Even before they could possibly have read Chief Scientist Alan Finkel’s energy report, the coal cheerleaders from the backbench of the Coalition have come out swinging.
Tony Abbott jumped the gun, saying two days before the report was even released that “Anything that makes it impossible for us to bank new, efficient coal-fired power stations I think is a big mistake.”
Eric Abetz has accused Dr Finkel of making “creative assumptions” to come up with his recommendations for a Clean Energy Target – a bit rich from a party whose budget is completely based on very optimistic assumptions about wage growth and surpluses just around the corner.
Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce said he won’t support any reform that would discourage coal, saying he wanted to make sure the nation could build new coal-fired power stations. “I believe baseload emissions are generated by a stock that has been providing cheap power for us for a long while, and that’s coal,” he said.
But it is Craig Kelly, chairman of the Coalition backbench committee on the environment, who has gone into hyperdrive in leading the coal push, calling for yet another report to be done into the economic effect of setting aggressive emissions reduction targets.
He said he would not support a benchmark emission target of 0.6 tonnes of carbon dioxide per megawatt hour, which is the level Dr Finkel has used in his report to model economic effects.
“We had times here last month when 1,000 wind turbines spread from South Australia, Tasmania, Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland were delivering zero electricity,” Mr Kelly told Saturday AM. “I would want to see whatever target that we go for, I want to see several different attempts at modelling just to see exactly what costs that would have on electricity in this nation…. we have to be very conscious of the damage that we can do to the economy if the target is too low.”
This sort of facile, and entirely predictable, opposition completely ignores the enormous cost to the economy of the detrimental health effects of particulate matter, an issue that Craig Kelly seems to have forgotten was a key component of his campaign in the 2010 election.
From his maiden speech in 2010:
“I consider myself an environmentalist. As our cities and roads become more and more congested, I am concerned about the health effects from fine particulate matter in diesel exhaust, as studies in California show that diesel exhaust leads to 9,000 premature deaths annually. That is why I oppose Labor’s intermodal freight terminal at Moorebank.”
Particulate matter (PM), includes the tiny particles of fly ash and dust that are expelled from coal-burning power plants.
In October 2013 the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer said both air pollution and “particulate matter” would now be classified among its Group 1 human carcinogens. They cited data indicating that in 2010, over 220,000 deaths from lung cancer worldwide resulted from air pollution, and said there was also convincing evidence it increases the risk of bladder cancer
In 2010, Abt Associates issued a study commissioned by the Clean Air Task Force, a nonprofit research and advocacy organization, quantifying the deaths and other health effects attributable to fine particle pollution from coal-fired power plants. The study found that over 13,000 deaths and tens of thousands of cases of chronic bronchitis, acute bronchitis, asthma-related episodes and asthma-related emergency room visits, congestive heart failure, acute myocardial infarction, dysrhythmia, ischemic heart disease, chronic lung disease, peneumonia each year are attributable to fine particle pollution from U.S. coal-fired power plants.
In March 2011, the American Lung Association released the report, “Toxic Air: The Case for Cleaning Up Coal-fired Power Plants,” on the hazardous air pollutants emitted from power plants. The report found that coal-fired power plants produce more hazardous air pollution in the United States than any other industrial pollution sources. More than 400 coal-fired power plants located in 46 states across the country release in excess of 386,000 tons of hazardous air pollutants into the atmosphere each year.
According to an EPA report also released in March 2011, “The Benefits and Costs of the Clean Air Act from 1990 to 2020”, the annual dollar value of benefits of air quality improvements from 1990 to 2020 will reach a level of approximately $2.0 trillion in 2020. The benefits would be achieved as a result of Clean Air Act Amendment-related programs and regulatory compliance actions, estimated to cost approximately $65 billion by 2020.
Most of the benefits (about 85 percent) are attributable to reductions in premature mortality associated with reductions in ambient particulate matter: “as a result, we estimate that cleaner air will, by 2020, prevent 230,000 cases of premature mortality in that year.” The remaining benefits are roughly equally divided among three categories of human health and environmental improvement: preventing premature mortality associated with ozone exposure; preventing morbidity, including acute myocardial infarctions and chronic bronchitis; and improving the quality of ecological resources and other aspects of the environment.
According to the report: “The very wide margin between estimated benefits and costs, and the results of our uncertainty analysis, suggest that it is extremely unlikely that the monetized benefits of the CAAA over the 1990 to 2020 period reasonably could be less than its costs, under any alternative set of assumptions we can conceive. Our central benefits estimate exceeds costs by a factor of more than 30 to one, and the high benefits estimate exceeds costs by 90 times. Even the low benefits estimate exceeds costs by about three to one.”
Craig Kelly is the one who, when offered a briefing on climate change by three of Australia’s leading scientists, invited along three IPA non-scientists to counter their arguments.
If Kelly’s gang of coal lovers are so concerned about the economy, they should be researching the cost of health issues resulting from the continued use of coal. Or did Mr Kelly’s concern for our health only extend to his constituents and evaporate as soon as he got elected?
This self-serving bunch of boondogglers* will be the death of us – literally.
*(boondoggle: spend money or time on unnecessary, wasteful, or fraudulent projects.)