Wednesday, June 15, 2011

EPA Administrator testifies before the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works.

EPA administrator, Lisa Jackson, testified today on air pollution and some of the more recent EPA rules regarding air pollutant discharges and technology mandates.

She stated as a matter of fact that pollutants such as mercury and other particulate matter, “shortens and reduces the quality of Americans’ lives and puts at risk the health and development of future generations.”

This is nothing new. We have seen an increase of respiratory problems in heavily impacted areas. There are also other researches correlating particular pollutants as related to diseases and cancer. Mercury, for example, is a toxin that causes neurological damages; particulate matters can lead to respiratory problems, decreased lung functions and even pre-mature death in fetuses. Because these pollutants are in the air, they impact everyone, but it is the elderly and the young that are most frequently affected most severely. The added healthcare cost from these problems may not have been a big deal in the booming and bubble years in the past. In this economy, we all hope we can cut cost a bit here and there. I’d say less health problem is a good thing not only for us personally, but also for the economy in general.

Of course most of these pollutants, including arsenic, chromium and acid gases, come from power plants. I have previously defended our nuclear power options only if we can cut back on our energy consumption to reduce the pressure on the grid and slowly phase-out nuclear and other high impact energy production methods. Health problems should be added to the list of reasons why we need to curb our energy demand and call for a transition to a distributed grid of clean and renewable energy.

We have been working hard at cleaning our air since the 1970s when Congress first created the Clean Air Act. Over the years, EPA has been fighting a good fight issuing final rules to transition technologies used and reduce pollutants emitted. The Clean Air Act was amended in 1990 to give it more teeth and the EPA is proud to report that in the last year alone, “the Clean Air Act is estimated to have saved 160,000 lives and prevented more than 100,000 hospital visits.”

On March 16, EPA proposed the first ever national standards for mercury and other toxic air pollution from power plants. While many power plants already comply with EPA standards, the new national standard will level the playing field by requiring additional power plants to install proven pollution control technologies.

I am one for small governments and strong state authority and obligations to protect its own citizens. But I think a national standard is perhaps necessary to resolve some of the cross-boundary pollutant emission disputes. After all, the EPA staff and lawyers have better things to do than to argue back and forth why some states are requiring less stringent standards while impacting another down-wind state’s air quality. This is a race to the bottom problem and a proper cure must set a minimum bar to elevate our overall responsibility to the health and condition of our people.

EPA estimate the deployment of these bar minimum technologies will prevent an estimated:

  • 17,000 premature deaths
  • 11,000 heart attacks
  • 120,000 cases of childhood asthma symptoms
  • 11,000 cases of acute bronchitis among children
  • 12,000 emergency room visits and hospital admissions
  • 850,000 days of work missed due to illness

The rule is currently open for comments. Once it is finalized, this rule will result in more than $120 billion in health benefits each year. EPA estimates this rule will protect public health by avoiding:

  • 14,000 to 36,000 premature death
    • 21,000 cases of acute bronchitis
    • 23,000 nonfatal heart attacks
  • 240,000 cases of aggravated asthma
  • 440,000 cases of upper and lower respiratory symptoms
  • 26,000 hospital and emergency room visits
    • 1.9 million days of work or school missed due to illness

You can read a full version of her testimony at: http://yosemite.epa.gov/opa/admpress.nsf/Press%20Releases%20-%20Air!OpenView

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