Harvard Study Thoroughly Debunks One Main Reason Behind Coal Plant Closings

(REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst)

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Andrew Follett Energy and Science Reporter
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New government data shows mercury emissions substantially declined in the last 20 years, completely debunking claims the Environmental Protection Agency made to justify closing hundreds of coal-fired generators across the country.

A new study by the U.S. Geological Survey and Harvard University found mercury emissions declined by up to 30 percent because of cleaner coal-fired power plants and the general transition to natural gas power. These changes led to large declines in atmospheric mercury over North America, according to scientists.

“For years, mercury researchers have been unable to explain the apparent conundrum between declining air concentrations and rising emission estimates,” Yanxu Zhang, the study’s lead author from Harvard University, in a press release. “Our work is the first detailed, mechanistic analysis to explain the declining atmospheric mercury trend.”

The study shows that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) erred in 2012 when it claimed that mercury emissions were on the rise justify extremely strict rules (MATS) targeting mercury emissions from coal power plants.

In June of 2015, the Supreme Court ruled that EPA had unreasonably failed to consider the costs of its rules when determining whether such strict regulation of mercury from power plants was appropriate and necessary.

Undeterred by its legal loss, the agency is still attempting to regulate the mercury emissions from power plants.

At the time, the EPA wrongly believed that man-made mercury emissions were actually rising in North America. The environmental agency used this belief to make huge rule changes.

The EPA justified these changes by claiming that reducing mercury emissions would lead to huge health benefits, which would more than justify any costs. The EPA even claimed that sharply limiting mercury emissions would prevent a predicted loss of an undetectable 0.00209 IQ points for each of the 240,000 infants assumed to be born in subsistence-fishing households.

Senate opponents of EPA’s anti-mercury rules failed to overturn them by a vote of 53-46 in 2012.

These EPA rules caused 72 gigawatts of electrical generating capacity to go offline or schedule retirement, according to the Institute for Energy Research. That’s enough electrical generation capacity to reliably power 44.7 million homes, or every home in every state west of the Mississippi River except Texas.

Studies by academics and think tanks generally conclude EPA regulations likely increase unemployment, slow economic growth, and create regulatory incentives which make the problem worse. EPA regulations cause increased prices and reduced productivity, which harm low-income individuals far more than they hamper the wealthy.

The poor and ethnic minorities tend to spend a higher proportion of their incomes on “basic needs” like groceries, power bills, clothing, housing and gasoline. As essential goods like electricity become more expensive, the cost of producing goods and services that use electricity increases, effectively raising the price of almost everything.

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