In the give and take of public policy discussions, companies often put forward legislative proposals to enhance their position or address a concern. I get that. But sometimes we see a proposal that is such a dramatic overreach that it makes you wonder: what were they thinking? Could this company really see this proposal as being in the best interest of their customers, their stockholders or America? In American Electric Power's proposal to carve giant loopholes into the Clean Air Act, and damage our health, we have such an overreach.
It is almost as though someone asked AEP what it wanted for Christmas, because it's shopping wish-list legislation in Congress to block EPA from cleaning up toxic air pollution that threatens hundreds of thousands of Americans.
So today we're asking AEP a question: What's your number? How many lives are you willing to sacrifice to secure delays and rollbacks of toxic air pollution limits under the Clean Air Act?
While other utilities are investing in technology and jobs to prepare for new national clean air standards, AEP is promoting draft legislation to weaken and delay them. AEP lobbyists wrote the bill, dubbed it the ''Electric Power Regulatory Coordination Act of 2011,'' and then went looking for lawmakers to sponsor it.
If the bill were to become law, in the first two years alone it would permit the release of mercury, acid gases and arsenic that would contribute to as many as 34,000 deaths, 220,000 asthma attacks and 1.5 million missed work days -- serious health impacts that would be avoided by EPA's recently proposed clean air standards.
Among other things, AEP's wish list would further delay implementation of EPA's mercury and air toxins rule, the nation's first serious effort to protect the public from the most dangerous air pollution in the electric power sector. No surprise -- in 2008, AEP emitted more mercury than any other American utility.
The rule is 20 years in the making, and other big utilities have been taking the time to invest in job-creating technologies to clean up. As the leaders of six major power companies -- including Constellation Energy Group, PG&E and Exelon -- recently told the Wall Street Journal:
"The electric sector has known that these rules were coming. Many companies, including ours, have already invested in modern air-pollution control technologies and cleaner and more efficient power plants. For over a decade, companies have recognized that the industry would need to install controls to comply with the act's air toxicity requirements, and the technology exists to cost effectively control such emissions, including mercury and acid gases."
After twenty years of delay, AEP wants America to wait another six years before we limit toxic mercury from some power plants -- and they want to delay limits on a host of other dangerous pollutants.
Late last year in The Huffington Post, I wrote that the current era of open warfare against environmental protections had left EDF with no choice but to recalibrate our historic interest in cooperation over confrontation. "There are companies that continue to choose short-term profits over public health, and who feel they are better off opposing progress," I said. "We will look for ways to hold them accountable through every reasonable lever at our disposal. We will learn to be as tough with them as they have been with us."
With the release of its dirty air wish list, AEP has joined the ranks of those companies.
I urge you to join EDF, the Natural Resources Defense Council, Sierra Club and others in our campaign to get a simple answer from AEP to a simple question: What's your number? What's the acceptable number of American lives to surrender? How many are you willing to be responsible for?
Pick up the phone and ask directly, or join the campaign online at www.edf.org/whatsyournumber or on Twitter with the hashtag #WhatsYourNumber. And if your congressman or Senator sponsors this bill, be sure to ask them the question too.
To find out if the top mercury polluting power plants are in your neighborhood, visit www.edf.org/top25.
Follow Fred Krupp on Twitter: www.twitter.com/FredKrupp