See, we can work together to clean up the environment

The Senate Committee on Environmental and Public Works hearing on S. 2995 Clean Air Amendments Act of 2010 is proof that we can all work together to fight pollution. The bill amends the Clean Air Act to establish a national uniform multiple air pollutant regulatory program for the electric generating sector. It calls for an 80% reduction of SO2 by 2018, a 50% reduction of NOx by 2015, and a 90% reduction of mercury in 2015. S. 2995 has 13 co-sponsors including Sen. Graham and Alexander. There is large bipartisan support for this bill signaling to us that it is very possible that it will pass this year.

General support for the bill was echoed by statements of both senators and panelists. Lone concerns came from two people, Sen. Voinovich and John M. McManus, Vice President for Environmental Services, American Electric Power Service Corporation. They were concerned that the goals of the bill were too strict and therefore would bring about significant increases in energy prices. Even though this sounds typical and expected, there actually seems to be some merit to this claim.

Let’s say some power plants have reduced their mercury emissions by 85%, but the bill requires that they reduce it by 90%. Given that not all power plants are built the same, those power plants might have to spend much more money just to reduce emissions by that 5%, thereby increasing energy prices significantly for everyday consumers. This seems to be a legitimate concern, but no solutions to this problem were presented during the hearing.

The good news is that there have been many coal power plants that have reduced their mercury emissions by 90% says Regina McCarthy, Assistant Administrator, Office of Air and Radiation, EPA. So it is possible. We can do it, just not using the same methods universally. So what does that mean for us?

It’s very difficult to answer that question. Although we want certainty when it comes to cost, we just don’t know how it will play out because technology and science keep on advancing. McCarthy pointed out how we have seen tremendous change in reducing mercury emissions. Markets grow, things change, not to mention the role renewables are going to play in the equation. Therefore, we really don’t know how much all of it is going to cost. But the point is that uncertainty should not prevent us from acting.

One thing to keep in mind is that our economy can grow while reducing pollution. According to McCarthy, overall pollution has been reduced 54% since 1980 while our GDP has more than doubled after adjusting for inflation. Moreover, investment in these advanced technologies will keep us at the forefront of the global economy.

I look forward to see what happens with this bill.

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