Presidential candidate Barack Obama promised his policies would cause electricity rates to “skyrocket.” It’s one promise President Obama and his über-regulators are keeping. The Administration continues to beat-down hydrocarbon energy – restricting supplies and driving up prices for the oil, gas and coal that provide 85 percent of the energy that keeps America humming.
Virginia generates 44 percent of its electricity with coal, helping keep prices at an affordable 8 cents a kilowatt hour for our homes, factories, businesses, schools and hospitals. In Kentucky 94 percent of electricity comes from coal, pushing prices down to an average 6.3 cents per kWh. Contrast that with California, which gets just one percent of its electricity from coal and consumers pay 13 cents a kWh.
Those energy prices here in Virginia seem unacceptable to the President. He and his Energy Secretary want expensive, subsidized, land-intensive, unreliable wind and solar projects, instead of coal, oil and gas powered electricity. While his Interior Department is locking up more and more petroleum prospects, and stalling on leases and drilling permits, the Environmental Protection Agency is battling shale gas development, and imposing draconian carbon dioxide emission rules, to replace cap-tax-and-trade laws that Congress and voters rejected. EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson just unloaded 946 pages of new regulations, demanding that utility companies spend billions to eliminate 84 “dangerous pollutants” that are already largely scrubbed out of power plant emissions by a host of innovative technologies.
The “most wanted” poster pollutant is mercury. High doses cause well-known health problems from severe neurological harm to brain damage and death. However, mercury has been all but eliminated in herbicides, light switches, thermometers and other products, and the last serious US cases of mercury poisoning occurred decades ago. The presence of mercury in coal power plant emissions is minimal and declining. Coal-fired power plants are now the largest source of US-based manmade mercury. But that is because other sources are essentially gone. Nevertheless, EPA is using mercury to spearhead its latest campaign against coal.
A few elemental facts put mercury’s alleged “dangers” into perspective and illustrate how an imperious EPA abuses science and statistics. First and foremost, we are talking about a mere 41 to 48 tons of mercury per year from US power plants. If that sounds like a lot, consider the following: According to the UN Environment Program and other sources, cremating human remains sends 26 tons of mercury into the atmosphere every year – from mercury-silver amalgams in teeth fillings! China’s coal-fired power plants emit at least six times more mercury than their US counterparts; power plants worldwide emit twelve times as much.
Since the atmosphere, jet streams and weather systems are global phenomena, all mercury worldwide is mixed with US emissions in the air we breathe. Moreover, these manmade sources of mercury are dwarfed by natural sources. The National Center for Atmospheric Research calculates that forest fires in the Lower 48 states and Alaska annually put over 44 tons of mercury into the air – (root systems carry naturally occurring mercury from soils into leaves and wood and forest fires release the mercury into the atmosphere and “roast” it out of burned soils.)
Other recent studies conclude that man and Mother Nature together discharge some 10,000 tons of mercury into the global atmospheric every year. Most comes from volcanoes, but subsea vents, geysers and forest fires also play major roles. In other words, US power plants account for less than half of one percent (0.5 percent) of all the mercury in the air that we Americans breathe. Even eliminating every ounce of it will do nothing about the other 99.5 percent of that pollutant in America’s atmosphere.
Nevertheless, EPA & President Obama demands that we attack mercury – at a cost of billions of dollars per year, to “protect” us from infinitesimal or imaginary risks.
Perhaps our helpful bureaucrats and activists could put a Plexiglas bubble over the entire United States, to keep those evil natural and Chinese gases out, plug Mount Kilauea, block people from Yellowstone National Park and ban curly mercury-enhanced CFL bulbs – which Congress and EPA have mandated!
Taken together, everything EPA is doing to tax and penalize coal use will result in huge increases in electricity prices that will hammer family budgets, especially in minority communities, impair nutrition and health and make it harder for many to heat, cool and pay for their homes. Electricity is a major expense for factories, businesses, hospitals and schools. Soaring energy prices will force companies to pass those costs on to consumers, or outsource manufacturing operations and jobs overseas.
And yet EPA’s unelected, unaccountable bureaucrats claim this ten-pound stack of rules on mercury will benefit human health and welfare, especially for minorities. As former Godfather’s Pizza CEO Herman Cain puts it,” how stupid do they think we are?”
EPA needs to start basing its policies and rules on science, reality, common sense, and comprehensive public health considerations. Congress needs to reassert its authority over EPA. Both need to apply intelligent, science-based air and water quality standards that address real health and economic needs. They need to recognize that “human health and welfare” also means creating jobs and not wasting money trying to eliminate every vestige of US manmade emissions, especially when we can’t do anything about 99.5 percent of natural and manmade global emissions.
America is waiting. If Congress, EPA and the White House won’t act responsibly, maybe Attorney General Cuccinelli needs to file a few more lawsuits, to bring them into line.