• Mercury Costs Aren't Fishy

    March 27,2015, 04:47 AM

    The Rev. Mitchel C. Hescox

    (Readers Note: This is a response to a Wall Street Journal Op-Ed. The WSJ declined this response.)

    How do you measure the cost of a child's life, or a permanently damaged brain, or ability to think? Whether it's 10 IQ points or total cognitive disability, we have the moral responsibility to defend our children, each child from preventable threats,especially mercury emitted from coal generated electricity. Mr. Potts in his recent Wall Street Journal OP-ED Mercurial Regulators Making Fishy Calculations, makes some fishy calculations of his own. According to Drs. Leonardo Trasande and Yinghua Liu, methylmercury costs our economy in children health costs up to $8.4 billion annually in 2008 dollars. Hardly the paltry $6 million Mr. Potts claims.

    Coal isn't cheap by a total cost standard. The Harvard Medical School estimated that coal fired electricity costs each of us an additional $0.11kWh over what we pay on our meter, effectively doubling the cost. In other words, utilities get the profits, we suffer the costs. According to the most recent available information one in six babies are born with enough mercury in their tiny bodies to cause IQ loss,brain damage, and a potential host of other health problems.

    Let's call it for what it is. Mr. Potts is asking us to continue to hide the true costs of burning coal to produce electricity in the brains and bodies of our children,subsidizing their profits by sacrificing our children's health and well-being.

    When I was growing-up, my Mom had a saying, "If you made a mess, clean it up. Coal generated electric utilities have been making a big mess for decades and have never cleaned-up their mess until forced to do so. Today, over 102,000 miles of rivers and streams, almost 8,000,000 acres of fresh water lakes, 250,000 acres of wetlands, and 30,000 sq. miles of the Great Lakes in the United States are contaminated with mercury, and fish consumption advisories exist in all 50 States. Yet we have been giving special breaks and what amounts to subsidies to the coal fired utility industry for over twenty years. In August 2011, the nonpartisan research and analysis unit of Congress, the Congressional Research Service (CRS), wrote that Congress has given special consideration to coal electric generation for over 20 years. In fact, other industries rightly have been regulated to clean up their air pollution, including mercury, while coal-fired utilities have been given a free pass to keep polluting and harming our kids. Many utilities continue fighting to delay installing pollution control on their plants, a good number of which are over 40 years old. They continue to maximize their profits without investing or upgrading these aging relics whose cost has been amortized long ago.

    In addition to mercury, asthma continues to threaten life itself as 130,000 kids and adults suffer from asthma attacks induced by particulates that the MATS regulation would eliminate. All told, the health benefits from enforcing this standard would save a minimum of $40 billion per year and cost the average electric user around $6.00 per month or $72 dollars per year. Not poisoning one in six babies born in the United States is worth six bucks a month to me, and I believe most Americans feel the same.

    However, instead of investing in new technologies to make coal cleaner, the industry cries foul, keeps polluting, files law suits, puts our children at risk, and banks the profits. Let's stop telling fish stories and start telling the truth.

    It's time to build a new American economy on clean energy, defend our kids,and stop living in the past. We have solutions, but the decision is ours. Today we stand on the precipice of a new energy industry. Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF )says the clean energy transition is now self-sustaining and inevitable. Morgan Stanley states the "tipping point is near for going off the grid."

    Let's stop telling fish stories and instead go to work and rebuild America's greatness with an energy market build on real costs. It's the right thing to do; it's the American way.

Copyright © 2011 Evangelical Environmental Network.

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