Link Exists Between EPAs Greenhouse Gas Rules and Public Health
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by Jim Kotcon, WV Chapter Energy Committee |
Comments needed on new EPA rule to limit emissions of greenhouse gases from new power plants.
On May 12, US-EPA released proposed new rules to limit emissions of greenhouse gases from new power plants to 1000 pounds per MWh. The net effect of these rules would be to prevent construction of new coal-fired electric generating plants unless they install carbon capture equipment. Modern natural gas plants would already meet this standard, so the rule primarily targets coal-fired plants.
We all know that limits on greenhouse gases are needed to reduce global warming, but how does this relate to human health?
First, rising temperatures lead to more prolonged heat waves, which have al-ready been linked to increased deaths among vulnerable populations. These include children, the elderly, and those with heart or respiratory problems.
Second, rising temperatures lead to increased ozone air pollution (smog). According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, this is expected to induce 2.8 million additional respiratory illnesses in the US within the next ten years. Related health costs would exceed $5 billion annually by 2020.
Most importantly, implementation of these standards would indirectly reduce the health impacts of coal-fired power plants. With fewer plants being built, there will be lower emissions of fine particulates, less mercury, and reductions in a wide variety of other hazardous air pollutants.
So, while carbon dioxide at these levels is not directly toxic to humans, the direct and indirect human health benefits are actually very significant.
Of course there are many other environmental benefits from reducing emissions of greenhouse gases. Changing climates would lead to species extinctions, an impact that would be irreversible. There is also a possibility of abrupt climate changes, which, if triggered, could lead to changes so rapid that humans would have very little time to adapt.
According to the National Research Council, these could include severe droughts in important agricultural and forestry areas, rapid sea level rise from disntegration of the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets, and dramatic increases in size and severity of forest fires.
Unlike most air pollutants, greenhouse gases stay in the atmosphere for long periods of time, ranging from decades to millennia, depending on the greenhouse gas. And deci-sions made about construction of power plants today will “lock in” emissions for many decades, as most power plants continue to op-erate for 50 years or more.
Since fossil-fuel power plants represent the largest single category of greenhouse gas sources, accounting for 40 percent of the US total, these new standards are an important step to slow or reverse the effects of climate change. Future generations will breathe easier!
What You Can Do:
Please send comments to the EPA Docket Center, U.S. EPA, Mail Code 2822T, 1200 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20460,
Attn: Docket ID No. EPA-HQ-OAR-2011-0660.
Comments from West Virginians are important. Because of our state’s dependence on fossil fuels, many political leaders oppose these new rules. While they give lip service to the need for “Clean Coal” technologies, they refuse to support the rules that would allow utilities to actually install this equipment. Your comments will help EPA respond to these political attacks by illustrating support here in West Virginia.
Please send your comments as soon as possible. Even if late, they can still be considered.