Common Tragedies

Thoughts on Environmental Economics

Comment of the day

Posted by Rich Sweeney on January 24, 2008

In response to my previous posts on the health effects of coal, DK wrote following:

I’m just commenting on yout last note. You shouldn’t be so dismissive of the health effects from eliminating coal. Asthma is only one small health effect of PM, SOx, and NOx. The National Association of Clean Air Agencies note that Electrical Generating Units (EGU’s) emit 2/3s of the nation’s SO2 and a quarter of the nation’s NOx. Over 70 percent of them are more than 25-50 years old and 50 times worse than modern coal-fired technology. For example, EPA estimated that its top 12 FY 2007 civil air enforcement cases will result in $3.8 billion in health benefits annually from the consent decrees requiring plants to install new technology. Of those top 12 air cases, half of them (78 percent by emissions) were New Source Review cases against coal fired power plants. That’s 500 fewer premature deaths, 1000 emergency room visits, 1500 cases of bronchitis, 1000 non-fatal heart attacks, 8000 cases of aggravated asthma, and 50,000 days of missed school avoided each year from 2007 cases alone. That 250,000 tons (507 million pounds) of pollution reduced, is < 1.5% of the 17.5 million tons of EGU emissions in 2001. Those estimates are based on lots of research on the health effects of PM, and are probably on the low side. Other mortality estimates would yield nearly twice those results. As a national average, each ton of PM reduced is up to $300,000 in health benefits and each ton of SOx is up to $45,000. When you’re talking about 17.5 million tons of emissions from EGUs, that’s a lot of health benefits to consider. Let alone the effects of CO2 (EGUs account for 40 percent of US emissions), mercury (EGUs account for approximately 33 percent of US emissions), and other air toxics (at least 67 different pollutants). Sometimes it pays to look beyond the world of CO2 and climate change. However, as you noted before, the Clean Air Interstate Rule, Clean Air Act New Source Review, and mercury regulations are in place to address some of the emissions.

Where to begin? In addition to making a point (always a plus), DK backed his statements up with a string of great facts/ sources.

Just to clarify, I’m by no means pro-coal. Nor do I disagree that there are negative health effects from burning coal. However the point I was trying to make in the comments on the original post was that we need to at least attempt to quantify the positives and negatives involved if we are to make a rational policy decision. Fortunately DK has made it a lot easier to do this.

*** For the record (although my co-bloggers definitely won’t give me a break on this point), apparently I didn’t make it clear that the last two points in the post DK commented on were FROM THE INBOX. Evan already yelled at me for being so anti-Obama (who does, btw, really love coal). Anyways, next time I’m forcing my friends to post their own comments instead of blogging vicariously through me🙂

One Response to “Comment of the day”

  1. Dano said

    Can’t sleep tonite so won’t go looking for source & likely forget this comment tomorrow, but since the inception of the CAA the cost of the regulatory burden on polluters has been made up for ~ 7 fold in avoided public health costs.

    Clear enough BCA.



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