,000 U. S. babies born each year to dangerous mercury levels while still in the womb.
OK, now some good news, also from the EPA. Coal smoke stacks at plants all up and down the Ohio River Valley pour into the air two-thirds of all the nation’s sulfur dioxide and a fifth of its nitrogen oxide. The new regulation called CAIR (Clean Air Inter- state Rule) will do more to clean up the air than any government requirement in the past 15 years. Environmental Defense and others have fought for CAIR, and when it’s fully in place, it should prevent some 17,000 premature deaths every year.
Though some in Congress, such as Republican Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma – noted for pooh-poohing science that may threaten total freedom for industry – tried to interfere, the bill passed and the President signed it into law. The EPA even said human health benefits from the law will outweigh the companies’ cost of compliance by a ratio of 25 to one.
This is Ruth Page, tired of breathing the sometimes smoggy air that blows to us from the Midwest.