There’s a fantastic story in Washington Monthly about coal-fired power plants and the latest efforts to control their damage. It focuses in on Plant Bowen in Cartersville, Ga.
In 2003, Bowen spewed more sulfur dioxide and carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than any plant in the United States. Bowen alone emits more sulfur dioxide than all the power plants combined in 12 states and the District of Columbia — including large states such as California, Washington, and Oregon. And it would take more than three million cars to emit the 21.35 million tons of carbon dioxide Bowen’s smokestacks belched out in 2003, according to the U.S. PIRG Education Fund.
The point of the piece is that traditional environmentalist tactics are no longer working, as Bowen’s continuing existence painfully demonstrates.
The old paradigm through which environmental activists tried to take on powerful and deadly polluters relied on three separate but equally important tactics: campaigns to stoke public outrage by linking the illnesses and deaths of particular victims to a particular polluter; aggressive lawsuits brought by the private torts bar; and prescriptive federal regulation to penalize non-compliant localities and industries. Yet the persisting pollution at Plant Bowen shows how ineffective the old paradigm has become in dealing with the most important emerging environmental threats to public health, from fine particle pollution to global warming to agricultural runoff — all cases where it’s difficult to tie specific polluters to individuals who have been harmed. Fortunately, changes now afoot at Bowen also point the way to a solution — one in which a modernized regulatory regime uses market-like forces to let federal officials pick up the work that lawyers and environmental activists can no longer effectively accomplish.
I don’t agree with everything in it, but this really is a must-read for those interested in environmental policy.
Secondly: I — or more accurately, my wife — had a baby on Friday. (Oh, I’m such an earth f**ker!) I’ll be taking two weeks off, so posting will be extremely light, if not nonexistent. I hope our other contributors will slake your insatiable thirst for knowledge.
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