Do We Really Want To Be China?

Here in SoCal pollution was so bad it was a national joke. Nearby mountains disappeared in a brownish haze. No more.


A favorite target of the political right is the EPA. Just yesterday in a hearing with the EPA administrator, Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) said:

Sessions: When we go to our states, the group we have the most complaints about from our constituents — whether it’s highway people, whether it’s farmers, whether it’s energy people — is the Environmental Protection Agency. It’s an [agency of] extraordinary overreach. And you apparently are unaware of the pushback that’s occurring in the real world.

Of course many businesses dislike the EPA. It’s an agency made to primarily say, “No!” In this case, no is a good thing.

Wikipedia summarizes some of the changes to what we breath from 1970 to 2006:

  • carbon monoxide emissions fell from 197 million tons to 89 million tons
  • nitrogen oxide emissions fell from 27 million tons to 19 million tons
  • sulfur dioxide emissions fell from 31 million tons to 15 million tons
  • particulate emissions fell by 80%
  • lead emissions fell by more than 98%

As a kid growing up in Queens I watched soot from dozens of chimneys as the apartment buildings in my neighborhood burned their trash every afternoon. Today we’d be shocked. Then, it was standard operating procedures.

Here in SoCal pollution was so bad it was a national joke. The photo at the top of this entry is Downtown Los Angeles in the 70s. Nearby mountains disappeared in a brownish haze.

No more.

Our air still needs help, but the trend is in the right direction. Today, much of SoCal’s 21st Century pollution actually floats over the Pacific from China and the rest of industrialized Asia.

It costs more money to keep emissions down. In business that cost comes directly from profits. No wonder business hates the EPA.

But, do we really want to be China?

beijing smog-w1920-h1400

Breathing Air You Can See

harbin pollutionHave you seen the pictures from Harbin, China? Smog got so bad school was cancelled and the airport closed. Visibility was so low drivers couldn’t see traffic lights, often until it was too late!

You can cancel school and close airports, but you’ve got to breath. Breathing shouldn’t be hazardous to your health!

You know, that used to be the story here in the Los Angeles area. Maybe not as bad as China, but at one time LA smog was the butt of jokes from coast-to-coast. We had air you could see! Long time Angelinos remember well. Mountain vistas would disappear for days or weeks at a time. Eyes would tear. Hacking coughs would persist.

Our smog is primarily linked to automobile tailpipes, but our location has a lot to do with it as well.

Most of us live in a low basin with mountains to the east. Temperature inversions trap emissions in the atmosphere, then sunlight (which we have plenty of) converts them to secondary pollutants, like ozone.

Before there were cars and industry there was haze in the Southland, but it took the internal combustion engine and dirty fuels to make that haze poisonous.

Too depressing. You deserve some good news… and there is some. According to NOAA:

“In California’s Los Angeles Basin, levels of some vehicle-related air pollutants have decreased by about 98 percent since the 1960s, even as area residents now burn three times as much gasoline and diesel fuel.”

We have what Harbin, China does not–very stringent pollution controls. Our cars run cleaner. We evaporate less fuel into the atmosphere. We’re more careful about what’s emitted from smokestacks
and chimneys.

Ask a seasoned SoCal native what it used to be like here. You might be amazed.

We still don’t meet the EPA’s standards for ozone levels. But, we’re moving in the right direction. On the other hand Harbin’s air pollution was 40 times what the World Health Organization considers safe!

Getting cleaner air isn’t easy and it isn’t cheap. That’s one reason developing nations see some of the worst air.

“See some of the worst air.” Pun intended.

The Clean Coal Scam

The air is cleaner, water is purer now than when I was growing up. That’s not in spite of the EPA, but primarily because of it.

I had the TV on early this afternoon when a commercial came on for “Clean Coal.” Clean coal? Seriously? Is there really such a thing? I went to the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity‘s website to read up.

New coal plants built today using state-of-the-art technology offer improved environmental performance in terms of both efficiency and emissions reductions. According to the EPA and other sources, coal-fueled power plants are capable of reducing up to 98 percent of sulfur dioxide emissions, 90 percent of nitrogen oxide emissions and 90 percent of mercury emissions in some instances.

Notice the last three words: “in some instances.” Everything preceding those words is suspect at best and potentially meaningless. Like the commercial the website goes through major linguistic acrobatics to imply promises that are never really made.

For example there’s a link associated with “90 percent of mercury emissions” which leads to another page on the site.

According to the Government Accountability Office, sorbent injection systems have achieved, on average, 90 percent reductions in mercury emissions. For more information, go to:

Sounds good. I clicked the GAO link. All of a sudden the cleanliness of coal isn’t quite as evident.

The 491 U.S. coal-fired power plants are the largest unregulated industrial source of mercury emissions nationwide, annually emitting about 48 tons of mercury–a toxic element that poses health threats, including neurological disorders in children. In 2000, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) determined that mercury emissions from these sources should be regulated, but the agency has not set a maximum achievable control technology (MACT) standard, as the Clean Air Act requires.

Sorbent injection systems are used in 25 boilers at 14 coal-fired plants. I’m guessing that’s not all the boilers at those 14 plants, but even if it was that’s only 2.8% of the coal fired power plants! That’s a lot of dirty coal… and by dirty I mean toxic.

The reason the ad I saw was on-the-air was to try and rally support for the TRAIN Act. If you think clean coal is really clean then the TRAIN Act is for you!

Introduced by Rep. John Sullivan (R-Okla.), the Transparency in Regulatory Analysis of Impacts on the Nation (TRAIN) Act would create a special committee to oversee the EPA’s rules and regulations, and require the agency to consider economic impacts on polluters when it sets standards concerning how much air pollution is too much. For the last 41 years, since passage of the Clean Air Act, only scientific and medical considerations have been allowed in that analysis. – Huffington Post

Air is cleaner and water is purer than when I was growing up. That’s not in spite of the EPA, but primarily because of it. I don’t want to see that trend reversed.