Crossposted from Greenpeace USA.
In the midst of attacks from Congress on virtually all things environmental, EPA has announced a rule to reduce emissions of mercury and other toxic air pollution. The two-decade history of this long-developing rule is a frustrating anecdote of the success of the anti-public health coal lobby.
Coal industry has contributed heavily to the campaign coffers of our lawmakers. Senator Inhofe (R-OK), America's most iconic politician against environmental logic, introduced the speciously entitled CARE Act. When it comes to public health, the bill is better called the 'Don't Give a Damn Act.' CARE would strip EPA's ability to protect people against airborne toxics. American Electric Power is clearly supportive of Inhofe's stalling bill. Other companies willing to pay evil lobbyists, but not to pay to invest in pro-public pollution technology, include Southern Energy and Duke Energy.
To their disappointment, this rule requires polluters reduce emissions of heavy metals, toxic gases, and other dangerous pollutants. Let's be clear, these companies have a choice.
'Mad hatter's disease,' named after a symptom of mercury exposure, wreaks havoc on the central nervous system and eventually the entire body. Also called Minimata disease, named after the river and community who suffered from wanton mercury pollution by industry in Japan, chronic mercury poisoning has been studied for several decades now.
Mercury contributes to thousands of deaths annually and may adversely affect the development of over 400,000 babies per year. Mercury exposure is serious problem for the lungs, brain, heart, stomach, kidneys, and the immune system. About 90% of human exposure is through the diet. Because of 'bioaccumulation' (mercury collects over time in organisms' bodies, including human bodies) and 'biomagnification' (concentration increases as animals eat other animals) we are most exposed through eating animal products. Newborn babies are most vulnerable, since they act as a mercury filter in the womb, and are exposed again through their mother's milk. Umbilical cord blood is a filter for a number of hazardous pollutants that include mercury. The only safe level of mercury exposure is zero.
Polluters have been spreading mercury around the country. Taller smokestacks never help. Much airborne mercury often falls back to the ground and waterways within only 100 or so miles, but since it doesn't breakdown it is re-emitted into the air, floats down streams, or is carried around by animals who ingest it. In 2008 about half the area of all rivers and lakes were under water contamination advisories, 80% of which was due to mercury pollution.
Most coal-fired power plant owners have not yet opted to install easily available technology that could reduce up to 90% of their mercury emissions. The majority of mercury poisoning is linked to burning coal. Some of this is transboundary pollution from burning coal in other countries. Fortunately, the US administration is constructively engaged in international discussions to reduce transboundary airborne mercury pollution. A positive outcome at the next international meetings surely depends on a strong rule. This rule is supposed to be finalized by November, whereas the next round of international mercury talks is the first week of the same month.
This new EPA rule would reduce our exposure to many of the most toxic substances humans have ever encountered (and created). Everyone knows arsenic is poisonous. Notwithstanding Frank Capra's masterpiece adaptation of Arsenic and Old Lace, we cannot blame widespread arsenic contamination on Cary Grant's well-meaning aunts. The main culprit is coal, always dirty and filthy.
This blog was originally posted on October 4, 2010
Last Friday, the Heritage Foundation posted a scandalously selective blurb from a recent Royal Society report on global warming. Editing out ten pages of the report, Heritage cut and pasted to promote the notion that a large amount of uncertainty still exists about the occurance of climate change.
For the record: credible scientists actively studying climate patterns have no doubt that global warming is happening and that fossil fuel emissions are public enemy number one. Had Heritage chosen to leave some of those ten pages they so gracefully skipped, perhaps they would have reached the same conclusion. Even the summary of the report makes this clear, stating:
"[The report] shows that there is strong evidence that over the last half century, the earth’s warming has been caused largely by human activity."
The Heritage Foundation is no stranger to junk science--they've been paid over $600,000 from Exxon since 1998 (the year global warming "stopped", for those that believe in cherry-picked science, *cough cough* Senator Inhofe), and over $3 million from the Koch brothers since 1997.
Heritage is also deeply entrenched in the climate denial machine, associated with purchased scientists who have made a living denying climate change, the links between cigarettes and cancer, and other less-than-admirable and less-than-scientific efforts to uphold their industrial clients. These people may have Ph.D.'s (although usually not even climate-related), but don't actively study climate data in the field or publish material after a peer-review from credible scientists. Their selective reporting wouldn't hold up through such an integrity check.
Doubt is their product, and business has been good, but you can only keep people from smelling scientific sewage for so long.
For more on Heritage's selective science, check out NRDC's Switchboard.
UPDATE: It turns out the author of the deceptive Heritage blog, Nicholas Loris, is a former "associate at the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation." Another small bit of evidence contributing to the overwhelming pervasiveness of the Kochtopus...