Industry lobbyists and political allies are launching a full court press against the closure of highly polluting coal-fired plants across the United States this month. The effort dovetails with the focus of Republican candidates like Bachmann, Gingrich, and Perry to demonize the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and even call for its elimination. However, this move has been delayed too long and is expected to save thousands of lives. The story is the latest example of how industry is able to treat such health risks as abstractions while fighting to keep such plants operating.
The EPA is attempting to curb the plethora of dangerous pollutants from these outmoded plants, including mercury, smog, ozone, and greenhouse gases.
The Edison Electric Institute and the American Legislative Exchange Council are taking the lead in fighting such efforts — insisting that it will cost utilities up to $129 billion. The reason this effort deserves attention is that it is coming during an election where the EPA has become a central campaign issue. It seems no accident that some political operatives are flogging the issue as industry ramps up to try to get Congress to block the EPA’s effort to protect public health.
The Congressional Research Service has issued a report that seriously questions the industry claims of a “train wreck” caused by the regulation. Many of these plants were grandfathered in under the Clean Air Act and about two-thirds do not even have scrubbers — a lack of abatement technology that is more often found in third world countries. CRS noted that many are no longer competitive and probably would have to be replaced anyway.
However, it is the health benefits that are the most impressive — and shockingly ignored by critics. The EPA estimates that just an “air-transport rule to clamp down on smog” will prevent 21,000 cases of bronchitis and 23,000 heart attacks — and save 36,000 lives. There could be as much as $290 billion in health benefits.
What is striking is how “family oriented” politicians often ignore the harm done to children and families from pollution. This should be a no-brainer for a developed nation to force the closure of such outdated plants. It is not like the industry did not have plenty of time to deal with these facilities. Many opposed the protection previously given the plants, which have now had decades of operation below accepted environmental standards.
I also fail to understand why the Administration has not fought harder and more directly on this issue — emphasizing the lives and health of the public in the debate. Again, it appears like the Administration seems almost timid in supporting such efforts. It has again allowed the industry to initially frame and control the debate. While I have been highly critical of some of the decisions of President Obama, this is one that he should point to with pride and use as a critical distinguishing policy with his opponents.
Here is the report from the Congressional Research Service: CRS-EPA
Source: Washington Post