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Pretty much everybody agrees that clean air is a good thing, right? Ev

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Pretty much everybody agrees that clean air is a good thing, right? Ev  [#permalink]

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New post 03 Jun 2018, 05:26
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McGraw Hills GMAT 2013 (544)

Pretty much everybody agrees that clean air is a good thing, right? Evidently not so. Since the 1960s, when people started talking about clean air in the first place, the American energy industry, which includes coal companies, oil companies, and utility companies, has dragged its heels on every initiative to improve the quality of the air we breathe. Even after the Clean Air Act of 1970 and its amendments in 1977 and 1990 made it clear that controlling air pollution is a national priority, these companies have found tricks and loopholes to avoid compliance.

Perhaps the most egregious loophole is the one that allows older power plants to disregard limits on sulfur dioxide emissions until they undergo a major renovation, at which point they have to comply. Sulfur dioxide from coal-burning power plants is the primary cause of acid rain in North America. The Clean Air Act states that when coalburning power plants upgrade their equipment, they must then comply with sulfur dioxide limitations by either installing scrubbing equipment that cleans the emissions or using fuel with lower sulfur content. The law tied the timing of compliance to major renovations in order to give power plants a grace period in which to comply. Many power plants, however, have exploited a loophole in this law by instituting a series of “minor” renovations that, in effect, upgrade their equipment without requiring them to comply with the Clean Air Act. Some plants have cheated the system by undergoing “minor” renovations for decades.

The power companies claim that they have to resort to these underhanded measures because the cost of compliance with the Clean Air Act is too high. And if everyone else is cheating the system, why should they have to install costly sulfur dioxide scrubbers? This cost argument falls apart upon scrutiny. Since 1977, more than 400 power plants across the country have managed to comply with the restrictions and are still making money. The sulfur dioxide scrubbing equipment has turned out to be far less expensive than the power industry naysayers claimed it would be. Many power plants have even complied with the emissions limits and reduced their operating costs by switching from high-sulfur Appalachian coal to the low-sulfur coal produced in western states such as Wyoming and Idaho. Western coal is not only cleaner than eastern coal, but also, because it is generally closer to the surface, as much as 30 percent less expensive to extract.

Clearly, the costs of compliance with the Clean Air Act can be justified, but if these companies were honest, such justifications would not have to be made. If they were honest, they would acknowledge the costs of not complying: the health costs of increased rates of asthma and lung cancer in high-emissions areas; the environmental costs of acid-scarred forests and lakes; the aesthetic costs of a haze of sulfur dioxide cutting visibility across the eastern United States to only half of what it was in preindustrial times. When you look at the true costs you have to ask, is any cost too high for clean air?


1. According to the information given in the passage, sulfur dioxide emissions are linked to all except which of the following phenomena?

A. Reduced visibility in the eastern United States
B. Damage to the ozone hole
C. Increased rates of asthma
D. Acid rain
E. Damaged forests


2. In the fourth paragraph, the passage mentions the “400 power plants” for what purpose?

A. To provide concrete evidence that many power plants have complied with the Clean Air Act provisions without undergoing ruinous financial hardship
B. To demonstrate the size and influence of the energy industry in the United States
C. To demonstrate that only a fraction of the power plants in the country have complied with the Clean Air Act, while hundreds of others have avoided compliance through tricks and loopholes
D. To demonstrate that companies can both comply with the Clean Air Act and achieve reductions in their operating costs by employing new, more efficient technologies
E. To suggest that those companies that have not complied are in the minority


3. Which of the following statements, if true, would provide the strongest argument for a utility company spokesman wishing to refute the arguments expressed in the passage?

A. Over the last decade, the energy industry has funded an environmental initiative that has planted more than 200,000 new trees.
B. The dangers of acid rain to human health have been wildly exaggerated by environmental extremists who seek to scare the general public.
C. The specifications of the Clean Air Act, although well intentioned, in practice require power plants to adopt less efficient technologies that increase emissions of atmospheric pollutants other than sulfur dioxide that have been linked to equally serious problems.
D. A substantial upgrade to a coal-burning power plant that includes the installation of sulfur dioxide scrubbing equipment can cost hundreds of millions of dollars, although companies can often recoup most of these costs over the following years as a result of efficiency benefits from the upgrade.
E. The scientific data upon which the Clean Air Act was based have not been corroborated by the scientists at the Center for Atmospheric Truth, a research group funded by a consortium of energy companies.



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Re: Pretty much everybody agrees that clean air is a good thing, right? Ev  [#permalink]

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Re: Pretty much everybody agrees that clean air is a good thing, right? Ev &nbs [#permalink] 02 Oct 2018, 19:11
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Pretty much everybody agrees that clean air is a good thing, right? Ev

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