Friday, November 20, 2009

USA: Medically defensible energy policy on climate: phase out Coal

A new report released November 2009 by Physicians for Social Responsibility (USA) - 'Coal's Assault on Human Health' - details the devastating impacts of coal on the human body, including respiratory, cardiovascular and neurological effects. A chapter is also devoted to coal's impact on global warming. The report makes substantial policy recommendations that detail why coal power should be phased out and replaced with renewable energy sources.

Coal-fired power plants account for more than one third of CO2 emissions in the U.S., and coal is a major contributor to the predicted health impacts of global warming. NASA Climate scientist James Hansen stated in 2008 "that these coal plants are simply not compatible with keeping a planet resembling the one in which civilisation developed. And I think there is going to be eventually pressure to in effect bulldoze those plants, so economically they just don't make sense. You are not going to be able to leave them there 50 years. It will become clear long before 50 years that we have to get rid of them."

James Hansen was arrested for civil disiobedience in June 2009 in a Protest on Mountaintop Removal coal mining operation.

The World Health Organization has estimated global warming to be responsible for 166,000 deaths in 2000, due to additional mortality from malaria, malnutrition, diarrhea, and drowning.

"More frequent heat waves are projected to lead to a rise in heat exhaustion and heat stroke, potentially resulting in death, especially among elderly and poor urban dwellers. Declining air and water quality, an increase in infectious diseases, and a shrinking food supply are expected to contribute to disease and malnutrition, increase the migration of affected populations, and increase armed conflict and global instability." says the report.

Carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) technology is examined but rejected as posing too many risks for leakage thus negating its purpose.

"Given the costs and difficulty of implementing CCS on a timeline and a scale that would effectively mitigate the health effects of global warming, the unreliability of permanent storage for geological periods of time, and the costs to health from coal's traditional pollutants, PSR has concluded that CCS is not a preferred option for developing the nation's energy future." concludes the report.

The report makes substantial policy recommendations for the Government of the US to implement: "a medically defensible energy policy: one that takes into account the public health impacts of coal while meeting our need for energy." The recommendations include, and I quote in full from the executive summary:

  • emissions of carbon dioxide should be cut as deeply and as swiftly as possible, with the objective of reducing CO2 levels to 350 parts per million, through two simultaneous strategies:

    • Strong climate and energy legislation that establishes hard caps on global warming pollution coming from coal power plants.

    • The Clean Air Act (CAA ). Carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions from coal plants have been designated pollutants under the CAA . The EPA should be fully
      empowered to regulate carbon dioxide under the CAA so that coal's contribution to global warming can be brought to an end.

  • There should be no new construction of coalfired power plants, so as to avoid increasing health-endangering emissions of carbon dioxide, as well as criteria pollutants and hazardous air pollutants.

  • The U.S. should dramatically reduce fossil fuel power plant emissions of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides so that all localities are in attainment for national ambient air quality standards.

  • The EPA should establish a standard, based on Maximum Achievable Control Technology, for mercury and other hazardous air pollutant emissions from electrical generation.

  • The nation must develop its capacity to generate electricity from clean, safe, renewable sources so that existing coal-fired power plants may be phased out without eliminating jobs or compromising the nation's ability to meet its energy needs. In place of investment in coal (including subsidies for the extraction and combustion of coal and for capture of carbon and other pollutants), the U.S. should fund energy efficiency, conservation measures, and clean, safe, renewable energy sources such as wind energy, solar, and wave power.

The full report or individual chapters can be downloaded from Physicians for Social Responsibility (USA) - "Coal's Assault on Human Health".