Struggling for Clean Air

Posted by AV's Intern Team | July 5, 2011 at 2:45 pm

By Meg Holden
A journalist and editor with a keen eye for detail, Meg served as AV’s Communications Intern for summer 2011.

Memory loss. Muscle weakness. Mood swings. Kidney failure. Death.

It sounds like a doctor’s report on an aging patient, and it could well be. But these are also symptoms of mercury exposure, which affects everyone—especially children.

We all know that coal is the single biggest contributor to air pollution in the United States. We’ve read the pamphlets, watched the videos, and heard the statistics. We’ve been shocked, appalled, and disgusted—but we don’t have to be resigned to watching coal-fired power plants poison our air, water, and families. We can take action.

The EPA has recently proposed stronger regulations for mercury, arsenic, and lead—all poisonous to humans—as well as acid gases and other air pollutants. The new national standards would keep 91 percent of the mercury in coal from polluting our air and water.

A coal-fired power plant in Virginia

A coal-fired power plant in Virginia

In a world where one coal plant can produce 170 pounds of mercury in a year, this is not only desirable, but crucial to our national health. The amount of mercury in an old-fashioned thermometer—1/70th of a teaspoon—can contaminate a 25-acre lake. Limiting the amount of mercury and other pollutants that coal-fired power plants can release into our air is a vital step toward ending coal’s black grip on our lives.

The EPA’s proposed regulations will prevent huge amounts of toxic gases and particulates from entering our air and waterways. According to the EPA, the regulations will prevent

“as many as 17,000 premature deaths and 11,000 heart attacks a year. The new proposed standards would also provide particular health benefits for children, preventing 120,000 cases of childhood asthma symptoms and about 11,000 fewer cases of acute bronchitis among children each year. The proposed standards would also avert more than 12,000 emergency room visits and hospital admissions and 850,000 fewer days of work missed due to illness.”

The health costs associated with the life cycle of coal, from mining to processing to burning to disposal- are huge; the total is over 345 million dollars, according to a study by Harvard University.

But coal companies don’t want to emissions regulated, and they’re doing everything they can to weaken the final rule. Some groups with special interest in coal are saying that the pollution from coal power plants aren’t harmful to humans. American Electric Power claims that the new regulations will result in the closure of five power plants and a loss of 600 jobs.

“…We will have to prematurely shut down nearly 25 percent of our current coal-fueled generating capacity, cut hundreds of good power-plant jobs, and invest billions of dollars in capital to retire, retrofit, and replace coal-fueled power plants,” AEP chairman and CEO Mike Morris said. “The sudden increase in electricity rates and impacts on state economies will be significant at a time when people and states are still struggling.”

That’s right, Mike, people and states are still struggling. Struggling to breathe the heavy metal- and particulate-laden air that coal-fired power plants emit daily. Struggling to pay the medical bills for their parents, siblings, and children who have been exposed to mercury and other poisons. Struggling to find a safer, cleaner way to provide for their families.

And if you are concerned about jobs and the economy, you would support EPA’s regulations, as they tend to create jobs. A study by CERES and Political Economy Research Institute of the University of Massachusetts shows that this regulation plus the Clean Air Transport Rule (CATR), a program aimed at smog- and soot-forming pollution, will create over 290,000 jobs.

Help stop the economic and public health struggle. Show your support for the EPA’s regulations on air pollutants.

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