Stronger Clean Air Standards for Smokestacks Will Save Lives

Strengthening federal clean air standards for smokestacks will save American lives and prevent costly hospitalizations for asthma and other respiratory ailments, according to Environmental Defense Fund (EDF).

An EDF expert delivered that testimony on August 26th at a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) public hearing on proposed clean air standards for fossil fuel-fired power plants across the eastern United States. The proposed standards would limit the amount of sulfur dioxide (SO2) and oxides of nitrogen (NOx) pollution that could be discharged from smokestacks at those plants.

“Smokestack pollution is lethal,” said EDF Policy Analyst Mandy Warner, who testified at today’s hearing in Philadelphia. “Cleaning up the pollution discharged from power plant smokestacks is one of the single most practical and cost-effective steps we can take to save lives.”

EPA’s proposed new Transport Rule would improve air quality across the eastern U.S. by reducing power plant emissions in 31 states and the District of Columbia. The transport rule would replace current EPA standards, which a U.S. Court of Appeals ruling found to have serious deficiencies. The hearing was the second of three that will be held across the eastern U.S. to get public input about the proposed new Transport Rule.

SO2 and NOx emissions from eastern power plants are associated with a long list of health and social hazards, including:

  • Up to 60,000 deaths each year
  • 18 million cases of acute respiratory symptoms each year, many of which require emergency room visits or hospitalization
  • 3.1 million lost work days for Americans each year

“About 134,000 people in Philadelphia alone suffer from asthma, including 34,000 children,” said Warner. “That’s just a small subsection of the people across the eastern U.S. who will have fewer health problems if we have stricter pollution limits. Americans spend $10 billion a year on hospitalizations for asthma alone, so reducing pollution will be good for our economy as well as for public health and safety.”

The total estimated cost of the health harms associated with current pollution levels from eastern power plants is more than $200 billion annually; some estimates put it as high as $500 billion annually. EPA analysis shows the benefits of reducing SO2 and NOx emissions outweigh the costs of providing those reductions by at least 40 to 1, and potentially by more than 100 to 1.

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