Environmental Time Wasted

July 28, 2015

A news director at this station, about a decade ago, wanted me to engage in what some call pack journalism, to talk about whatever was occupying the press’s attention. I understood his point; people’s interest was already peaked. Plus the more people talk about the same things, the more it tends to sink in. But I’ve never liked piling on. If you heard it elsewhere, I feel no need to restate it. I like to bring up something else, or a different perspective. I feel more useful that way.

This week I’d like to bring up a case much less talked about than the Supreme Court term’s blockbusters on same-sex marriage and medical care. Those are very important decisions. But here’s another worth examining. On June 29, the Supreme Court decided Michigan v. EPA. According to Justice Scalia and the conservative majority, the case was about whether the EPA needed to consider the costs of regulation. According to Justice Kagan and the liberal dissenters, the case was about whether the EPA needed to consider costs separately before considering specific regulations.

Sometimes court decisions lead one down the rabbit hole with Lewis Carroll. According to Justice Kagan, the EPA did consider costs. It took costs into account in the specific regulations for each type of power plant. It considered costs by adopting ways to mitigate the cost of the required measures to catch up with up-to-date emissions control systems. It decided against more stringent controls because it decided they would not be cost-effective. And it elaborately examined the quantifiable costs and benefits. The problem: it did all that in the wrong order. The result – the rule is on hold now; the agency will have to do some work to show it studied cost the way the Court wants it done before it can reimpose regulation.

That’s one of the main purposes of taking administrative agencies to court – delay can be worth a lot of money to business and industry even if they will eventually have to comply. In other words, regulations can protect the public, but courts can delay them.

Barely mentioned was how much mercury and other toxic pollutants coal fired power plants could send into the air we breathe. Scalia and the industry said there were merely several million dollars damage to the public per year. Kagan and the EPA said the damage was in the tens of billions. Of course much of the damage cannot be measured in dollars anyway – it is about lives damaged and destroyed by mercury and other toxic pollutants.

Republicans have been fighting for years against regulation of mercury emissions. Democrats just as long have been fighting to clean the air of the kinds of things that could damage our health and our ability to lead productive lives. But consistency is the hob-goblin of little minds: Republicans would do everything possible to control addictive drugs that damage our lives, health and minds – they are used by bad people. But Republicans would not control pollutants that damage our lives, health and minds – they are emitted by good people. Democrats, of course, the reverse.

So which congressman, and which justice, is in whose pocket? Some of them apparently define good and bad people by the money in their pockets instead of the things they do to others. Whatever happened to equal justice?

— This commentary was broadcast on WAMC Northeast Report, July 21, 2015.

Regionalism vs. the Environment

August 26, 2014

There’s been news recently about a decline in gas prices. Hallelujah? Or oh my God! Decline in prices means more people will build energy inefficient homes and invest in gas guzzling machinery or businesses. Some will benefit, but the world will suffer. How do we accommodate those inconsistent objectives? Read the rest of this entry »

Environmental Degradation as Murder

February 18, 2014

I don’t think of myself as a motivational speaker. I try to explain, and hope my commentaries provide helpful explanations. But this time, I want to challenge and motivate everyone to take strong action on the environmental catastrophe facing us.

We know burning gas, oil, coal and wood release carbon and help produce global warming. Some of that carbon acidifies the oceans when it’s absorbed. Air and water contamination destroy our food supplies, by destroying habitat and causing draught, among other ways. That destroys us. Global warming and ocean acidification threaten the oxygen we breathe. They threaten to sicken us with new diseases. The science is now well known.

Law generally defines murder as an intentional killing. And we infer that people intend the natural and probable consequences of their actions. And we know. Aren’t those of us who stand by guilty of mass murder-suicide, intending the natural and probable consequence of our use of carbon fuels, the death of many, perhaps billions, of human beings. Isn’t it reckless indifference to human life to fire global warming into this crowded planet. Read the rest of this entry »

Carbon Certificates and Global warming

February 11, 2014

I was proud and delighted during the fund drive to find Joe Donahue and this station helping to prevent 600 tons of carbon emissions by offering carbon certificates so that the big power companies could not get the permissions those certificates represented to pollute our atmosphere.

The carbon certificates we all pledged for, or the solar panels we installed or the Prius we drive will not save the atmosphere by themselves. But they matter.

They matter because we are doing our part. But more than that, they matter because industries will not save our planet out of the goodness of their hearts. If they make environmentally sound products that we don’t buy, or sell them at prices we won’t pay, they will either have to make the same things and make them the same cheap but destructive ways that their competitors do, or they will go bankrupt and leave the field to others less honorable. Business is the crucial link. But they can’t do their part unless we do ours.

There are three ways. We can show by our buying habits that we have built a market and they must change or we’ll all switch to the first businesses that give us the chance to be environmentally conscious with our dollars. That takes time to build but it ultimately makes a difference. So keep up the pressure, retiring carbon certificates through WAMC, buying wind and solar power wherever we can and other environmentally sound products and practices. Keep up the pressure.

Another way is regulatory. We can get our elected representatives to “Just say no.” Of course we all know who’s on the other side and how much money they give to the politicians and how many lobbyists they throw at the legislators. But then some of us enjoy the battle.

And the third way is a carbon tax, or a BTU tax which is more comprehensive. Sure that’s a tax. It will make some things more expensive. But John F. Kennedy is still right when he told us not to ask what our country can do for us but what we can do for our country. This is about what we can do for our own future, our children’s and grandchildren’s future, and our country’s future. The consequences of global warming are enormous but we can and must deal with it. Our job as citizens is to support the steps that need to happen to curb the use of carbon based fuel. We need not to allow ourselves to be bamboozled by empty and ignorant shouts about government and regulation. This is a task that we can accomplish only with the help of government. It is the kind of thing that government is for – to organize our energies to protect our country, our future, our children and grandchildren. And answering President Kennedy’s call, supporting that effort is something we can do for our country.

We will want to use the tariff system to impose the equivalent of a BTU tax on imports from countries that don’t have one. This is a big international problem. The solution is one that only America can lead. Let’s get going.

— This commentary was broadcast on WAMC Northeast Report, Feb. 11, 2014.



Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 261 other followers