New Bipartisan Bill Seeks to Curb Mercury, Sulfur Emissions


Photo via Welt

Last year, the EPA proposed new stricter regulations on sulfur dioxide and mercury emissions through higher air quality standards, but their implementation has been held up due to legal challenges, Reuters reports. So in order to get the new standards upheld, a bipartisan group of senators is sponsoring a bill that would cut emissions of those gases, along with nitrogen oxide, by setting up a nationwide trading system for pollution permits. Sound familiar?Return of the Cap and Trade
There are two reasons it should: the first being that there already is a pollution permit trading system in place for sulfur dioxide--it was enacted two decades ago in the Clean Air Act of 1990, and is the primary reason that we don't see regular acid rain in the United States. The initial reports don't offer enough info yet to see how the new legislation would change that system, other than accounting for stricter regulations and therefore more pollution permits.

Second, this 'nationwide trading system' is a synonym for that 'cap and trade' system we've all been hearing so much about over the last year or so. But this new bill makes a point not to cover greenhouse gas emissions like carbon dioxide, unlike the far more expansive American Clean Energy and Security Act, which had a cap and trade system designed to curb CO2 built into its core.

On the Clean Air Bill
This bill's introduction demonstrates a couple things: first, that there is indeed confidence in Congress that the 'cap and trade' mechanism is the preferred way to restrict the emission of pollution. It was a resounding success for sulfur dioxide emissions in the 90s, and proponents argue that it's the best and most realistic way to tackle greenhouse gas emissions reduction now. But it also shows that many Senators are still convinced (or effectively lobbied into believing) that greenhouse gas emissions are not a dire concern.

For instance, Lamar Alexander, (R-Tenn.) is against a clean energy reform bill that would reduce CO2. But he's a sponsor of this bill. He evidently believes in the science that has proven sulfur dioxide causes acid rain, but not in the science that has proven greenhouse gases are warming the planet.

Nonetheless, curbing sulfur emissions is only a positive--and very necessary--thing:

Supporters of the legislation say it would save 215,000 lives and more than $2 trillion in health care costs by 2025, while costing less than $2 a month as companies install smokestack "scrubbers" and other clean air technologies.

The pollution has been linked to asthma attacks, heart disease, strokes, lung cancer and other illnesses.

My only real concern with this bill is that once it's passed (if it does) then foes of clean energy reform will be able to say, "oh look, we are hard on coal, we care about the environment," by passing this relatively inexpensive raft of regulations, as an attempt to validate not taking action to regulate CO2. On the one hand, it's extremely important to get the new, stricter sulfur dioxide regulations instated, and this bill would be a long overdue reinforcement of air quality standards.

More on Sulfur Dioxide
Which Six Air Pollutants Does the EPA Regulate?
Reduced Sulfur Might Be Key To Ocean Function

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