Yes, let’s be more pragmatic, but that doesn’t mean more pipelines
The Globe makes a valid point about the need for more clear-eyed pragmatism in combating global warming in its Dec. 31 editorial “Mass. needs to break old habits on climate change.” We are rapidly approaching an era of climate triage, in which we must accept some local risks to the environment to avoid global devastation.
However, the argument for expanding natural gas infrastructure is shortsighted. Yes, more pipeline capacity will make methane cheaper. But carbon taxes are inevitable, and natural gas is still a fossil fuel. The pipelines will soon become an expensive sunk cost for both utilities and customers.
To be serious, impose a moratorium on pipelines, and on natural gas in new construction. Prioritize plugging gas leaks. Accept what would effectively amount to a partial carbon tax, and counter with fuel subsidies to residents, while incentivizing conversion to electric, solar, and the newer, cheaper geothermal technologies that will soon enter the market.
To ease use of a transitional fuel, we must not now be investing in an all-too-permanent infrastructure.
Royce E. Buehler
Consider the real carbon impact of nuclear reactors, just for starters
Contrary to the Boston Globe, nuclear reactors are not carbon-free. While reactors themselves are not major emitters of greenhouse gases, the nuclear fuel chain produces significant greenhouse emissions. Besides reactor operation, the chain includes uranium mining, milling, processing, enrichment, fuel fabrication, and long-term radioactive waste storage, all of which are essential components of nuclear power. At each of these steps, transport, construction, and operation of nuclear facilities results in greenhouse gas emissions. Taken together, the fuel chain greenhouse emissions are more than double solar power emissions and some six times higher than wind power, not to mention emissions-free energy efficiency technologies.
The Globe overlooked practical considerations. Too many reactors would be required to put a dent in carbon reduction, and it would take too much time to build them. Major studies agree that about 1,500 to 2,000 new nuclear reactors would have to be built worldwide for nuclear power to make any meaningful dent in greenhouse emissions (fewer than 400 reactors now operate globally).
Construction of 1,500 new reactors would cost trillions of dollars and would mean opening a new reactor about once every two weeks for the next 60 years.
In addition, the Globe failed to mention the production of nuclear waste that will be toxic for thousands of years and for which there are no repositories to store it. Also ignored: the risk of catastrophic accidents and the ever-present threat of terrorism to vulnerable reactors.
Kickstart the process of putting a fee on carbon
In your Dec. 31 editorial on Massachusetts and climate change, you failed to mention the most obvious and, according to economists, most effective way to reduce our CO2 output: putting a fee or tax on carbon.
The political resistance to raising the price of fossil fuels can be overcome by rebating the tax to consumers and businesses, as has been done successfully in British Columbia. There the process was kickstarted by rebating users the estimated amount of the tax at the start of the year. People could pay for the increased cost of, say, heating oil, without having to wait for their rebate check at the end of the year.
The effect is that consumers and businesses are left overall in the same economic position: They pay more for oil and gasoline, and therefore have an incentive to use less, and have more money to spend on other things.
Philip Saunders Jr.
Trump’s bid to ease mercury rules would have far-reaching impact
The Trump administration’s plan to roll back mercury regulations has important regional implications; it is not some faraway issue affecting states where coal is burned (“Trump seeks laxer mercury emission rule,” Dec. 29). Talk to the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection and the Department of Public Health.
Most people probably do not know that fish in virtually all of the freshwater lakes, rivers, and streams in Massachusetts are too contaminated with mercury to eat. The source of the mercury is coal-fired power plants in the Midwest.
The federal Environmental Protection Agency is the agency that can deal with this interstate pollution; it cannot be dealt with only at the state level.
Rolling back this rule would be a blow to the long-fought efforts of Northeastern states to work toward fishable waters.
Someone tell the EPA its approach could be deadly
Ralph Nader’s 1966 bestseller “Unsafe at Any Speed” revealed the auto industry’s terrifying inattention to safety at the time. It was thought to be cheaper to settle wrongful-death lawsuits than redesign safety flaws in vehicles. This book changed the auto industry and led to consumer protection standards.
Imagine my horror when reading the newly released EPA statement about relaxing mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants, in which the agency said that the cost of cutting mercury from power plants “dwarfs” the monetary benefits.
So, I guess the new EPA position is that cancer, cognitive disorders in children, and poisoned rivers and streams are all acceptable alternatives because the coal industry will save so much money. This trickle-down we can do without.