Mary Booth and Gordon Clark: Cookstoves, power plants and Sen. Susan Collins


Support lacking for efforts to clean up the nation’s dirtiest industrial power plants.

Last month, Sen. Susan Collins introduced the Clean Cookstoves Support Act (S. 2515) so that poor people around the world — most of whom use dirty, wood-fired stoves to cook their food — might get cleaner, more efficient cooking devices.

The senator is to be commended for her effort. The troubling question, though, is why isn’t she standing up for her own constituents when it comes to similarly inefficient, dirty energy sources right here in the United States?

Less than a year ago, Sen. Collins introduced the “EPA Regulatory Relief Act of 2011,” a bill roundly condemned by environmentalists as an attempt to gut U.S. Environmental Protection Agency regulations intended to clean up the nation’s dirtiest industrial power plants — many fueled by biomass, and several right here in Maine. She then tried to attach her legislation to the unrelated transportation bill this spring, an effort that only narrowly failed.

Ironically, Sen. Collins’ cookstove bill outlines exactly the reasons she should be supporting similar policies on biomass and fossil fuel boilers here in the U.S.

For instance, her bill objects to the fact that cookstoves used by half the world’s population are fueled by firewood, dung or coal, and are “inefficient and polluting.” So why has she been trying to stop EPA efforts to clean up the most inefficient and polluting industrial burners in this country — ones that burn contaminated construction and demolition debris, forest residue and coal and industrial wastes, and which emit large quantities of heavy metals, dioxins, carcinogens and lung-clogging fine particles?


Sen. Collins’ bill continues: “Smoke from … these traditional cookstoves … is associated with a number of chronic and acute diseases, including respiratory illnesses such as pneumonia, heart disease and cancer.”

All true — but these compassionate and sensible policy instincts are missing when it comes to regulating emissions from industrial burners in the U.S., emissions associated with an alarming variety of health impacts, including asthma, heart attacks, diabetes and strokes.

The senator rightly decries the 2 million lives lost to the health effects of primitive cookstoves every year. Yet EPA estimates 8,000 American lives would be saved every year by requiring updated pollution controls on industrial power plants.

In Maine, which has one of the highest rates of asthma in the country, reducing industrial boiler emissions is one direct way to tackle that statistic.

Perhaps most ironic of all, Collins’ cookstove bill points out that “black carbon created from biomass cookstoves significantly contributes to … climate change.”

But where does her support for arresting climate change go when it comes to U.S. pollution? The industrial power plants that the senator seeks to protect from regulation actually emit as much black carbon in the form of fine particulate matter as coal, and even more carbon dioxide.

Sen. Collins’ Clean Cookstoves Support Act is laudable, and smart policy. We wish that she would offer a similarly wise “Clean U.S. Power Plants Act” — one that demonstrates the same compassion, wisdom and sound environmental stewardship that is written into every line of her cookstove bill.

Mary Booth is the executive director of Partnership for Policy Integrity, a Massachusetts-based organization working on renewable energy policy. Gordon Clark is PFPI’s communications director.