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Here's Why Asthmatics Need Dirty Air

A remarkable thing happened during a Senate hearing today on the EPA's rule to limit toxic air pollution from coal-fired power plants. A critic of the agency's policy argued that reducing air pollution from coal-fired power plants—the nation's worst air polluters—is a bad idea because it will make it more expensive for asthmatics to run their air conditioners on hot days when poor air quality forces them inside.

Seriously? Seriously.

"Look, anybody who has a child with asthma, anybody who is caring for an elderly relative knows that during times of the year, the most important thing you can do is get them into a room that has good air conditioning," said Jeff Holmstead during his testimony. "If you make that air conditioning a lot more expensive, you're gonna have problems."

This twisted logic is akin to arguing that we should subsidize helmets for our kids to blunt the blows of school bullies—and did I mention that it just so happens that the helmet manufacturers are the parents of the bullies? Sure, those helmets might make an uncomfortable situation slightly more comfortable, but they do NOTHING to address the actual problem. We've been subsidizing coal to keep it cheap for a long time, giving it breaks left and right, and our health is suffering as a result.

Enough is enough.

The pollution limits that Mr. Holmstead is attacking would prevent 130,000 asthma attacks every year, in addition to stopping 11,000 premature deaths annually. That actually addresses the problem head on. But rather than reduce air pollution that is driving people indoors to begin with, Holmstead is arguing that we should ensure asthmatics' internal environment is cool and comfortable when they're forced indoors because of the dirty air. That's a duct tape and chewing gum rationale that protects dirty industries at the expense of public health.

And is it even accurate to say that air conditioning is going to get "a lot more expensive?" Later in his testimony, Holmstead wonders aloud whether the average American will be able to cope with a 10, 15 or 25 percent increase in their utility bills. Which just goes to show that he is as much a fan of thin air as he is of dirty air. The EPA has estimated that average electricity rates may increase by approximately 3 percent—and around 6 percent in regions with heavy coal use, far less than the estimates that Holmstead drops.

And consider that the benefits of reducing coal plant pollution could approach as much as $90 billion every year—tremendous overall savings for the people whose health is impacted negatively by coal plants. Moreover, these benefits don't even include the improvements to health that will result from reducing mercury, arsenic, lead, acid gases and other harmful pollutants that coal plants emit. Critics of the rule cite this as a flaw of the rule and accompanying analysis when what it actually indicates is that the American public will experience even larger benefits when coal plants finally clean up their acts.

It's worth recalling that when Holmstead was an EPA assistant administrator for air and radiation during the George W. Bush administration, he attempted to deregulate power plants and was blasted by a federal court for employing logic that resembled the Queen of Hearts from Alice in Wonderland.

Old habits die hard, I guess.

Tags:  Air, Coal, Mercury