Europe’s life expectancy cut; US air polluter to clean up its act?
Smog shortens lives; will big fines lessen smog?
We cite two Associated Press articles, "Agency: Pollution Cuts Europe Lifespans" by Dusan Stojanovic (Oct 10) and "Acid Rain Case Settled for $4.6 Billion" by Lara Jakes Jordan (Oct 9), then add a key yet overlooked part of the puzzle.
by Jeffery J. SmithStojanovic: Hundreds of thousands of people across Europe are dying prematurely due to pollution of air, water, and environmental changes blamed on global warming. The estimated annual loss of life is significantly greater than that due to car accidents.
At this rate, life expectancy in Western and Central Europe will be shorter by nearly a year. The current average age expectancy in western and central Europe is 70 for men and 74 for women.
Besides shortening lives, the degraded environment also harms the development of children.
Pollution is similarly bleak across Eastern Europe, mostly from vehicle gas emissions and the expansion of industry in ex-Soviet nations. More than 100 million people in the region still do not have access to safe drinking water.
The emission of greenhouse gases on the rise across Europe has contributed to global warming; as climate change upsets Europe's ecosystems, the continent faces over-fishing and damage to crops.
Emissions must be reduced by up to 50 percent by 2050 to limit rises in the earth's temperature and avert major climate changes in the future.
Jordan: American Electric Power Co., accused of spreading smog and acid rain across a dozen Northeast and mid-Atlantic states, agreed to pay at least $4.6 billion to cut chemical emissions that chewed away at mountain ranges, bays, and national landmarks, including the Statue of Liberty.
AEP must also pay a $15 million civil fine and $60 million in cleanup and mitigation costs to help heal polluted land in the Shenandoah National Park and waterways including the Chesapeake Bay.
The case began in 1999 when eight states and a dozen environmental groups joined the Environmental Protection Agency's crackdown on energy companies accused of rebuilding coal-fired power plants without installing new pollution controls. The Bush Administration let the case drag on its entire tenure.
This one settlement will reduce smokestack pollution by 1.6 billion pounds each year through 2018. Over the last three years, Bush’s EPA has led industry to cut emissions only one billion pounds or less annually.
The crackdown should also reduce annual health costs to treat pollution-induced lung and respiratory problems by $32 billion.
Failure to comply with the settlement could result in daily penalties of hundreds of thousands of dollars.
The costs and civil fines will exceed any company payout in an environmental case. The 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill, by contrast, yielded $1 billion in restoration and restitution costs, although Exxon Mobil Corp. estimates it has so far spent $3.5 billion and faces an additional $2.5 billion in criminal penalties.
JJS: However much polluters pay, under current tax law they get to deduct it, so I’ve read. Which may be why the threat of fines does not deter polluters. Also, scrubbing out the bigger soot particles still leaves the smaller ones which are far more lethal to living tissue.
Seeking a basic solution, note that about half of smog comes from cars, about half from factories and power plants. Vehicles would pollute less not only if they had cleaner fuels and more efficient engines but also if they were driven less. Where land use is efficient – less sprawl, fewer parking lots, narrower streets, apartments above shops – there residents can kick the driving habit.
Power plants would pollute less not only if they used cleaner fuels and captured toxic emissions but also if their energy were in less demand. Again, where land use is efficient -- buildings sitting side by side -- and buildings are efficient, not leaking heat thanks to insulation, air-to-air heat exchangers, etc, there metro dwellers can keep warm without cranking up the thermostat.
People do use erect efficient buildings and do put locations to highest and best use when prices tell them to. Where landowners pay no tax on buildings, they improve them, reducing demand for energy. Likewise, where landowners pay a tax or dues only for their location, there they forgo speculating and optimize use of their site.
For a problem as big as smog, we need to think it all the way through, all the way to economic efficiency – which here is the same as economic equity.
Jeffery J. Smith runs the Forum on Geonomics.
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