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Weekly John Locke Foundation research division newsletter focusing on environmental issues.

The newsletter highlights relevant analysis done by the JLF and other think tanks as well as items in the news.

NC Public Schools: Using End of Course Test to Spread Environmentalist Propaganda — Part 3

For the last two weeks I have examined questions from the "North Carolina End of Course Assessment," allegedly in Biology, that were  released and produced by the state Division of Public Instruction. The problem with these questions is that they eschew actual science and promote what is clearly an advocacy position taken by environmental pressure groups. Below is a third question from the test that fits into this mold.

Here’s the question:

The construction of a new coal-burning power plant would have the greatest impact on which environmental issue?

A  depletion of the ozone
B  production of acid rain
C  release of radiation
D  increase in deforestation

The "correct" answer, as shown in the answer key, is B. The actual correct answer does not appear among the choices. There should be an E with "none of the above" as the answer. The fact is that in the current regulatory environment under the 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments, the construction of a new coal fired power plant would have no impact on acid rain. This is because in 1990 Congress put in place a hard cap on sulfur dioxide emissions (SO2) as part of a cap and trade system, which places an upper bound on total SO2 emissions from coal fired power plants. SO2 is the main contributor to the formation of acid rain. That cap has been reduced a number of times since the amendments were passed. In the EPA’s own words the cap "puts a ceiling on emissions." It describes the cap and trade program as follows:

The Acid Rain Program sets a nationwide cap on SO2 emissions from electric-generating facilities. Already, emissions have been reduced by more than 6.5 million tons from 1980 levels, measuring approximately 10.6 million tons in 2001. By 2010, the program will lower the cap to 8.95 million tons — a 50 percent reduction from 1980 SO2 emissions…

Each allowance authorizes one ton of SO2 emissions. Limiting the number of available allowances ensures the cap’s integrity. Allowances are allocated among sources based on emission performance standards and representative fuel use. At the end of each year, every source must have enough allowances to cover its emissions for that year. Unused allowances may be sold, traded, or saved (banked) for future use.

The fact is that the emissions from any new coal fired power plant would have to be accounted for within the overall cap, which as noted has been getting tighter over the years. Expansions in one area have to be compensated for by reductions elsewhere. The question does not take note of any of this. The implication is that the new power plant would be built in a regulatory vacuum. If this is the premise of the question, which it surely seems to be, then it must also be what is being taught in biology classes. This question is over 20 years behind the times. There is a reason why acid rain is no longer discussed as a serious environmental concern and hasn’t been an issue since the 1990 CAA Amendments were passed. It is because the cap and trade program ensures that new coal-fired power plants are not increasing the overall emissions of SO2.

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