Experience Insanity in a Lump of Coal

We parody, of course, the famous line of William Blake [1757–1827], “see a world in a grain of sand.”  VoxFairfax previously [08/26/18] reported about regulatory rollbacks from the Obama era now advocated by the Environmental Protection Agency that would result in the deaths of 1,400 more persons per year and an additional 15,000 new cases of upper respiratory illnesses. The regulations had been implemented to require energy industries to switch to greener power sources in order to reduce particulate pollution.

Now, EPA has launched a subsequent effort to roll back environmental rules to contain the release of toxic mercury emissions by coal-burning power plants. In effect since 2011, the rule has caused a 70-percent decline in mercury pollution. Having invested billions of dollars in compliance, installing effective clean air technology, a number of large energy producers have made it known that modifying the rule would not produce any significant cost savings. Despite a lack of wide industry support, EPA continues to press for change to determine whether the rule is “appropriate and necessary,” a term to challenge a 2015 SCOTUS decision.  

The 2011 mercury rule emerged from decades of epidemiological research defining the effects and identifying the sources of mercury poisoning. The “appropriate and necessary” challenge by EPA involves weighing the financial costs against any gains in human life and health. As noted, the energy industry has already absorbed much of the costs, leaving only the matter of the benefits to human life and health to be considered. But … then, is that not the rub?

Even if the existing rule is only partially responsible for protecting, say 1,400 lives and reducing 15,000 cases of respiratory illness, what public policy gain is made by rolling back such a rule? What number of lives and illnesses is the standard? Under the rule’s formulation, health benefit savings were estimated to be $80 billion per year and prevent 11,000 premature deaths. The conservative Heritage Foundation advocates that the rule change would end the abuse of rulemaking measures employed by EPA by using different values on the health costs of mercury pollution. Thus, if a few thousand more persons die or become ill from mercury pollution, the new public policy envisions sacrificing some for the benefit of a few and, incidentally, saving money for another few.

EPA is following a promise made in the 2016 presidential campaign to reduce federal regulations and resuscitate a moribund coal industry from mining to export to consumption. To the surprise of none, the current acting head of EPA, Andrew Wheeler, is a former coal industry lobbyist. Another line from the William Blake poem reads, The strongest poison came from Caesar’s crown

In its earlier article, VoxFairfax used the term unperson from George Orwell’s 1984 to denote the amoral view of human life. Unpersons, according to Orwell, were the executed whose existence was erased from all written records. Rolling back environmental regulations accomplishes this same objective.




Categories: Issues

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