Archive for the ‘Event/Hearing Review’ Category

Holding BP Accountable (Hopefully): The Case to Remove Liability Limits

By William Schoell and Jeremy Koulish

One cannot turn on the news today and not get pelted with an overload of Deep Horizon oil leakage updates and BP slamming.  The president is consulting with experts so he knows whose ass to kick on this whole ordeal.  So when it’s time to settle up with BP, what laws are in place to allow our government to hold BP accountable and ensure taxpayers aren’t stuck with the bill? You likely have heard about the current $75 million cap on liability for damages.  So how did that cap get into place, is it justified, and what can be done to rectify the situation?  The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee held a hearing to examine these issues on June 9th.

For starters, here’s a brief overview of the current law.  The Oil Pollution Act of 1990, or OPA90, was written in response to the Exxon Valdez Oil spill in 1989.  This bill requires the responsible company to pay all of the damages associated with cleanup and pay economic damages related to lost incomes of newly unemployed fishermen, decreased tourism and more.  The catch is that OPA90 has a liability limit for those economic damages of $75 million.  That amount is utterly dwarfed by estimates for the damages related to Deep Horizon ranging from a “modest” $1-$3 billion as quoted by Chairman James Oberstar (D-MN08) to more current projections of closer to $40 billion.  Clearly that $75 million cap will not do the trick when holding BP accountable on its promises to cover all costs related to the spill.  Aside from the cleanup responsibilities and responsibilities for economic damages (with the cap), the bill also has created an industry-financed $150 million trust fund for emergency spending.  Its purpose is to fund the Coast Guard to start containment and cleanup work before any company pays the government or starts working themselves.  Problem is, the Coast Guard is almost out of that money.

Some valuable ideas emerged from this hearing, although their fate remains unclear given the institutional obstacles in Congress.  A few possible actions the Congress could take are increasing the liability cap, removing the cap altogether, expanding the emergency trust fund and implementing tighter regulations on offshore drilling.  At the hearing, those supportive of action seemed content with expanding the emergency trust fund and raising the cap on liabilities, although there were differences over how much to raise the cap, how much to expand the trust fund and when to pay for it.  But seeing how most Americans want to see swift actions taken on this issue, these kinds of deals will most likely be worked out in the near future.  Indeed, Chairman Oberstar said he hopes to see a bill on the floor and passed before the 4th of July recess.

One of the hearing’s witnesses, MIT economics professor Dr. Michael Greenstone, set forth a concise argument for why there should be no cap at all on damages.  The main problem with capping damages is its moral hazard effect, in other words that it creates an incentive to ignore safety protocol and cut corners in order to save money.  This is because a company knowing of a cap will not care if damages exceed the cap’s value.  In this case, BP will not care if damages are $75.1 million or $75 billion; with the cap they are only responsible for $75 million.  Not only does BP not care, insurance companies will only insure them up to that $75 million because the insurance company knows quite well that $75 million is all BP would be responsible for.  So in effect a cap gives a company incentive to act with excessive risk because they know that they will only be responsible for the cap’s value.

One of the arguments against removing the caps (or even raising them) that served as the g0-to point for Republicans including Ranking Member John Mica (R-FL07), was the unintended consequence of small and medium sized businesses would not be able to afford insurance with raised caps or no caps at all.  If the cap were raised significantly, the argument goes, companies would have to be able to pay higher premiums on more coverage, driving out smaller companies with less money.

However, regardless of the issue that barriers to entry in the oil-drilling business are already extremely high for all but the largest conglomerates, another major  problem with this argument exists. As Robert P. Hartwig of the Insurance Information Institute and others pointed out, insurance companies generally price premiums based not on company size but rather on risk.  It does not matter to an insurer if your company is worth $500,000 or $20 billion, the riskier the behavior the more their premiums will be.  So as long any company, small or large, takes the right levels of safety precaution then no company should have a problem getting insurance.  Looking at the issue a slightly different way, an efficient market for oil-drilling operations would price the full costs of unforeseen events to society into the cost of doing business. Therefore, if a company cannot afford insurance in the absence of a liability cap, drilling on oil well is not an economically viable endeavor and therefore should not be undertaken. Thus, the argument favored by most Republicans seemed oddly out of step with their traditional embrace of free market principles.

In summary, removing liability caps actually creates proper incentives for companies and insurers to act safely.  As Dr. Greenstone mentioned, the goals of off shore drillers and the public are not in line, and a cap on liability only increases this effect.  Without a cap, companies will be forced to place their drills in the safest areas with proper safety regulations in order to get insurance and/or avoid paying damages.

Congressman Rush Holt (D-NJ12) has introduced a Big Oil Bailout Prevention Act that would retroactively increase the cap limit from $75 million to $10 billion. In the hearing, Rep. Holt said he did not close the door on removing all cap limits, but he did not include it in the bill. That bill is matched by a similar proposal in the Senate by Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ), which has been brought to the Senate floor only to be blocked multiple times, first by Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and then by Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK).

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Event Review: Is Government Broken?

by Carrots and Sticks intern William Schoell; edited by Jeremy

On Tuesday June 1st, the Brookings Institution held a seminar discussing one the fastest growing problems in American politics today. The American public, in particular 86% of it according to a recent study, feels that their government is not functioning for them, that it is “broken.”  By broken, the speakers meant that Americans feel as if their voice is not heard in government while lobbyists, special interest and big time donors have all the power.  Also by broken they implied that there is a growing generalized distrust of government amongst the public and vice versa.  During this seminar the audience heard from a bevy of speakers including White House ethics consultant Norm Eisen, professors, and advocacy and non-profit group leaders.  Although at times the seminar seemed to lack a consistent message, it was encouraging to hear many powerful minds discuss one of the more unflattering problems facing this country today.

The first panel focused on election reforms that could possibly help cure this problem.  By reforming elections, a positive change will (hopefully) come about in the method and frequency in which Americans exercise their political voices.  Various reforms were discussed such as campaign finance reform, reaffirming an explicit right to vote in the Constitution and voter registration issues.  Nick Nyhart, President/CEO of Public Campaign, advocated for large sweeping change to the campaign finance system.  He said that large changes can better harness the anger in public to make it easier to get mass support for reform ideas.  He wants to see private donations be matched by public funding by four times the amount of private donations.  If a candidate accepts public money then he/she would be subjected to a limit of how much spending they can use during a campaign.  Although this is a popular notion within the public one should note that it may be hard to achieve this type of reform because the people that get elected are not going to be very willing to change the rules that got them to their powerful positions.  He did mention a bill along the lines of public campaign financing, the Fair Elections Now Act, that has been co-sponsored by over 150 House members and over 20 Senators.

Campaign finance reform was not the only reform discussed. Eddie Hailes, Managing Director for the Advancement Project would like to see felons who have paid the dues to society have the right to vote and also see an explicit right to vote in the Constitution.  Out of the 109 developed democracies in the world, the US is one of just 11 that do not guarantee an explicit constitutional right to vote.  In addition, Jon Greenbaum, Legal Director for the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights, discussed ways to ease voter registration laws.  Voter registration rules are one of the key determinants of voter turnout; the easier it is to register to vote, the higher the turnout.  He advocated for all states to use election-day registration as nine states already do.  He also advocated for permanent in-state registration, so if one moves within a state they do not have to register to vote after their move. With further discussion and public action these thoughts can be transformed into actual results.  Hopefully, with these and other reforms, the public will start to feel as if their voice and vote mean something and as turnout grows, mutual trust between citizens and their elected officials can be reestablished.

The second panel was supposed to focus on governance reform, procedural rules Congress and the President must follow.  For the most part, however, the panel discussed ways in which the public should change and/or get involved.  One idea was to set up non-partisan funded public discourse arenas to bring about constructive discussion about the happenings in our government.  This is a great idea, to get the public involved in politics and get to a point where disagreement does not yield distrust.  But, the only real governance reform discussed there seemed to be about transparency laws.  Gary Bass, Executive Director of OMB Watch, called for laws that would require Congress to not only show where they Congress is spending tax dollars but also what they are being spent.  For example, listing $1 million given to a university is not sufficiency for Mr. Bass.  The specific programs that the money is being spent should also be provided to the public (for example $500,000 for a research program on comparing democracies in Europe and $500,000 for a project studying half lives or radioactive elements).  Mr. Bass called “information the lifeblood of democracy” and “transparency the heart of democracy”.  Calling for actual legislation requiring transparency might have been the only actual government rule change called for by the second panel which was to focus on governance reform.  Nevertheless, this call for transparency could indeed instill more trust in the public by helping to coax more honesty or at least less secrecy out of our elected officials.  Again this seminar provided no way of actually achieving this call for more transparency.  It is not worthless though, thinking about these reforms is the first step to achieving them.

The ideas offered in this forum are very interesting thoughts, and necessary in moving toward a more just society, but sadly there were no real details on how to achieve these goals.  To borrow from writer John Burroughs “The smallest deed is better than the greatest intention.”  These intentions are great but hopefully somewhere in the near future, seminars and speeches like these will provide some concrete means to achieve these goals of election reform.

Fact is, without massive and mobilized public support for election and governance reforms it will be impossible to change this government.  The elected officials will not be willing to change the rules that got them to their powerful jobs unless they face the threat of being voted out of office if they fail to act.  There may have been some disappointments from the Brookings Institute seminar, “Is Government Broken,” like a lack of discussion on ending or reforming the filibuster, but it did do one thing.  It discussed a major structural problem in American politics and starting a robust discussion is the first step in order to reform our broken government.

Event Review: Joe Romm drops some wisdom

As Chris and many, many others have mentioned, Joe Romm is perhaps the most effective  climate blogger out there. Or as Rolling Stone says, the “fiercest”. He’s just released a new book, “Straight Up: America’s Fiercest Climate Blogger Takes on the Status Quo Media, Politicians, and Clean Energy Solutions” and is discussing his experiences that led to the book at Center for American Progress HQ.

Romm never naturally saw himself as a blogger. His dad worked at a newspaper, and he thought journalism simply wasn’t for him. He was a scientist, and focused on making the empirical case for action to stop climate change. He never even realized, however, how big a deal it was until the consensus started building among fellow scientists.

And that’s probably why I like him so much. He’s an empiricist in red alert mode, much like myself. And his insights about the failure of the old media establishment to dig down to the substance of the climate crisis are spot on, frankly not just with this issue but most others as well. The horse race, he-said-she-said dynamic just doesn’t work to get people the facts they need. With messaging gurus carefully crafting messages catering to those who wish to continue the status quo , “fair and balanced” simply cannot do justice to a very complicated issue. Romm believes his blog is different, because he can present real solutions without having to worry about presenting quotes from people he believes are full of it. He also tends to beat the media to stories, even hammering at a point until it shows up in mainstream coverage, and that’s his greatest satisfaction about being a blogger. I’ve gotta agree with him there, which is why I get most of my news from new media sources these days. As Kos and friends always say, it’s like getting the newspaper a week early.

The other major point that fascinated me was his repeated refrain that the climate scientists just aren’t well versed enough in messaging to combat the constant industry and right-wing disinformation campaign to vilify climate science. Scientists, of course, are terrible at messaging, practically by definition. Their natural inclination is to not report a conclusion until it’s 100% certain, and even then caveats must be recognized. That is a very valuable viewpoint to have, but it is decidedly poor in producing useful sound bytes that accurately capture the substance of the scientist’s conclusions. Then, when scientists are dead sure of something and actually very alarmed about it, their natural response is to repeat their point over and over again in the hopes that it’ll break through. Problem is, in the era of the spin doctor people will simply tune that message out unless it’s framed in a more accessible manner. So a new strategy is needed. In other words, they need a Media Matters style campaign to directly fight back.

At the same time, Romm also believes the move away from direct discussion of climate change and onto peripheral foci (“clean energy jobs”, “energy independence”, etc.) has had a detrimental effect on the push to actually do something about global warming. It’s made the substance of climate mitigation efforts reasonably popular, but the direction away from scientific reality has ceded too much ground to the smear merchants poking holes in the core of climate consensus.

Other notable insights:

  • The lack of significant progress in tackling global warming to date affects public opinion. When people hear that a problem exists but nothing happens to solve it, they tend to grow skeptical.
  • The Kerry-Graham-Lieberman bill will disappoint many progressives. The Senate faces the same issue it did with health care: how do you get to 60 without losing the left flank? It will be tough, and no guarantee that it can happen, but it’s not impossible.
  • At the same time, K-G-L probably not by itself be enough to fix global warming. But we saw the same thing with the ozone layer. The initial Montreal Protocol in 1987 wouldn’t have been enough either, but it was strengthened later as the forecasts became more dire, and we managed to save the ozone layer in the nick of time. This is a very similar situation, and we have to start acting now if we are to eventually get to a workable solution.
  • The old-school environmental movement has made a great mistake in their focus, ignoring their own past accomplishments to make the air and water cleaner in very direct ways.
  • Earth Day is also the entirely wrong focus. It’s downright silly to think we can or need to save the Earth. In fact, the planet will be just fine without us. We should be much more concerned about saving the people, which is really the point of stopping catastrophic climate change. (this is a point I very strongly agree with)
  • So what does catastrophic climate change look like? If we don’t drastically cut our emissions within the next half-century or so, we could see an ice-free world in a couple centuries, which would lead to roughly a 200+ foot sea level rise. Kiss all of the world’s coastal cities goodbye. Oh yes, and most of the western U.S. will become a dust bowl within a few decades.
  • There is a major difference between “weather” and “climate”. The fact that the past couple years have been rather mild in the United States does not mean the planet isn’t getting warmer. People who read the weather on TV often flippantly joke about climate change not being real because it’s cold today. They really need to STFU….in Romm’s words, asking a weatherman about climate change is like going to the dentist if your kid gets the flu.
  • It’s always easy to convince people to do nothing. Plus, when you don’t have to stick to the facts you can create a very compelling narrative.

Finally, I noticed Kate Sheppard was also livetweeting the talk. You can find her comments @kate_sheppard.

-Jeremy

A blank check for Homestar

UPDATE (by Jeremy): On Wednesday 3/24, the Energy and Environment Subcommittee passed HomeStar on through to the full committee with a voice vote, without any significant limits on authorization levels. It’s unclear when Waxman will take up the measure, but it should be relatively soon, probably sometime in early-to-mid April.

Some worries about Homestar getting a blank check were brought up in Thursday’s Energy and Commerce hearing. Both Rep. Upton and Rep. Pitts did not support writing the DOE a blank check to implement Homestar. For all they know, the program would be far too expensive. The Senate version caps it at 6 billion.

Rep. Upton believes the DOE is not equipped to run a program of this scale. Plus, there is still a lot of money in the stimulus that has not been spent so clearly money is not the issue. And where does Obama’s spending freeze come into play?

Another concern was brought up by Rep. Burgess who believes that a federal program would not be necessary. If people are shown how they can save money by retrofitting their homes, they’ll do it, says he. He also did not favor the blank check that would be given to the DOE by the passage of this bill.

What also brings up criticism is the fact that the bill picks winners and losers. Only certain upgrades are included under Homestar which seems to point to back room deal making.

However, even though a few concerns were expressed during this hearing, the general tone was in still favor of Homestar.

-Jason

Homestar. All in favor?

The Senate committee on Energy and Natural Resources hearing on the Homestar program received universal support for the most part. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the program, it basically gives incentives to consumers to make their homes more energy efficient which is considered to be low hanging fruit. Here are the main features of the program from the White House website:

  • Rebates delivered directly to consumers: Like the Cash for Clunkers program, consumers would be eligible for direct HOMESTAR rebates at the point of sale for a variety of energy-saving investments in their homes. A broad array of vendors, from small independent building material dealers, large national home improvement chains, energy efficiency installation professionals and utility energy efficiency programs (including rural utilities) would market the rebates, provide them directly to consumers and then be reimbursed by the federal government.
  • $1,000 – $1,500 Silver Star Rebates: Consumers looking to have simple upgrades performed in their homes would be eligible for 50% rebates up to $1,000 – $1,500 for doing any of a straightforward set of upgrades, including: insulation, duct sealing, water heaters, HVAC units, windows, roofing and doors. Under Silver Star, consumers can chose a combination of upgrades for rebates up to a maximum of $3,000 per home. Rebates would be limited to the most energy efficient categories of upgrades—focusing on products made primarily in the United States and installed by certified contractors.
  • $3000 Gold Star Rebates: Consumers interested in more comprehensive energy retrofits would be eligible for a $3,000 rebate for a whole home energy audit and subsequent retrofit tailored to achieve a 20% energy savings in their homes. Consumers could receive additional rebate amounts for energy savings in excess of 20%. Gold Star would build on existing whole home retrofit programs, like EPA’s successful Home Performance with Energy Star program.
  • Oversight to Ensure Quality Installations: The program would require that contractors be certified to perform efficiency installations. Independent quality assurance providers would conduct field audits after work is completed to ensure proper installation so consumers receive energy savings from their upgrades. States would oversee the implementation of quality assurance to ensure that the program was moving the industry toward more robust standards and comprehensive energy retrofit practices.

Sounds pretty good right? One of the main complaints that was mentioned during the hearing was that the proposal did not include rebates for people who wanted to retrofit their homes themselves. The reason for this was explained by Catherine Zoi, Assistant Secretary of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy at the DOE. The proposal was designed to create jobs in the construction industry which has been very hard hit by the recession, therefore, in its current state, it does not allow do it yourself installations. Sen. Burr went as far as saying that he would not support this bill unless it had a DIY provision.

I hope all the details get ironed out because the program just makes so much sense. Waste is stupid. The less we waste, the more we save and who doesn’t want to save money? I recently went to an open house event that was organized by CarbonfreeDC. This random couple invited strangers into their home to show what they did to make it energy efficient. They were part of a green project called Climate Pilots which was a collaboration between the City of Kalmar in Sweden and the Embassy of Sweden in Washington.

One of the main things they added to their house was a ground source heat pump. Initial costs just for this was $30,000. I know what you’re thinking, that’s really expensive. I agree. The guy who owned the house said it would pay for itself in 8 years by his calculations  which doesn’t sound that bad actually, it’s just the upfront cost which is unbelievable. Who has $30,000 to spare? People need assistance to bare the upfront costs if they want to green their home. If we really can get programs like Homestar implemented, I truly think people will take advantage of it.

-Jason

The private sector agrees – we need chemical reform laws

Last week’s hearing was the third and last in the series leading up to reforming the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) which was a bill that was passed into law in 1976 and has not been updated since. Sen. Lautenberg stated firmly that we need to update our regulations to reflect current scientific understanding, ban the use of dangerous chemicals found in newborn babies, and put the burden on industries to demonstrate the safety of their chemicals.

To my surprise, all of the panelists representing the private sector agreed generally that we need to reform TSCA. Both Linda Fisher , Vice President of Safety Health and the Environment of DuPont and Dr. Neil C. Hawkins, Vice President of EH&S and Sustainability at The Dow Chemical Company said that the private sector should be the ones responsible to prove that their chemicals are safe.

Really? They really said that? If we take a deeper look into this, we realize that there are actually two ways to look at this. One way is through the lens of morality which says that this is good that they agree because the burden of proof should be on them. The other way is through the lens of corporations which says that this is good because then they would have more control over their products.

Of course, knowing that there is this benefit to chemical corporations makes me more skeptical on the actual benefit to the public. If we allow these corporations to test the safety of their own products, wouldn’t there be an incentive to twist the findings? I mean, yes they should prove that their chemicals are safe, but they shouldn’t be the ones doing it, if that makes any sense. What sounds like the best solution to me is to have another party, like the EPA, do it.

My theory on why these companies are so willing to prove that their products are safe is because they smell regulation coming. They know society is heading that direction and if they can’t steer the wheel, they’ll end up suffering more. The official reasons for DuPont changing its position on reforming chemical safety laws in the past few years makes perfect sense. Fisher mentioned 3 reasons: one, is that there’s growing awareness of toxic chemicals which can be felt through the market; two, is that chemical regulation is moving across the globe and we should lead it; three, is that in the absence of federal reform, they are seeing evolving state programs which create uncertainty in the market place.

So yes, they are supporting chemical safety law reform because it benefits them financially which makes perfect sense. I was just taken aback for a moment when I heard these companies make statements which sounded like they were based on morality. Silly me.

But in all seriousness, I do hope that this bill passes. We owe it to the future and to the planet.

-Jason

Consequences of the Clean Transportation Paradox

Today’s forum on surface transportation funding, held on Capitol Hill (ironically the same room as the Carrots and Sticks Green Bank briefing) highlighted a growing fiscal crisis that spans the country.  Not like we have enough of those already, right?  The forum, hosted by the Rand Corporation, focused on a sour political fact: the old ways of paying for highway funding can no longer meet the monetary demands of our transportation system. 

 What Martin Wachs, the forum moderator and Director of Transportation, Space, and Technology Program at Rand, focused on specifically was the gasoline tax.  When the tax first rose to prominence in the 1930’s, it made an decent amount of sense.  It raised money, rose in proportion to highway use, and most importantly was a “user-fee.”  It taxed most those that used the system most.  Flash forward 80 years and the tax no longer seems like a good idea.  Thanks to high fuel prices and environmental deterioration, cars have become more efficient.  People can now drive more and pay less at the pump, and our roads suffer.

So what’s a country to do?  Wachs offers 4 distinct proposals- raise the gas tax, start funding transportation from the general fund, borrow, or institute a Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) tax.  Of course, raising the gas tax is no longer politically viable thanks to gas prices.  Pulling from the general fund wouldn’t be fair to those that don’t drive often.  Borrowing isn’t sustainable.  So that leaves the VMT tax, which will be a more specific user based fee.

Paul Sorenson, also of Rand Corp., fleshes out the VMT tax with a series of possible implementation plans: distances can be measured through odometer readings, vehicle MPG estimates, GPS monitoring devices, and a RFL monitoring device (much like an E-Z Pass card).  Each method has its own implementation and political challenges, and Sorenson didn’t endorse any one particularly.  A common theme of the second half of the forum was a lack of commitment- all parties seemed to agree that more planning, analysis, researching, and testing was needed before a specific strategy could be endorsed.

As the forum was opened up to a more general discussion, the conversation shifted to two subjects: privacy and politics.  The former is the subject that the political experts- Jim Tymon, Republican on the House Transportation and Infrastructure committee, and Paul Schmid, Legislative Analyst for Sen. Tom Carper, pointed out as the public’s largest concern.  However, all the members of the forum agreed that such concerns may be allayed via outreach and efforts made at ensuring confidentiality.  Politically, its unclear that all that much will change in the near future.  Even though both the States and Federal government are quickly running out of transportation money, the best reform we can hope for is some sort of Federal pilot program.

There is no doubt that a crisis is brewing, and there appears to be bipartisan support for some sort of tax increase.  Good news aside, it also appears that no real change is coming for a while.  The experts just don’t know enough.  But the forum also seemed to lightly pass over the possible political difficulties of raising taxes via a rather invasive procedure.  The current political climate on the hill is contentious enough, and even a reasonable solution like a VMT fee could prove to be an immensely controversial fee- a fact that Jim Tymon pointed out.  In a discussion of possible tax increases, Tymon displayed a distaste for some of the environmental and community programs that the current tax funds in addition to the highway system.  That does lead one to wonder who we should tax for environmental damages if not drivers, but that’s a debate that will likely be played out many times if this proposal ever makes it into legislation.

-James

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.