Let’s Get The Facts Straight Over Mercury Standards

Let’s Get The Facts Straight Over Mercury Standards

by Celine Ramstein

There was more huffing and puffing on Capitol Hill this week over the Environmental Protection Agency’s new mercury standards.

Once again, lawmakers are attacking the EPA’s plan to regulate mercury from power plants, creating a false dichotomy between the economy and public health.

Railing against the standard during a Senate subcommittee hearing on the health benefits of the standard, Senator James Inhofe (R-OK) called it “the most costly rule in the history of the EPA; one that typifies President Obama’s war on affordable energy.”

As one of the fiercest opponents of environmental regulations, it’s not a surprise that Inhofe counts oil, gas and electric utilities among his top five political donors — receiving over $600,000 in campaign contributions from those sectors since 2007.

Perhaps that’s why, despite analysis from the Department of Energy, Energy Information Administration, Congressional Research Service, and the North American Reliability Corporation showing that the EPA rule will not threaten the electricity system, opponents like Inhofe continue to make grossly inaccurate claims.

So what are the facts? We’ve detailed them numerous times before. But the attacks on smart, effective environmental and public health standards are only picking up. It’s important to be armed with good information in order to combat the attacks:

  • A CAP Analysis found that 22 members of the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, a coal industry coalition which is leading the charge against the rule, has nearly $18 billion in cash reserve which could go towards scrubbers and other equipment necessary to slash these pollutants.
  • The Department of Energy, Energy Information Administration, Congressional Research Service, and the North American Reliability Corporation have all done analysis showing that the rule will not threaten Americans’ access to reliable electricity.
  • Studies by the Center for American Progress and Ceres found that many of the plants already have the capability to meet the air toxics rule.
  • The EPA concluded that increase in electricity price increase would be relatively small and would actually  account for the harmful costs of pollution on the public.
  • The Economic Policy Institute determined that the rules would yield a net increase of  84,500 direct jobs by 2015.
  • The rules go into effect in 2015 and the utility Exelon has testified that three years is enough time to implement pollution control technology.
  • EPA also makes a fourth year option widely available.
  • Opponents’ predictions of high costs are likely overblown.  History shows that estimates of reductions costs under earlier pollution laws  are always higher than the actual costs.  For instance, In 1989, the EPA calculated that complying with the acid rain program would cost $2.7 billion to $4.0 billion but a decade later, an EPA analysis found that the actual cost was substantially lower at $1 to $2 billion per year.

History has proven that it is possible to maintain a strong economy and strong environmental standards at the same time. The political arguments we hear today simply don’t reflect reality.

Celine Ramstein is an intern on the energy team at the Center for American Progress. Arpita Bhattacharyya and Stephen Lacey contributed to this report.

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