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EPA Cross-State Air Pollution Rule Will Save Lives and Money

The Obama administration delivers some change we can believe in

Coal smoke and steam vapor pour out of a coal burning power plant in Conesville, Ohio.

Coal smoke and steam vapor pour out of a coal burning power plant in Conesville, Ohio.

Peter Essick/Aurora/Getty Images

Looking at the reckless brinksmanship of the current debt-ceiling debate, its easy to start hating on government.

But with a simple rule change this week, the Obama administration delivered a heaping helping of change you can believe in: Polluters will pay to clean up their act, and we’ll save hundreds of thousands of Americans from premature death – not to mention trillions of dollars.

The Environmental Protection Agency has slashed the amount of fine-particle and ozone-forming pollution electric plants in the Heartland are permitted to spew on the residents of downwind Eastern states. EPA is demanding a 73 percent reduction in sulphur dioxide (SO2) emissions by 2014. Emissions of nitrogen oxides (NOx) will be cut by more than half.

The benefits of this simple rule change boggle the mind.

Let’s start with the lives saved: Up to 34,000 every year – the equivalent of rescuing the entire student body of the Univeristy of Georgia from certain death. That’s not just good government, my friends; that’s heroic government. The reduction in toxic air polution will also prevent nearly 400,000 cases of aggravated asthma, 15,000 non-fatal heart attacks, and 1.8 million lost work and school days every year.

The financial benefits of not letting coal-fired power plants kill and cripple our fellow citizens rival some of the hoped-for savings bandied about in the current deficit debate: up to $2.8 trillion in benefits the first decade alone. As an added bonus, there will be less acid rain and greatly improved visibility in our national parks. 

Of course, every rule change has its cost. But the price tag for this one is a trifle. The investment required to improve the health and air quality for 240 million downwind Americans? Less than $1 billion a year for the utilities industry. That’s projected to lead to an increase to rate payers of about … one percent. 

(For more on the most progressive arm of the Obama administration, read my 2010 profile of EPA administrator Lisa Jackson here.)

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