Why Energy Companies' Predictions on Carbon Limits Shouldn't Be Trusted
The Center for American Progress (CAP) has about 40 years worth of evidence to prove why coal and utility companies' predictions on carbon limits should be taken with a grain of salt.
To analysts there, energy companies and their advocates have engaged in their own version of Groundhog's Day for decades.
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It began in 1970, when industry types were debating the merits of the Clean Air Act. Carl G. Beard II, then-director of the West Virginia Air Pollution Control Commission, testified before the Senate Public Works Committee that complying with the Clean Air Act of 1970 would lead to “consumers of power [paying] for these costly errors for the next 25 to 30 years."
Sure, rates went up, but not because of a desire for cleaner air. About a decade later, the Congressional Quarterly Almanac 1981 reflected on how wrong Beard and others who shared his prediction were:
Improved air quality had brought benefits worth from $4.6 billion to $51.2 billion per year, while costs of … pollution control equipment were estimated to have been $16.6 billion in 1978. … The act had not been an important obstacle to energy development ... The law had not significantly inhibited economic growth.
CAP's report, Groundhog Days: Utilities Wrong Again About Pollution Safeguard Costs, is full of similar stories that exemplify a recurring sense of paranoia when it comes to carbon limit proposals and energy companies' response to them. Now that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is preparing to propose carbon emissions limits for existing power plants this summer, CAP analysts see the same thing happening again.
"The bloated predictions about the cost of EPA proposals to finally control carbon pollution from power plants is simply a rehash of past hysteria,” Daniel J. Weiss, senior fellow and director of climate strategies at CAP, said in a statement. “These new safeguards are essential for Americans’ health and economy. Officials should ignore industry’s phony forecasts and instead focus on the huge costs of climate inaction: more smog, more asthma attacks, more ferocious storms, more droughts and more wildfires.”
The Edison Electric Institute (EEI), lobbying arm for investor-owned utilities, tried instilling fear in 1989 in a campaign against acid-rain-pollution reductions from power plants. The EEI believed that power rates in 48 states would significantly rise. Two decades later, CAP shows that the EEI’s overall rate prediction was 16 percent too high.
In reality, a 2011 National Science and Technology Council report showed that cid-rain-reduction provisions in the Clean Air Act of 1990 led to a roughly 66-percent cut in acid-rain ingredients, achieving pollution reductions that went above and beyond those required by law, according to CAP's report. The EPA estimated the compliance cost would be about $3 billion per year or less than half of the initial estimates, while human health benefits of reduced acid rain were “$170 billion to $430 billion in 2010 alone,” according to the EPA.
CAP concluded the study with words from Robert J. Rauch, an economist with Jack Faucett Associates, during that 1972 Clean Air Act hearing that ring just as true 42 years later. As the organization puts it, they represent a decades-long "Groundhog's Day."
"[It's] really quite simple. An industry confronted with environmental regulations commissions an “expert” study to show that the costs of complying with the regulations would be prohibitive," Rauch said. "These cost estimates are then highly publicized and used to generate public demand that the standards be relaxed.
"Once publicized, these cost estimates take on a life of their own—mere repetition assures their acceptance."
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Jean-Marc Neveu and Olivier Civil never expected to find themselves battling against disposable mask pollution.
When they founded their recycling start-up Plaxtil in 2017, it was textile waste they set their sights on. The project developed a process that turned fabrics into a new recyclable material they describe as "ecological plastic."
Mounting Piles of Waste<p>It is not only the streets of Chatellerault where pandemic pollution is piling-up, but also the world's beaches and oceans. Once there, they can take up to 450 years to degrade and disappear.</p><p>Esther Röling, co-organizer of the annual Adventure Clean Up Challenge held on Hong Kong Island, has seen this waste firsthand. In October the sports challenge pitted teams against one another in a competition to remove trash from 13 hard-to-reach coastal areas around the city.</p><p>They find tons of both disposable and reusable masks, said Röling. "You wonder how it ended up there. Was it just thrown on the ground? Or was it in a garbage bag that broke open?"</p><p>Almost 10,000 kilometers away in Antibes on the sunny French Riviera, it's a similar picture. For the past few months, divers and clean-up volunteers working with an ocean clean-up non-profit called Operation Mer Propre have been collecting an increasing number of masks found on land and in the sea.</p><p>"Since the beginning of the lockdown when we started to count, we've reached 800, 900, [and now in total] 1000 masks," said co-founder Joko Peltier. </p><p>According to <a href="https://unctad.org/news/growing-plastic-pollution-wake-covid-19-how-trade-policy-can-help" target="_blank">UN estimates</a>, up to 75% of all coronavirus-related plastic could end up as waste in oceans and landfills.</p>
The Limits of Recycling<p>Yet not all are convinced the recycling of this waste is possible on a global scale. </p><p>"What those citizen groups are doing is really beneficial but once they collect it, it should just go to a landfill or an incinerator. They shouldn't necessarily expect it to get recycled," said Jonathan Krones, an industrial ecologist and visiting assistant professor of environmental studies at Boston College.</p><p>That's because mask recycling programs like Plaxtil are few and far between and most don't have the benefit of a readily adaptable production process. </p><p>Even in countries with solid recycling infrastructure, he says, the system is designed to separate out specific types of waste like bottles or cardboard.</p><p>"I imagine that it would be technically feasible to develop a separation process to filter out masks, but there simply aren't enough of them to make that economical," he said.</p><p>Collection is a big hurdle, he adds. Since each mask only weighs a fraction of a gram and they're scattered on roads or mixed with other trash, it is difficult and costly. </p><p>"You need a lot of raw material of the right quality to make investing in the recycling technology and the recycling system worthwhile," he said.<span></span><br></p>
Hemp, Sugar Cane and Sustainable Alternatives<p>Some projects are instead addressing the material used to make masks.</p><p>French company Geochanvre have created a mask made primarily from hemp, while in Australia, researchers at the Queensland University of Technology are experimenting with a disposable product made from agricultural waste. </p><p>Biodegradable options are exciting alternatives to reduce the fossil fuels needed for the creation of plastic-based masks, said Krones, but they don't absolve the wearer from the responsibility of what happens afterwards. </p><p>Bio-based masks often need their own composing solutions, he explains, because in landfill they can produce high amounts of the greenhouse gas methane when anaerobic bacteria feeds on the organic material. Methane is known to be significantly more potent than carbon dioxide.</p><p>"I think as long as we have in our mind that we want to have disposability, we're going to have to wrestle with a variety of different sorts of environmental tradeoffs," he said, adding that reusable, fabric masks are the best option available to most people.</p><p>Precimask is developing a clear face covering with an optional visor made from hard plastic, designed to be long-lasting.<br></p><p>Air enters either side of the cheeks through a technology normally found in pool filters and car exhaust systems, said company spokeswoman Juliette Chambet.</p><p>"We wanted to make ceramic-based filters that would be washable and cleanable, which would allow them to be reused as many times as desired without having to buy a new consumable or produce waste," she said. </p><p>Ultimately, encouraging mask wearers to think about the entire lifecycle of a mask is key, explains Neveu. </p><p>"We want people who put on the masks to realize that they are also responsible for the waste, he said. "It's not inevitable that this [pandemic] will become an environmental catastrophe.</p><p><em>Reposted with permission from </em><em><a href="https://www.dw.com/en/covid-19-recycling-pollution-trash-pandemic/a-55707817" target="_blank">Deutsche Welle</a>.</em><a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/r/entryeditor/2649032193#/" target="_self"></a></p>
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