Power Plants Closing, Jobs Disappearing in Response to New EPA Regulations

Published June 16, 2011

American Electric Power has announced new EPA regulations will force it to close five coal-fired power plants, pay for expensive retrofits for at least a dozen more, eliminate 600 jobs, and substantially increase the price it charges for electricity.

AEP’s announcement came on the heels of a National Economic Research Associates Inc. report finding EPA’s new regulations will cause an 11.5 percent increase in U.S. electricity prices above baseline projections and will kill 144,000 jobs by the year 2020. AEP relied entirely on government data for most of its assumptions.

Coal Plants Closing Prematurely
“The cost of AEP’s compliance plan could range from $6 billion to $8 billion in capital investment through the end of the decade. High demand for labor and materials due to a constrained compliance time frame could drive actual costs higher than these estimates,” AEP reported in a June 9 press statement.

“[B]ecause of the unrealistic compliance timelines in the EPA proposals, we will have to prematurely shut down nearly 25 percent of our current coal-fueled generating capacity, cut hundreds of good power plant jobs, and invest billions of dollars in capital to retire, retrofit and replace coal-fueled power plants,” Michael G. Morris, AEP chairman and chief executive officer, said in the press statement.

Other utilities, including the Tennessee Valley Authority, Dominion Resources, and TransAlta, have announced that they, too, will have to shut down coal-fired power plants, retrofit others, and lay off employees as a result of the new EPA regulations.

Obama Campaign Pledge Fulfilled
The new regulations fulfill President Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign pledge to shut down coal-fired power plants and force electricity prices to “skyrocket.”

“I’m capping greenhouse gases, coal power plants, natural gas, you name it—whatever the plants were, whatever the industry was, they would have to retrofit their operations. That will cost money. They will pass that money on to consumers under my plan of a cap-and-trade system. Electricity rates would necessarily skyrocket,” Obama told the San Francisco Chronicle on the 2008 campaign trail.

Health Claims Disputed
EPA claims that by reducing pollutants such as mercury, ozone, and soot, the new regulations will prevent between 20,000 and 53,000 premature deaths each year.

Environment and health experts disagree.

On June 15, Cambridge, Massachusetts scientist Dr. Willie Soon submitted comments to EPA documenting the concerns felt by many environmental scientists.

“The Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) newly proposed National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants (NESHAP) failed to describe the scientific reality of natural processes and multi-factorial controls that govern the cycling of mercury (Hg) and the ultimate biomethylation and bioaccumulation processes for methylmercury (MeHg),” wrote Soon.

“The bottom line remains that trace amounts of mercury (Hg) or the biochemically active form of methylmercury (MeHg) in fish, either from lakes and streams or oceans, are essentially a natural manifestation that has no clearly controllable relationship vis a vis any anthropogenic emissions of mercury. More importantly, consuming reasonable amounts of fish, at reasonable frequency, is safe and should be a critical part of a healthy dietary plan for every American,” Soon explained.
Says No Risks Found
Emergency room physician John Dale Dunn, a medical advisor for the American Council on Science and Health, confirmed Soon’s conclusions, “There is no human health research that shows ambient mercury, soot, or ozone levels cause illness, disability, or death,” Dunn said.

JunkScience.com author Steve Milloy, who holds a Master of Health Sciences in Biostatistics degree from the Johns Hopkins University School of Hygiene and Public Health, agrees, saying, “There are simply no public health or environmental benefits to be had by furthering tightening of air quality standards. As I explained in my report, ‘EPA’s Clean Air Act: Pretending air pollution is worse than it is,’ EPA’s most recent data indicate that its fine particulate matter standard was exceeded less than 0.1 percent of the time in 2009 and the ozone standard was exceeded 1.3 percent of the time—and these standards are set well below the levels at which any health effects occur.

James M. Taylor ([email protected]) is managing editor of Environment & Climate News.