HealthLawProf Blog

Editor: Katharine Van Tassel
Concordia University School of Law

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Electricty Rate Hikes Weighed Against Disease Prevention

The Environmental Protection Agency is finalizing two Clean Air Act regulations.  The Cross-State Air Pollution Rule requires 27 states to improve air quality by reducing power plant emissions that contribute to ozone and/or fine particle pollution. The Power Plant Mercury and Air Toxics Rule will limit mercury, acidic gases and other toxic pollution emanating from power plants, keeping 91 percent of the mercury in coal from being released to the air. Currently, there are no national limits on the amount of mercury and other toxic air pollution released from power plant smokestacks.

 Many operators of older power plants are lobbying for exemptions to the rules, as reported in yesterday’s Environment and Energy Daily newsletter. Out in front of this effort is the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners (NARUC), who is meeting next week to consider passing a resolution (available here on Page 20) that would call on Congress for more flexibility in implementing the rules.

The American Lung Association, American Public Health Association, Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America and Physicians for Social Responsibility Trust for America’s Health is urging NARUC in a letter sent last week to reject taking this stance, claiming the rules will prevent asthma, heart attacks and premature deaths.

As suggested some of my previous postings, Congress has been very sympathetic to industry’s claims about the economic burdens of pollution regulations, with several proposals on the table to weaken or delay them. It is a values discussion couched in cost benefit calculations: how much does the prevention of premature deaths or asthma benefit society in dollars, so that it can be compared to the monetary costs of higher electricity rates in areas served by older plants? If Congress steps in to delay the rules, it would be helpful if the proponents explicitly discussed those trade-offs, but they rarely do.


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