Tag Archives: carbon standards for existing power plants

Ask the EPA: Who Picks Up the Tab for Coal?

Today, I testified at the Environmental Protection Agency’s listening session on carbon standards for existing power plants. The worst carbon polluters are coal plants, and they account for about half of U.S. generating capacity. So I focused on coal, and the cost borne by the rest of the world:

Testimony at EPA Listening Session, Philadelphia, PA

My name is John Elwood. I live in Andover, New Jersey. I serve on the board of the Evangelical Environmental Network. I edit the website BelovedPlanet.com, and am speaking this morning in that capacity.

Elwood at earlier EPA hearing in 2011

Elwood at earlier EPA hearing in 2011

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to testify in support of the EPA’s efforts to establish meaningful standards on carbon emissions from existing power plants.

The core question confronted by the EPA is this: How much carbon pollution should utilities be permitted to dump into the atmosphere – for others to pay for in health, and in climate disruption costs?

The answer would seem to be pretty simple. It’s clearly wrong for a buyer and seller to enjoy all the benefits of a transaction, and then leave a substantial part of the cost for everyone else to pick up – the external costs.

Until recently, we didn’t really know the scale of these costs. But in 2010, the U.S. National Academy of Sciences produced a study called The Hidden Cost of Energy: Unpriced Consequences of Energy Production and Use. Its findings were shocking. Coal burned in a single year by U.S. power plants costs everyone else on the planet another $200 to 300 billion in “external costs.” That’s billions, with a “B”. And it amounts to a tax of about $30-40 levied on every human on Earth. Only for U.S. coal. Only for one single year.

Earlier this year, the Christian Reformed Church sent a delegation of leaders to Kenya to hear firsthand from people who have been affected by these external costs. We met with hundreds of small farmers and community leaders. Everywhere, the story was the same. Two reliable growing seasons in years past have shrunk to a single season. Even that single season is now unreliable. Crop yields have plummeted. Water is more scarce than ever.

We also visited with the General Secretary of the Kenyan Council of Churches, Rev. Peter Karanja. He told us:

“We are very concerned, especially about America. They are the most obstinate country when it comes to climate change…. You have a responsibility to reduce your greenhouse gases which are harming the rest of the world…. Long after your life is over, your actions will have consequences on us. Many of them will be harmful consequences.”

On behalf of all people who bear the cost of American carbon pollution – our citizens, our children, the people of Kenya plus many more – I urge the EPA to develop and implement comprehensive standards aimed at reducing these emissions by existing American power plants.

Thank you.

Note: You can provide written comments to the EPA by clicking here. Speak up! We need your voice!