Celebrating cleaner air

August 13, 2012

Environment, Health, Political

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that for every dollar spent to reduce pollution from power plants, the American public will be charged up to $9 in health benefits.

by Mary Budinger

Environmentalists and health care advocates are celebrating the historic announcement of the first U.S. standards to reduce power plant emissions of toxic air pollution, including mercury, arsenic, acid gas, nickel, selenium and cyanide. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that for every dollar spent to reduce pollution from power plants, the American public will be charged up to $9 in health benefits. The total health and economic benefits by this standard are estimated to be as much as $90 billion annually.

The EPA estimates that the new safeguards will prevent as many as 11,000 premature deaths and 4,700 heart attacks a year. The standards are expected to prevent 130,000 cases of childhood asthma symptoms and result in about 6,300 fewer cases of acute bronchitis among children every year, beginning in 2015.

Public health and economic benefits are expected to far outweigh costs of implementation. Some old coal-fired power plants will have to be shut down, but many had been already scheduled for retirement and others can be retrofitted or replaced with cleaner gas-fired facilities. The EPA will also have the flexibility to give extensions to companies that can demonstrate they need an extra year to comply.

“Since toxic air pollution from power plants can make people sick and cut lives short, the new Mercury and Air Toxics Standards are a huge victory for public health,” said Albert A. Rizzo, M.D., national volunteer chair of the American Lung Association.

Power plants are the largest remaining source of several toxic air pollutants and are responsible for half of the mercury and over 75 percent of the acid gas emissions in the U.S. Today, more than half of all coal-fired power plants already deploy pollution control technologies that will help them meet these achievable standards. Once final, these standards will level the playing field by ensuring that the remaining plants — about 40 percent of all coal-fired power plants — take similar steps to decrease dangerous pollutants.

On the other hand, a congressional report released by the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Energy and Commerce at the end of last year found that the House of Representatives averaged more than one anti-environmental vote for every day the House was in session in 2011.

Sources: U.S. EPA and The New York Times,  http://yosemite.epa.gov/opa/admpress.nsf/bd4379a92ceceeac8525735900400c27/bd8b3f37edf5716d8525796d005dd086!OpenDocument. www.nytimes.com/2011/12/22/opinion/toward-healthier-air.html?_r=1). http://democrats.energycommerce.house.gov/ sites/default/files/image_uploads/_AntiEnvironment%20Report%20Final.pdf).

Mary Budinger is an Emmy award-winning journalist who writes about integrative medicine. 602-494-1999.

AzNetNews, February 2012.

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