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Health, Economy Benefit From Limits On Power Plant Air Pollution

Next month, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will propose the first ever health protections against power plants’ toxic air pollution. No industrial source of dirty air poses greater risks to human health or the environment than these juggernauts, which have never been subject to federal limits on their emissions of mercury, arsenic, acid gases and carcinogens such as dioxins.

Power plants are also among the worst emitters of fine particle pollution (a.k.a. PM 2.5), a microscopic mixture of liquid and solid droplets suspended in the air that can penetrate deep into our lungs. Fine particle pollution takes a serious toll on our health—particularly on some of the most vulnerable individuals in our society such as children, the elderly, and low-income and communities of color who live downwind of a disproportionate number of these and other industrial facilities.

In a report released in Sep. 2010, the Clean Air Task Force presented data that project fine particle pollution from coal-fired power plants would cause 13,200 deaths, 20,400 heart attacks, 217,600 asthma attacks, and more than 1.5 million days when people have to miss work in 2010. In all, these negative impacts to our health cost us more than $100 billion.

States such as Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan and Virginia bear the brunt of these public health impacts and their citizens' health stands to benefit significantly when the EPA issues its proposed limits on power plant pollution in March.

But those aren’t the only benefits.

As a report released today makes clear, cleaning up dirty power plants will improve our nation’s economic health, too. Ceres, a coalition of investors and public interest organizations, and the Political Economy Research Institute (PERI)—an economic policy research group based at UMass-Amherst—found that the EPA’s health protections against power plant pollution will have a positive impact on jobs.You can dig into the report's findings here.

Polluters and their congressional allies are claiming the opposite, but that’s nothing new—their vilification of life- and cost-saving public health protections is an old, broken record response designed to make us fear the economic catastrophe they claim is lurking right around the corner. It isn’t. Clean air is undeniably good for our society, and we all have a right to breathe it.