Editorial: A scare campaign for dirtier air in Missouri

Posted by Trish Riley, October 19, 2011

Coal


Those slick, scary ads you may have heard on radio or seen on television and in print, including in this newspaper, don’t exactly scream that the sky is falling. But they do sound an alarm that thousands of Missourians might lose their jobs because the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency allegedly is “in a rush” to impose regulations that would drastically increase energy prices.

The ads’ charges, based on calculations paid for by the energy industry, are distorted and misleading. Official estimates of costs and benefits, required by federal law, indicate that the health and economic benefits of even stringent pending environmental regulations exceed their costs by substantial margins.

The ads’ allegations also are at variance with a thorough analysis released in August by the non-partisan Congressional Research Service. And considering that special exemptions, influence peddling by the polluting industries and legal stalling tactics have delayed some rules for decades, any notion that the EPA is acting “in a rush” is absurd.

The organization that ostensibly placed these ads — Energy for Missouri Jobs — actually is a small cog in a nationwide, anti-environmental-protection campaign orchestrated from Washington for the nation’s major coal producers, transporters and users, including electric utilities that operate coal-fired power plants.

The Energy for Missouri Jobs website lists its address as 1315 Washington Ave., Suite 172, in St. Louis. “Suite 172” is a mailbox in a stack of mailboxes for rent — starting at $72 per year — at the back of Washington Avenue Post, a popular coffee shop and general store in the revitalized downtown district. It is the only tenant at that address.

The “Frequently Asked Questions” page includes this disclosure: “Energy for Missouri Jobs is funded by the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity” and lists a contact phone number for ACCCE in Alexandria, Va.

ACCCE touts techniques to store carbon dioxide generated by burning coal rather than releasing it to pollute the air and alter the world’s climate. But the group also takes in more than $50 million a year from members and other contributors to promote coal usage generally and campaign against tough regulations limiting coal-related pollution.

Its membership list includes St. Louis-based Peabody Energy Corp., Arch Coal Inc. and Ameren Corp., as well as numerous other mining companies, utilities, railroads and barge companies. Peabody, Arch and Ameren also are listed as members of Energy for Missouri Jobs, along with some area construction companies and labor unions.

One EPA proposal strongly opposed by ACCCE is the Utility Maximum Available Control Technology rule, which covers 10 toxic metals and three acid gases spewed into the air by power plants. Coal-fired plants account for 50 percent of mercury emissions, 62 percent of arsenic emissions and 82 percent of hydrocholoric acid emissions.

More than half of existing power plants already meet the EPA’s proposed standards. Others would need to install control filters that other polluting facilities — say, solid waste incinerators — have been using for some 15 years. The EPA estimates that the modifications would add $3 to $4 per month to the average electricity bill.

Weigh that against the benefits: sparing tens of thousands of Americans each year from early death, 11,000 fewer non-fatal heart attacks annually, 120,000 fewer aggravated asthma attacks and a substantial reduction of developmental damage among children.

Controlling these deadly pollutants was required by the Clean Air Act amendments of 1990. So after 21 years, it’s absurd to claim that the EPA is “in a rush” (and under federal court order) to announce its final regulation on Nov. 16.

That makes the ACCCE ad campaign remarkably timely. And its exploitation of Americans’ all-too-real fears about job security remarkably cynical.

By the Editorial Board of STLtoday.com