Air Pollution Control Equipment Services, Emissions

Scare tactics: a response to the Clean Air Task Force

By KATHLEEN DAVIS, Associate Editor

I returned my Greenpeace membership because it wasn’t working. While Greenpeace—and many similar environmental groups—have their collective heart in just the right place, they lack the willingness to compromise.

I can hear the response now: How can we compromise when the environment is at stake?

My answer: How can we not?

This month, a coalition of environmental groups (collectively known as the Clean Air Task Force) released a study linking power plant emissions to deaths from respiratory-related illnesses. Repeated by a number of newspapers around the country, the average headline screamed: Power Plants Kill ______ Number in ______ City Each Year.

I’ve read the release entitled “Death, Disease & Dirty Power” and have found nothing either conclusive or new about its findings. We already know that air pollution causes health problems; the EPA (through the NOx SIP Call and other legislation) is working hard to find a solution. And old power plants are in the equation as well.

No matter how anyone views it, the average utility is not run by a tyrant whose only agenda is money. The average utility is run by people who have mortgages and dogs and 2.5 kids, just like everyone else.

The utilities know there’s a problem; they are working on a solution. But, that solution cannot be immediate. It must be taken in steps and stages to balance health with company, worker, and community needs.

Environmental groups like the Clean Air Task Force seem unwilling to admit to those needs. How can they separate power plant emissions from other pollutants like exhaust? How are they factoring out other health issues like genetics or chronic conditions? Who is supplying this detailed information about individual maladies and subsequent demises?

I dislike frightening the public into a frenzied outcry without supplying a solution to the problem. I always hope that such a nasty jab will be above environmentalists with noble intentions, but I’m often disappointed.

The solution proposed by the Clean Air Task Force: polishing up those old, dirty coal-fired plants. I hate to tell the Clean Air Task Force, but the utilities are working on it. However, wading through the old system of generating electricity and coming out new and shiny again is not as simple as tearing down and rebuilding or massively retrofitting everything tomorrow.

If we tear down those plants, creating a significant drop in generation, the community will suffer more direly than the current health hazards created by those emissions. We’ll unplug valuable medical equipment (which will create direct deaths in very high numbers), significant industries (creating an economic backup and a temporary stop on paychecks for a number of Americans), individual luxuries (no more air conditioning, eBay or MTV).

I challenge every member of the Clean Air Task Force to be willing to accept those losses personally, and first, before any other American now scared out of his wits by their findings.

Massive retrofitting is also a problem, mostly monetarily. While utilities are working to cut their emissions and fall into the EPA hard line, immediate drastic actions rack up immediate, drastic debt (as anyone can see with one glance at the San Diego area this year). In the end, we can hold on to our standards and give the plants time and space to work toward those ends, or we can demand they do everything right now, leaving them no choice but to pass those costs for retrofitting on to the consumer—and quicker than you think.

You see, I agree with the Clean Air Task Force on many issues. I agree with Greenpeace on a number too. I just feel that—to actually accomplish something more than screaming myself hoarse and creating an arrest record that would haunt me in the future—I might actually want these people to listen. I might actually want them to work toward a mutual goal; therefore, I might actually want to try compromise.

Covering the protests over the World Bank, a national reporter approached a young woman carrying a “Down with Capitalism” sign—one she’d been vigorously shoving skyward most of the morning. He asked her a question that puzzled her, left her speechless—not about her beliefs or her passions, but about her solutions. That question was simply, “What would work better?”

Until more activists can thoroughly answer that question for me, I will continue to work methodically—and, yes, conspiratorially if you like—toward a compromise that we can all live with right here in the mostly gray real world, not that dazzling black and white clean air fantasy.

Kathleen Davis is an Associate Editor for Electric, Light & Power magazine, a PennWell Publication. She can be reached at [email protected]

Kathleen Davis is an Associate Editor for Electric, Light & Power Magazine, a PennWell publication. She can be reached at [email protected].