Will Congress overturn the mercury rule?
By Frances LambertsEconomist Paul Krugman’s Christmas column in the New York Times last year worried that “if any Republican wins [the 2012 presidential] election, he or she will surely try to undo this good work.”
The good work referred to includes standards on mercury, arsenic and some other dangerous air pollutants which the Environmental Protection Agency had issued in December.
Coal- and oil-fired electric power plants, to which they apply, have until 2016 to install widely available control technologies to cut down the pollutant emissions.
Krugman viewed the Mercury and Air Toxics Rule, mandated by Congress in the Clean Air Act of 1990 but delayed for 20 years, as a gift to all Americans, making us healthier, richer, and smarter.
When implemented, it will ward off thousands of cases of chronic and acute bronchitis, heart attack and other serious illness, more than 12,000 hospital and emergency-room visits, and all the respective costs borne by society and individual citizens.
It will prevent lost work days, which restrict earnings for employers and workers alike, by the hundreds of thousands.
For thousands of unborn babies and young children, it will prevent damage to the developing nervous system and possible impairment of learning ability through exposure to methyl mercury, a particularly potent risk factor for the very young.
In Tennessee alone, the regulation will have a huge payoff of up to $3 billion a year in health benefits and avoided health-care costs.
Almost 400 Tennesseans each year can look forward to not having their lives cut short through illnesses, acute ashma or other health problems triggered by these pollutants.
It may not take the general-election outcome in November to nullify the societal benefits of this long-awaited regulation.
Already this year, through majority-party vote in the House of Representatives, almost a dozen measures were passed that would achieve this.
Some seek to block the EPA from doing its job in regulating mercury and other hazardous pollutants, some deny the science that finds them to have neuro-toxic effects for children, and others would directly invalidate the December-issued rule.
Not content with rolling back or repealing specific clean air regulations, the House saw fit to reverse the fundamental criterion — human health protection — upon which the Clean Air Act’s policy has been based for 40 years.
One House-passed measure would henceforth require the EPA to base determinations of what are “safe” pollution levels in the air on industry cost to reduce or avoid emissions, rather than on their danger to people’s health.
As the Economic Policy Institute found, the mercury rule’s benefits for people, in health-care cost avoidance and other savings, exceed its cost to (the electric-power) industry by almost 15-to-1.
On the U.S. Senate side, a Joint Resolution (37) by James Inhofe (R-OK) seeks to “disapprove” the rule and declare it to “have no force or effect.”
For its economic and health benefits, one must hope that Tennessee’s senators will stand on the side of people and help scuttle this resolution.