Sunday, August 14, 2011

"Climate Progress" 8-14-11

"In Coverage of Extreme Weather, Media Downplay Climate Change" — Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting

Posted: 14 Aug 2011 07:08 AM PDT

By Neil deMause, Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting, the independent national media watch group

The Fires This Time

In coverage of extreme weather, media downplay climate change

On April 14, a massive storm swept down out of the Rocky Mountains into the Midwest and South, spawning more than 150 tornadoes that killed 43 people across 16 states (Capital Weather Gang, 4/18/11). It was one of the largest weather catastrophes in United States history—but was soon upstaged by an even larger storm, the 2011 Super Outbreak that spread more than 300 tornadoes across 14 states from April 25 to 28 (including an all-time one-day record of 188 twisters on April 27), killing 339 people, including 41 in Tuscaloosa, Alabama (CNN, 5/1/11).

Ensuing weeks saw Texas wildfires that had been burning since December expand to consume more than 3 million acres (Texas Forest Service, 6/28/11; CNN, 4/25/11), plus record flooding along the Mississippi River, which couldn't contain the water from April's storms on top of the spring snowmelt. On May 22, a super-strong F5 tornado killed 153 people as it flattened a large part of Joplin, Missouri (National Weather Service Weather Forecast Office, 5/22/11) ; in the first two weeks of June, a heat wave broke temperature records in multiple states, and the Wallow fire became the largest in Arizona state history (Washington Post, 6/14/11).

It was an unprecedented string of severe weather: By mid-June, more than 1,000 tornadoes had killed 536 people (NOAA, 6/13/11), nearly as many deaths as in the entire preceding decade. And it was only natural to ask: Were we seeing the effects of climate change?

Most scientists would say yes, or at least "probably." The Intergovernment Panel on Climate Change, a global scientific body that has been a target of conservatives despite a record of soft-pedaling its findings to avoid controversy (Extra!, 7/8/07), warned on February 2, 2007, "It is very likely that hot extremes, heat waves and heavy precipitation events will continue to become more frequent." (In science-speak, "very likely" refers to a certainty of greater than 90 percent, and is as near as you get to a definitive conclusion.) Other forecasts (e.g., Environment America, 9/8/10) have projected that wet regions will receive record rainfall thanks to increasing evaporation, while dry ones get record drought, as climate patterns shift to accommodate the new normal.

Yet despite these dire predictions, U.S. media were hesitant to investigate the links between climate change and this spring's extreme weather. Much coverage settled for the cheap irony of contrasting extreme phenomena, as when NBC's Saturday Today show meteorologist Bill Karins (6/11/11) quipped:

Feast or famine's been the rule this spring. The northern half of the country, we've dealt with the heavy rain, the record snow pack that's now melting in the northern Rockies. That's causing the flooding. The southern half of the country, you would love some of that rain.

Even news reports that probed deeper into the causes of the spring's extreme weather, though, often stopped short of looking at climate factors. A Chicago Tribune story (4/29/11) headlined, "Why April Record for Twisters? Experts Call It Random, Say Nature Varies," noted that "some meteorologists" blame the periodic weather pattern known as La Niña, but then cited other scientists as saying the tornado outbreak was just random variation, with University of Illinois meteorologist Bob Rauber saying, "Global warming is occurring, but this is not a manifestation of it."

On the CBS Evening News (6/9/11), meanwhile, John Blackstone noted, "Perhaps the biggest weather troublemaker has been in the Gulf of Mexico, where sea surface temperatures have been almost 2 degrees [Fahrenheit] above average. That warm, moist Gulf air meeting the powerful jet stream created the string of tornadoes that killed 525 people." Yet, asked by anchor Scott Pelley why the Gulf of Mexico is hotter than usual, Blackstone replied only: "Well, it's related to the drought in the South—in the South-Southwest, with little clouds, lots of sunshine, the waters warming up and those warm waters could add energy to this hurricane season as well."

But while La Niña is a natural cyclical variation, the warming Gulf is not—at the very least, it's exacerbated by the global warming trend, which has pumped at least four times the heat energy into the oceans that it has into the atmosphere (NPR, 3/19/08). As National Center for Atmos-pheric Research climatologist Kevin Tren-berth explained to Extra!, the air over oceans now averages 1 degree Fahrenheit warmer and 4 percent wetter than it was before 1970. "So there is more warm moist air from the Gulf flowing into all spring storms that travel across the U.S. That destabilizes the air, provides fuel for thunderstorms and converts some thunderstorms into supercell storms, which in turn provide the environment for tornadoes to form."

The easiest connection for most reporters to make was with heat waves, probably because they match best with the popular image of "global warming." "Intense hot conditions will increase dramatically over the next 30 years," ABC News' Jim Avila (6/8/11) reported after June's record-setting heat wave. "Climatologists say it's clear: Global warming is beginning to show itself in plain sight."

For other extreme weather events, though, climate change only merited occasional mention. The wildfires that raged out of control across the Southwest in May and June were mostly covered as an unexpected natural disaster, without much thought of causes; in one exception, the Arizona Republic (6/12/11) fixed the blame squarely on the state having too many trees—a charge also brought up by the New York Times (6/11/11), which reported that, among other things, "Some [residents and experts] complained that it was environmentalists who had caused the forests to become tinderboxes by preventing the thinning of trees as they sought to protect wildlife."

This common conservative claim, Climate Progress blogger Joe Romm noted (6/12/11), was refuted in a 2006 paper (Science, 8/16/06) that found that fires were increasing the most at higher elevations, where forest restoration is less of an issue, but where warmer temperatures have a huge impact by melting winter snows earlier and increasing summer drought.

In fact, scientists have long predicted that one result of climate change would be a dramatic increase in Western wildfires, as Pete Spotts of the Christian Science Monitor explained in a rare article making such connections (6/9/11). The National Academy of Sciences projected (7/16/10) that a 1-degree Celsius increase in global temperatures—just half the best-case scenario in most climate models—could more than triple the acreage burned by wildfires in the U.S. West. Washington Post blogger Jason Samenow (6/14/11) reported on this study, but it went unmentioned in the newspaper's wildfire coverage.

Similarly, a NASA wildfire model released last year (10/27/10) projected that climate change would lead to an increase of fires in the U.S. West of between 30 and 60 percent by 2100. "I want you to think a little bit of fire as a metaphor for the many things that climate change holds for us," NASA earth sciences director Peter Hildebrand told a conference in Colorado in early April—though the only reporter to note this statement was environmental journalist Brendon Bosworth on his self-titled blog (4/8/11).

As for tornadoes, news coverage was openly dismissive of their connection to climate change. A New York Times Q & A following the Joplin tornado (5/25/11) asked: "Can the intensity of this year's tornadoes be blamed on climate change?" and answered "Probably not. Over all, the number of violent tornadoes has been declining in the United States, even as temperatures have increased."

Indeed, while the number of reported tornadoes has steadily risen in recent years, prior to this year the number of strong tornadoes (category F4 or F5) had not, leading most scientists to conclude that the rising totals for weak storms are merely a result of more thorough reporting, thanks to sprawling development in tornado-prone regions that has put more people within sighting distance. And because the mechanics of tornado generation are poorly understood—and they depend on vertical temperature differential, so a warming lower atmosphere would predict more tornadoes, but a warming upper atmosphere would tend to reduce them—most scientists say that stronger and more frequent tornadoes can't be definitively linked to climate.

Still, Trenberth told the blog Think Progress (4/29/11) that it's "irresponsible" not to mention climate change in tornado coverage. "The basic driver of thunderstorms is the instability in the atmosphere: warm moist air at low levels with drier air aloft," he told the site. "With global warming, the low-level air is warm and moister and there is more energy available to fuel all of these storms."

Most reporters, though, chose to stick to the narrower question of whether these particular tornadoes were caused by climate change—which, given all the factors involved to create any particular storm, is impossible to answer, except in the sense in which all weather today is the product of a warmed climate.

"Contributing to the thrashing were the La Niña conditions in the Pacific Ocean, unusually warm ocean temperatures in the Gulf of Mexico and the increase of moisture in the atmosphere caused by the warming climate," wrote the Washington Post (6/15/11) on the spring's tornadoes, fires and floods. The piece cited National Oceanographic and Atmo-spheric Administration climate director Thomas Karl as "caution[ing] against focusing on any single cause for the unusual chain of events," quoting him as saying that "clearly these things interconnect."

Karl also featured prominently in an article by the New York Times' John Broder (6/15/11) that reported, "Government scientists said Wednesday that the frequency of extreme weather has increased over the past two decades, in part as a result of global warming," but quickly added that scientists "were careful not to blame humans for this year's rash of deadly events." Broder's only evidence: Karl's statement that "since 1980, indeed, extreme climatological and meteorological events have increased. But in the early part of the 20th century, there was also a tendency for more extreme events followed by a quiet couple of decades."

The story's headline: "Scientists See More Deadly Weather, but Dispute the Cause." (Broder later apologized to Romm—Climate Progress, 6/18/11—for what he called a "crappy headline.")

In fact, though, Karl had previously made clear that climate change would result in more extreme weather. "How climate change will be felt by you and impact your neighbors is probably going to be through extreme weather and climate events," he told EarthSky (3/15/10). "We may be fine for many years, and all of a sudden, one particular season, one particular year, the extremes are far worse than we've ever seen before."

In many ways, articles like Broder's parallel the decades-long public debate over carcinogens: It's just as difficult to say whether any one person's cancer was caused by pollutants as whether one weather event was caused by climate change. And in both cases, statistical studies have a literally fatal drawback: By the time you've gathered enough data, it's too late to prevent the consequences.

Scientists, then, may conclude that it's "too soon to tell" exactly how climate change affects tornadoes and other severe weather, but that's not the same as saying it has no effect. As Trenberth tells Extra! of the spring's string of catastrophes: "Much of what goes on is natural variability and weather. But there is a component from human influences through global warming. While it may be modest, it is real and significant."

As noted, the role of climate change in the spring's severe weather wasn't entirely ignored. The Christian Science Monitor (6/9/11), in its report on Arizona wildfires that had "blackened an area half the size of Rhode Island," called them "the latest poster child for what some scientists see as a long-term trend toward larger, longer-lived wildfires in the American West," noting that "climate change appears to be an important contributor."

Urgency was left to op-ed pages: Climate activist Bill McKibben wrote a scathing op-ed in the Washington Post (5/23/11) that sarcastically suggested: "It's very important to stay calm. If you got upset about any of this, you might forget how important it is not to disrupt the record profits of our fossil fuel companies." Environmental writer Chip Ward wrote an opinion piece on CBS (6/16/11): "Global warming, global weirding, climate change—whatever you prefer to call it—is not just happening in some distant, melting Arctic land out of a storybook. It is not just burning up far-away Russia. It's here now." (CBS News' television programs, meanwhile, never once mentioned climate change in their coverage of the spring's wildfires.)

One example of how to cover the story differently came from the Edmonton Journal (5/17/11), where columnist Graham Thomson wrote:

No scientist can guarantee that any of these events are caused by human-induced climate change. Climate change is all about trends.

However, the trends are consistent: The atmosphere is warming, the climate is changing and we are largely responsible through our burning of fossil fuels.

What scientists can tell us is that as the climate warms we'll experience more extreme weather events leading to floods, droughts, forest fires and crop failures. In other words, it's what we're seeing now.

Even Thomson, though, didn't try to suggest that we change our behavior to prevent extreme weather from becoming the norm.

Similarly, when the New York Times editorial page weighed in on what can be done about climate change (6/1/11), it was to praise the city of Chicago for building more rooftop gardens and adding air conditioning to classrooms as part of "long-term preparations for a warmer, stormier climate." Never mind that the electricity needed to power air conditioners is a major contributor of carbon emissions, or that air conditioning in schools is unlikely to do much to stem the additional 166 to 2,217 annual deaths that researchers Roger Peng and Francesca Domenici estimate Chicago will suffer by the end of the century as the result of climate change (Environmental Health Perspectives, 5/11).

And then there was the counsel given by Nightline anchor Bill Weir (4/26/11), who bent over backwards to avoid definitive conclusions on the causes of the deadly weather:

After months of epic droughts and floods, blizzards and heat waves, some are seeing proof of warnings past, while others refuse to believe that man could ever wreck God's planet. But neither side can deny that we are having one hellacious spring.

He informed viewers that a NASA scientist says blaming individual weather events on climate change is "a leap too far," then signed off with this advice: "In the near term, the best you can do is get a weather radio and try to stay dry."

SIDEBAR: Don't Need a Weather Channel to Know Which Way the Wind Blows

When NBC Universal purchased the Weather Channel in 2008, it was described by company CEO Jeffrey Zucker (New York Times, 7/7/08) as making the network "the pre-eminent leader in news and information. We're No. 1 in business news, No. 1 in general broadcast news, and now we're No. 1 in weather news too."

During this spring's extreme weather events, NBC certainly made use of its new property, with repeated appearances by familiar Weather Channel faces on its news programs. After the late April tornadoes, NBC anchor Brian Williams asked meteorologist Greg Forbes (4/28/11): "People ask the same question, what's going on here? Is this something we have done?" Forbes avoided the climate question: "Certainly the atmosphere has been in a frenzy. The jet stream just keeps blasting across the country, and then the warm, moist air from the Gulf of Mexico just keeps feeding with instability, and so we've had tornado after tornado."

The next night (4/29/11), it was the Weather Channel's Jim Cantore—familiar to millions of viewers as the face peering out from inside a rain slicker during any number of hurricanes—who was similarly questioned by Williams, with no clearer results:

CANTORE: Brian, when you go back and you look for evidence of something, sometimes the most obvious things don't hit you until you just—they're right there in front of your face. If we have a warmer Earth, and the purpose of the jet stream is to help equalize all of that, well, because it's warmer, it's going to have to work a lot harder. And that, in addition to the fact that we have so much instability out there in this month of April, heat and humidity, those two things create this monster outbreak….

WILLIAMS: I guess we're all looking for ways to explain away what happened here.

CANTORE: It's hard to do that.
Forbes and Cantore should perhaps be cut some slack, as they're meteorologists, not climate experts. The Weather Channel used to have an environmental reporting team, including a weekly show called Forecast Earth that focused on climate change—but they were all laid off as one of NBC's first cost-cutting moves after purchasing the channel (,11/21/08).

– Neil deMause

Related Post:

We are at a Moral Crossroads with Coal Exports

Posted: 14 Aug 2011 06:03 AM PDT

by Tom Kenworthy and Kate Gordon

In late March, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar traveled to Cheyenne, Wyo., to announce that his department would soon sell leases to 752 million tons of coal from public holdings in the Powder River Basin, and was proceeding on future sales of an additional 1.6 billion tons.

Salazar called coal "a critical component of America's comprehensive energy portfolio, as well as Wyoming's economy" and said "it's important that we continue to encourage safe production of this important resource." Salazar made no mention of the potential for some of that coal being sold and shipped to Asia. He may have been the only person in Wyoming that day with an interest in energy who wasn't thinking about coal exports.

Just before Salazar's visit to Wyoming, the two giant companies that mine about half of the state's annual coal production, Peabody Energy and Arch Coal, announced deals that could lead to a big jump in the now relatively small business of sending Western U.S. coal to hungry markets in China, Japan, India and other Asian nations. In mid-June, newspapers in the Pacific Northwest reported that two Oregon ports on the Columbia River are also being considered as sites for exporting coal to Asia.

All of that has prompted an escalating battle in the Pacific Northwest over what could be the first U.S. coal export terminals on the West Coast. And, combined with Salazar's boosterism, it has raised questions about whether the United States is backsliding on the fight against global climate change.

China may be a world leader in developing clean, renewable energy, but it still has a huge appetite for coal and is expected to build 773,000 megawatts of coal-fired electricity between 2007 and 2030. Even with the third largest coal reserves in the world, China is stepping up imports.

That rising demand is whetting the appetite of Wyoming producers. "We're opening the door to a new era of U.S. exports from the nation's largest and most productive coal region to the world's best market for coal," Peabody Energy Chairman Gregory Boyce said in a statement as his company announced a deal to ship up to 24 million tons of Powder River Basin coal through a proposed terminal near Bellingham, Wash.

Six weeks earlier, Arch Coal bought a 38 percent share of a company that has plans to build a second coal export facility in Longview, Wash.

Environmental and landowner groups from Puget Sound to the plains of eastern Montana are mobilizing to fight the terminals. They cite a menu of potential ill effects: small-town disruptions from the jump in rail traffic involving coal trains more than a mile long moving from Wyoming and Montana to the west coast; health impacts from fugitive coal dust blowing from open rail cars (up to 3 percent of the loads, according to BNSF), threats of coal train spills into the Columbia River.

Then there is the question of enabling China and other Asian nations to pump more carbon dixoide into the atmosphere. That, says KC Golden, policy director of the Seattle nonprofit Climate Solutions, is the "moral crossroads" faced by local and state officials in Washington State.

It's also the moral crossroads that ought to be engaging officials in the other Washington.

– Tom Kenworthy is a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress. Kate Gordon is the center's vice president for energy policy.  This piece was first published in the Denver Post.

EPA's Proposed Standards Would Limit Mercury, Arsenic, and Other Air Toxics from Power Plants for First Time

Posted: 14 Aug 2011 05:54 AM PDT

The coal-burning TransAlta plant near Centralia, WA.  AP Photo.

– A CAP cross-post

The Environmental Protection Agency took a critical step toward cleaner air on March 16, 2011, by proposing its air toxics standards for coal-fired power plants. The proposed rule would limit emissions of mercury, arsenic, and other air toxics from power plants for the first time.

These protections were called for in the 1990 Clean Air Act amendments, but they haven't been implemented, and they are long overdue. Toxic mercury, arsenic, and other pollutants have been spewing uncontrolled from power plants even though we fully know how bad they are.

Unfortunately, recent attempts by House Republicans to handcuff the EPA are threatening both decades of public health progress and the further action we need to clean up the air, which will lessen the burden of asthma and other health problems. The EPA's proposed air toxic standards and their other ongoing efforts should be defended both before Congress and in our public discourse.

To this end CAP's sister organization, the Center for American Progress Action Fund, has helped lead a summer-long campaign urging Americans to submit their public comments to the EPA, calling for strong protection against harmful pollution. All told, over 800,000 Americans submitted comments to the EPA.

CAP's official comment submission

Dear Administrator Jackson:

The Center for American Progress writes in support of strong rules for reducing airborne toxic pollution from power plants. Such rules will protect us from mercury, arsenic, acid gases, and 34 other dangerous chemicals that power plants have been spewing uncontrolled for decades. These rules are long overdue: Countless American lives have been exposed to illness and premature death that could have been prevented. We cannot afford further delay.

Clean air is vital for public health

The public health protections from this new rule are significant. They will prevent approximately 17,000 premature deaths, 120,000 asthma attacks, and 12,000 hospitalizations and emergency room visits every year. Seventeen states have already taken steps to reduce these harmful pollutants, and over 800,000 Americans have sent comments to the EPA in support of stronger protections.[1]

Coal-fired power plants emit 772 million pounds of airborne toxic chemicals into the sky every year—more than 2.5 pounds for every American man, woman, and child in this country.[2] Nationwide, particulate pollution from power plants is estimated to kill approximately 13,000 people a year.[3]

Power plants also are the largest domestic source of airborne mercury in the United States, a particularly dangerous neurotoxin.[4] This toxic metal, which is expelled into the air as coal and burned for electricity, is especially dangerous for young and developing children because it impairs brain development.

Mercury has been linked to birth defects, learning disabilities, delays in the development necessary for children to walk and talk, and in some cases even cerebral palsy. Recent studies suggest that at least 1 in 12—and as many as 1 in 6—American women of child-bearing age have enough mercury in their system to put their babies at risk in the womb or through nursing.[5]

In addition to mercury and arsenic (used commercially as a rat poison), power plants also emit lead, other heavy metals, dioxin, and acid gases. Even small amounts of these extremely harmful air pollutants are linked to diseases including cancer, heart disease, brain damage, asthma attacks, and even premature death.

People will continue to suffer without significant reductions in these pollutants. Expediency and strong reductions will save human lives and prevent costly illness.

Clean air is good for the economy

We've heard much conjecture by polluting industries and their allies in Congress that adoption of the new toxics rules will harm our economic growth and slow job creation. These special interests have used their deep pockets to convince lawmakers that they should be allowed to spew harmful pollution regardless of the human impact. They have time and time again used debate over budget deficits and unemployment as a point of leverage to ease restrictions and delay rulemaking. Many polluting industries have presented the American people with a false choice: clean air or economic growth.

The EPA's thorough analysis disproves this false choice presented by polluters, and it asserts that stronger protections for public health will also net positive economic results.

Smarter rules based on peer-reviewed EPA science will prevent illnesses such as asthma attacks and other health and environmental impacts from burning coal, which cost this country upwards of $500 billion each year.[6] Fewer asthma attacks mean fewer hospitalizations and costly visits to the emergency room—an expense that is especially burdensome on families who lack health insurance.

This is of no small significance, as groups such as African Americans and Latinos, who have the highest rates of asthma in this country, are also the least likely to be insured compared to other ethnic groups in this country.[7]

Additionally, data from the 40-year history of clean air protections in the United States proves that less pollution in the air means a more efficient workforce and economy. According to EPA analysis, Americans have already gained $21.4 trillion in health and environmental benefits from clean air programs.[8] These protections have also saved 4.1 million lost work days and 31 million days in which Americans would have had to restrict activity due to air-pollution-related illness.[9]

These safeguards proposed by the new rules should also drive innovation and job creation by power companies as they devise new technologies and practices to reduce pollution in the most cost-effective manner possible.

A recent report by the Economic Policy Institute finds that the new regulations on mercury, arsenic, and other toxic air pollution from power plants will not slow economic recovery and would in fact increase job growth in coming years, leading to the creation of 28,000 to 158,000 jobs between now and 2015.[10] Likewise, a University of Massachusetts study found that together with the Clean Air Transport rule, which would reduce ozone and fine particle pollution, the air toxics rule will create 1.4 million jobs over the next five years.[11]

These studies are bolstered by real world experiences of power companies. Consider the case of Constellation Energy Group headquartered in Baltimore, Maryland. They recently completed the installation of a major air quality control system at one of their major coal facilities. Construction took 26 months, employing nearly 1,400 skilled workers. The new system is reducing harmful emissions in compliance with state and federal requirements, and it is already helping them achieve the other emission reductions that they anticipate will be required under the Toxics Rule.

Further, power plants can be cleaned up in an efficient and cost-effective manner. The argument by polluting special interests that these improvements will cause higher electricity rates for consumers or disturbance in electricity reliability is simply wrong. Numerous testimonials by power company CEOs prove that reducing these toxic emissions does not affect the economic health of these industries.

We know that prior to 1990 three industry sectors made up approximately two-thirds of total U.S. mercury emissions: medical waste incinerators, municipal waste combustors, and power plants. The first two of those sectors are now subject to stricter pollution standards and have reduced their mercury emissions by more than 95 percent. In addition, mercury standards for other industries, such as cement production and steel manufacturing, have reduced mercury emissions from a wide range of sources.

According to a 2010 data collection survey completed by the EPA nearly 60 percent of responding coal-fired electricity units already comply with EPA's proposed mercury standard. A CAP analysis found that coal-fired power plants without pollution controls are more than 50 years old on average.

Plants in 17 states are already required to address their mercury pollution regardless of federal requirements. These measures vary in stringency, with some of them imposing more protective mercury emissions limits on coal-fired power plants than the EPA has proposed. Many of the power plants in these states have already installed the equipment necessary to reduce mercury pollution, though most state safeguards have yet to take effect. A CAP analysis of the coal-fired power plants in these 17 states found that more than half of their total electricity-generation capacity has pollution controls that can reduce mercury.

In a July 11 letter to congressional leaders, 36 energy companies from around the country noted that certainty of pollution reduction rules is critical for determining future investments. Delaying the air toxics rule will generate uncertainty among investors, as well as companies already preparing for compliance. This uncertainty will slow investments and economic recovery.

A similar letter to the editors of the Wall Street Journal by seven leading power company CEOs asserts that leveraging technology to clean up emissions from power plants and economic growth go hand in hand:

Contrary to the claims that the EPA's agenda will have negative economic consequences, our companies' experience [in] complying with air quality regulations demonstrates that regulations can yield important economic benefits, including job creation, while maintaining reliability.[14]

Numerous case studies—including one from Calpine, the largest independent power producer in the country—prove that industry is already taking the lead on reducing these harmful emissions and that the transition is both possible and economically viable for the industry.

Thaddeus Miller, executive vice president of Calpine, explains:

This is not a surprise, this is something we've all know about for 10 years, there's yet another three years to get ready for it…the system is ready. We have more capacity than we need, and we can afford to have some of the capacity come offline.[15]

This message is echoed by Jim Rogers, the president and CEO of Duke Energy:

[T]he anticipation of more stringent environmental rules has long been part of our business plan. Over the past 10 years, we have spent $5 billion retrofitting existing units with updated emissions controls…Today, approximately 75 percent of our current coal generation capacity has scrubbers in operation. This will increase to approximately 90 percent once our fleet modernization program and related retirements are completed…We have really mitigated a lot of the risk and the cost associated with this program by the early steps that we took.

Yet some utilities are still unwilling to modernize. They use the threats of power plant closures and lost jobs as a tool to delay EPA's proposal to require mercury reductions from coal-fired power plants. These outdated arguments are countered by the chorus of power companies who understand that the new mercury standards are achievable and good for business.

Finally, while cleaning up coal plants are an important first step in protecting public health, a real long-term solution must include policies to drastically reduce other pollutants—including particulates (soot) and carbon dioxide—from coal power plants. This can be achieved over time through investments in energy efficiency and expanded clean, renewable energy portfolio standards.

In the meantime, we commend EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson for her leadership in proposing these rules that have been delayed for decades at the expense of human health and economic innovation.

An overwhelming 69 percent of Americans polled by the American Lung Association believe that EPA scientists, rather than Congress, should set pollution standards. Likewise, 69 percent think the EPA should update Clean Air Act standards with stricter limits on air pollution.[16]

We join over 800,000 Americans, along with numerous public health, faith-based, social justice organizations, and industry groups to urge the EPA to finalize its proposed airborne toxic pollution standards, which would achieve significant pollution reductions that protect our children, families, and communities from mercury and other toxic air pollution.


[1] Bob Perciasepe, Deputy Administrator U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Testimony before the Subcommittee on Regulatory Affairs, Stimulus Oversight and Government Spending. July 26, 2011.

[2] American Lung Association, "American Lung Association Report Highlights Toxic Health Threat of Coal-fired Power Plants, Calls for EPA to Reduce Emissions and Save Lives" (2011).

[3] Ibid.

[4] Natural Resources Defense Council, "Mercury Contamination in Fish: a guide to staying healthy and fighting back" (2011).

[5] Sierra Club, "New Analysis Finds that Hispanics Face Disproportionate Health Threat from Coal Plant's Toxic Mercury Pollution" (2011).

[6] Tim Tyler, "Full Cost of Coal $500 Billion/Year in U.S., Harvard Study Finds" (2011).

[7] U.S. Census, "People Without Health Insurance Coverage by Selected Characteristics: 2008 and 2009" (2010).

[8] U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, "Benefits and Costs of the Clean Air Act" (2011).

[9] U.S. Environmental Protection Agency "Benefits and Costs of the Clean Air Act," Press release, November 16, 1999, available at

[10] Economic Policy Institute, "News from EPI: Slow economic growth raising unemployment rate" (2011).

[11] Jams Heintz, Heidi Garrett-Peltier, and Ben Zipperer, "New Jobs – Cleaner Air" (University of Massachusetts, 2011).

[12] The Clean Energy Group, "The Electric Industry Can Comply with the Proposed Toxics Rule with Existing, Cost‐Effective Pollution Control Technologies and Compliance Will Not Compromise the Reliability of the Electric System," Press release, March 25, 2011, available at

[13] Letter from The Business Council for Sustainable Energy to The Honorable John Boehner, Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi, Mitch McConnell, July 11, 2011.

[14] "We're OK With the EPA's New Air-Quality Regulations," The Wall Street Journal, December 8, 2010.

[15] Thaddeus Miller, Interview with Carol Browner (Washington: Center for American Progress, June 21, 2011).

[16] American Lung Association, "American Lung Association Bipartisan Poll Shows Strong Public Support for Lifesaving Clean Air Act" (2011).

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