Business Breakdown: New Pollution Rules to Close Coal Plants

Rolling blackouts, asthma attacks and cost-benefit analysis, oh my!

This week, the Environmental Protection Agency released a new set of rules limiting the amount of mercury, arsenic, and other poisons that power plants can pump into the air. Originally mandated under the bipartisan Clean Air Act in 1990, the rules have been delayed by fossil fuel industry challenges in court and Congress. Tougher limits will force coal- and oil-burning power companies to spend billions on scrubbers and other clean emissions technology over the next several years—and where that’s not economical, will close down between 30 and 60 of the most polluting plants in the country—average operating age, 51 years.

Why is there so much controversy over these rules? Fossil-fuel-burning companies don’t want to have to spend money out of their bottom line to cover the external costs of emitting toxic chemicals. Environmentalists and health advocates are up in arms about the illness caused by these chemicals, which have a significant negative impact on public health. The EPA says the rules will prevent 11,000 premature deaths a year, 5,700 hospital and emergency room visits, and 540,000 days of missed work or school, for a final cost-benefit analysis of $9 in health benefits for ever $1 spent complying with the rules.

Will this make electricity scarce or expensive? Industry sources have argued that the rules will cause rolling blackouts and chaos in the grids by diminishing our power generation capacity, but independent assessments find that unlikely—an Associated Press survey of power plants found that few expected to compromise service to their customers. Power companies can ramp up production at cleaner plants, or work with regulators to make sure the transition is as smooth as possible when the rule goes into affect two years from now.

Will this help clean energy companies? In general, anything that raises the cost of producing fossil fuel power helps clean energy companies gain market parity. These rules will give power producers added incentive to add clean energy plants to their portfolios, both to make up shortfalls from closed plants and to prepare for future restrictions on emissions. The measure will also help companies that manufacture emissions scrubbing technology, giving them plenty of new business. The biggest benefit here, though, is to public health.

Will this hurt jobs? Closing power plants means ending jobs, perhaps tens of thousands, which is not something anyone wants to hear during a time of high unemployment. Proponents of the rules argue that retrofitting efforts and the need to build new, cleaner plants will create construction jobs. The University of Massachusetts at Amherst estimates that the new rule will create nearly 300,000 jobs a year over the next five years; the Economic Policy Institute estimates a more conservative net increase in jobs, between 28,000 and 158,000 in the next five years.

These long-overdue rules will make the air we breathe cleaner. They’re also going to force transformation in the coal power sector, much to the consternation of executives and stakeholders. But even if it’s costly, it’s the first step on a necessary path towards a clean energy economy. That’s the breakdown.

Photo via (cc) Flickr user eutrophication&hypoxia

Climate Action Tracker

In 2016, 196 countries signed the Paris Agreement, pledging to combat climate change by taking action to curb the increase in global temperatures. The Paris Agreement requires countries to report on their emissions and what steps they're taking to implement those plans. Now that the countries are coming together again for the U.N. Climate Action Summit in New York City, it's worth taking a look at what kind of progress they've made.

The Climate Action Trackerkeeps tabs on what each country is doing to limit warming, and if they're meeting their self-set goals. Countries are graded based on whether or not their actions would help limit warming to 1.5 degrees C.

According to a recent article from National Geographic, The Gambia, Morocco, and India are at the head of the class. "Even though carbon emissions in The Gambia, Morocco, and India are expected to rise, they'll fall short of exceeding the 1.5-degree Celsius limit," the article reads. Saudi Arabia, Russia and the United States, on the other hand, get a big fat F. "Projected emissions in Saudi Arabia, Russia, and the United States are far greater than what it would take to limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius."

Keep Reading Show less
The Planet

September 20th marks the beginning of a pivotal push for the future of our planet. The Global Climate Strike will set the stage for the United Nations Climate Action Summit, where more than 60 nations are expected to build upon their commitment to 2015's Paris Agreement for combating climate change.

Millions of people are expected to take part in an estimated 4,000 events across 130 countries.

Keep Reading Show less
The Planet
Ottawa Humane Society / Flickr

The Trump Administration won't be remembered for being kind to animals.

In 2018, it launched a new effort to reinstate cruel hunting practices in Alaska that had been outlawed under Obama. Hunters will be able to shoot hibernating bear cubs, murder wolf and coyote cubs while in their dens, and use dogs to hunt black bears.

Efforts to end animal cruelty by the USDA have been curtailed as well. In 2016, under the Obama Administration, the USDA issued 4,944 animal welfare citations, in two years the numbers dropped to just 1,716.

Keep Reading Show less
via I love butter / Flickr

We often dismiss our dreams as nonsensical dispatches from the mind while we're deep asleep. But recent research proves that our dreams can definitely affect our waking lives.

People often dream about their significant others and studies show it actually affects how we behave towads them the next day.

"A lot of people don't pay attention to their dreams and are unaware of the impact they have on their state of mind," said Dylan Selterman, psychology lecturer at the University of Maryland, says according to The Huffington Post. "Now we have evidence that there is this association."

Keep Reading Show less
via Real Time with Bill Maher / YouTube and The Late Late Show with James Corden / YouTube

A controversial editorial on America's obesity epidemic and healthcare by comedian Bill Maher on his HBO show "Real Time" inspired a thoughtful, and funny, response by James Cordon. It also made for a great debate about healthcare that Americans are avoiding.

At the end of the September 6th episode of "Real Time, " Maher turned to the camera for his usual editorial and discussed how obesity is a huge part of the healthcare debate that no one is having.

"At Next Thursday's debate, one of the candidates has to say, 'The problem with our healthcare system is Americans eat shit and too much of it.' All the candidates will mention their health plans but no one will bring up the key factor: the citizens don't lift a finger to help," Maher said sternly.

Keep Reading Show less