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Affordable energy is essential for jobs, justice – and better health

By Niger Innis
web posted September 12, 2011

The Environmental Protection Agency insists that its recent air quality initiatives will protect minority and poor Americans from pollution that "disproportionately affects" their health and impairs "environmental justice." The Affordable Power Alliance is not convinced.

We believe EPA needs to reexamine its entire air pollution regulatory program and carefully consider all aspects of health, welfare and justice, especially those it has failed to address thus far.

As a coalition of minority, civil rights, religious, elderly and small business groups, the APA strongly supports public health, pollution control and justice. However, we are deeply concerned that EPA's proposed rules actually undermine those objectives, by impairing access to affordable, reliable energy – and thus people's health and welfare.

EPA's health claims about mercury, soot, ozone, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide and other pollutants are speculative and based on selective literature searches, according to an extensive analysis by natural scientist Dr. Willie Soon (posted at www.AffordablePowerAlliance.org). The agency failed to consider studies that contradict its claims that poor and minority communities face serious, immediate health risks from power plant emissions, say Soon and scientists cited in his report. 

These emissions have been declining for decades and are not related to asthma rates – which have been rising for reasons unrelated to outdoor air pollution, say air pollution consultant Joel Schwartz and other experts. Indeed, it defies logic to suppose that power plant emissions are causing increased asthma, if asthma rates are rising while pollution is declining. Rapid power plant emission reductions of the magnitude contemplated by EPA would thus not seem necessary.

Worse, EPA's pollution rules will impair access to affordable electricity. They will force the closure of multiple power plants, send electricity prices soaring 12-60 percent, and severely impact business and family budgets, according to studies by Management Information Services (MIS), utility associations and other experts.

Especially in the 26 states that rely on coal for 48-98% of their electricity, EPA's actions will raise family electricity costs by hundreds of dollars a year. They will increase factory, hospital, office, hotel, school, church, charity and other business electricity costs by thousands to millions of dollars annually.

Because every $30,000 in increased energy costs could mean the elimination of another entry-level job, EPA's rules will cause further job losses. MIS predicts that 3.5 million jobs and up to $82 billion in annual economic production will be lost in just six Midwestern manufacturing states.

Chicago public schools alone will face an extra $2.7 million a year for electricity costs by 2014, notes the Chicago Tribune.  These increases will mean reductions in school employment, salaries, and academic, sports and music programs.

Unemployment is already 9.1% nationally and over 17% in black communities. EPA's plans will worsen these rates, significantly increase household energy costs, and make poor, minority and elderly families even less able to afford gasoline, food, clothing, healthcare and other basic needs.

Many families will suffer increased stress, drug and alcohol abuse, domestic violence and crime rates. Unable to afford proper heating and air conditioning, disproportionate numbers of people in low income communities will face hypothermia during frigid winter months and heat prostration during summer heat waves. People will die, as cash-strapped states run out of money for heating and AC assistance, even more rapidly than they did last year.

Retrofitting older power plants is often too costly to justify and, in today's regulatory and litigious environment, replacing them will be extremely difficult, especially under EPA's short timeframe for further cleaning up … or simply closing down … the older plants.

Analysts project that EPA's rules could cost Illinois 3,500 megawatts of electricity generation by 2014 – enough to power 3,500,000 homes and small businesses. The United States could lose 17,000 to 81,000 megawatts of capacity by 2017, industry and independent experts forecast. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission estimates up to 81,000 megawatts of capacity could be lost by 2018.

That means further impaired electricity availability and reliability during peak use periods. It will likely result in brownouts and blackouts, further harming businesses, schools, families, jobs and health.

EPA says the benefits of its new rules "far exceed" their costs. However, the agency's analyses and definitions of "human health," "public welfare" and "environmental justice" fail to consider the vital factors presented here. The fact is, the adverse effects of unemployment, sharply higher energy costs and generally lower socio-economic conditions far outweigh asserted benefits of improved air quality.

"Even when properly done, science can only provide the analytical and factual basis for public policy decisions," says Dr. Roger McClellan, former chair of EPA's Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee. "It cannot and should not dictate a particular policy choice in setting and implementing standards."

Those decisions must consider the full spectrum of energy, employment, economic, health, welfare and justice issues presented here and by other analysts. So far, EPA has failed to do this and has relied on biased analyses in setting its unscientific pollution standards.

McClellan also agrees with Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer, whose commonsense, comparative health approach recognizes the detrimental impacts that unemployment and reduced living standards have on people's health and welfare. "Those impacts far outweigh benefits from further improvements in already good air quality," especially as calculated using EPA's computer models and linear extrapolations from limited health and air quality data, McClellan explains.

EPA says it cannot consider the economic effects of its regulations. However, if the regulations also affect human health and welfare, EPA needs to consider those impacts fully and carefully.

EPA's mission is to protect Americans from real health risks – not from speculative dangers based on cherry-picked data and extrapolations, McClellan, Schwartz, Soon and other experts emphasize. The agency must refrain from implementing rules that adversely affect vital components of "public health and welfare," like those discussed here, until all these factors are examined fully and carefully.

Abundant, reliable, affordable energy is the foundation for everything we eat, make, ship and do – and for jobs, human health, environmental quality, civil rights progress and environmental justice.

America needs a full national and congressional debate on EPA's rules, before they cause serious damage that many experts fear is inevitable if the regulations are implemented. ESR

Niger Innis is co-chair of the Affordable Power Alliance (www.AffordablePowerAlliance.org), a coalition of organizations that represent African, Hispanic, Asian, Native Americans, as well as the elderly, poor and small businesses. The Alliance and its members believe reliable, affordable energy is the foundation of environmental justice and human health and welfare.

 

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