Saturday, December 13, 2003

My Mercury Control Proposal

The Bush administration is proposing to control mercury emissions by power plants through a cap-and-trade policy. By 2010, this would cut the overall emissions of mercury by thirty percent from their current level, but would allow power plants that find cutting their emissions especially expensive to buy 'pollution points' (my term) from other plants. A sort of free market in mercury, though always under a fixed total maximum amount of emissions.

Opponents of this policy argue that earlier Clinton policies would have caused the thirty percent reduction three years earlier, in 2007 rather than 2010, and that the cap-and-trade approach may cause local 'hot spots': areas where very old and inefficient power plants find it cheaper to buy pollution points than to upgrade their systems.

Mercury has been called

"...a persistent substance that affects the nervous system and is especially dangerous for pregnant women and children. Mercury concentrations in fish have prompted at least 43 states to issue fish consumption advisories. Although 40 percent of mercury emissions come from the smokestacks of coal-burning power plants, those emissions have never been regulated as a pollutant."

A recent Boston Globe article notes that two other arms of the U.S. government, the Food and Drug Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency are planning to launch their own mercury-control policy. This consists of telling pregnant women, nay, all women of childbearing age, to limit their intake of tuna to one 4-6 oz. portion of week, as well as to limit their total weekly consumption of fish to 12 oz.. Here we see one of the conservative values in action: take individual responsibility for your destiny, for nobody else will care.

My revolutionary and interesting proposal for mercury control is to swop these policies: limit the mercury emissions from the smokestacks of coal-burning power plants to a fixed maximum amount per week, but cap the total consumption of fish by pregnant women while letting them trade each other for extra portions. "Can I buy that tuna fish off you, Cherry? You know I can't live without the stuff." "Sure, Barb, just let me get your credit card number." So what if Barb becomes a local 'hot spot'?

Postscript: Quiz question of the day: Which U.S. state emits the largest amount of mercury into the environment? Answer here.