The EPA Announces Tough New Rules for Coal Burning Power Plants

Jul 09 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

AEP's Conesville, Ohio, coal plant. Photo by Peter Essick, National Geographic.

The ever unpopular EPA is about to make itself even less popular. As of Thursday, there is a new federal rule, one that regulates the downwind effects of power plant emissions. Of course, this can’t be a defense of the environment since Global Warming has been legislated out of existence by the Republican majority in the U.S. House of Representatives, so it must be an attack on the coal industry and therefore a job-killing attack on the economy.

Yet, Global Warming debates aside, air quality is a quantifiable factor and the facts are that the latest air quality data shows the necessity for the new regulations. There are currently 594 coal-fired power plants in the United States which collectively contribute, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists, “54% of our electricity” and as they point out, constitute “the single biggest air polluter in the U.S.”

According to UCSUSA:

Air pollution: Burning coal causes smog, soot, acid rain, global warming, and toxic air emissions.

Wastes generated: Ash, sludge, toxic chemicals, and waste heat create more environmental problems.

Fuel supply: Mining, transporting, and storing coal levels mountains and pollutes the land, water, and air.

Water use: Coal plants need billions of gallons of cooling water and harm wildlife.

Plants in 27 states will be affected by the new Cross-State Air Pollution Rule, which replaces the Bush-era Clean Air Interstate Rule (CAIR) from 2005. EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson announced the plan on Thursday. The EPA is concerned about pollution crossing state lines:

“Pollution that crosses state lines places a greater burden on (downwind) states and makes them responsible for cleaning up someone else’s mess.”

The plan calls for reduction of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide by 73 percent and 54 percent, respectively, from 2005 levels by 2014 and will positively affect the lives, says the EPA, of “millions of Americans”:

Estimated Annual Number of Adverse Health Effects Avoided Due to Implementing the CSAPR*

Health Effect

Number of Cases Avoided

Premature mortality

13,000 to 34,000

Non-fatal heart attacks


Hospital and emergency department visits


Accute bronchitis


Upper and lower respiratory symptoms


Aggravated asthma


Days when people miss work or school

1.8 million

*Impacts avoided due to improvements in PM2.5 and ozone air quality in 2014

Jackson explained the logic behind the measure:

No community should have to bear the burden of another community’s polluters, or be powerless to prevent air pollution that leads to asthma, heart attacks and other harmful illnesses.

These Clean Air Act safeguards will help protect the health of millions of Americans and save lives by preventing smog and soot pollution from traveling hundreds of miles and contaminating the air they breathe.

The EPA has also proposed requiring power plants in six states (Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Missouri, Oklahoma, and Wisconsin) to control nitrogen oxide emissions during the summer smog season (under the CSAPR ozone-season control program). If approved, that would make 28 states subject to the new regulations.

Arrayed against the EPA are the usual culprits, including Pat Hemlepp, a spokesperson for AEP (American Electric Power), which maintains affected plants in 11 states. Hemlepp complains that if plants are forced into retirement, energy prices will rise. He told the Washington Post,

“Our most significant concern remains the unrealistic compliance timetables of this and a series of other EPA rules that target coal-fueled generation.”

“The EPA is ignoring the cumulative economic damage new regulations will cause,” said the group’s president, Steve Miller, in a statement. “America’s coal-fueled electric industry has been doing its part for the environment and the economy, but our industry needs adequate time to install clean coal technologies to comply with new regulations. Unfortunately, EPA doesn’t seem to care.”

Of course, the real issue is money. According to the Washington Post, “The measure, along with a proposal aimed at cutting summertime smog in the Midwest, is projected to cost the utility industry about $2.4 billion in pollution-control upgrades over several years.”

But Lisa Jackson points out that the new rule will yield between “$120 to $280 billion in annual health and environmental benefits in 2014, including the value of avoiding 13,000 to 34,000 premature deaths” which will “far outweigh the estimated annual costs of CSAPR.”

You can’t argue that even the lowest estimate of $120 billion is far more than the $2.4 billion estimated by the coal industry. And as the EPA puts it, the rule will improve air quality for over 240 million Americans.

Naturally, 240 million Americans mean nothing when compared to a few rich corporations and the pocketbooks of the top 2% of America’s wealthy. But the Republican Party, while it cares nothing for those 240 million-plus people, does care a great deal for the ultra rich and their corporations.

Image from Ohio Citizen Action







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