Americans don’t pay much attention to environmental issues, because they aren’t sexy. I mean, cleaning up coal plants and reining in outlaw frackers is hugely important work, but it doesn’t get anybody’s pulse racing. And hotties are in short supply. Sixteen year-old girls don’t have pictures of Fred Krupp, the president of Environmental Defense Fund, thumbtacked on their bedroom walls.
Would it help if they did? I don’t know. But I was happy to see on CNN.com this morning an essay by model and activist Elle MacPherson (aka "the Body"), drawing attention to a senate vote tomorrow on rolling back the first-ever standards on mercury and other toxic pollution from coal plants.
For anyone who cares about environmental and public health issues, tomorrow’s senate vote is a big deal. The mercury legislation, passed last December, had been in the works for more than a decade. The EPA estimated it would stop up to 11,000 premature deaths, nearly 5,000 non-fatal heart attacks, and 130,000 asthma attacks every year. These positive health effects translate into $90 billion in annual benefits for Americans. That works out at about $9 in benefits for every $1 in industry compliance costs.
Naturally, congressional supporters of Big Coal, led by climate denier Sen. James Inhofe, have been working hard to disembowel the legislation. Inhofe calls it "the centerpiece of President Obama’s war on coal." Other senators, predicting economic mayhem as a result of the cost of installing pollution controls in power plants, argue that the "result for public health will be disastrous in ways not seen since the Great Depression."
It’s all bullshit, of course. The Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank, has a wonky but very smart paper that shows the real costs and benefits of the legislation. But impressive and detailed as it is, it’s never going to break out of the Beltway.
MacPherson’s little essay is modest and straightforward: She frankly admits she’s writing as a "mom," and cares about toxic air pollution out of concern for the health of her two sons. She throws out some good stats, reminding readers that in 2010, coal plants dumped more than 66,000 pounds of toxins into the air, and points out that 92 mayors from across the country have signed a letter supporting the EPA’s limits on mercury pollution. In the end, she writes, "By cleaning up or retiring coal plants and transitioning to clean, renewable energy sources such as wind and solar, we can protect our economy, create jobs and attain cleaner air for our families."
All good, all accurate. Boilerplate? Maybe. Does it matter that people might read MacPherson’s essay because they think she’s hot, or because they want to sift through it for any gossip about her romance with one of the richest men in the UK, or because they just want to see if she is making a fool of herself by speaking out on a complex political issue? Nope. Not at all.
What does matter is that her essay is credible and accurate, and that people know the senate is going to try to roll back important legislation tomorrow, potentially endangering the health of millions of Americans. And if a bright smile and long legs helps deliver that message to people who might not hear it otherwise, then what the hell. This is America, after all.