As the saying goes: When one door closes, another opens. That is certainly true of the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed carbon pollution rule, which will finally shut the door on new coal plants polluting for free and open the door to more clean energy.
Power plants that burn coal for electricity are not held accountable for the “hidden” health and environmental impacts they impose on society. Recent research published in the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences estimates that these hidden impacts from coal-fired electricity, or “externalities”—such as land-use disturbance from mountaintop removal coal mining in Appalachia, the release of methane and mercury contaminants into our air and water, and the buildup of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere—cost the United States between $175 billion and $523 billion per year. Likewise, a National Research Council study placed the health costs from coal-electricity generation, including a rise in respiratory illnesses, at $62 billion annually.
These costs represent a textbook economic failure that will no longer be true for new power plants once the rule goes into effect. The rule will place the first-ever limit on carbon pollution for new coal-fired power plants, reducing their carbon output by 40 percent to 60 percent.
Further, with the appropriate set of policies in place, this rule can help drive investment in clean energy by leveling the playing field with artificially cheap coal, spurring economic growth and job creation in a new clean energy economy that grew at twice the rate of the overall economy during the peak of the Great Recession of 2007–2009, according to analysis by the Brookings Institution.
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