Toxic air pollutants from coal- and oil-fired power plants cause serious health impacts. Mercury can harm children’s developing brains, including effects on memory, attention, language, and fine motor and visual spatial skills. Other toxic metals such as arsenic, chromium and nickel can cause cancer. Mercury and many of the other toxic pollutants also damage the environment and pollute our nation’s lakes, streams, and fish (EPA).
Thanks to the 1990 Clean Air Act, the EPA has reduced mercury emissions from the biggest culprits, except power plants. According to the U.S. Government Accountability Office (as cited in the Wall Street Journal), coal-fired power plants emit 48 tons of mercury each year – the largest source nationwide. While some utility companies are concerned they won’t be able to meet the 3-year deadline, the EPA contends that the technology needed to meet the new air standards is “well-developed, widely available, and already being used by some power plants.”
The average annual cost estimate in 2016 of the new regulations is not cheap at around $11 billion. However, this pales in comparison to the roughly $100 billion that is estimated to be gained in health and economic benefits during the same time period. Obviously these numbers were not pulled out of the air, but it’s difficult to blindly accept them as facts. Critics may also have a hard time believing that the occurrences of premature deaths, heart attacks, and sick days are caused solely by mercury exposure.
Nevertheless, the EPA data suggests that an average of $10 will be saved for every $1 spent to reduce air pollution. As quoted in a Second Green Revolution article the other day, “Was cheap energy ever really cheap?”