Thursday, May 7, 2015

EPA Vs. Coal

You know we've gotten to a sad state of politicization of science when a headline about new EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) guidelines on coal has to be written like this:

"Peer-reviewed, non-partisan academic study finds that the EPA emissions rule will save thousands of lives."

Because without that kind of headline, who would take such an article seriously?

It's also sad that Gina McCarthy, the EPA administrator, had to say, when talking about the guidelines:

"This is not just about disappearing polar bears and melting ice caps...this is about protecting our health and protecting our homes.”

Because, as she knows, many of the people affected by coal emissions don't really care about disappearing polar bears and melting ice caps and don't see the connection between coal-fired electrical plants in Ohio and what's going on in the Arctic. 

The peer-reviewed, non-partisan study was published online yesterday (May 4, 2015) in the journal Nature Climate Change. 

As usual, all I can see of this article without paying for a subscription ($199) or ponying up $32 for this one single article, is the abstract and some incredibly tiny (i.e., unreadable) thumbnails of some very interesting-looking figures.

So I'm pasting the entire abstract here:
Carbon dioxide emissions standards for US power plants will influence the fuels and technologies used to generate electricity, alter emissions of pollutants such as sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxide, and influence ambient air quality and public health. We present an analysis of how three alternative scenarios for US power plant carbon standards could change fine particulate matter and ozone concentrations in ambient air, and the resulting public health co-benefits. The results underscore that carbon standards to curb global climate change can also provide immediate local and regional health co-benefits, but the magnitude depends on the design of the standards. A stringent but flexible policy that counts demand-side energy efficiency towards compliance yields the greatest health benefits of the three scenarios analysed.

Because I can't read the article itself, so I can't properly summarize it in my own words. Just one more of the many things about the way "science" is conducted in this country, in this century, and in this political atmosphere, that annoys me.

You CAN read the actual proposed guidelines in the Federal Register. 

So you can read such gems as this, showing why the study and report were done in the first place and why the government is interested in coal emissions: 
Through President Obama's Climate Action Plan, the Administration is working to identify new approaches to protect and restore our forests, as well as other critical landscapes including grasslands and wetlands, in the face of a changing climate. Sustainable forestry and agriculture can improve resiliency to climate change, be part of a national strategy to reduce dependence on fossil fuels, and contribute to climate change mitigation by acting as a “sink” for carbon. The plant growth associated with producing many of the biomass-derived fuels can, to varying degrees for different biomass feedstocks, sequester carbon from the atmosphere. For example, America's forests currently play a critical role in addressing carbon pollution, removing nearly 12 percent of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions each year. As a result, broadly speaking, burning biomass-derived fuels for energy recovery can yield climate benefits as compared to burning conventional fossil fuels. (Emphasis--bold type--added by me)

But if you've ever read the whole of one of these EPA documents, which I have, on several snooze-worthy occasions, you'll know what a chore they are to wade through.  On the other hand, it's enlightening to see the kinds of issues the EPA has to consider every time it comes up with a plan to protect some part of our environment , including "... striving to find a balance between providing state implementation flexibility and ensuring that the emission performance required by CAA section 111(d) is properly defined in state plans and that plan performance projections have technical integrity." (Aren't you glad you're not the one writing that kind of stuff? I've done that kind of writing before, too, and it ain't easy to write anything worth writing while following those rules they have to follow.)

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