Fighting pollution from coal
Part of the reason that coal-generated electricity has been so cheap for so long is that the government never has assessed a cost on the industry for the horrendous air pollution that it creates. It's why some parts of Northeastern Pennsylvania still look like a lunar landscape more than a half century after anthracite's demise, why it's dangerous to eat fish from many of the Northeast's lakes and rivers, and why preventable air pollution continues to take a heavy toll on public health.
Tuesday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia upheld a new Environmental Protection Agency rule that, finally, will attack the worst pollution generated by coal-fired plants.
The court ruled that the EPA's first rule on toxic emissions, including mercury, arsenic and acidic gases, is "substantively and procedurally valid."
According to the EPA, mercury and air toxics rule will prevent 11,000 premature deaths, 4,700 heart attacks and 130,000 asthma attacks every year. The industry says those estimates are high, but it's hard to imagine a convincing argument to justify emissions that cause say, 75 percent of those estimates.
The technology to comply with the rule already exists, and it already is in use on 70 percent of all coal-fired plants, according to the Energy Information Administration. So, the fight by the industry, with support from some state attorneys general, is to preserve the pollution "rights" of 30 percent of coal plants.
Objecting states and the industry should forgo appeals and comply with the rule.