Republican attack on the environment

Notes from the Kakistocracy: Mercury rules on the chopping block

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Andrew Wheeler is about to score a big one for his coal buddies:

Reworking the mercury rule, which the E.P.A. considers the priciest clean-air regulation ever put forth in terms of annual cost to industry, would represent a victory for the coal industry and in particular for Robert E. Murray, an important former client of Mr. Wheeler’s from his days as a lobbyist. Mr. Murray, the chief executive of Murray Energy Corporation, personally requested the rollback of the mercury rule soon after Mr. Trump took office.

In a statement on Friday, Hal Quinn, president of the National Mining Association, praised the new rule, calling the mercury limits “perhaps the largest regulatory accounting fraud perpetrated on American consumers.”

Mercury is a pretty nasty neurotoxin in its elemental (particulate) form, and it's persistent; you just can't burn coal hot enough to get rid of it. But that danger pales in comparison to what happens when elemental mercury drains into or settles upon a body of water. It bonds with microorganisms and becomes motile; it comes to life in the form of methyl mercury. And when consumed by any larger organism (from fish to people), it can no longer be filtered out, so it bio-accumulates. And it becomes selective in its eating patterns, much preferring the soft neural tissues of a developing fetus. Placental barriers mean next to nothing to this creature, and that's why it's incredibly important that man-made barriers be kept in place:

The perils of privatization: Aqua NC customers score dubious win

A reduction in rate increases for nasty water is hardly a victory:

Homeowners tired of brown drinking water were celebrating Friday night after learning that the North Carolina Utilities Commission denied Aqua North Carolina's request for an 8 percent increase in rates. Aqua customers packed a rate hearing in June to complain to the Utilities Commission about the brown water that stains their clothes, sinks and bathtubs.

The commission apparently heard them and approved an average increase of 2.5 percent. "I don't mind paying it if the water's clean. When the water's not clean, you get upset about paying a premium and still having dirty water coming through your tap," Aqua customer Owen Cavanaugh said.

Once again, the Utilities Commission has failed in its most basic responsibility: To ensure that utility operators are providing a safe and equitable service to their ratepayers. Those of you who are relatively new to the environmental watchdog club may be unfamiliar with this company, but this heinously expensive brown water thing has been going on for a long time. Lisa Sorg wrote this for the Indy five years ago:

Trump moves forward with seismic testing for offshore oil exploration

Because apparently "harassing" endangered whales is no big deal:

The Trump administration on Friday authorized use of seismic air guns to find oil and gas formations deep underneath the Atlantic Ocean floor, reversing Obama administration policies and drawing outrage from critics who say the practice can disturb or injure whales, sea turtles and other marine life. The surveys are part of President Donald Trump's bid to expand offshore drilling in the Atlantic.

Administration officials said that under terms of the law that protects marine life, the permits would allow "harassment" of whales and sea turtles but would not allow companies to kill them.

As horrific as that sounds, it's actually an understatement. The ruling actually allows for "incidental" injury to sea life, as long as it's not "intentional." Think about that. By injecting "intent" into the formula, they could kill as many whales, dolphins, and turtles as it is necessary to get the readings they need, as long as they say, "Oops!" when they do it. And this "protection" is laughable:

Coal Ash Wednesday: The world's dirtiest business continues

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Running headlong into a global catastrophe:

Cheap, plentiful and the most polluting of fossil fuels, coal remains the single largest source of energy to generate electricity worldwide. This, even as renewables like solar and wind power are rapidly becoming more affordable. Soon, coal could make no financial sense for its backers. So, why is coal so hard to quit?

Because coal is a powerful incumbent. It’s there by the millions of tons under the ground. Powerful companies, backed by powerful governments, often in the form of subsidies, are in a rush to grow their markets before it is too late. Banks still profit from it. Big national electricity grids were designed for it. Coal plants can be a surefire way for politicians to deliver cheap electricity — and retain their own power. In some countries, it has been a glistening source of graft.

I really do hate to throw this on you right after that stunning climate report, but there's no help for it. If we don't understand the scope of the problem, we'll never be able to solve it. Our advocacy here in the United States has been, if not wildly successful, at least a sign of steady progress. Older and dirtier coal plants have been shuttered, and relatively few new ones are coming online. But unfortunately, that is not the case in many other parts of the world:

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