Environmental Engineering Reference
In-Depth Information
economic use of the sequestered pollutant. It is exceedingly rare that any pollutant-producing
process pays for itself.
The goal of environmental regulation is to achieve social and environmental gains that accrue
to society as a whole by regulating the activities of polluting enterprises without substantially
vitiating their societal benefits. The role of technology in this effort is to provide the least costly
way to achieve this goal. In the United States, for example, the responsibility for protecting the
public health and welfare from harmful substances in the environment that are of anthropogenic
origin is lodged with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The regulatory power of the EPA
is embodied in a series of legislative acts setting forth the activities to be regulated, the requirement
for promulgation of regulations, and their enforcement in federal courts. Frequently, legislation
is quite specific concerning how activities are to be regulated and also concerning timetables for
achieving progress. In general, the legislation requires no balancing of costs and benefits; the
economic costs of abating pollution are to be paid by the polluters, not the government, but funds
have been appropriated to help local municipalities renovate municipal waste treatment plants and
a superfund has been established to clean up abandoned toxic waste dumps. The EPA accomplishes
its task by setting nationally uniform standards for air and water quality and also for the processes
that lead to their contamination. For example, the EPA has promulgated National Ambient Air
Quality Standards for several prominent air pollutants associated with fuel combustion, and it has
also published emission or process standards for the sources of these pollutants. The EPA may
require emission limits or the use of effective control technology for specific classes of sources,
such as stationary sources (e.g., power plants) and mobile sources, or may regulate the properties of
fuel, especially motor vehicle fuel. These means have been effective in reducing the environmental
effects of energy use despite the steady growth in the consumption of energy.
Surprisingly, increasing the efficiency of energy use plays no direct role in environmental
regulation of urban and regional pollutants because the degree of abatement needed is very much
greater than can be garnered by the modest energy efficiency gains that are economical, while the
cost of the requisite abatement technology is moderate. Nevertheless, there is some environmental
benefit that accrues to energy efficiency improvement. Reducing electric power consumption by
increasing the efficiency of its use would reduce the air pollutant emissions from power plants,
given any level of control technology. Process modification could lead to lesser use of fossil fuels
in manufacturing of industrial goods. In the commercial and residential sector, fossil energy use,
and thereby pollution abatement, could be achieved by better insulation in buildings, replacing
incandescent with fluorescent lighting, and using solar or geothermal space and water heating. In
the transportation sector, great savings could be accomplished in fossil fuel usage and concomitant
pollutant emissions by traveling in small, light vehicles or using either (a) hybrid internal com-
bustion engines and electric motors for vehicle propulsion or (b) more efficient fuel-cell-powered
electric motors.
The accumulation in the atmosphere of greenhouse gases (mostly carbon dioxide, but with non-
negligible contributions from nitrous oxide, methane, and chlorofluorocarbons), which threatens
to cause changes in the global climate and thus have adverse environmental effects, has generated
international concern. Noncumulative urban and regional pollution, with but rare exceptions, has
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