Test All Things

Putting CreationCare.org’s Mercury Ads to the Test

by Chris Skates

 

Recently our western Kentucky airwaves have been bombarded with advertisements attacking Congressman Ed Whitfield. The ads, from an organization called CreationCare.org. wrongly accuse Congressman Whitfield  of failure to protect the unborn (though he is staunchly anti-abortion) because he is allowing Kentucky coal fired power plants to “emit dangerous mercury pollution.” These ads are misleading at best and patently unfair to Congressman Whitfield.

 

We would not presume to question the motives of fellow Christians who are behind this ad campaign. We assume they share our ethical concern for our environment and desire to be good stewards of the natural world. However, we question some of their assumptions.

Assumption (1): Burning coal for the generation of electricity represents a threat to pregnant women and their unborn children. Like several other green activist groups, we believe that CreationCare has confused some of the data in EPA studies on mercury. They have likely confused what the agency calls the “Reference Dose” with “a dangerous level.”

EPA’s Reference Dose is intentionally set unrealistically low, we assume so that the agency can err on the side of caution. Here is how EPA arrived at this dose. First, it established the “Benchmark Dose” (BD): the “lowest threshold dose level” (85 parts per billion) that resulted in reduced scores on one particularly sensitive neurological test related to very subtle effects (but not on other neurological tests related to broader cognitive and intellectual measures). Understand: that was the lowest level with any detectable effect, no matter how subtle. Second, it added a “statistical safety factor” by adopting the lower limit (58 parts per billion) of the 95 percent confidence level for the BD as its “Benchmark Dose Lower Limit” (BMDL). Third and finally, for even greater safety’s sake, it added an “uncertainty factor” (to account for uncertainties in individual responses across the population) by dividing the BMDL by 10 to get what it called its Reference Dose: 5.8 parts per billion. (That proportion is analogous to the first 7-3/4 feet of a trip to the moon, or the first 5.8 seconds out of 31.7 years.) In short, EPA’s Reference Dose is multiples lower than necessary to ensure safety.

What’s more, multiple studies have called into question the connection between power plant emissions and mercury in fish. Mercury is a naturally occurring element, and natural causes have a much greater effect on the mercury present in fish. Therefore, the claims of these ads of a direct threat to the unborn from coal-fired power plants is at best greatly exaggerated and at worst demonstrably false.

Assumption (2): Draconian regulation on coal fired plants will be beneficial for western Kentucky. As stated above, mercury emissions from these plants have a minimal affect on a very small number of people. Yes, there are risks with emission of any amount of pollutant. Yet human health and well being in Kentucky are threatened far more by limiting access to affordable, reliable, electricity. In fact, even the EPA itself says implementing its proposed new mercury rule would have no discernible health benefits—but it would cost billions of dollars nationwide and force closure of some power plants that couldn’t be brought into compliance, thus forcing up electricity prices and weakening the nation’s electric grid.

 

This past summer was a hot one. Every year we hear of the poor and the elderly dying or being struck down by heatstroke. How much worse would this be if coal power is regulated out of business, making electricity rates “skyrocket,” as President Obama promised on the campaign trail? The Energy Information Administration estimates that it would cost well over $8.4 billion to obtain the lower mercury levels EPA is calling for.

 

Congressman Whitfield, through his service on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, has simply voted to delay additional restrictions on mercury emissions until some of the ambiguity in these studies can be deciphered. He does not deserve the unfounded attacks in the Creation Care ads.

Chris Skates is an Adjunct Scholar with The Cornwall Alliance, A water chemistry supervisor at a power plant in southern Illinois, author of the novel Going Green: For Some It Has Nothing to Do with the Environment, and a member of Rosebower Baptist Church

“Okay, now get the picture!”

That was the opening line for every Georgia football game for forty years. It was one of the signature lines of Larry Munson.

Larry Munson died yesterday. All of the Bulldog Nation simply knew him as “Munson”. Others have written accolades and tributes of their own. I won’t attempt to recreate all of his calls or describe his announcing techniques here. I’ll leave that for others. Munson is gone and with him an era in college football, sports, and our shared experience is gone as well. And it shall never return.

 

I used to cringe when the old folks talked about the grand ol’ days of radio. I couldn’t see how listening to it could be anywhere near as good as watching it “in living color”. But I’m nearly fifty now, and I understand what they meant. Before, Pod-Casts, and HD sports broadcasts in the palm of your hand, and multi-million dollar television contracts for college programs, there was Munson.

 

For so long it seems everything was the same. In 1978, I was sitting at the kitchen table with my grandfather, my “Pop”. That was the first time I really paid attention to Munson. We (yes I said “we”. Bulldogs say “we” when “we” refer to “our” team. “We” know “we” don’t play or coach. That doesn’t matter to “us”. “We” live it. So “we” say “we”. You can keep your smart aleck comments to yourselves). We were down to Kentucky. Pop was sitting with one hand loosely cupped behind his left ear, his mouth slightly open as it always was in those days when he was really listening close. Then Rex Robinson lined up for a field goal and Pop and I raised our arms in celebration at the sound of Munson’s “Yeah! Yeah! Yeah!”

 

Two years later, nothing had changed. I listened to Munson on a dove field with my buddies Keith and Chris and their Dad Chuck as we left the windows down on Chuck’s blue Chevy pickup. We craned our necks to hear the crackly South Georgia AM station. I don’t remember which game it was that day, but I remember being in that same family’s living room listening to “Run Lindsay” through a large speaker on the wall. I haven’t seen those guys in over twenty years but we are forever joined in that moment. It was better back then somehow. I can’t describe it anymore than the old folks could make me understand ‘Amos and Andy’ but there is a camaraderie that comes with leaning in to listen to the same radio speaker that can’t be duplicated.

During my own time as a student at UGA, I was in the stadium sitting in the student section, even then many of us kept a transistor radio handy (younger readers, look that antique up on Wikipedia) when I heard this call: “So we’ll try to kick one 100,000 miles….We’re gonna try to kick one 60 yards plus a foot and a half….And Butler kicked a long one, a long one….Oh my God, oh my God….The stadium is worse than bonkers.” And he was right. We were bonkers.

I moved my family to Kentucky for work in 1994, but somehow one clear fall Saturday, I was able to get the signal from WSB in Atlanta. I was with my wife and 8 year old son. As we watched with the television volume down and listened to Larry, the torch was passed from Pop through me to my son, when Munson cried into the microphone:

“We have come flying down the field we are on their 6-yard line. We are gonna have one play to try and save ourselves. Remember we left our heart down on the other end of the field. We have come all the way back to the 6-yard line and we just took the last timeout like gold bouillon and had to spend it. Six yard line. Can you believe that David Greene brought us down the field that quick? Now we have one play to steal a win. 24-20 and they got the 24 with the great play Clausson to Stephens in three or four blocks. What in the world would you call now? You’re on their 6-yard line and Greene has brought you down there all the way. What are you gonna do now? McGill led us out. Now he calls his hands and raises them for the huddle on the ten. Gah, 10 seconds, were on their six. Michael Johnson turned around asked the bench something. And now Greene makes him line up on the right slot, we have three receivers. Tennessee playing what amounts to a four-four. There’s a fake. And there’s a TOUCHDOWN! MY GOD A TOUCHDOWN! We threw it to Haynes. We just stomped them with five seconds left. My God Almighty did you see what he did? David Greene just straightened up and we snuck the fullback over, Hanes is keeping the ball, Haynes has come running all the way across to the bench. We just dumped it over to 26-24. We just stepped on their face with a hobnailed boot and broke their nose. We just crushed their face. We dumped it over, David Greene brought us flying down the field and Haynes caught a sneak pass wide open.”

Now Munson is gone and we can each listen to game calls on a device no larger than a postage stamp, headphones in, isolated…alone. Season after season, week after week, the millions of dollars flow into one scandal after another after another. Then we jumped around the living room or the dove field as one. Then we had “Run Lindsay” and “Oh you Herschel Walker”. Now we have the Penn State scandal and the horror that is the monster Jerry Sandusky.

Truth be told, it probably wasn’t all that we thought it was back then but at least we got to think it was. They were our knights, our generation’s dragon slayers. Still, all is not gone, is it? Surely there must still be a touch of “we”. Surely there must be a few Saturday’s left where we break out the hobnail boots together, and hunker down together and watch for that Sugar to fall from the sky together. Maybe we can take turns imitating Munson for one another and ignoring those who shake their heads at us. It’s a Bulldog thing. They wouldn’t understand.