Political Animal


December 21, 2011 3:45 PM ‘History is made’ on mercury emissions

By Steve Benen

It’s not uncommon for the Obama administration to do something worthwhile. Once in a while, though, the administration does something very worthwhile that will have a major impact on society.

Dave Roberts has a helpful piece today on the EPA’s new national standards for mercury pollution from coal- and oil-fired power plants — the first of their kind — which he described as “a Big Deal” and an instance in which “history is being made.”

Finally controlling mercury and toxics will be an advance on par with getting lead out of gasoline. It will save tens of thousands of lives every year and prevent birth defects, learning disabilities, and respiratory diseases. It will make America a more decent, just, and humane place to live. […]

[T]his is an historic day and a real step forward for the forces of civilization. It’s the beginning of the end of one of the last of the old-school, 20th-century air pollution problems…. Long after everyone has forgotten who “won the morning” in the fight over these rules, or what effect they had on Obama’s electoral chances, the rule’s legacy will live on in a healthier, happier American people.

Roberts refers to public health, and it’s worth emphasizing just how expansive a difference this is likely to make.

EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson explained in a statement, “By cutting emissions that are linked to developmental disorders and respiratory illnesses like asthma, these standards represent a major victory for clean air and public health — and especially for the health of our children. With these standards that were two decades in the making, EPA is rounding out a year of incredible progress on clean air in America with another action that will benefit the American people for years to come. The Mercury and Air Toxics Standards will protect millions of families and children from harmful and costly air pollution and provide the American people with health benefits that far outweigh the costs of compliance.”

When we talk about separates a Democratic administration from a Republican one, there are no greater reminders about the differences than measures like these.

If recent history is any guide, this encouraging news won’t get quite as much attention as it deserves, and that’s a shame. Obama’s critics on the left expect developments like these, and don’t make a fuss to congratulate the administration for progress they’d like to be routine. Obama’s critics on the right generally want to avoid pro-pollution pronouncements, so they ignore news like this.

Regardless, whether it generates headlines and/or political chatter or not, these new regulatory steps are a breakthrough.

Steve Benen is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly, joining the publication in August, 2008 as chief blogger for the Washington Monthly blog, Political Animal.


Post a comment
  • emjayay on December 21, 2011 3:58 PM:

    Will the immediate end to all this silly mercury regulation stuff be a nonnegotiable demand by the R's in order to pass a continued payroll tax reduction?

  • WTF? on December 21, 2011 4:08 PM:

    This helps people who vote for Dems! The horror. The horror.

  • K in VA on December 21, 2011 4:08 PM:

    Yes, no doubt about it, this is an important event for public health.

    But will it outlast the next election?

  • c u n d gulag on December 21, 2011 4:14 PM:

    GOP POV:
    This is completely AGAINST American Exceptionalism!!!

    What, after all, were our MERCURY Astronauts looking for up in space, but mercury?
    I mean, they weren't the Gold, Silver, or Uranium, Astronauts!

    And, after all the government had spent sending them up into space, and getting them back again, it turns out we had it here in our air all of the time after all!

    Typical Liberal Big Government waste!

  • Texas Aggie on December 21, 2011 4:16 PM:

    It goes into effect in 2014, two years from now. Does that mean they have to be in compliance by then or is that when they have to start doing something about it?

    In other blogs you'll see weeping and wailing about all the jobs being lost in those plants that are shut down because they are too awful to be fixed. What those wailers will forget to mention is that there will be more jobs producing and installing the required equipment not to mention building the new plants that replace the decrepit ones.

    As for the whine that people's electric bills will go up, why should they? Haven't the power companies been planning and saving since 1977 when the Clean Air Act first began to regulate emissions? They knew back then that the plants were too old to keep going. Surely they have already budgeted for new ones, no? After all, the forward thinking American entrepreneur must have been planning for something so obvious. (Yeah, right!)

  • T2 on December 21, 2011 4:27 PM:

    GOP: this new Obama action will kill all Job Creators

  • Texas Aggie on December 21, 2011 4:41 PM:

    I wonder what my representative plans to do about this. He is a long time minor player who never had an original thought in his life, but gets his thoughts out of the Rove/Luntz Handbook of Bumper Stickers. And his district is number one for bad air quality in the state since forever.

  • hells littlest angel on December 21, 2011 4:56 PM:

    This will make it more difficult for the Sarah Palins of future generations to have the retarded babies they'll need for campaign props.

  • RP on December 21, 2011 5:04 PM:

    Thought exercise: suppose unleaded gasoline wasn't the law of the land today...can you imagine the uproar if the Obama administration was trying to implement the mandate now?

  • QuestionEverything on December 21, 2011 5:09 PM:

    ROCK ON!!!

    It's progress like this that reinforces why I voted for Obama, why he should have a second term, and why I think he's the Best Thing to happen to America.

    Leave it to the Stupids to bitch and twist the truth using their usually fibulating tactics.

  • OKDem on December 21, 2011 5:59 PM:

    In case anyone thinks the idiots in the Red states are not screaming that the sky is falling, Oklahoma's and Kansas's corporate prostitutes have been predicting the end of Western civilization and, of course, killing job creation.