Ask any parent of an asthmatic child waiting for treatment in an emergency room whether or not they've worried about the expense, and they will likely tell you it's a hit to the family budget.
With as many as 1 in 7 Kentucky kids suffering from asthma, our citizens spend millions of dollars annually to treat the condition, largely triggered by poor air quality.
This expense, however, weighed little in the mind of Justice Antonin Scalia in last week's Supreme Court decision to remand the Environmental Protection Agency's mercury and air toxics rule. That decision throws the rule back to the D.C. District Court to address more financial considerations. The rule is not withdrawn and will likely be fully implemented once EPA submits more numbers estimating financial impacts on industry.
But the big picture here is that the court got stuck on money — not money related to health costs, but money related to industry, a priority that fails to put citizens first. Most coal plants are already well on their way to achieving the goals of the rule. We can now say the assertion that the restrictions on power plants would cause financial ruin and lead to blackouts just isn't true. Utilities have figured out how to navigate the changes over the last four years and we're already experiencing some of the benefits of the standards.
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The reality is that this court decision is just one more volley in a game that started almost 25 years ago. Clean Air Act amendments from 1990, when George H. W. Bush was president, required the EPA to determine if there was a health concern related to emissions from power plants.
In 2000, when President Bill Clinton was in office, EPA declared that the evidence was overwhelming. This started the process of creating a rule to reduce levels of mercury and other air toxins, pollution that can cause asthma attacks, heart attacks, stroke and developmental delays.
By 2011 — over 20 years after the process started — a set of standards was finally created which gave power companies four years to clean things up.
This was an important decision, particularly for Kentucky where over 90 percent of the power comes from coal and poor air quality is a reality.
We have some of the highest rates of asthma, heart and lung disease in the country; health problems highly impacted by poor air quality. And that's not cheap.
While Scalia thought it wasn't rational "to impose billions of dollars in economic costs in return for a few dollars in health and environmental benefits," he failed to note the already-established estimates.
Justice Elena Kagan, however, got it right in her dissent when she noted, "EPA conducted a formal cost-benefit study which found that the quantifiable benefits of its regulation would exceed the costs up to nine times over — by as much as $80 billion each year."
Slashing toxic emissions could prevent as many as 11,000 premature deaths, 4,700 heart attacks and 130,000 asthma attacks each year across the nation. With the rule, the lives of 210 Kentuckians would be saved, and an additional $1.8 million in health benefits would be experienced annually.