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EPA’s Updated Sulfur Dioxide Standards Will Cost Coal Plants and Save Lives

coal plant

Asthmatics, rejoice: You’ll soon be able to breathe easy. The Environmental Protection Agency updated its sulfur dioxide emissions standards this week for the first time in almost 40 years–a move that could prevent 54,000 asthma attacks and between 2,300 to 5,900 premature deaths annually. The standards will also cost coal power plants dearly, with the cost for implementation of the SO2 rules expected to balloon to $1.5 billion over the next decade. SO2 is a major component of coal power plant exhaust.

The new rules, based on a one-hour measuring period, will set the one-hour SO2 health standard at 75 parts per billion. Previously, the rules were based on a 24-hour measuring period, but the EPA now believes that it makes more sense to measure the short-term impact of SO2, which is linked to respiratory problems like bronchitis, emphysema, and asthma. The agency expects between $13 billion and $33 billion in health benefits from the new rules each year.

This isn’t the first move from the EPA in recent weeks that threatens coal power plants. This past May, the EPA announced that it is working on a pollution rule requiring existing industrial plants that emit over 75,000 tons of greenhouse gases a year and new plants that emit 100,000 tons of gases per year to secure permits beginning in 2011. Many groups, including the Union of Concerned Scientists, are pushing for a larger clean energy bill. None of this means that greenhouse gas-spewing coal plants will cease to exist anytime soon, but the EPA’s recent moves will hopefully ensure the economic viability of renewable energy in the face of nonrenewable dirty sources.

Ariel Schwartz can be reached on Twitter or by email.

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