Control Of Mercury Emissions From Coal-Fired Plants May Increase Midwest Electric Bills Seven Percent

P. Gordon/CC BY 2.0
Mercury rules

The Minneapolis Star Tribune has done a great job of reporting on the politics and cost-benefits of coal-fired electricity generation. Here's a take-home message from the paper's latest:

In the 12 states that are part of the Midwest electrical grid, 45 to 160 coal-fired generators are potential retirement candidates because of environmental regulations, according to estimates by the system operator. The grid operator declined to release breakdowns by state, but it projected that Midwest electricity rates could increase by 7 percent to comply with the rules.

The Environmental Protection Agency regulations referred to in the StarTrib story specify what level of emission controls must be accomplished by coal and oil burning boiler operators for reductions of toxic emissions, especially mercury.

EPA originally called its draft regulation (also called a "rule") the Clean Air Mercury Rule. However, back in March of 2011 a Federal court "vacated" the Clean Air Mercury Rule and the EPA therefore is now proposing a revised rule:

"Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS) for power plants to limit mercury, acid gases and other toxic pollution from power plants, keeping 91 percent of the mercury in coal from being released to the air."

Read a summary of EPA's rule making process here.

Below is the money quote, taken directly from the EPA's summary of the cost benefits analysis on the proposed final rule. It's in large font so you'll be sure to read it before you scroll to the count down section at the end of this post.

"Reducing toxic power plant emissions will also cut fine particle pollution and prevent thousands of premature deaths and tens of thousands of heart attacks, bronchitis cases and asthma attacks.

EPA estimates the value of the improvements to health alone total $59 billion to $140 billion in 2016. This means that for every dollar spent to reduce pollution from power plants, we get $5 to $13 in health benefits."

Smokestack politics
Republicans are pushing budget cuts for programs that help the poor pay heating bills. The buying club I belong to has hundreds of electrical space heaters on shelf, more than I'd ever seen before. Walmart too. Marketing departments must be reading the Federal Register for sale ideas.

Space heaters can potentially reduce energy consumption
People don't generally heat the entire house or apartment with a few space heaters. In the depth of winter they'll hole-up in a TV room or bedroom with blankets, recalling, perhaps, their arthritis-free youth or what life was like before there was a baby in the nursery and enough money to pay the bills. Hypothetically, at least, the net result of using a few space heaters and constraining daily life to a subset of the living space would be reduced energy consumption. So maybe, in a big picture unintended consequences way, Republican efforts to reduce heating assistance is good for the environment?

Countdown to more of the same
Waiting for Republican presidential candidates to claim EPA is breaking the back of the working class with this proposed rule...1... 2 ... 3 ....

Waiting for CNN to echo the claim, without describing any of the benefits cited above ...1... 2 ... 3 ....

Tags: Coal