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December 11, 2013

The Silent Epidemic

Posted by: Dave Ryman

Dr. Alan Lockwood, author of The Silent Epidemic, weighs in on the oral arguments that the Supreme Court heard yesterday about the EPA's Cross-State Air Pollution Rule:

On December 10, the US Supreme Court heard a challenge to the EPA’s Cross-State Air Pollution Rule. This rule, promulgated under the authority of the Clean Air Act, would require reductions in air pollutant discharges by coal-fired power plants in 28 states so that National Ambient Air Quality Standards would be met in downwind states. Ozone and small particles, those less than 2.5 millionths of a meter in diameter, are targeted. The day before oral arguments the governors of 8 downwind states petitioned the EPA for additional relief from these pollutants.

As I describe in my book The Silent Epidemic: Coal and the Hidden Threat to Health, pollutants produced by burning coal have been linked to all four of the leading causes of death in the US: heart disease, cancer, lung diseases, and stroke. In its analysis of the rule’s impact on health, the EPA estimated that between 13,000 and 34,000 premature deaths would be avoided each year along with 15,000 non-fatal heart attacks, 19,000 attacks of acute bronchitis, and the aggravation of asthma in 400,000 individuals - and there is more. The estimated cost savings due to reduced health-care costs range between $120-$280 billion per year. Additional costs to industry were projected to be about $800 million. If upheld by the Court, this will be a win-win-win rule. Better health is a win for everyone. Reduced healthcare costs, a segment of the economy that is growing too rapidly, is the second win. Since a great deal of the cost savings come to state and federal governments that pay for healthcare via Medicare and Medicaid funds, pressure on the debt would be reduced.

If those who are challenging the rule have their way, we will loose a valuable opportunity to improve the lives of millions of Americans. Why the challenge? That’s simple, it is the companies with deep pockets and state officials who see this as a battle in the false “war on coal” and whose other slogan is coal equals jobs (jobs in healthcare?). These are the mine owners who have mechanized mining, creating unemployment and poverty among ex-miners.

We need electricity for our economy to grow and for all Americans to prosper. Burning coal is not the best choice. Rather, we should switch to healthier, renewable sources. As outlined by colleagues from Stanford and Cornell, if New York were to convert to wind, water, and solar sources by 2030, virtually all of the State’s power needs could be met, saving about 4,000 lives per year with healthcare savings of about $33 billion. Fuel costs would fall to zero while adding more jobs than those that would be lost. They estimated the total cost recovery period to be around 17 years. This would be a win-win-win-win scenario.


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