The New York Times reports: E.P.A. Chief Stands Firm as Tough Rules Loom:
In the next weeks and months, Lisa P. Jackson, the Environmental Protection Agency administrator, is scheduled to establish regulations on smog, mercury, carbon dioxide, mining waste and vehicle emissions that will affect every corner of the economy.
She is working under intense pressure from opponents in Congress, from powerful industries, from impatient environmentalists and from the Supreme Court, which just affirmed the agency’s duty to address global warming emissions, a project that carries profound economic implications.
The new rules will roll out just as President Obama’s re-election campaign is getting under way, with a White House highly sensitive to the probability of political damage from a flood of government mandates that will strike particularly hard at the manufacturing sector in states crucial to the 2012 election.
No other cabinet officer is in as lonely or uncomfortable a position as Ms. Jackson, who has been left, as one adviser put it, behind enemy lines with only science, the law and a small band of loyal lieutenants to support her.
Well, she’s also got you and me. And that’s not trivial. These new rules include the first regulations on mercury emissions from coal plants. Coal plants are the major source of toxic mercury in the fish you eat (bad for you, bad for the fish, bad for the bird that eat the fish, bad, really for everything), so reining those emissions in is a huge step forward for the environment and for public health. These regulations have been in the works since the 1990 amendments to the Clean Air Act, and after a regrettable rulemaking hiatus under the Bush administration, they are a welcome addition. David Roberts at Grist, probably the best environmental policy journalist out there, has a great series on these new rules and their implications.
Those new rules, if they’re strong and well-enforced, won’t just reduce toxic mercury emissions. By raising the price of making electricity from coal, these regulations will push utilities to close older coal plants and to shift towards cleaner fuels, fuels that don’t just release less mercury, but that have lower greenhouse gas emissions. Combined with the EPA’s new regulations on carbon dioxide (and others soon to come), this could have a major impact on the US carbon footprint, though less than could be achieved through a comprehensive climate bill.
As the figure shows (borrowed from this article at Grist, which drew on this report from ICF), most of the impact from these rules is expected to come in the Central US, which will have to replace 25 gigawatts (GW) of electrical generation, while western states will be relatively unaffected. But among the states hit hardest will be Presidential battleground states like Ohio, Florida, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Michigan, Missouri, Florida, West Virginia.
Of course, those are also the states most dramatically impacted by coal mining and coal burning, so there ought to be some political upside, especially if utilities react by building new natural gas plants and new wind farms to make up for losses in coal capacity. The jobs and clean air created by such moves would be boons to the local communities. Whether they’d outweigh potential bumps in electricity rates remains to be seen: with unemployment hovering between 9 and 10 percent, lots of people will notice job creation, but everyone gets an electrical bill, and the environmental benefits will be diffuse, and long term.
These mercury regulations are sure to be politically contentious, so if you’d like to see the EPA finally establish strong limits on mercury emissions, you should contact your members of Congress and your governor and your utilities and tell them that you want these rules to be implemented, and you want them to be strong. Then ask them (especially governors and utilities) whether they’ve sent in comments on the new rules, or whether they’ve otherwise taken a position. Feel free to leave a comment here with the responses, or if you get the runaround. We can all help you get answers to the simple question of whether your public officials support a plan that would save lives and prevent birth defects, stillbirths, and miscarriages.