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EEN’s Machiavellian Mercury Campaign Threatens Pro-Life Movement

By E. Calvin Beisner, Ph.D.

December 21, 2011
by E. Calvin Beisner, Ph.D.

If the Evangelical Environmental Network (EEN) has its way, some members of Congress with 100% pro-abortion records will be able to boast that they’re pro-life, and others with 100% pro-life voting records won’t.

Come again?

No, your eyes didn’t fool you. You read it right.

Radio, television, and billboard ads EEN is running in nine states and the District of Columbia imply that those who support the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) proposed new limits on mercury emissions from power plants are pro-life, or at least “sensitive to pro-life concerns,” and those who don’t aren’t.

Senators Debbie Stabenow and Carl Levin (both D-MI) both had 100% pro-abortion voting records in the 110th Congress (2007–2008). Senators Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe (both R-ME) and David Pryor (D-AR) all had 78% pro-abortion voting records. Yet EEN’s ads give voters the impression that all are pro-life or “sensitive to pro-life concerns” because they support EPA’s proposed new mercury limits.

In EEN’s one-minute radio spots, Tracey Bianchi, a Chicago-area pastor, says, "I expect members of Congress who say they are pro-life to use their power to protect that life, especially the unborn. … The EPA's mercury regulations were created specifically to protect the unborn from the devastating impacts of mercury which causes permanent brain damage in the unborn and infants." In the Michigan ads she says, “That’s why I’m counting on Senators Levin and Stabenow to defend the EPA’s ability to protect the unborn from mercury pollution. … Please thank Senators Levin and Stabenow for their leadership, and let them know you support continued efforts to keep the unborn safe from mercury pollution.” Ads mentioning supporters of EPA’s mercury limits in other states contain similar language.

“Pro-life,” as defined by opposition to abortion, would unequivocally describe just 2 out of the 13 politicians mentioned in the ads—Sen. John Boozman (R-AR), and Cong. Bob Latta (R-OH), both of whom had 100% pro-life voting records. (Maybe we could throw in Sen. Lamar Alexander [R-TN], with his 88% pro-life voting record.) Yet the ad targeting Ohio states, “I’m grateful that Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur voted to defend the EPA’s ability clean up dangerous mercury pollution. But I’m disappointed that Congressman Bob Latta voted against protecting the unborn from this poison. … Please contact Congresswoman Kaptur to thank her, but tell Congressman Latta that being pro-life means protecting the unborn from mercury pollution.”

There you have it: EEN thinks “being pro-life means protecting the unborn from mercury pollution.” So if you don’t support EPA’s effort to do so, you’re not pro-life.

What lies behind this Orwellian redefinition of “pro-life”? EEN says 1 in 6 American babies is born with a harmful blood mercury level, so supporting EPA’s proposed new restriction of mercury emissions is pro-life.

As the ads say, “I expect members of Congress who say they are pro-life to use their power to protect that life, especially the unborn. … The EPA's mercury regulations were created specifically to protect the unborn from the devastating impacts of mercury which causes permanent brain damage in the unborn and infants.”

“Protect that life”? “Devastating impacts”? “Permanent brain damage”?

The truth, as documented in The Cost of Good Intentions: The Ethics and Economics of the War Against Conventional Energy, is that not 1 in 6 but about 1 in 1,000 American babies is exposed to mercury at a level above the EPA’s “reference dose” of 5.8 parts per billion. Further, no harm has been detected at any level below 85 parts per billion (over 14 times higher than the “reference dose”)—a level studies indicate is not found in any American babies. Even at that level, the observable harm is not death or even grave impairment but a temporary, almost undetectable delay in neurological development—one so small it’s overshadowed by normal variation, one that disappears in nearly all by age 7.

Further, the path from power-plant emissions to baby’s blood is obscure at best. Most of the mercury in infants’ blood comes from natural sources, meaning reducing power-plant emissions would have little or no effect on infants’ health.

No wonder EPA admits that its new mercury limits would be “unlikely to substantially affect total risk”! And that’s not its estimate for the population as a whole but for a vanishingly small number (so small EPA doesn’t even estimate it): 1% of pregnant, subsistence fisherwomen, those who consume over 300 pounds of self-caught fish per year—and all those fish have to come from the very highest mercury-content freshwater sources in the country.

Ironically, EPA’s new mercury restrictions not only won’t save any lives, they’ll cost lives. Lots of them.
How many? About 2,500 to 4,250 every year. (You can skip the next paragraph if you don’t like following a little arithmetic.)

Here’s where those numbers come from: First, economic studies indicate that for every $10 million to $17 million in annual regulatory costs, one extra death occurs in the United States. EPA’s mercury plan will force an increase in electricity prices of about 11.5%. Since the average price per megawatt-hour for electricity in 2009 was $99.80, and the nation used about 3.7 billion megawatt-hours, and so we spent about $369.26 billion on electricity, that 11.5% increase means EPA’s plan will cost the U.S. economy about $42.5 billion. Divide that by $10 million or $17 million per life, and you get 2,500 to 4,250 extra deaths per year.

In short, EEN says it’s pro-life to support a policy that will cause about 2,500 to 4,250 extra deaths per year, but not pro-life to oppose it.

There’s just one problem. A big one. The risk from mercury and the risk from abortion aren’t in the same ballpark. They’re not even in the same universe.

Abortion doesn’t cause a minor reduction in brain development, it stops it—dead. It doesn’t cause temporary, almost undetectable reduction in neurological development. It kills 1.2 million every year in America. Not 1 in 1,000 but over 1 in 5 pregnancies in America end in abortion (22%). Since 1973, because of abortion, over 54 million babies in this country have been dead on arrival.

Yet EEN insists that politicians who support the continued intentional massacre of over a million babies a year can proudly wear the pro-life label—and pro-life voters can conscientiously vote for them—so long as they support EPA’s plan to impose new restrictions on mercury emissions.

The audacity of EEN’s campaign is breathtaking. Even accepting its bogus numbers and exaggerated harms, this is one of the most Machiavellian campaigns in American political history. Whether EEN’s leaders intend it or not, the campaign’s result, if successful, will be to water down the meaning of “pro-life,” split the pro-life vote, and cripple the effort to protect the lives of the unborn in America.

EEN President and CEO Mitch Hescox says he’s pro-life. I take his word for it. Presumably, then, he doesn’t intend this Machiavellian result.

Who might? Perhaps EEN’s funding source. I’ve not been able to unearth, yet, where the funding for this month’s campaigns came from. (E&E News’s Greenwire reported December 1 that the radio campaign alone was costing EEN $150,000.) But EEN received a $50,000 grant last July from the Rockefeller Brothers Fund “to elevate the voice of the evangelical community in its efforts to protect the Environmental Protection Agency.” And Rockefeller Brothers (which gave EEN $200,000 in 2009 to support its global warming campaign) is a long-time supporter of abortion on demand as a means of population control.

Divide and conquer, anyone?

E. Calvin Beisner, Ph.D., a theologian, ethicist, and economist, is Founder and National Spokesman of The Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation. He wishes to thank Dr. Timothy Terrell, author of the Cornwall Alliance’s recently released study The Cost of Good Intentions: The Ethics and Economics of the War on Conventional Energy, and Dr. William Yeatman, an expert energy regulatory economics at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, for assistance in preparing this article, but he accepts full responsibility for any errors.

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