Front Porch Blog

Clean Air Worth the Costs (But Especially the Benefits!)

That’s the message the Obama administration sent last week when it proposed a new rule that would curtail pollution from coal-fired power plants in the eastern United States. According to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, the rule should improve air quality as far south as Texas and Florida and as far north as Minnesota and southern New England.

More specifically, the new regulations would require utilities to reduce sulfur dioxide emissions by 71 percent and nitrogen oxide emissions by 52 percent – both relative to 2005 levels – by the year 2014.

Such reductions would significantly decrease unhealthy smog and soot levels and have a tremendously positive impact on the health of our nation. According to Gina McCarthy, head of the EPA’s air and radiation office, reduced emissions would save an estimated 14,000 to 36,000 lives every year. In addition, 240,000 cases of aggravated asthma, 23,000 nonfatal heart attacks, 21,000 cases of acute bronchitis and 1.9 million missed school and work days would be avoided.

Though the agency estimates the implementation costs of the new rule to be $2.8 billion per year, that cost pales in comparison to the rule’s estimated savings of $120 billion per year in avoided health costs, lives lost and sick days.

The rule would reverse and strengthen Bush era rules that have been met with intense scrutiny in recent years. In 2006, the previous administration decided not to lower the ten-year-old soot standard, despite the findings of its own scientists that compelled it to act otherwise. In response, over a dozen states, in addition to environmental groups, objected by suing the EPA.

“The E.P.A. proposal is a big step in the right direction,” said Frank O’Donnell of Clean Air Watch. “It’s a step toward taming the environmental beast known as the coal-fired power plant. But it is only a first step. E.P.A. still needs to move ahead with plans next year to limit power plant emissions of toxic mercury and other hazardous air pollutants.”

The EPA will be conducting hearings on the proposal in the months ahead. The rule is expected to take effect sometime next year.

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