Did the Supreme Court Deal a Death Blow to Air Quality?

Coachella valley California

(DGIwire) — A few days after striking a major victory for marriage equality, the Supreme Court dealt a major blow to air quality when it ruled that the Environmental Protection Agency did not account for the costs of its new regulation. As reported in The Hill, the ruling—which came down 5-4—reflected the Court’s decision that the EPA did not adequately consider the expenses that utilities and other power sector players would incur before deciding to set limits on the toxic air pollutants regulated in 2011. The Michigan v. EPA ruling is based on the agency’s first attempts to limit coal-fired power plants emitting mercury, arsenic and acid gases—colloquially called mercury and air toxics (MATS). The EPA’s detractors—such as the National Federation of Independent Business—call it perhaps the costliest regulation ever, according to The Hill.

The EPA estimates that the rule—which took effect in April 2015 at some plants—could cost $9.6 billion and create savings of between $37 billion and $90 billion, while preventing around 130,000 cases of asthma and 11,000 premature deaths per year. Still, the EPA says its analysis of the regulation’s impact should have no bearing on whether such regulations are appropriate, per the Clean Air Act. Justice Antonin Scalia, writing for the majority, said the EPA interpreted the Clean Air Act “unreasonably” when it didn’t consider the costs of industry compliance or whether regulating such pollutants is appropriate and necessary.

Apart from power plants combusting coal, researchers at the EPA and elsewhere have also targeted a separate cause for concern: gas flaring by the oil and gas industry. According to a study published in the journal Energy and Power Engineering, the adverse effects of gas flaring can include respiratory illness, asthma attacks, acute leukemia and even premature death. Furthermore, thyroid cancers have an elevated mean rate ratio in geographic areas with extensive flaring operations. The study also notes that environmental contaminants linked to flaring have also been related to endocrine dysfunction, immune dysfunction, reproductive disorders and autoimmune rheumatic diseases.

“Whichever way you look at it, there is no denying that the health risk associated with flaring gases is a huge problem,” says Alain Castro, CEO of Ener-Core, Inc. “I think it’s possible for industry to self-regulate and produce positive change.”

Ener-Core’s Power Oxidizer, which has been issued 18 patents to date, converts waste gases such as low-BTU methane into useful heat and power. It provides a compelling value proposition. Today, there are approximately three million industrial facilities (spanning many industries) that collectively emit 36 percent of the total global greenhouse emissions, and all these industrial facilities combined actually purchase approximately $800 billion of energy from their local utilities in order to operate their facilities. Ener-Core can enable these industrial companies to convert their emissions into useful energy that they can use on-site, thereby enabling them to lower their operating costs by reducing the amount of energy they need to purchase. By enabling industries to convert their waste gases into energy, the industrial facilities can earn an attractive return on investment, and gain a competitive edge by reducing their costs of operations. This technology has already been deployed commercially, and the company is now ramping up in collaboration with the leading global manufacturers of gas turbines and industrial steam boilers.

“Improving the air quality in the U.S.—and around the world—ought to remain a priority both for governments and industry alike,” adds Castro. “But rather than achieve these improvements solely through governmental policies, our society should be working hard to take advantage of new technologies that can actually produce attractive economic opportunities that go hand-in-hand with enabling companies to become more sustainable.   For example, as we continue to deploy new technologies that can actually monetize waste gases in a profitable manner, it’s conceivable to envision a world where industries will eventually stop polluting the air altogether, simply because it will make more economic sense to utilize their gas emissions productively to produce on-site power or other valuable end-products. We can accelerate the deployment of these innovations, which are available and on the market today, to achieve drastic improvements in air quality, in a manner that is both practical and cost-effective for industry.”