Green Scene: A Look at Going Green (National Level)

Much of our country’s current environmental policy comes from the Clean Air Act, a law created to limit air pollution. The act gives power to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), a federal agency which ensures that environmental protection is considered by the general public and in United States policies. The EPA creates many regulations, most recently the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards, which will put more stringent controls on the amount of dangerous pollutants coming from power plants. The EPA’s news release said that the standards will limit emissions of mercury as well as “toxic air pollution like arsenic, acid gas, nickel, selenium and cyanide.”

The Huffington post reported that these new standards will “cut toxic mercury emissions from power plants by 90 percent, smog-forming nitrogen oxide pollution by half and soot-forming sulfur dioxide by more than 70 percent.” This is beneficial to the public because according to the EPA, the effects include the prevention of 11,000 premature deaths, 4700 heart attacks and 130,000 asthma attacks every year.

However, the regulation faces opposition from coal-fired plants, who according to the Huffington Post are responsible for “up to three-quarters of the mercury that comes out of the smokestacks.” The EPA said that the rule will take effect once it is published in the Federal Register, supposedly in January or early February. Van Ness Feldman, a national law firm, said that “affected sources and industry groups are expected to challenge the rule in court, with the deadline for filing such petitions 60 days from the publication of the final rule in the Federal Register.” If the regulation holds, the EPA said that the plants will have three years to meet the requirements, and may receive more on an individual basis.

There is also current controversy surrounding the EPA’s Cross-State Air Pollution Rule, which the EPA said would require 28 states to “significantly improve air quality by reducing power plant emissions that contribute to ozone and/or fine particle pollution in other states.” Although the rule was planned for implementation by January 1, according to Reuters the “U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit granted a request to stay the Environmental Protection Agency’s Cross-State Air Pollution Rule, pending further court review.” Texas-based Luminant Generation Co. said that the rule would “cause the loss of 500 jobs” and force them to close two units.

Similar work to cut global emissions is also floundering on an international level. The UN Climate Change Conference ended on December 11, 2011, saying it had an agreement from all parties to “adopt a universal legal agreement on climate change as soon as possible, and no later than 2015.” Newspapers such as and hailed it as a “failure.” According to, research in 2011 by the International Energy Agency (IEA) said that with the “amount of fossil fuel-run buildings and factories that are set to be built in the next five years, the human race will finally be locked into the critical mass of emissions that will push the Earth past the point of no return.” also said that according to the IEA, “if we only start to limit emissions after 2020, we’ll have to spend $4 more for every $1 that we could have spent now to get emissions below climate change’s point of no return in 2050.”

One reason for inaction is the fear for the economy. In July of 2010, Democrats tried to pass a cap-and-trade bill, but “opponents argued that it would impose excessive costs on energy industries in a weak economy,” according to the New York Times. However, in October of 2011 California adopted the cap-and-trade system to take affect in 2013.