The Real Costs Incurred by the American Public From Coal-Fired Power Plant Pollution.

The Obama Administration has finally gotten tough on polluting energy sources that emit mercury, arsenic and other toxins into the air, causing11,000 deaths a year by some estimates. 

WASHINGTON — The Obama administration on Wednesday unveiled rules for coal-fired power plants that mean costly investments passed on to consumers, but also health benefits.

Hundreds of older plants — which together make up the largest remaining source of unchecked toxic air pollution in the United States — will have to cut emissions or shut down.

“By cutting emissions that are linked to developmental disorders and respiratory illnesses like asthma, these standards represent a major victory for clean air and public health,” Lisa Jackson, head of the Environmental Protection Agency, said in a statement.  SOURCE

The coal industry lobbyists are crying foul, claiming that in some areas electricity prices could rise by as much as 19% and could result in the loss of 1.4 million jobs by 2020.  Such estimates are questionable but they are also a smoke screen to conceal the critical issue families face through this country’s continued use of a dirty source of energy.

To listen to the one-sided arguments of industry lobbyists you might react as if there was no common sense used by the EPA in regulating an industry that has throughout their existence evaded responsibility for filling the air we breathe and water we drink with carcinogens and lung disease-causing elements that cause heart and asthma attacks as well as other serious health issues.

Earlier this year the Electric Reliability Coordinating Council (ERCC), the leading electric-power industry trade group, attacked the EPA saying “the new regulation on toxic pollution is too expensive and that there are no health benefits from reducing hazardous pollutants other than mercury.   The question any sensible person ought to ask is how can there NOT be any health benefits by removing “386,000 tons of hazardous air pollutants that coal-fired plants put out each year.”  Pollutants like toxic metals and metal-like substances such as arsenic and lead; mercury; dioxins; chemicals known or thought to cause cancer, including formaldehyde, benzene and radioisotopes; and acid gases such as hydrogen chloride.

American Academy of Pediatrics President O. Marion Burton scoffed at the ERCC’s declaration and stated simply that the long and short of it is that “dirty air makes children sick”.  Some 130,000 children suffer asthma attacks each year as a result of the filth emitted from 400 coal-fired plants scattered across 46 states.

These health issues equate into monetary liabilities for families in the form of health costs.  Health costs that will start to disappear as these power plants begin to install the “scrubbers” to their emission outputs that spew out tons of pollutants in communities near and far.  “If you think it’s an expensive process to put a scrubber on a smokestack,” Burton said, “you should see how much it takes over a lifetime to treat a child with a preventable birth defect.”  

A study done in 2010 by the non-profit Clean Air Task Force found “that fine particle pollution from existing coal plants is expected to cause nearly 13,200 deaths in 2010. Additional impacts include an estimated 9,700 hospitalizations and more than 20,000 heart attacks per year. The total monetized value of these adverse health impacts adds up to more than $100 billion per year.”   That is 10 times the estimate the EPA claims it would cost to implement the new standards.  This factor seems to elude critics like the ERCC, a coal industry front group.

The insensitivity expressed by some in the energy industry to reduce emissions that kill many people and wreak havoc on the public health is reflective of a mentality that has been brought against wealthy corporate interests for years.  Profits over people has always been the driving force behind those arguments that try to scare many people into believing that these needed changes are going to hurt us more than the companies that will now have to make these changes.

When did it ever become okay for people to make a living from doing what hurts our families and our children.  There was a time when our knowledge of the threat from use of fossil fuels to heat our homes and power our businesses was lacking.  The good life it created by distributing “cheap” energy to large amounts of people in this country over rode any early concerns there may have been for discharging the waste product of spent coal and oil into our ecosystem.  But we know better now and to be mislead by the self-interests of for-profit businesses whose bottom line may suffer from correcting the causes of many ruined lives is the height of arrogance.

We can only hope now that the Obama administration will not back down from intimidation tactics and misleading information that has been and will continue to be coming from the special interests that oppose these new safeguards.  Safeguards that will not only enhance the health of millions of people in the coming years but reduce our out of pocket expenses for health care caused by the past disregard of an industry that put profits before people.


Coal-Fired Power Plants: Understanding the Health Costs of a Dirty Energy Source

Springtime for Toxics (Paul Krugman NY Times)

4 responses to “The Real Costs Incurred by the American Public From Coal-Fired Power Plant Pollution.

  1. Too expensive to save lives and our planet?! To hell with those corporate polluters. I’ll pay extra for my utility bills because I’m a decent, concerned community member who isn’t living off the profits from an industry without a conscience.

    • Be careful Jean. Before you know it the coal lobbyists will have you depicted as an enemy of God’s abundant resources that are exploited by a few to provide jobs for millions.

  2. I live close to a huge coal burning plant that uses high sulfur coal, those downwind have all kinds of problems….but according to the industry it is not their fault…..

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