Court Rejects Emission 'Trades'
EPA Effort to Limit Mercury Output Is Said to Ignore Law
A federal appeals court yesterday threw out the Environmental Protection Agency's approach to limiting mercury emitted from power-plant smokestacks, saying the agency ignored laws and twisted logic when it imposed new standards that were favorable to plant owners.But it isn't just those Midwest power plants. Here on the west coast we are being poisoned by plants in China. Here is a repeat of a post I did in November, 2006:
The ruling, issued by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, was another judicial rejection of the Bush administration's pollution policies. It comes less than a year after the U.S. Supreme Court rebuked the administration and the EPA for refusing to regulate greenhouse gases.
This court's critique -- which undid a controversial program to "trade" emissions of mercury, a potent neurotoxin -- was especially sharp. It compared the EPA to the capricious Queen of Hearts in "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland," saying the agency had followed its own desires and ignored the "plain text" of the law.
"What the administration did when they came in was to essentially try to torpedo environmental regulations," said James Pew, a lawyer with the activist group Earthjustice who worked on the case. "This really is a repudiation of the Bush administration's environmental legacy."
Coal-fired power plants are responsible for about a third of the country's total mercury emissions. In the Washington area, mercury pollution in waterways has triggered advisories against consuming too much fish from the Chesapeake Bay, the Potomac River and other bodies of water.
Virginia and Maryland, home to most of the area's power plants, have set statewide mercury limits more stringent than the EPA standards. But scientists say the Washington area is still particularly vulnerable to mercury pollution because of wind patterns that carry power plant emissions here from the Midwest.
The real cost of a cheap toaster
The only groups for whom "free trade' is free are the multinational corporations. When you buy that cheap toaster at Walmart you are paying a costly hidden surcharge that has a negative impact on the health of you and your family. The electricity used to manufacture those cheap products you buy at Walmart, Target, Fred Meyer etc is generated by dirty coal plants. A series of articles in the Oregonian today explain.
China's dirty exports: Mercury and soot
The enormous dust clouds gather in the Gobi Desert. They sail on Siberian winds to China. They pick up mercury, aerosols and carbon monoxide spewed by Chinese coal plants and factories.
Then every five or six days in spring, eastern China flushes like a gigantic toilet. The dust plumes, now as large as countries, ride high over the Pacific Ocean, pushing hydrocarbons, nitrogen oxides and ozone.
They reach Oregon in less than a week, sullying springtime views at Crater Lake and scattering dust as far as Maine. Researchers climb an ice-encrusted ladder atop Mount Bachelor's Summit Express ski-lift tower and collect the evidence.
Beyond the views, China's contaminants affect Oregon in two key ways:
A growing amount of the greenhouse gases that trap heat, shrink Northwest glaciers and raise ocean levels comes from China.
A substantial share of the mercury that pollutes the Willamette River, making fish unsafe to eat, has traveled thousands of miles across the Pacific.
And it's only going to get worse.
But China's emissions are getting bigger. It plans to add at least 500 coal plants to more than 2,000 operating already. It spews more soot than any other country.But who's to blame?
Yet it's all too easy to blame China for the mess. U.S. consumers, who buy China's goods and use far more resources than the Chinese, share responsibility.The dangers of mercury contamination are well known and attempts to reduce mercury pollution have been underway in the US for several decades. Unfortunately -
China's mercury flushes into Oregon's rivers
The inky smoke belched by chimneys in Chinese cities such as Linfen and Datong contains mercury, a metal linked to fetal and child development problems. Trace amounts of the poison can take less than a week to reach Oregon, where research suggests that about one-fifth of the mercury entering the Willamette River comes from abroad -- increasingly from China.Mercury is a good traveller.
Mercury and other airborne contaminants collect over China during the winter and spring until Siberian winds arrive bearing dust from expanding Chinese and Mongolian deserts. Every five or six days, the winds flush out eastern China, sending dust and pollutants such as ozone precursors high over the Pacific, says Russ Schnell, observatory and global network operations director for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Mercury is especially suited for long-distance travel because at the smokestack in elemental form, it's insoluble. By the time it reaches the West Coast, however, some of the mercury has transformed into a reactive gaseous material that dissolves in Western Oregon's wet climate. It washes into the river, where microbes convert it into a form that further concentrates in fish.So what can be done? Trade agreements always include language concerning patent and copyright infringement. It would not be that difficult to include language that demands pollution curbs as well. Of course this will not happen as long as the corporatists are in charge of writing the trade agreements. And yes, that includes both Democrats and Republicans.
Most of the mercury entering the Willamette comes from Oregon's volcanic soil and from sediment churned up on the river bottom. But Bruce Hope, senior environmental toxicologist of the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, estimates that global sources beyond the state's control contribute 18 percent -- more than four times the share from local air deposition.
The thing that makes "Free Trade" free for corporations an no one else is that fact that China and others are not required to play by the same rules. It's time for some environmental tariffs - a mercury tax on all imports from China would be a good start. We can indeed force China to "clean up it's act" if we don't let multi-national corporations get in the way. It might even bring a few jobs back to the US in the process.