Ah, the clean fresh city air… oh wait, all you smell is exhaust fumes and decomposing garbage? While smells might not be an objectively measurable sign of climate change, they serve as an extremely noticeable sign of pollution. What originally started as bad or weird smells in cities and densely populated areas has become measurable through occurrences such as extreme heat waves, rising sea levels and severe droughts. These climate change observations correlate to greenhouse gas emissions from the increased use of fossil fuel products.
Greenhouse gases are made up of molecules containing large amounts of carbon and oxygen, and cause excess heat or solar radiation to be trapped in earth’s atmosphere. Throughout the earth’s life, the main component of these greenhouse gases has been simple water vapor. This hasn’t been a problem since water vapor goes through the water cycle and ends up balancing itself out through the world’s oceans, lakes and rainfall. Recently however, man-made carbon dioxide and other carbon-containing gases have started to increase significantly causing global temperatures to deviate from normal ranges.
Some of the largest contributors to greenhouse gases are electricity production and transportation. Combined, they account for 56 percent of all greenhouse gases emitted. While renewable energy and electric vehicles have been making headway, the majority of electricity production and transportation is still run by fossil fuels. Around 65 percent of U.S. electricity production is through fossil fuels and nearly 92 percent of transportation energy comes from fossil fuels.
While fossil fuel companies are heavily regulated in the world market to reduce pollution and emissions, these companies still contribute a significant amount to climate change simply by creating the products they do. With the rest of the world increasing regulations and requirements for fossil fuel companies, the United States has seen fit to decrease regulatory hurdles for such companies.
Through the use of heavy lobbying and manipulation of the public, the fossil fuel industry has bought its way into a position where it can influence public policy in a way that benefits only themselves. Since oil, gas and coal industries benefit financially from decreased regulation and less government overreach, they have been greasing the pockets of republicans for decades. With over 125 million dollars spent on lobbying by fossil fuel companies just in 2017, some of the largest contributors (Exxon, the Koch brothers, Shell and BP) have an immense hold over the government.
With a Republican-controlled executive branch, the EPA has seen fit to roll back regulations regarding controlling emissions from fossil fuel processing plants. Specifically, the EPA has recently removed a policy called “once in always in.” This policy allows for heavily polluting plants to be permanently classified as a major source of pollution (even if they no longer pollute as much as they used to), which in turn increases the pollution management standards for those plants.
According to the EPA, removing this policy will allow for those same plants to voluntarily implement their own pollution management systems because they will have to spend less on making sure they are up to EPA standards.
“The ‘once in always in’ policy has been a longstanding disincentive for sources to implement voluntary pollution abatement and prevention efforts, or to pursue technological innovations that would reduce hazardous air pollution emissions,” the EPA said in a public news release.
If fossil fuel companies would actually research pollution abatement, removing this once in always in policy makes sense, however, there is no reason why they would if there are less consequences for heavy pollution.
The purpose of companies and industries is to always move to be the most efficient and profitable entities around. When it comes to the fossil fuel industry, efficiency and profitability means not regarding environmental protection factors. Increased heavy metal and greenhouse gas pollution from fossil fuel processing plants infringes on the health of those living near and around such plants. Over time, these pollutants have caused climate change which has been linked to droughts, flooding, stronger hurricanes, reduced wildlife and insect populations and even cancer or other health issues amongst humans.
Protecting these basic rights of health and a hospitable environment should be basic tenets of the government, however, we can see that the current administration has disregarded the public in favor of helping put more money in the pockets of fossil fuel industries.
While arguments can be made with regards to fossil fuel companies stimulating the economies of coal country and areas rich in fossil fuels, the environmental impact sits heavily on the economic benefits. What’s the point of trying to revitalize a technology that’s soon to be obsolete?
With the advent of extremely efficient and low pollution renewable energies, the government should be pushing all those fossil fuel companies into becoming renewable energy powerhouses. The breadth of resources available to energy companies is immense and if even some of that wealth and man-power was focused on researching renewable energy and nuclear energy, the impact electricity production and transportation fuels have on environmental decline could be significantly reduced.