Romney Falsely Claims Health Benefits of Utility MACT Are Due to Bankrupting Coal Companies -- Not Pollution Reduction Equipment

by Ben Somberg

September 06, 2012

Mitt Romney added a new twist Tuesday to false right-wing claims about the EPA’s regulation limiting mercury and other pollutants from coal power plants. 

EPA estimated that the “utility MACT” will have annual monetized benefits of $37-90 billion and costs of $9.6 billion. A critique we’ve heard over and over again from the industry and its supporters goes something like this: “But only $6 million of those benefits come from reducing mercury pollution, the top target of the rule!” It’s sort of an odd critique, but it’s misleading anyway: the mercury numbers are so low because EPA simply didn’t monetize most of the mercury reduction benefits. Putting a dollar value on not poisoning kids with a neurotoxin is difficult or impossible, and the benefits of the rule far outweigh the costs already anyway.

Now here’s the twist. On Tuesday, the website, a consortium of concerned groups, published responses from Barack Obama and Mitt Romney to a questionnaire on science issues. Romney repeated the common right-wing Utility MACT argument (see question 11), and added a different argument:

Unfortunately, President Obama has repeatedly manipulated technical data to support a regulatory agenda guided by politics rather than science. For example, his “Utility MACT” rule is purportedly aimed at reducing mercury pollution, yet the EPA estimates that the rule will cost $10 billion to reduce mercury pollution by only $6 million (with an “m”). This has not stopped the President from trumpeting the rule as “cost-effective” and “common sense,” while claiming it will “prevent thousands of premature deaths.” The trick? Making the rule so expensive that it will bankrupt the coal industry, and then claiming that the elimination of that industry (and its hundreds of thousands of jobs) would have significant benefits.

The EPA estimated that the health benefits of the rule include averting 4,200 - 11,000 premature deaths, 130,000 asthma attacks, and 540,000 missed work sick days – each year. Romney is saying that those calculations of prevented deaths rely on a trick: they are achieved because the affected coal plants would simply shut down.

That is, it turns out, not how EPA’s calculations for the rule work. As the agency explains (p.17):

[EPA] projects 4.7 GW will retire out of the more than 1000 GW that make up the nation’s electric generating capacity. That’s less than one half of one percent.

The overwhelming majority of the rule’s health benefits – including those averted deaths that Romney is skeptical of – will come because dirty power plants will finally be required to install pollution control equipment. Many states have already successfully implemented such requirements.

The “bankrupt” line does make for a more sinister sounding story, though.

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