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Diving Deeper

Health Benefits of the Obama Power Plant Regulations

Related Focus Area: Power Plants

Regulations to reduce harmful pollution from coal-fired power plants issued under the Obama Administration have saved tens of thousands of lives to date. And, these rules will continue to save lives, reduce lung and heart disease, and reduce exposure to air toxics as long as they are in place.

The “counter” below displays, in real-time, the lives that these rules have saved to date.

These safeguards include the Mercury Air Toxics Standards or “MATS” and the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule or “CSPAR”.

MATS, which is already fully implemented at the nation’s coal- and oil-fired electric utilities, achieves important reductions in mercury and the 80-plus other air toxics – extremely bad actors including toxic metals and acid gases — emitted by power plants in this country. These pollution reductions are producing significant public health and environmental benefits. EPA’s own work shows that these benefits include 11,000 fewer premature deaths annually, 4700 fewer heart attacks, and 130,000 fewer asthma attacks, among other respiratory health improvements. Additionally, mercury is a potent neurotoxin, affecting infant and child brain development. The nation’s children are among those most benefited by the rules, along with other vulnerable members of our society.

MATS implementation results in about 90% control of mercury emissions, 88% control of acid gas emissions and the particulates they form, and 40% control of other air toxic metal emissions associated with particulates emitted directly by coal-fired power plants. They also assure, as a secondary benefit, continued lower CO2 emissions, as older coal units have shuttered rather than invest in air toxics controls.

The Trump Administration is on the warpath against the MATS rule, even in the face of requests by the electric industry to keep it in place. The Trump EPA has proposed rescinding the Obama EPA’s finding that it is “appropriate and necessary” to regulate mercury and other air toxics from coal plants, leaving the rule vulnerable to court challenge by the coal industry and is taking comment on whether the entire rule must be repealed.

CSAPR applies the Clean Air Act’s “Good Neighbor” provision to compliance with the ambient air quality standards for ozone smog and fine particulate matter. The rule ensures that downwind states can attain or maintain compliance with health-based air pollution standards by requiring reductions in pollution from power plants in upwind states. The rule requires pollution reductions in 27 states in the eastern half of the US. Power plants in these states must reduce emissions of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides that cross state border. The Obama EPA estimated that annually CSAPR will prevent 13,000 premature deaths, 15,000 heart attacks, and 400,000 asthma attacks.

However, the Trump EPA has issued guidance that would allow states to adopt a looser threshold for triggering reductions from upwind polluters that would allow power plants to emit 43 percent more pollution across state borders than before.