Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Mike Krancer recently lauded President Barack Obama’s Sept. 2 decision to kill new air quality standards proposed by the EPA.
“This mid-term change to the 2008 standard is not required by law at this time,” Krancer said, “as EPA is already required to revisit the 2008 standard in 2013.
He noted the proposed new regulations, which would have tightened air quality standards more than those adopted in May 2008, under then-Pres. George W. Bush, “would have created needless regulatory uncertainty in the business world and was not supported by the best science.”
Where have we heard that before?
“The rest of the world, including its most populous and developing areas, would not be included in the restrictions we would impose upon ourselves,” Krancer said. “In light of current economic conditions, there is a serious question of whether it is fair to ask Americans to be the only people taking on the burdens and responsibilities of implementation.”
So improving quality of the air we breath may be a good thing, but if no one else wants to do it, why should we?
I hear echoes of children saying to their parents, “But M-o-o-o-mmm, everyone will be there” or, depending on the situation, “Dad-dy, no one else is doing it.”
One could hope that cancelling the new regulations would result in new jobs for the 14 million unemployed Americans. Recent history seems to indicate otherwise.
Certainly, we are not the only nation polluting the planet’s atmosphere, but we would not be the only nation attempting to clean up our act. In 1997, the so-called Kyoto Protocol was adopted at the end of a conference held in Kyoto, Japan. In it, 37 industrialized nations and the European Union agreed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by five percent of 1990 levels. The reductions, although declared in 1997, would not actually occur until the five-year period between 2008 and 2012.
The main reason the U.S. gave for refusing to sign the Kyoto Protocol was that India and China would not participate. The time-honored rationale, echoed by Krancer, was that the U.S., the then-largest polluter, would shoulder the largest expense.
One could have argued in 1997 that India and China were not industrialized nations, although at least China was rapidly gearing up. For the past several years, oil prices have steadily increased in part because China has entered the market as a petroleum consumer, building a massive highway system on which its growing middle class will drive its automobiles. Pennsylvania townships now compete with Chinese highway departments for asphalt, and Chinese workers for gasoline.
European Satellite Agency (http://www.eumetsat.int) is a consortium of 26 European nations, plus cooperating agencies including NOAA and NASA, uses satellite data to monitor the planet’s atmosphere. In a report the agency issued in September 2005, northeast China, including the capital city of Beijing, were named as having the world’s highest levels of nitrogen dioxide – a key smog gas originating from coal-fired power plants, heavy industry and vehicle emissions. The gas had increased by about 50 percent in China’s air since 1996, and the trend was rising.
China’s industrial expansion, and its attendant world-leading pollution problems, were revealed to the world during the run-up to the 2008 Summer Olympics, when some outdoor events were nearly cancelled because of air pollution levels.
By then, China already was working to mitigate the problems where it could, and hide them where it had to. In January 2010, the New York Times reported China to be the world leader in alternative energy production, including wind and solar generator manufacturing. In January this year, the U.S. was in third place, behind China and Germany, respectively.
Must we wait for China to position itself to sell us wind and solar production facilities – the way the oft-touted “some countries that don’t like us much” now sell us oil?
Throughout our history, the United States has been a leader in creating new jobs in new industries. When I was young, I heard adults deride the Chinese and Japanese for simply copying our inventions, selling back to us cheap imitations of cameras and electronics we had invented and perfected.
The picture seems to be changing, while our companies ship manufacturing jobs to cheaper climes, and besiege our televisions with the wonders of “cleaner” coal and natural gas.
We cannot immediately throw a switch and stop using fossil fuels, but that seems a lame excuse for not trying to wean ourselves from something we know is bad for us and our children. It seems an even poorer excuse for refusing to stake a position as world leader in energy-technology before the opportunity has permanently shifted to other shores.
“Pennsylvania DEP’s Air Quality program is vigorous and effective,” Krancer said, “and not issuing now what would have been a scientifically infirm rule will have no adverse impact on the commonwealth’s air quality or public health.”
He may be right, but it’s not going to help, either.
Photo by Kevin Dooley
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