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Great Lakes Article:

Study Says Utilities are Causing Premature Death

By Eric Pianin and Dan Morgan
Washington Post Staff Writers
May 13, 2002; Page A04

Toxic pollution generated by eight utilities that have been cited for Clean Air Act violations will contribute to nearly 6,000 premature deaths and tens of thousands of respiratory illnesses annually, according to a study released yesterday by environmental advocates.

Using a model that assumes full implementation of federal acid rain and smog reduction programs, the study forecasts that every year, beginning in 2007, some 5,900 adults will die prematurely because of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions from 84 plants operated by the eight companies.

The study also projects that power plant emissions from these eight utilities, largely concentrated in the Midwest and South, will cause 4,300 annual cases of chronic bronchitis, 160,000 cases of upper respiratory symptoms and 140,000 asthma attacks. Americans will miss an estimated 1.2 million days of work a year because of related health problems, it said.

Eric V. Schaeffer, a former Environmental Protection Agency chief of civil enforcement, released the study on behalf of the Rockefeller Family Fund of New York, a philanthropic group that financed the report. Schaeffer, who resigned in February in part to protest Bush administration clean air policies, said: "It is getting to be beyond dispute that there's a link between sulfur dioxide and particulate matter from power plants and premature mortality, and we need to start assigning responsibility."

A spokeswoman for the Edison Electric Institute, the main industry advocacy group, said that while utilities "take very seriously" the assertions that emissions cause premature deaths, they question the methodology of this and other studies that blame utilities for health problems caused by a variety of factors, such as car and truck emissions. "This is not really an exact science," said Jayne Brady.

Scott Segal, spokesman for the Electric Reliability Coordinating Council, a coalition of utilities, called the study the "45 millionth restatement of this data by the environmental community. . . . The methodology employed is not sophisticated enough to establish causal relationships between individual companies and health effects."

The latest analysis was prepared by consultant Abt Associates, which is also a consultant to the EPA. Its data has been cited by other environmental and community health organizations, including the Clean Air Task Force, in arguing there is a strong link between fine particle emissions from aging coal-fired power plants and mounting public health problems including lung cancer, asthma and premature deaths.

The utilities covered in the study are Southern Co., AEP, Cinergy, the Tennessee Valley Authority, Southern Indiana Gas and Electric Co. (SIGECO), First Energy, Dynergy Inc. and Duke Power. They are among the defendants in cases brought by the Clinton administration against utilities that significantly modified their aging power plants -- and increased their air pollution -- without installing state-of-the-art anti-pollution equipment, as required under the Clean Air Act.

Among the states that will suffer the largest number of premature deaths, according to the analysis, are Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Tennessee, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Ohio and New York. The elevated mortality rate would account for 230 lives a year in Virginia, 170 in Maryland and 20 in the District, the report said.

The study was issued as the Bush administration completes work on Clean Air Act rule changes aimed at discouraging new government lawsuits against utility operators while it promotes "Clear Skies" legislation to force long-term, industry-wide reductions in toxic pollutants.

Bush officials say their approach would be far more effective in reducing dangerous power plant emissions than the current piecemeal approach of suing older power plants that violate the Clean Air Act, seeking to force them to install expensive anti-pollution equipment.

"We do care a great deal about the public health," said Joe Martyak, an EPA spokesman. "Clear Skies is a better solution."

But the president's legislative proposal has encountered stiff resistance on Capitol Hill.

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