Guess Who Benefits From Regulating Power Plants

The answer will surprise you.

What parts of the country benefit most from the series of new EPA rules addressing pollution from coal-fired power plants?  The answer is not what you think.

EPA does a thorough cost-benefit analysis of its regulations but the costs and benefits are aggregated at the national level. In a new paper, David Spence and David Adelman from the University of Texas break down these figures on a regional basis.  What they found may surprise you.  In fact, the areas benefitting the most are the very ones that rely most on coal.  The reason is simple.  Much of the benefit from reducing the use of coal comes in the form of health improvements — fewer heart attacks and deaths from respiratory disease, fewer asthma attacks.  These health improvements are mostly in the vicinity of the power plants.  So the same places that will have to pay the costs of reducing their coal use are the very ones who will reap many of the benefits. As is the case nationally, the benefits are much greater than the costs on a regional basis.

In addition to teasing out regional costs and benefits, Spence and Adelman also took a close look at issues of regional grid reliability and tried to figure out the politics of opposition to the EPA regulations.  Again, the answers are illuminating.  Here are some quick summaries:

Grid reliability.  On a national scale, there seems to be little threat to grid reliability.  There could be local problems but in most cases these localities can draw on regional grid resources to deal with the issue. One exception may be Texas, whose grid isn’t connected to the national system.  There were further revisions to the EPA rule too late to be considered in the paper, and they included greater safeguards against grid reliability problems.  So I suspect reliability is not going to be a big issue in the end.

Opposition to EPA.  Spence and Adelman analyzed comments on the EPA rules by state agencies and litigation against EPA by state attorney generals. They found some association with the state’s ideology (measured by the percentage of people identifying as “conservatives”), and with pure interest group politics (states where coal interests are strong).  Pure partisan politics seem to play a major role: Republican officials were far more likely than Democratic ones to oppose EPA. Encouragingly, they found evidence from public opinion polls that conservative attitudes on energy issues are softening.

It’s a pity that officials in the very states where the EPA rules will save the most lives have fought hardest against them.  Apparently politics, ideology, and industry support count for more than health of their own citizens.

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Reader Comments

3 Replies to “Guess Who Benefits From Regulating Power Plants”

  1. The suggestion that political parties differ on the environment is misleading. While in their rhetoric, Republicans are at some pains to appear more libertarian or neoconservative than the Democrats on most social issues like the environment, in practice there isnt much to choose between them.

    Both are creatures of the same old, same old corporate [anti environment] culture. Both are driven primarily by short term profit goals and of course, its the ‘Tragedy of the Commons’. Both are slaves to the rhetoric they spout. Both seek to advance the corporate nonsense of ‘growth’. Both work to manage policy from all governments, all local, state and EPA agencies. Both parties work to ensure ineffective weak penalties that do not meet minimum deterrence policies. Both work to ensure, every year, inadequate budgets for environmental agency work. Through appointments and back channels, both work hard to lobby and undermine otherwise strong policy, enforcement, rule implementation, fight against the stringency of proposed rules, and so on. With both in house staff and the infamous lobbyists, corporations [primarily large ones], private and publicly owned alike, control and drive this GAME. Big business interests fully dominate all environmental agencies in every state. The suggestion here that political parties are anything more than slaves to this kleptocracy is misleading at best.

    1. Robert,

      Hello. I spoke with you about 5 years back about Title V Responsible Official questions and you were very helpful. Is there any chance that you are still availalbe for providing perspectives on this?

      Thank you,


  2. “…..Much of the benefit from reducing the use of coal comes in the form of health improvements — fewer heart attacks and deaths from respiratory disease, fewer asthma attacks…..”

    The oft-repeated lie. Neither the EPA nor Dan can produce the names, dates, medical records, photographs, nor any other hard evidence to support the actual existence of these speculative and unsubstantiated health benefits. Such “benefits” are based on weak statistical associations which do not establish a cause and effect relationship between reducing the use of coal and public health benefits. EPA cannot offer hard evidence so instead is exaggerates, misleads, distorts. This is merely another example of EPA’s official policy of deception, lies and corruption. Not one name, not one medical record, no proof whatsoever, it is all a great big lie which fits in nicely with the ethics of the California Environmental Bar.

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About Dan

Dan Farber has written and taught on environmental and constitutional law as well as about contracts, jurisprudence and legislation. Currently at Berkeley Law, he has al…

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