- - Sunday, October 2, 2016

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights (USCCR) has joined the simmering feud over chromium-6 (Cr-6), which the commission claims is seeping out of coal ash deposits, contaminating drinking water supplies in North Carolina and elsewhere.

Affected areas have “extremely high” rates of cancer, heart and other health issues. The contaminants get into well water, drinking water, and even “recreational waters” that are “heavily used for fishing, boating and swimming.” The problem “extends for miles” around communities near the deposits, which are “disproportionately located in low-income and minority communities,” making this a civil rights issue that government must address, the commission report asserts.

It wants the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and N.C. Department of Environmental Quality to examine the civil rights implications, toughen coal ash standards, force utility companies to relocate deposits, and compensate people for healthcare expenses and land devaluations.

It’s junk science driving junk civil rights claims, leading to electricity rate hikes that will cause real job, budget, health and civil rights problems for numerous families.

Tests in 2014 consistently found Cr-6 in city water supplies above 0.07 parts per billion, unnecessarily triggering “do not drink” advisories to some well water users, the Greensboro News & Record reported. However, May 2016 tests could not even detect the chemical.

Moreover, the 0.07 ppb standard is equivalent to 7 seconds in 3,300 years. The EPA and NCDEQ safety standard for Cr-6 in drinking water is 100 ppb, and a 2012 scientific paper in the Journal of Applied Toxicology concluded that regularly drinking water with 210 ppb poses no health or cancer risks. That safe, non-carcinogenic 210 ppb level is 3,000 times higher than the 0.07 ppb “trigger warning” level.

There is no evidence that Cr-6 levels found in U.S. drinking water cause any of the laundry list of health problems presented by the USCCR. Indeed, levels cited by the commission and activist Environmental Working Group (EWG) are found in water that 200 million Americans drink every day.

Chromium-6 is naturally occurring, and not just a byproduct of coal burning or industrial processes. Saying grave health concerns arise from barely detectable Cr-6 levels in drinking water is groundless; saying they exist in recreational waters is absurd.

The head of Ohio’s state EPA dismisses the EWG claims, calling them “scare tactics” to raise money.

All this suggests that the USCCR and EWG claims are just part of the campaign to eliminate coal- and gas-fueled power plants and the reliable, affordable electricity they generate. The claims could also be setting the stage for more collusive sue-and-settle lawsuits between the USEPA and environmentalist groups — with those who will be most affected having no voice in the outcome.

Forcing utility companies to spend billions relocating huge ash deposits to “lined, watertight landfills” (in someone else’s backyard) will bring no health or environmental benefits. But it will bankrupt companies, send electricity prices soaring, reverberate through our economy, and raise true civil rights issues.

As National Black Chamber of Commerce president Harry Alford has repeatedly noted, black and Hispanic families spend a 10-50 percent greater share of their income than white families on heating, air conditioning, lights and other electrical costs. They are also more likely to lose their jobs, as employers respond to higher electricity prices, and endure still lower living standards.

If rates nearly double from current costs in coal-reliant states like North Carolina and Virginia (9 cents per kilowatt-hour) to those in anti-coal New York (16 cents) or Connecticut (17 cents), poor families will have to pay $500-1,000 more annually for electricity. Hospitals, school districts, factories and businesses will have to spend additional thousands, tens of thousands or millions. Where will that money come from?

Will businesses have to lay off dozens or hundreds of employees, or close their doors? If they pass costs on to customers, where will families find the extra cash? If hospitals cut services or raise fees, how will that affect patient costs and care? Will the EWG and USCCR provide financial assistance?

By necessity, hospitals are energy intensive. The average U.S. hospital uses 31 kilowatt-hours of electricity per square foot per year.

For facilities like the 665,000-square-foot Inova Fairfax Women’s and Children’s Hospital in Northern Virginia, that translates into $1,855,000 per year at 9 cents/kWh, but $3,505,000 at 17 cents. That’s a $1.6-million difference.

Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center’s Comprehensive Cancer Center in Winston-Salem, NC is 530,600 square feet. That’s $1,480,000/year at 9 cents/kWh or $2,796,000/year at 17 cents: a $1.5-million gap.

Those cost increases would result in lost jobs and reduced patient care. Now imagine the impacts on schools, factories, churches, grocery stores, malls and thousands of other major electricity users — to address health problems that exist only in the fertile minds of a few activists and regulators.

The war on coal, petroleum, nuclear and hydroelectric power is an eco-imperialist war on reliable, affordable electricity — and on poor and minority families. Policies that drive energy prices up drive people out of jobs, drive companies out of business, drive families into green energy poverty.

Why are these fundamental “civil rights” and “environmental justice” issues never mentioned by the USCCR, EWG, EPA, NAACP, Democratic Party or Clinton Presidential Campaign?

Paul Driessen is senior policy analyst for the Committee For A Constructive Tomorrow and author of “Eco-Imperialism: Green Power — Black Death (Merril Press, 2010).

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