Home > economics, environment > Can’t catch a break

Can’t catch a break

A story this morning in the NYT about coal powered plants brought to the forefront a question I’ve asked myself and of others – if the law of conservation of matter says that matter is neither created nor destroyed, but only changes form, where do all the pollutants go once we’ve created them.

Father Rodney Torbic, the priest at the St. George Serbian Orthodox Church, lives across the road from Hatfield’s Ferry and sees people suffering. Source: NYT

Evidently, nowhere. When you clean the air of pollution, you just end up dumping them either in the water, or in landfill.

In Economics, we call this “external cost”. While a company may do things to reduce this cost to consumers and society as whole, it is not completely eliminated.

According to the story, the Clean Water Act passed by the EPA doesn’t control all the contaminants dumped into the water. The contaminant solids that are removed by the scrubber are dumped into a landfill. Even the most advanced synthetic liner has been shown to leak in field tests, which means at some point, many of the solids are also going to find their way into the water.

The only viable solution to this is to move away from coal-powered plants – from digging up the coal (or variants) from the ground and burning them. Incidentally, that would also reduce the other huge pollution problem – mining, especially Mountain Top Removal.

Considering all the dangers involved in nuclear fission and in transporting/storage of spent nuclear waste, we’re left with only a few alternatives.

I don’t have an answer to the question of which of these alternatives has a real long-term prospect. I only know what we’re doing right now is just not sustainable.

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