Today, the Senate is expected to vote on a bill by Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK) to block the Environmental Protection Agency from setting science-based standards for mercury and other toxic pollutants. That Sen. Mark Warner & Sen. Jim Webb are considered "swing votes" by the coal mining industry is a sad statement about how the Democratic Party of Virginia remains pathetically in the back pocket of the coal industry.
Pollution from coal-fired power plants is a major cause of asthma attacks. Historically in America, rather than address those causes, we enjoy "cheap" electricity, then let people get sick - 20 million Americans a year have asthma attacks, with 2 million of those being treated in the emergency room, and 5,000 people a year dying. Economists call those people externalities - costs that don't show up on your power bill.
Thirteen years after public health and conservation groups started pushing the Clinton administration to strengthen clean air standards, the Obama administration finally delivered last December, unveiling new rules. But electric utilities and their allies, led by Sen. Inhofe, are trying to block the rule, giving $9,313,822 to Congress so far this cycle alone (61% to Republicans). Virginia parents, despite their inability to write the large checks demanded in this post-Citizens United world, are fighting back:
Kim Meltzer, a Charlottesville mother who has rushed her two-year-old son to the ER because of asthma attacks, hopes politicians will do the right thing for those who don't have a voice in Washington. "I'd like the environment to be one in which my children and all people can live in and not worry about breathing toxic fumes."
What's most pathetic about Sen. Inhofe's effort is that coal's enemy isn't clean air regulations - it's the rising cost of digging the last bits of coal out of the ground compared to natural gas that's cheap now and renewables that are falling in price every day. "Even without the EPA rules, coal is not really competitive," says one energy industry analyst.
And for all the squawking in Congress about creating jobs, cutting mercury and other toxic pollution does create jobs:
The EPA has estimated that as many as 15,000 construction jobs lasting several years will result.
[NRDC Clean Air Director John] Walke says this is a win-win for the American economy and the health of the American people. "It's finally time to clean up these dirty power plants, they are being given plenty of time to clean up, and it's a tremendous health gain for Americans that we finally clean up these dirty plants."
And what about coal? Virginia just invested billions in a new coal-fired power plant in Wise County ... which a Virginia State Corporation Commission analyst has testified (PDF) that, because the higher rates needed to pay for it, will actually result in a net loss to Virginia of 1,474 jobs.
And yet Senators Warner & Webb have to be talked into standing with public health and against giving coal plants a free pass to foul our air with mercury, sulfur oxides, nitrous oxides, and other toxic pollutants. Shameful.
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