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Is the Campaign for New Mercury Regulations Really Pro-Life?

E. Calvin Beisner, Michael Bauman

Is the Campaign for New Mercury Regulations Really Pro-Life?

Evangelicals are overwhelmingly pro-life, so any agenda that can wear that mantel is bound to tug at their heart strings. The left-leaning Evangelical Environmental Network recently ran an advertising campaign on Christian radio stations in key congressional districts urging support of the Environmental Protection Agency’s controversial proposed new regulations to force reductions on mercury emissions from electric power plants.

EEN portrays the regulation as pro-life, claiming that one in six American babies is born with dangerously high levels of mercury in their blood, putting them at risk of serious neurological damage.

EEN has also orchestrated a letter to members of the congressional Pro-Life Caucus. Rep. Fred Upton (R-MI, Dist. 6), a member of the caucus, is a major target of EEN’s campaign because as chairman of the Energy & Commerce Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives he is leading congressional efforts to block EPA’s proposed additional mercury regulations. Reps. Joe Barton (R-TX, Dist. 6) and Ed Whitfield (R-KY, Dist. 1), both with very strong pro-life voting records, were also targeted because they support those efforts.

But there are some serious problems with EEN’s campaign.

First and foremost, the claim that one in six American infants is born at risk from mercury is based on EEN’s faulty understanding and careless handling of the EPA’s risk-analysis statistics. EEN misunderstands EPA’s “reference dose” (5.8 parts per billion) as the level above which endangerment occurs; in reality, as EPA’s own documents show, the “reference dose” is 1/10th the lowest dose at which actual risk might occur.

Further, the harm that might happen even at the real lowest dose at which risk might occur — about a 1/2-point reduction in IQ — is so slight as to be undetectable among many other factors affecting IQ, and it appears to disappear in early childhood. Consequently, it is likely that no American infants are at significant risk from mercury exposure.

Second, EEN neglects the fact that the EPA itself states that achieving even a 90% reduction in mercury emissions would have no discernible health benefits. The only way the EPA is able to claim health benefits associated with the proposed mercury regulation is by appealing to “co-benefits” from other pollution reductions that would be brought about by other regulations.

Third, EEN neglects that the new mercury regulation would increase electricity prices, thus increasing the cost of living while reducing employment as businesses seek to reduce other costs, and would undermine the stability of the nation’s electrical grid, since many older coal-fired power plants would have to shut down because they couldn’t be brought into compliance.

Fourth, there is the irony of EEN’s presenting this as a pro-life issue. Aside from the fact that power-plant mercury emissions actually pose no risk to life, and no significant risk to neurological development, there is some history to consider.

Six years ago, the EEN was the prime mover behind the Evangelical Climate Initiative (ECI), which produced “Climate Change: An Evangelical Call to Action” to reduce carbon dioxide emissions to fight global warming. The campaign was financed by a $475,000 grant to the National Religious Partnership for the Environment, which was channeled to the ECI.

Source of the grant? The Hewlett Foundation, which supports abortion on demand around the world as a means of population control. Other funding for the ECI came from two other long-time supporters of population control and abortion, Rockefeller Brothers Foundation and Pew Charitable Trusts. Grant makers at those foundations target their grants to advance these agendas. They understand that the policies sought in the ECI and elsewhere to fight global warming — forcing a switch from abundant, affordable, reliable nuclear and fossil fuels to scarcer, more expensive, less reliable “green” energy sources like wind and solar — would slow economic growth and so prolong poverty in the developing world, with its accompanying high rates of premature death, and reduce prosperity in the developed world, with similar, if less severe, results.

If successful, the campaign for additional regulation of mercury emissions will have a similar impact. Because higher income correlates with longer life expectancy, reducing prosperity means reducing life expectancy. A study published in 1999 in the journal Economic Inquiry estimated that every $15 million in regulatory compliance costs leads to one excess statistical death in the U.S. population. Credible estimates of the cost to implement EPA’s proposed new mercury regulation range from EPA’s low of about $10 billion to a high of $100 billion — or, at one death per $15 million in regulatory costs, a low of about 675 to a high of about 6,667 excess deaths.

That’s deaths, not undetectable and short-term neurological damage. That’s why EEN’s campaign to paint support for EPA’s new mercury regulations as a pro-life issue is so very, very wrong.

E. Calvin Beisner, Ph.D., is founder and national spokesman of The Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation, a network of theologians, scientists and economists promoting Earth stewardship, economic development for the poor, and the Christian faith. A former seminary and Christian college professor, he has testified as an expert witness on the ethics of environmental regulation before committees of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives and speaks often at churches, colleges and other institutions.

Michael Bauman, Ph.D., is professor of theology and culture and Director of Christian Studies at Hillsdale College, Hillsdale, Mich.

Publication date: September 29, 2011