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Water Vapor, Nukes and the EPA

Posted By Jack Spencer On June 25, 2008 @ 9:20 am In Energy | Comments Disabled

Something strange is afoot at the Environmental Protection Agency. It is no secret that EPA bureaucrats have been chomping at the bit to start regulating carbon dioxide ever since courts ruled that the naturally occurring plant food which is exhaled by every human being (even Al Gore) is a pollutant. Their exuberance recently emerged in the form of 258 pages that they leaked to the trade publication Inside the EPA. This unsearchable (it was scanned into a digital file in such a way as to prevent anyone from digitally searching its contents for specific items) manifesto to the gods of regulation was EPA’s response to the Administration’s request for information to inform a rule making decision on CO2 regulations. One might expect that EPA’s approach would make freedom loving peoples from across the land shudder, but an initial perusal is revealing regulatory overreach that few could have imagined.

In footnote 2 on page 9 of the document, it is revealed that petitioners requesting that EPA make endangerment findings and undertake rulemaking attempt to define greenhouse gases (GHGs) as inclusive of nine separate substances, including WATER VAPOR. Yes, Water Vapor!

To be fair, the document defines six greenhouse gases that definitively “endanger” and therefore require regulation. Water vapor is among the GHGs that EPA requests further input to inform how they should be addressed. Other than in the case of high altitude aircraft, it acknowledges that “water vapor emissions from human activities have only a negligible effect on atmospheric concentrations of water vapor” and “that no emissions control measures could significantly and directly affect atmospheric concentrations of water vapor.”

Oh really? Because that is the same thing many of us would say about carbon dioxide. The danger here is the precedent. Considering water vapor an air pollutant and thus subject to regulation, even at low levels, opens the door to regulatory-creep. So while it may just be high-altitude aircraft today that falls under EPA’s hammer, who knows what tomorrow will bring.

And that is the point. As far fetched as it may seem today, if regulators are able to begin demonizing water vapor than they have just opened the door to stopping progress on the very technology that could actually help the nation to reduce CO2 emissions in a meaningful way—nuclear power.

It is undeniable that one of the benefactors of the anti- CO2 movement has been nuclear power. It is the one energy source that can produce the massive amounts of power necessary to run a modern economy without emitting carbon dioxide. The only thing that it does emit is water vapor. That is the cloud-like substance that rises from power plant cooling towers. And by the way, that would be the only emissions from hydrogen fuel cell cars as well.

It is no secret the environmentalists have generally driven the anti-nuke movement. While this has begun to change, organizations like Friends of the Earth remain committed to stopping new nukes. They could view nuclear’s progress as an unintended consequence of their global warming success. So no one should be surprised that it is they, Friends of the Earth, who have petitioned EPA to regulate aircraft emissions, including water vapor, as air pollutants.

Are they building a foundation for further actions? It is too early to tell. But our eyes are opened moving forward.


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