If you’d like to help ensure that power companies finally retire or clean up their deadly coal-fired power plants, please take action now. (More)

Last week, the New York Times had a great editorial, titled AEP Protests Too Much, explaining why the coal utility industry’s claims that it cannot comply with long overdue Clean Air Act regulations are full of bunk. The editorial addresses the fact that American Electric Power (“AEP”), a heavily coal-dependent utility based in Ohio, is shopping around legislation that would further delay a series of EPA rules that would require coal plants to finally clean up their emissions of mercury, sulfur dioxide, and other air pollutants that harm public health and the environment. We discussed one of those proposed rules here previously.

In an effort to drum up support for the legislation, AEP has announced that it is planning to retire nearly 25% of its coal plants in the next few years on the grounds that it allegedly cannot get controls installed in time to comply with coming regulations. The New York Times rightly rejects AEP’s scaremongering about retiring existing coal units, noting that the regulations at issue are long overdue, and that numerous utilities have publicly announced that they will be able to comply in a timely fashion.

But there is another point here that the Times overlooked – namely, that the only thing wrong with AEP shutting down 25% of its coal fleet is that means that 75% of the fleet would still be operating. Our nation is still littered with 400+ coal-fired power plants largely because those plants are not required to internalize the public health, environmental, and social costs that coal power imposes on society. For example:

* The mining of the coal leads to the destruction of mountaintops in Appalachia, the destruction of natural areas in many other parts of the country, and the degradation of water quality from acid mine drainage.

* The burning of coal at power plants emits tens of thousands of tons of harmful air pollutants such as sulfur dioxide, particulate matter, and nitrogen oxides, which are estimated to kill 13,200 people per year.

* Coal plants also emit toxic air pollutants, such as mercury, that cause cancer, developmental disabilities, and other health problems.

* While air quality impacts can be greatly reduced with the use of pollution controls that the industry has opposed for decades, those controls shift part of the pollution burden to power plant wastes that are typically landfilled in largely unregulated waste ponds where they leak into ground water.

* And, as of yet, there are no controls for the CO2 that coal plants emit, nor for the methane emissions that are released by coal mining. As a result, coal power is the largest single source of climate change gases in the world.

In short, coal is and always will be a dirty source of power. In addition, once the controls needed to clean it up are accounted for, it is no cheaper than much cleaner sources of power such as wind, geothermal, solar, energy efficiency, demand side management, etc. That is why we should all be applauding AEP’s announcement that it will retire 25% of its coal plants, urging AEP to retire even more plants, and making sure that we are able to provide equitable economic transitions for the workers in those plants and the communities that currently rely on them. In the long run, we will all breathe easier if we do so.

If you’d like to help ensure that AEP and other utilities have to retire or clean up their coal plants, please take action now by:

* Submitting a comment to U.S. EPA in favor of its proposed air pollution regulations for limiting hazardous air pollutant emissions from coal fired power plants. Comments can be submitted by e-mail addressed to a-and-r-Docket@epa.gov or online by clicking here.

* Writing a letter to your local newspaper editor urging Congress to let the US EPA do its job of regulating air pollution emissions from coal-fired power plants. Links to local newspapers can be found at the Winning Progressive Letters to the Editor Campaign page.

(Cross-posted from Winning Progressive)