Regulating Coal – And Coal Fights Back

July 17, 2011 at 10:45 pm Leave a comment

“E.P.A. Issues Tougher Rules for Power Plants” (NY Times, July 7, 2011) tells a familiar story. The power plant regulations, which will take effect in 2012, are expected to “reduce emissions of compounds that cause soot, smog and acid rain from hundreds of power plants by millions of tons at an additional cost to utilities of less than $1 billion a year.” In addition, “cleaner air would prevent as many as 34,000 premature deaths, 15,000 nonfatal heart attacks and hundreds of thousands of cases of asthma and other respiratory ailments every year.”

Regulations like these seem like a no-brainer, but predictably enough, the coal-burning industry is fighting back.

Note to students: Whenever a government agency steps forward with a regulation, regardless of its benefits to society, the regulated industry protests. Sometimes actual companies protest, but it is far more common for an advocacy group with some friendly, but misleading, name to carry the fight forward. In this case, a group called American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity (which actually turns out to be a front organization for coal-burning utilities) says the regulations will cost a lot, are being implemented too fast, and will endanger jobs and the economy.

But what kind of economic activity justifies 34,000 extra deaths, 15,000 extra heart attacks, and hundreds of thousands of extra asthma cases? Why should these coal-burning utilities get to treat extra medical costs and lives lost as “externalities”? Lisa Jackson, the head of the EPA sorts it out correctly when she says, “No community should have to bear the burden of another community’s polluters, or be powerless to prevent air pollution that leads to asthma, heart attacks and other harmful illnesses.”

And what about those unaffordable costs? According to another utility front group, the Clean Energy Group (does every utility group work “Clean” into its title?), most of the affected utilities have already installed the equipment needed to meet the new standards.

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Entry filed under: In the News.

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