A June 13 editorial discussed a study on the health effects of power plant emissions using EPA-accepted methodology that my organization commissioned. While the editorial did not take issue with the study's conclusion -- that about 24,000 Americans die prematurely each year from power plant pollution -- the article left an impression that efforts to clean up such pollution are misplaced or futile. Nothing could be further from the truth.
The editorial called on D.C. area governments to join Northeast states and California in requiring automakers to cut air pollutants from new vehicles by as much as 30 percent over the next decade. Those laws require only cuts in carbon dioxide, which causes global warming. The District could take this step to help curb global warming, but there would be only incidental health benefits. It would not alleviate the thousands of deaths caused by the fine particles from power plants -- which are the health impacts our report documented.
We may not see power plants surrounding us the way cars do every day, but power plants are responsible for the fine particles that lead to death and disease. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, power plants contribute 46 percent of the Washington area's fine-particle pollution, while cars and trucks account for 28 percent. These emissions prematurely kill more than 500 people every year, cause more than 850 heart attacks and trigger more than 15,000 asthma attacks in the region. By any measure, that is too high a price to pay, and only cleaning up power plants will reduce those numbers.
Congress has dithered between President Bush's power plant legislation, which offers far less pollution reductions or health benefits than even enforcement of current law, and stronger measures offered by Sens. Jim Jeffords (I-Vt.) or Thomas Carper (D-Del.). Studies have shown that power plant pollution reductions are necessary, feasible and cost-effective. Even President Bush agrees -- though we can and must cut pollution faster and deeper than his plan proposes. Our lives depend upon it.
-- Angela Ledford
The writer is director of Clear the Air.