The EPA's Christmas Gift to Us All: Fewer Poisons in Our Air

powerplantLast week, the EPA unveiled the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards, a pair of rules that establish the first national limits on power plant emissions of mercury, arsenic, cyanide, and a host of other poisonous airborne pollutants. It's estimated that the rules, which will be phased in over the next six years, will save the country billions of dollars in health care costs.

But not everyone is pleased: For months, Republican politicians, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and assorted coal industry spokesmen have been sketching gloomy scenarios of an overstressed power grid and a nation plunged into darkness when the new rules go into effect.

It's easy to see why some people would be scared: As Dina Cappiello of the Associated Press reported, the new regulations will contribute to the closure of 32 power plants, most of them old and dirty coal burners, and 36 more may have to shut down if the cost of installing pollution controls proves too high.

However, a survey of 55 plant managers revealed that the changes, while costly in the short term, will neither be devastating for consumers nor for America's power companies. According to the survey respondents, there will be no rolling blackouts, no apocalyptic power losses, and no plants closed solely because of the new rules.

In fact, as Nicholas Bianco, senior associate for the World Resources Institute, recently noted, the new standards have been in the works for 20 years, and most plants already comply with them. According to a report issued this summer, most of the nation's top coal producers reported that "the electric industry is well positioned to comply with EPA's proposed air regulations without threatening electric system reliability."

Health Savings Vastly Exceed Industry Costs

But the changes will be significant when it comes to public health. On average, the plants that will be closing are 51 years old, and most were grandfathered in when the Clean Air Act Extension was passed in 1970. At the time, the laws stated that grandfathered plants would have to install state-of-the-art pollution controls when they updated for higher efficiency -- a move that legislators expected to occur soon after the law passed. That didn't happen. Instead, because many of those plants were fully paid off, their owners often decided that it was more cost effective to avoid updating them -- and thus also avoid installing pricey new pollution controls. In other words, the plants that will be shuttered by the new law are, by and large, inefficient, outdated, and extremely dirty.
The EPA estimates that its new rules will prevent "as many as many as 11,000 premature deaths and 4,700 heart attacks a year." Beyond that, it will also massively cut down on respiratory illnesses, "preventing 130,000 cases of childhood asthma symptoms and about 6,300 fewer cases of acute bronchitis among children each year."

While it is hard to put a price tag on reduced mercury, the EPA -- and most experts -- agree that less plants will have vast, long-term benefits for health care, will reduce developmental damage among children, and will improve the health of fisheries. Overall the EPA estimates that these improvements will pay dividends of $53 billion to $140 billion per year. By comparison, the annual cost of these new restrictions is estimated to be about $11 billion per year.

Bruce Watson is a senior features writer for DailyFinance. You can reach him by e-mail at, or follow him on Twitter at @bruce1971.

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EPA regulations are very protective however, they have been the root cause of numerous plant closures which has led to job losses throughout the United States. While the regulations are well meaning sometimes the standards to which these plants are to adhere prove to great for them to bear ( While it is protective, there are no replacements for these kinds of jobs readily available which put people back into he unemployment line. We need to either review regulations more closely, or if we are going to have such regulations also create jobs that people can readily go to when jobs like these are closed.

January 23 2012 at 10:49 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

They write this story as though the EPA is saving us from a fate worsr than hell. Add to their figures the people that can't afford medication. The cost of the space heater electricity that people must have when they can no longer afford oil.
The EPA is the only government agency that makes its decisions with no consideration to cost. Yes, that is the truth,NO CONSIDERATION TO COST! What started out as a worthwhile endevor has turned into a porkbarrel organization filled with the relatives of polititions that can't find a real job. Their power is immense and their greymatter is weak. Time to put the brakes on from home town elections to presidential.

January 04 2012 at 11:40 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

The real gift- Blackouts and brownouts coming your way compliments of your socialist administration. Can't wait till they are all sent back to whatever university craphole they came from.

January 04 2012 at 8:15 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
obama fools


January 03 2012 at 7:00 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

Fed res dollar printing has increased to keep up with US treasury's need for them as debt buyer of last resort. Euro is doing same for their debt but doesn't hold the luxury as world's res currency. Fed exports inflation to the world, Euro can't & WILL hyper inflate to ZERO. Europe WILL run to the dollar as others trade for gld/slvr. Even with a small demand increase gld/slvr price WILL rise outside the fed's ability to keep suppressed & dollar WILL start its final fall, world WILL panic & gld/slvr will BE the only reserve currency, again. World fiat system is collapsing & we face deep depression. Got Gold? China & India does, why's that you figure?

January 03 2012 at 5:47 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I 'm sure my grandchildren will be very appreciative when they are living in a cave or a 12 foot round hut freezing their A's off being thankful that they are the lucky middle-class of their time.

January 03 2012 at 4:49 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

What utter nonsense -- Watson is simply mouthing the misleading and erroneous press releases of the EPA. without any attmept to idenfify actual science-base contrary views. If the air was that bad, then just how can the EPA justify its existence after 40 years of regulation with such self-confessed poor results?

January 03 2012 at 2:04 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Roger's comment

Why are conservatives so fearful of this agency? They have proven they are not interested in science anyway. I look at the air in LA and other large cities to know a difference has been made. I see clean water and clear air. What you want is a resurgence like in China where the environment has not mattered to this point; but that attitude is changing . Environmental degradation can bring down systems. We would never have tolerated red air.

January 03 2012 at 2:31 PM Report abuse -2 rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to sasha's comment

Please explain to me, if all this clean air is good for us, How come all we hear about is the exploding number of children with asthma as compared to when LA had the 'dirty' air? Just curious

January 03 2012 at 4:53 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down

Why are the enviormentalists so fearful of our air. We already have the cleanest air of the industrialized nations. All good people are conservationists, the idiots are enviornmentalists.

January 04 2012 at 11:48 AM Report abuse rate up rate down

S T O P D A I L Y F I R E W O O D U S E R S ! !! ! ! ! ! ! ! iT S NOT FAIR TO NEIGHBORS !!

January 03 2012 at 1:10 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to Gumby's comment


January 03 2012 at 5:46 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
obama fools


January 03 2012 at 7:03 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

There is still more billons to be saved in heatlh costs... Stop daily firewood users... Occassional firewood users are exempt meaning no more than once a month or thing like that... Daily firewood users should be stopped! It is unfiar to neighbors... The air qualtiy measurements and no burn alerts are meangingless to neighbors who live next door to daily firewood users which routinely exceed the no burn alert measurments everyday... The neighobrs are the first ones to be hauled to hospitals for respriatory illnesses and allergies, etc.. Air quality peple ought to know better than to treat all firewood users alike.. which is not right and fair!! I live next door to a daily fiorewood user on both sides of my property.. I know what it is like to suck in firewood smoke everyday... I hate it!! It is so bothersome!! and debliating to my mental concentration.. I am, getting worse and worse..

January 03 2012 at 1:09 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply

Cheap energy IS our economy and until it is cheap again their will be no growth just inflation which is not growth no matter how high the spending increases or how badly libtard Oboma kool aid drinkers want it to be. Oil IS the PRIMARY factor to world prosperity, cut and dry! Oil cost increase caused inflation along with massive fed res dollar printing caused inflation means hyper inflation and the end of the dollar.

January 02 2012 at 5:31 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply