Cleaner Air & Water: Always Good for Travel & Tourism

12/22/2011 By Glenn Hasek

I have always kind of wondered why I hear more in our industry about the dangers of mercury in compact fluorescents than the danger of mercury produced by coal burning. Perhaps it is just one of those problems that is difficult to get one’s arms around? Or, we all just don’t want to admit that we contribute to the problem? Here in the United States, 50 tons of mercury is released into the air (and eventually the water, too) each year by coal-fired power plants. (Approximately 50 percent of our nation’s electricity needs are met by the burning of coal.) Power plants that burn coal also spew out toxic air pollution like arsenic, acid gas, nickel, selenium, and cyanide. Here in Ohio where I live, power plants released more than two tons of mercury into the environment in 2010—the second most in the country. That is not information you are likely to find on an Ohio Office of Tourism website.

Pollution like that mentioned above should concern our industry. We purchase and consume electricity from utilities that generate it. We serve fish to our guests that are contaminated by it. Americans, especially children—our future travelers—are dying and being harmed because of it.

I applaud the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for issuing its new Mercury and Air Toxics Standards this past week. The Standards will ensure that all coal fired power plants in the United States are deploying pollution control technologies. Today, about 40 percent of coal-fired plants are not meeting current Standards. Utilities will have until 2016 to implement changes that will result in mercury emissions being reduced by 91 percent.

Substantial Health Benefits

The EPA estimates that the new safeguards will prevent as many as 11,000 premature deaths and 4,700 heart attacks a year. The standards will also help America’s children grow up healthier—preventing 130,000 cases of childhood asthma symptoms and about 6,300 fewer cases of acute bronchitis among children each year. The EPA estimates that for every dollar spent to reduce pollution from power plants, the American public will see up to $9 in health benefits. The total health and economic benefits of this standard are estimated to be as much as $90 billion annually.

The rules will cost utilities about $9.6 billion annually, down more than $1 billion from the EPA’s earlier estimate due to “flexibilities” that were added to the final regulation, the agency said. The Standards may result in the closing of some plants but they will also pressure utilities to invest not only in pollution control technologies but cleaner energy in general.

Will there be a negative economic impact on our industry? Depending on where your property is located and how your utility is regulated, you could see some rate increases. Any increase in rates will encourage our industry to invest more in efficiency—something becoming much easier to do in recent years with advancements in technology (especially LED lighting technology).

Reaction from New York Mayor, Trout Unlimited

“Today, the President has done the right thing by ignoring the false claims of a narrow special interest and siding with the public health and the public good,” said New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg after the EPA announcement. “The new EPA mercury standards will save countless lives and improve the quality of life for millions. The new rules will also accelerate the country’s move away from heavily polluting coal power plants to cleaner energy sources that will continue to stimulate investment and economic activity long into the future.”

“Emissions from fossil fuel-fired power plants are blamed for acid rain, which can eventually make rivers and streams uninhabitable to native fish and to other organisms that depend on clean water for survival,” said a statement from the conservation group Trout Unlimited. “Additionally, mercury from power-plant emissions can build up in fish, making them unsafe to eat. This rule makes good sense.”

What are your thoughts on the new Standards? On our industry’s connection to coal burning? Send them to editor@greenlodgingnews.com.

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Have a very happy new year!

As always, I can be reached at editor@greenlodgingnews.com.


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