Federal regulators and environmentalists have arrived at an agreement to reduce visible pollution from older coal-fired power plants in four states, including Colorado.
Even though the Arizona and New Mexico plants that obscure local vistas are not included in the current agreement, this is a plan locals should support. Regulation for those other plants will come (although not soon enough despite a 2007 deadline for states to submit plans, not a single one has been fully adopted), and its not fair to argue for expensive equipment for plants upwind without supporting similar restrictions for our own plants.
A longstanding complaint of area residents is that the plants whose emissions hang over the Four Corners send power mostly in the opposite direction. A point thats often forgotten is that much of the power used here is generated by coal-fired plants whose pollutants dont blow this way. Air pollution is not constrained by the power grid or by state boundaries.
Any way one looks at it, the costs are large. The EPA estimates that the annual bill for the haze improvements nationwide not just in Colorado, Wyoming, Montana and North Dakota, the four states affected by the current agreement is projected to be $1.5 billion, weighed against an estimated $8.4 billion in savings from reduced pollution-related health problems. Tourism is also an issue: People who visit national parks and wilderness areas not only want to breathe deeply, they want to see the scenery clearly, and they want the plants and animals they view to be healthy. Quality of life should not be undervalued.
Those problems are experienced by downwinders whose power may not originate at the affected plants, but everyones electricity comes from somewhere, and nearly everyone (save those along a thin slice of the West Coast) lives downwind of some pollution source.
Utilities and the states that host them already are complaining about the price of pollution reduction and the short deadline for accomplishing it. Jobs will be lost, they cry a fair complaint, if they are willing to also analyze the number of jobs lost to pollution. Electric bills will go up. So will other costs, because electricity factors into everything. Tax dollars are likely to be involved somehow, which seems reasonable, given that all taxpayers breathe.
No one wants higher taxes or higher bills, but those other costs dont just disappear. It makes a great deal of sense for them to be paid by power users, rather than indirectly in medical bills and government subsidies of health care.
Support clean air by being willing to pay for clean power. The pervasive brown cloud and the frequent hazy skies are proof that the problem exist. A solution exists as well; no one should expect it to come free of charge.