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Pete Altman’s Blog

The Price of Pollution Politics

Pete Altman

Posted June 19, 2012 in Curbing Pollution, Health and the Environment

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A handful of companies are spending millions to finance an assault on clean air—lobbying and litigating to block, weaken and delay clean air standards that would save lives and protect Americans’ health from the power sector’s dangerous and deadly air pollution.

The latest salvo, in the form of Senator James Inhofe’s proposal to repeal the Mercury and Air Toxics Standard, will be debated in the US Senate later this afternoon and voted on tomorrow morning.

The health and welfare of millions of Americans, including children, hang in the balance. The US Environmental Protection Agency estimates the standard will save as many as 11,000 lives and prevent as many as 130,000 asthma attacks - each year the standard is in force.

And that’s why NRDC is releasing a new report today – the Price of Pollution Politics – that links the lobbying expenditures and litigation efforts of what we call the “Gang of Eight” utilities to their pollution and its associated health impacts. The Gang of Eight and details from the report are:

  • AEP, headquarters in Columbus, OH: 2010-2012 lobbying total: $22 million; 2011 pollution from coal-fired power plants is contributing to as many as 3,260 deaths, 20,100 asthma attacks, 2,000 hospital and emergency room visits and 1 million lost work and reduced activity days; estimated total health costs: as high as $24  billion.
  • Ameren, headquarters in Collinsville, IL: 2010-2012 lobbying total: $7.5 million;  2011 pollution from coal-fired power plants is contributing to as many as 920 deaths, 6,000 asthma attacks, 640 hospital and emergency room visits and 311,000 lost work and activity days; and estimated total health costs: as high as $6.9 billion. 
  • DTE Energy, headquarters in Detroit: 2010-2012 lobbying total: $3.6 million; 2011 pollution from coal-fired power plants is contributing to as many as 920 deaths,  5,700 asthma attacks, 570 hospital and emergency room visits and 300,000 lost work and reduced activity days; estimated total health costs: as high as $6.9 billion.
  • Energy Future Holdings, headquarters in Dallas: 2010-2012 lobbying total: $7 million; 2011 pollution from coal-fired power plants is contributing to as many as 540 deaths, 3,700 asthma attacks, 380 hospital and emergency room visits and 188,000 lost work and reduced activity days; estimated total health costs: as high as $4 billion.
  • FirstEnergy, headquarters in Akron, OH: 2010-2012 lobbying total: $5.7 million; pollution from coal-fired power plants contributed to as many as 1,360 deaths, 8,100 asthma attacks, 800 hospital and emergency room visits and 435,000 lost work and reduced activity days; estimated total health costs: as high as $10.2 billion.
  • GenOn, headquarters in Houston: 2010-2012 lobbying total: $1 million; pollution from coal-fired power plants contributed to as many as 900 deaths, 5,500 asthma attacks, 530 hospital and emergency room visits and 294,000 lost work and reduced activity days; estimated total health costs: as high as $6.7 billion.
  • PPL, headquarters in Allentown, PA: 2010-2012 lobbying total: $1.9 million; pollution from coal-fired power plants contributed to as many as 970 deaths, 6,100 asthma attacks, 600 hospital and emergency room visits and 322,000 lost work and reduced activity days; estimated total health costs: as high as $7.3 billion.
  • Southern Company, headquarters in Atlanta, GA: 2010-2012 lobbying total: $18 million; pollution from coal-fired power plants contributed to as many as 1,490 deaths, 9,800 asthma attacks, 1,000 hospital and emergency room visits and 508,000 lost work and reduced activity days; estimated total health costs: as high as $11.2 billion.

Why are we pointing the finger directly at these companies? Because we believe that protecting public health with reasonable, science-based standards is the right thing to do. We believe that the scientists and experts at the EPA should set clean air standards to clean up pollution and protect our health from its consequences. They should not be prevented from doing so by the lobbyists and litigators at these companies.

The Gang of Eight spent $67 million lobbying Congress between 2010 and the first quarter of 2012, with EPA clean air standards prominent among the topics listed in their lobby reports. We have no way of knowing the cost of all the lawsuits to block the EPA.

But we do know that the price of pollution politics is steep: the 2011 pollution from the Gang of Eight is estimated to be responsible for as many as 10,400 deaths, 65,000 asthma attacks and incidents, 6,600 hospital and emergency room visits, and 3.4 million lost work-days.  All told, the combined economic toll for that pollution – one year’s worth - reaches as high as $78 billion.

The ‘Gang of Eight’ utilities are putting their profits over protecting kids and communities from deadly and dangerous air pollution. Without these health protections from the Clean Air Act, we will see more premature deaths, asthma attacks and other illnesses every year and the billions of dollars in estimated health costs that go with them.  We want to see these companies focus their money on cleaning up pollution rather than using litigation and lobbying to block, weaken and delay important life-saving health protections.

For more information on each company’s pollution and the associated health impacts, as well as each company’s lobbying, litigation and other activities tied to efforts to block, weaken or delay stronger clean air standards, check out the report.

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Switchboard is the staff blog of the Natural Resources Defense Council, the nation’s most effective environmental group. For more about our work, including in-depth policy documents, action alerts and ways you can contribute, visit NRDC.org.

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