The American people have won a fundamental victory in our right to clean air and water. Special thanks to the 900,000 Americans who spoke their truth to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency about how power plant pollution has impacted their lives. And the EPA listened.
Yesterday, the EPA released scientific guidelines that will slash toxins like arsenic, chromium, nickel and particulate matter from coal-fired power plants starting in 2016. Coal-fired power plants are the single largest, and till now, unregulated, source of air pollution in the U.S.
These standards have been 20 years in the making. In 1990, Congress gave EPA the authority to limit hazardous air pollutants from coal-fired power plants through amendments in the Clean Air Act.
George W. Bush’s EPA actually finalized a rule in 2005, but the D.C. Circuit threw it out because the agency had removed power plants from the Clean Air Act list of sources of hazardous air pollutants. The court “required EPA to develop standards that follow the law and the science in order to protect human health and the environment.”Over half the power plants in the country already use some form of pollution control- the guidelines are actually based on existing technology being used today on many of these plants.
The coal industry has been crying that the new guidelines are too expensive and will cause grandmothers across the country to freeze in the dark.
Actually, coal-burning for electricity has been a bad investment for a long time, and the price of not having these pollution controls has been unduly placed on the American public, in the form of health costs.
Power plant pollution like nitrogen oxides (NOx) and sulfur oxides (SOx) can cause and/or aggravate respiratory diseases like bronchitis and asthma.
Mercury enters local waterways, where it bio-accumulates at levels dangerous enough for human consumption. People of lower income tend to eat more fish from their local rivers and streams, and therefore have more exposure to mercury. Children and infants are most at risk, since their brains have not developed the blood-brain barrier needed to keep toxins like mercury from affecting mental capacity.
Instead of touting this victory of public health, especially for low-income communities who are unfairly impacted by power plant pollution, some news outlets have decided to focus on the impact that these life-saving guideline will have on the power plants themselves.
In anticipation of the EPA guidelines, the Associated Press published an article titled, “EPA rules threaten old power plants” that went on to say that while EPA’s guidelines were a factor in their decision to shutter these plants, that “these plants have been allowed to run for decades without modern pollution controls because it was thought that they were on the verge of being shuttered by the utilities that own them.”
Yes, placing pollution controls will be the final straw for some of these power plants, but according to the AP article, “The average age of the plants that could be sacrificed is 51 years”. 50 years is the average lifespan of a coal-fired power plant, so these plants should up for retirement, regardless of any EPA rules.
The other fear that the coal industry like to inflame is the issue of reliability. Anticipating that, the EPA guidelines give plants more time if needed in order to ensure reliability. Quoted in the AP article is John Moura, manager of reliability assessment at the North American Electric Reliability Corporation
“We can’t say there isn’t going be an issue. We know there will be some challenges,” Moura said. “But we don’t think the lights are going to turn off because of this issue.”
Not only will the lights stay on, we will be healthier in the long run. In central and southern Appalachian states, the new EPA standards will prevent 2276 premature deaths and provide 18.8 billion in health benefits.
Now that is news that should make us all breathe a little easier.
Let the EPA know that you appreciate their leadership; the way that Big Coal’s allies in the House of Representatives have been ripping into the EPA for simply doing its job, they need to be encouraged to do more to represent the public interest.