Skip to main content

Posts

Showing posts from April, 2018

Trump is Winding Back Cost-Effective Legislation

As President Trump directs the EPA to back off on air quality regulations in America's dirtiest cities, I want to remind everyone that in a free market it pays to cut air pollution, and it pays very well.

Independent analysis has shown the Clean Air Act to be one of the most cost effective pieces of legislation in existence, with the $65 billion price tag of meeting clean air regulations dwarfed by the $2 trillion in dividends in reduced healthcare costs and increased productivity projected over the 1990 - 2020 interval.  That is a staggering 30:1 return on investment.  The public cost of air pollution is private profit at cents on the dollar.


Old Men Yell at Trees

An atrocious piece of journalism has appeared in the editorial pages of the Wall Street Journal, blaming air pollution on trees, people, dirt, and pretty much everything but cars and the burning of fossil fuels.

On the campaign trail in 1980 Ronald Reagan was famously reported to quip that "trees cause more pollution than automobiles do".  He was widely mocked - and rightly so - for this naive interpretation of atmospheric science.  Now another old white man, Paul Gigot, is shaking his fist at the sky in vain, and dragging his like-minded and troubleplagued editorial board along with him.

In their editorial, the WSJ inform us that volatile organic compounds (VOCs) react with nitrogen oxides (NOx) to form ozone and smog.  So far so good.  They then go on to cite the latest scientific literature showing that in many cities personal care and household cleaning products - plus industrial solvents and commercial chemicals but they curiously don't get much attention here - pro…

Is the EU Getting Tough on Air Pollution?

The European Commission looks set to take nine member countries to court over their unhealthy air.

The economic powerhouses of Europe such as France, Germany, and the UK often lead the world in environmental protection, yet have struggled to deal with poor air quality, a major health concern across the continent.  In part, this is due to Europe being densely populated and heavily industrialised, but it also stems from air pollution being an issue that crosses boundaries and is politically difficult to enforce.  There is also an important role for science to play here, with accurate chemical transport models needed to attribute pollution to its source and to identify the best way to meet key pollutant target levels.

The EU have air quality regulations in place for their member states, but have been reluctant in the past to enforce them.  Last year, however, they successfully prosecuted Bulgaria for particulate matter violations, and are now in the final stages of infringement proceedin…

Carbon Capture Squeezed

Attempts to realise carbon capture and storage (CCS) continue apace, in an effort to keep burning fossil fuels in a low-carbon future.  They may, however, be dead on arrival.

When it comes to electricity generation, renewables are already squeezing out conventional coal fired power plants on cost.  Adding in the extra expense of separating out the carbon dioxide emissions, compressing them, and then pumping them underground, only makes coal's job that much harder.  Moreover, the few commercial CCS ventures to date have mostly come in late and over budget, if at all.  Now the Boundary Dam Carbon Capture project in Saskatchewan has shown that operating costs for these facilities are also difficult to keep a lid on.  Significantly, Boundary Dam was touted as the world's first commercial power plant running carbon capture and storage.

The only future for coal seems to lie with radical departures from how we now burn it, such as chemical looping combustion.  However, given that ou…

Peat Fire Burns On

I took a break from blogging for a couple of weeks over Easter, and for that entire time peat bog fires have been burning here in southwestern Victoria.

Peat fires have been smoldering at Cobrico since St Patrick's day, creating significant air pollution for almost a month now.  Vulnerable elderly residents and school students have been relocated, and a dedicated water pipeline has been constructed to help battle it.

Burning peat bogs present particularly nasty environmental problems because they are difficult to extinguish and produce highly toxic smoke.  Peat does not burn in a hot, raging fire, meaning that the fuel source can last for many months, and also that the smoke produced is heavily laden with toxic fine particulate matter and carbon monoxide; these pollutants would be more fully consumed in a hotter blaze.  Peatlands also tend to extend over large inaccessible areas, and can smolder at depths of several metres.

Peat fires present a broader global environmental proble…