Hi Ho, Quicksilver! Away!
©2011 Ross Williams
Way back in the 70s, when smoke-belching dinosaurs roamed the earth, a fledgling federal agency called EPA was given the authority to enforce the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts. Both pieces of federal legislation carried grandfather clauses exempting many then-operating manufacturing industries and utilities from having to comply with the law for decades – if ever. The Clean Air/Water Acts, essentially, could be enforced only upon new industries.
The Clean Air/Water Acts arguably did more to drive manufacturing jobs out of the US than decades of pointless and inflationary union agitation, and minimum wage laws did. Which is not to say that anyone should welcome dirty air or water. But each time an enviro-ninny starts to claim that industrial pollution is killing us and shortening our life expectancy, I just casually remind him that before industrialization, when the major pollution question extant upon the landscape was where to take a dump, human life expectancy was 45 years – and then only in the relatively wealthy and temperate European nations; it was lower elsewhere, notably amongst the Neolithic Amerinds whom the enviro-luddites love to claim were so “at one with their environment”. Yes, they were “at one” with it, alright; they couldn’t get away from it.
Here’s the thing about nature and the environment it lives in: it doesn’t care about you or anyone else, and its job is to do its damnedest to kill you – as quickly as possible. You don’t want to be “at one” with your environment for too long at a time if you can help it.
Enter, now, industrialization and all the pollution it made, and human life expectancy in the polluted nations jumped from 45 to 75 in the span of single-digit generations. Two-thirds increase. In just the last two generations alone the Chinese have increased their life span by almost 40%. Fifty years ago China was pristine and unsullied – except for the dump-taking zones – and today you can cut their air with a knife and virtually walk on their water.
Clearly pollution isn’t as big a crisis as some people would seem to want it.
Yet there’s no reason why we should allow industries to continue putting unnecessarily large amounts of crap in our air or water. We have the technology to filter much of that crap out of our smokestacks and effluent pipes where we usually didn’t 30, 40, 50 years ago ... so continued grandfathering is pointless.
But federal nannying of our ecology is also inappropriate. There is no Mother Nature clause in Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution. All nannying is properly left to the individual states to do – if they want to. Most do, it would seem. On the currently-popular subject of mercury emissions, 39 of our 50 states have reduced mercury emissions between 2005 and 2009. This was during the time that Congress could not bring itself to eliminate the 30-year grandfathers in Clean Air and Water.
...and before anyone gets all smug about “Bush Administration” irrelevancies: Congress was Republican from ’05 to ‘06, and Democrat from ’07 to ‘08. Congress was hyper-Democrat in 2009 when Democrats were busy claiming the end of the Republican party. If Democrats had wanted to end useless grandfathering, they could have done it at almost any point; they didn’t. So I don’t want to hear any Yeah, but-ing. Not doing anything was a truly bi-partisan effort.
But while Congress didn’t do anything, states did. Illinois, for example, reduced mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants by 35% in the five years between ’05 and ’09 for the same amount of electricity generated. Nationwide – even with 11 states not joining the mercury-reduction bandwagon – mercury emissions from all industries fell 28% in those five years. Coal power plants are the largest source of mercury.
Obama has recently issued EPA rules that give many industries just a few years to comply with Clean Air/Water standards. Obama did this because when Bush did the same thing, a federal court ruled that the president cannot imperially override Congress on legal matters: if the industry is grandfathered by law, then the industry is grandfathered – it will require a change to the law to change the grandfathering. Bush attempted to override the law with dictatorial fiat because Congress wasn’t changing the law themselves.
Of course, this doesn’t mean anything to our enviro-tards. All they saw was that the Bush-era rules gave these industries until the 2020s to comply with Clean Air/Water, and that the federal courts overruled the Bush rules. They do not understand why. “Because it gave polluters too much time to pollute” is the reason most have claimed.
Incorrect: it’s because Bush overrode the law, and thus exceeded his power. The Prez cannot declare laws to be irrelevant. Obama has done the same thing Bush did, only he declared the law to be irrelevant quicker. Those industries which sued and won in 2008 about having until the 20s to comply with laws that don’t apply to them now have, under Obama’s rule, only four years to comply: until 2015. Apparently Obama believes that when a Republican declares a law to be irrelevant, even if it’s an environmental law that allows industry to toss crap into the air, it’s a bad thing, and the planet-raping Republican did it for all the wrong reasons; when the Democrat does it, it’s for all the right reasons, and it should therefore be acceptable to the courts.
At any rate, those same industries are certain to sue again, and win again, and it will once again be left in the hands of Congress to alter the Clean Air/Water Acts to eliminate the grandfathering. And they will undoubtedly fail to do so because Democrats in Congress are only environmentalists when it comes to pollution-causing activities in Republican districts; in their own district they are concerned more about the jobs that go hand in hand with making pollution. Republicans, on the other hand, are all about jobs in their own districts while mainly being environmentalists about Democrat districts. The differences are obvious and insurmountable.
Which means that if any progress is going to be made it’ll have to be made at the state level, where it should have been left in the first place, as there is still no Mother Nature clause in the Constitution. State action on mercury emissions cannot come at a better time, either, since one thing Obama’s EPA can make rules about is incandescent light bulbs. Despite being delayed by 9 months, the ban on incandescents is still going forward, and they’ll have to be replaced by the mercury-filled compact fluorescents from China – where the air can be sculpted and the sheen on their rivers and lakes has congealed until it can support a person’s weight. The Chinese have 40% longer lives to enjoy their crunchy air and gelatinous water – must be their diet.
Meanwhile, CFLs don’t necessarily last longer than incandescents but are 20-times the price to make up for it. If we’re going to accommodate all the mercury from those CFL bulbs in our landfills, we’ll need to reduce the mercury from other sources. And just like partisan tomfoolery over who can abuse his political authority with impunity, mercury which comes from industrial smokestacks is poisonous while the mercury from CFLs is harmless. It’s all in the motivation.