NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Should Older Power Plants Follow New Emissions Regulations?

June 7, 2001

The Clean Air Act of 1970 did not require previously licensed power plants to meet the more stringent emissions requirements imposed on new plants. However, some pending legislation in Congress would require pre-1980 plants, which produce half of all electricity generation in the U.S., to finally satisfy the lower emissions ratings.

To evaluate whether the proposed regulations would provide sufficient human health benefits to justify such action, the Harvard Center for Risk Analysis conducted a study commissioned by the Clean Air Task Force and the Pew Charitable Trusts. The HCRA focused exclusively on fine particulate matter (PM2.5), or soot, produced by nine plants in the Chicago area.

  • Using current levels of emissions, the HCRA estimated that the pollution resulted in approximately 400 deaths per year among a population of 33 million.
  • The best available control technology, because it is not 100 percent effective, could likely reduce emissions by approximately three-quarters, saving, by HCRA's best estimates, 300 lives a year.
  • The HCRA also estimated that the reductions would result in 2,000 fewer emergency room visits for cardiovascular and respiratory distress, 10,000 fewer asthma attacks and 400,000 fewer incidents of daily upper respiratory symptoms.

The HCRA concluded that a more detailed study of the benefits and costs of controls would be justified.

Source: Jonathan Levy and Jack Spengler, "Health Benefits of Emissions Reductions From Older Power Plants," Risk in Perspective, April 2001, Harvard Center for Risk Analysis, 718 Huntington Avenue, Boston, Mass. 0211, (617) 432-4497.


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