AEP Polluter Bill: Tens of Thousands of American Deaths is "Cost-Effective"?

Yesterday E&E News reported (subscrip required) that

The largest coal-burning utility in the United States is shopping a bill to lawmakers that would delay a host of environmental regulations, including forthcoming U.S. EPA rules for mercury and other toxic emissions, as well as sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and coal ash.

American Electric Power Co. Inc. has written legislative language at the request of lawmakers who represent states where it operates coal-fired power plants, including Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Rob Portman (R-Ohio), company spokeswoman Melissa McHenry said.

The proposal would give utilities more time to comply with the rules for mercury and other air toxics, which were proposed last month, as well as the Clean Air Transport Rule, which addresses soot- and smog-forming emissions that cross state lines. Power plants would need to cut their emissions or shut down by 2020, rather than 2014 and 2015, when the two rules would take effect. 

So, what’s a little delay matter?

Well, to take just one measure…two of the public health safeguards delayed by the AEP bill (the “transport” rule and the “toxics” rule) would save as many as 53,000 lives combined by 2016.

So delaying implementation until 2020 would prevent these vital health protections from saving tens of thousands – even well over a hundred thousand – Americans lives.

AEP does not dispute these benefits. So what possible justification could they present in defense of their proposal? As an AEP spokesperson explained to E&E, the company just wants to make sure that clean air can be “done cost-effectively.”

Never mind the fact the standards are already cost-effective from a health impacts and productivity point of view. The $13.7 billion investment needed to clean up the toxic and smog-forming pollution from power plants will yield $430 billion in benefits – a return to Americans of $30 for every $1 invested.

But rather than recognize that the Clean Air Act has built-in provisions that create flexibility for compliance timelines, this proposal ignores those facts and goes after the Clean Air Act – and more - with a meat axe.  It allows for across the board delays even for dirty coal plants that companies want to keep running indefinitely and absolves utilities of obligations to cleanup plants they propose to retire.  This might seem like a reasonable bargain, but it’s nothing more than a shell game.

Under the bill, companies can select plants they would close anyway when the new EPA standards come due, but instead of closing them on time, the bill allows them to keep on running for five more years. 

Fortunately, AEP doesn’t have the only point of view here. Other experts also consider EPA’s clean air safeguards cost-effective.  In fact, some power companies started making the necessary investments early. Here’s what Michael J. Bradley, head of the Clean Energy Group, told the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Energy and Power on April 15th this year:

The technologies to control emissions from coal‐fired power plants, including mercury and acid gases, are available and cost‐effective. There are a range of control technology options that are commercially available to comply with the rule, and the industry has extensive experience with the installation and operation of these control systems.

In fact, as I mentioned, many companies have already taken steps to install control technologies that will allow them to comply with requirements of the rule on time. Several of the Clean Energy Group companies have already installed, or are in the process of installing advanced controls, that they anticipate will allow them to comply with the Utility Toxics Rule.

For example, Constellation Energy, a member of the Clean Energy Group, recently installed a major air quality control system, including scrubbers, a baghouse, and other equipment at its Brandon Shores facility in Maryland. Construction was completed in 26 months and employed nearly 1,400 skilled workers.

Constellation isn’t the only utility that decided to get a head start. As Constellation and several other utility chiefs (including utilities that burn coal) told the Wall Street Journal last November:

The electric sector has known that these rules were coming. Many companies, including ours, have already invested in modern air-pollution control technologies and cleaner and more efficient power plants. For over a decade, companies have recognized that the industry would need to install controls to comply with the act's air toxicity requirements, and the technology exists to cost effectively control such emissions, including mercury and acid gases.

But AEP apparently has chosen to dawdle, procrastinate and postpone rather than prepare for what was common knowledge among utilities. Of course, the longer they delay getting ready to cut the life-ending pollution their plants spew, the greater the costs they can then complain about to Congress.

Which is more important: AEP putting off cleaning up its deadly air pollution? Or saving tens and possibly hundreds of thousands of American lives?