Over a decade ago, EPA began developing new regulations to cut dangerous pollution from power plant smokestacks. These plants churn out most of the mercury, acid gas and arsenic pollution in our air, and the new rules will dramatically slash this pollution, saving up to 17,000 lives and preventing 120,000 asthma attacks each year.
Most power companies have prepared for these changes by improving the efficiency of their plants and investing in cleaner fuels and new control technologies. But not American Electric Power. Instead, the company is threatening to shut down dozens of plants and lay off hundreds of workers unless the EPA delays its clean air standards.
This means that while other companies were preparing for the future, AEP was pocketing the profits now while cynically assuming it could change the rules later. How do we know this? Because just last year, AEP filed a report with the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio in which it noted that while the new rules could take effect in 2015, "for planning purposes" it was assuming that the rules could be "extended and staggered" beyond the end of 2015.
And that's not all. A recent New York Times editorial noted that the units AEP says it would close because of the EPA rules are, on average, 55 years old and running well below capacity, with many slated for retirement anyway.
Normally, I write about working with corporations, and the leverage they can have to help create a more sustainable world. My experience has been that most companies are responsible, and that most of the people who work for them care as much about the future as I do. But it's hard to see any of that motivation in AEP's recent actions.
If these plants do close and jobs are lost, it's not because of EPA regulations, but because AEP made a bet against our health and lost. The short-terms gains that AEP and its shareholders made as a result of that bet should go to offset any losses in community jobs and health benefits.