Coal Tattoo

A lot of folks have picked up on the interview U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa P. Jackson did with The Guardian and Grist, with most of them focusing on her remarks about the economics of coal vs. natural gas for firing the nation’s power plants:

So in my opinion the problem for coal right now is entirely economic. The natural gas that this country has and is continuing to develop is cheaper right now on average. And so people who are making investment decisions are not unmindful of that — how could you expect them to be? It just happens that at the same time, these rules are coming in place that make it clear that you cannot continue to operate a 30-, 40-, or 50-year old plant and not control the pollution that comes with it.

But just as important were Administrator Jackson’s comments that EPA has moved to crack down on mountaintop removal and require cuts in coal-fired power plant emissions for a reason:

Pollution from coal-fired power plants comes from the extraction of the coal in some cases, the burning of the coal, which gives soot and smog-forming pollution, and mercury and lead and arsenic and cadmium and acid gases and then you’ve got to get rid of the ash! …One form of energy has to at least be subject to the same laws as the other forms are. That’s what we’ve been working on as far as coal. I always tell people, it’s not about coal, it’s about the pollution that for too long has been associated with coal.

And then, of course, there was this from Administrator Jackson:

Inside the Washington Beltway I’m not sure whether facts always matter, and that’s a sad thing for our country. But oftentimes EPA’s work is peer-reviewed and then peer-reviewed again — and yet it will be challenged by some report that hasn’t been peer-reviewed at all. There needs to be equivalence there — inside, for policy-makers. That would be one thing I’d ask. More and more when people pull up some, um, interesting report, my first question is, who reviewed it? Where is the peer review? Because you would never allow me to submit something that wasn’t peer-reviewed. And I think that’s fair, and I think on both sides it should be that way — on the EPA side, or the government side, the public sector side, and on those who might challenge it.

The second thing I’d say is that the American people, when given an opportunity to sit down and understand what’s going on, are very, very reasonable. The battle today is about who can get the screaming headline out first. Because, unfortunately, the way the media works, the screaming headline lives forever, and then you spend forever trying to get a headline even half as big that says oh, that wasn’t true. So whether it’s climate change and the myriad reports about that, whether it’s people in rural America who’ve been told all manner of untruths about the work we’re doing — whether it’s that we’re going to regulate farm dust further, or that we’re going to regulate spilled milk, no matter how many times we say it, because their main sources of information are not really being truthful in how they’re giving them information, we spend an awful lot of time trying to explain to people what we’re really doing. And it’s not just on the environmental front, but that’s emblematic of how folks have learned to use this new media world.