There’s a heated debate brewing on Capitol Hill over just how costly a new EPA rule to cut dirty toxins like mercury and lead from energy plant emissions would be for consumers at home. Before you take sides, let’s start with a bit of background:
In December, President Obama signed the EPA’s “Utility MACT” rule, which will levy new emissions standards on about 1,000 or so coal- and oil-powered plants. In short, they’ll have to give the facilities a good scrub-down and be sure they’re not releasing as many harmful chemicals into the air.
Opponents claim the law would not only destroy jobs, but also force companies to jack up utility rates for nearly all U.S. households in order to pay for it.
In August, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) estimated light bills could surge anywhere from 12 to 24 per cent. However, the EPA puts that figure at just 3.1% in 2015 and predicts it will fall to 2% by 2020, once the benefits start kicking in.
Naturally, energy companies have been quick to blast the rule.
“When government regulations increase the cost of energy, it is America’s working class who shoulder the burden,” said Steve Miller, president and CEO of the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity. “For millions of Americans living on low and fixed incomes, surging energy prices mean less money for other necessities such as food, housing and health care.”
The coalition just released a study that shows nearly half of Americans are paying double what it cost to keep the lights on just a decade ago – a whopping 20 per cent of their family budget.
The study – “Energy Cost Impacts on American Families” – combines data from the U.S. Census Bureau and the U.S. Dept. of Energy to analyse how much more we’re paying for things like transportation, home heating, A/C, and electricity in general.
“The 60 million households that earn less than $50,000 per year, or half of all U.S. families, will devote an estimated 21 per cent of their after-tax incomes to energy, compared to 12 per cent spent in 2001,” the report says. “The energy bills of families earning less than $10,000 have risen to 78 per cent of their after-tax income.”
It’s hard to argue with numbers like those, but proponents of MACT say it will benefit consumers and the environment in the long-run.
The centre for American Progress was on the bullhorn today to fire back at the ACCCE’s claims:
“The final rules to reduce the mercury, lead, arsenic, and other toxic pollutants from coal-fired power plants will have huge public-health benefits,” writes Daniel J. Weiss. “Slashing mercury and other contaminants will save 11,000 lives annually and prevent more than 100,000 asthma and heart attacks year. These health improvements will provide economic benefits of up to $90 billion every year.”
See the CAP’s chart for a state-by-state look at the benefits.
And to conservatives and energy companies’ claim that the rule will slash jobs for working class Americans, the CAP notes that power companies will have no choice but to create new jobs if they want to retrofit their plants to comply with the rules by springtime.
“We have to hire plumbers, electricians, painters, folks who do that kind of work when you retrofit a plant. Jobs are created in the process—no question about that,” Mike Morris, chief executive of American Electric Power said.
Just how many jobs is uncertain, but Weiss cites a University of Massachusetts study that estimates the rule could generate more than 300,000 new jobs over five years.
This much is true for now: The rising cost of energy continues to pummel American households, especially those of low-income and minority consumers.
-Don’t pre-rinse dishes
-Maintain your appliances (ex: check lint traps, change A/C filters).
-Use pots and pans with flat bottoms that fit the burners.
-Minimize opening/closing of oven and fridge doors.
-Use power strips.
-Get energy-efficient bulbs.
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