The closing of six obsolete coal fired power plants could save 174 lives and reduce environmental pollution.
Soon the lights will go out for six coal fired power plants operated by FirstEnergy, thanks to the new Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS) introduced by the EPA in December of 2011. The closing of these plants will affect more than 500 workers in Pennsylvania, Ohio and Maryland and shrink tax revenues for the surrounding towns. The local residents had mixed feelings about the closings, according to interviews conducted by the Associate Press. Residents welcomed the positive environmental benefits, though they also relayed the fear of potential blackouts.
The implementation of the MATS regulations were heralded as a historic achievement over 20 years in the making. The EPA’s MATS were the first ever national standards aimed at protecting U.S. families from toxic chemicals such as mercury, arsenic, and cyanide among other byproducts of coal fired power plants. By improving air quality, the MATS regulations aim to curtail 11,000 premature deaths and will prevent nearly 130,000 cases of asthma while reducing acute bronchitis among American children. Pollution control methods have been available for quite some time, in fact over half of U.S. power plants already use them, meaning old and outdated coal fired power plants should shape up or shutdown. The closing announced by FirstEnergy proves the new standards are working as designed.
In a statement, James Lash, President of FirstEnergy’s generation unit, indicated that it would not have been cost effective to bring these six older coal fired power plants into compliance with the MATS regulations. These six plants may be the tip of the iceberg, an AP survey exposed that 32 plants in 12 states will be forced to close and another 36 are at risk. There are a couple of factors that allowed the plants to close without cutting power to the surrounding towns. First is that a weakened economy has reduced demand on the power grid, second is that energy efficiency programs have lowered consumptions in local homes. As one resident explained in an AP interview, she is looking forward to not having to clean black coal soot from her windows again.
The Clean Air Task Force, a nonprofit group, provided an estimate on the environmental impact of these six power plants closing. Their data indicates that it will prevent 174 deaths, 282 heart attacks, 2,677 asthma attacks and 136 asthma related ER visits. We are hopeful that the writing is on the wall for the coal industry, coal prices are increasing while renewable energy is becoming cheaper and easier to obtain.