Let's Talk About the Real Cost of Dirty Power: AEP and 3,200 Pollution Deaths

American Electric Power (AEP) will be much in the news this week, with an annual shareholder meeting in Tulsa Oklahoma on Tuesday and a speech by AEP’s CEO and President Nick Akins to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce on Thursday.

You can count on AEP spending a lot of time during these events talking about its "tradition of leadership, service and contributions to the communities we serve."

But there's one "contribution" the Columbus, Ohio-based firm doesn't want you to know about:

The dangerous air pollution generated last year by the twenty-six coal-fired power plants owned wholly or in part by AEP contributed to as many as 3,200 deaths, over 20,000 asthma attacks and incidents, over 2,000 hospital and emergency room visits and over 1,000,000 lost work-days, according to an analysis conducted for the Natural Resources Defense Council by MSB Energy Associates, Inc. using a highly regarded, peer-reviewed model linking emissions of air pollutants to health impacts.

That’s right.  When people talk about deaths, illness and major economic consequences from power plant air pollution, it’s not an abstract concept. It means that dirty power plants run by specific power companies (like AEP) are inflicting major harms.  AEP is certainly not alone in doing this, but it is one of the biggest offenders in the nation … and it also is fighting tooth and nail to slow down, weaken and even block Environmental Protection Agency efforts from imposing needed, common-sense updates to Clean Air Act standards.

So, let’s get down to particulars about AEP. The table below summarizes our findings by state: 

Together, the twenty-six power plants bearing AEP’s name dumped nearly one million tons of sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and soot into the air, along with nearly 190 million tons of industrial carbon dioxide.

The combined economic toll caused by the pollution AEP emitted in 2011 reaches as high as nearly $24 billion. 

So just one year of AEP's pollution costs the rest of us as much as $24 bilion. What does it cost to clean up? Well, AEP reported to investors in February 2011 that its capital expenditure forecast for 2012 – 2020 in order to comply with air pollution regulations would be a total of $3.75 billion to $4.5 billion.

In other words, AEP has been fighting to avoid having to clean up its pollution, at a cost of less than a billion per year, when its pollution from just one year costs the rest of us as much as $24 billion. 

It is clear that AEP could reduce the tremendous harm it is inflicting on its neighbors – including its own customers – by investing a greater portion of the $5 billion in profits that the company earned between 2008 and 2010 to clean up or replace these dirty plants with cleaner alternatives. 

By pairing such investments with energy efficiency the company could ensure that their customers enjoy lower energy bills as well as better health, while putting thousands of people back to work.  But AEP has chosen to use its wealth and influence to promote legislative and regulatory proposals that impede or block outright U.S. Environmental Protection Agency efforts to clean up our air and provide citizens with stronger health protections.

As the US EPA moves forward with clean air standards to protect our health from mercury, carbon and other pollutants its time to make sure the voice of the people outweighs the influence of the polluters.

You can make your voice heard right now by supporting the EPA's efforts to set limits for carbon pollution from new power plants. Click here to do it now.