Attacking the long-standing problem of coal power plant pollution that drifts across state borders, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) today finalized rules that will force a sharp reduction in the smokestack emissions. Here’s a look at EPA’s new regulations, by the numbers:

Number of states that will need to reduce sulfur dioxide (SO2), and nitrogen oxides (NOx) and particulates: 27

(EPA’s interactive map where you can track if your state is upwind or downwind.)

Estimated value of health and environmental benefits for every dollar spent complying: $50 to $167

(EPA’s cost-benefit analysis says the rule will require capital spending of $800 million per year in addition to the $1.6 million power companies were already spending on the prior interstate regulation. The benefits, the agency estimates add up to $120 billion to $280 billion in value each year, including preventing as many as 34,000  premature deaths and 400,000 cases of aggravated asthma each year)

U.S. coal power plants without scrubbers to control sulfur dioxide: At least 73 percent

(The U.S. Energy Information Administration’s latest survey shows 384 power plants have flue gas desulfurization equipment, out of 1,436 coal power plants.)

Number of U.S. coal power plants with stacks that are taller than 700 feet (213 meters): 77

(The General Accounting Office has tracked an increase in tall smokestacks, which contribute to interstate drift of pollution. The majority of tall stacks are in the Ohio Valley, with the tallest, at Rockport Power Plant in Indiana, just 25 feet ( 7.6 meters) shy of the height of the Eiffel Tower.)

U.S. coal power generation projected to shut down as a result of the new rules: 12 percent

(Charles River Associates analysts estimated 39 gigawatts (GW) of the 319 GW of U.S. coal power capacity will retire, an amount they conclude can be easily replaced with natural gas or managed through energy efficiency programs. The analysis was prepared for power company Exelon Corporation, which generates far more power from nuclear power than coal.)

New jobs estimated in construction and installation of pollution control equipment: 325,305

(The University of Massachusetts’ Political Economy Research Institute projected a wide array of skilled construction and professional labor will be required to build and retrofit power. Although coal plant jobs will be lost, PERI projects a net gain of more than 4,000 power plant operating and maintenance jobs. The study was prepared for Ceres, a nonprofit aimed at promoting sustainable business practices.)

The coal industry projects costs will be how much higher than the government estimates: 9 times

(An analysis for the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity says the cross-state air pollution rule, together with a rule expected this fall requiring utilities to upgrade to the maximum achievable pollution control technology will cost $18 billion per year. The ACCCE study also projects about 20 percent higher coal plant retirements than in the Charles River projects, and counter to PERI’s projection, net job losses of 200,000 per year.)

Years since EPA first determined that tighter rules on particulate matter would prolong tens of thousands of lives: 14

(Since the EPA set a national ambient air quality standard for particulates on July 18, 1997, the effort to tighten coal plant regulations to address the problem has been beset by controversy, litigation, lobbying and delay. Today’s EPA’s action on cross-state air pollution fulfills a court mandate dating back to 2008.)




  1. Mike
    February 12, 2012, 8:42 pm

    I woul love for someone to contact me on how I can get help on residential coal furnace situation from a neighbor that I believe is worse than this. At least these stacks are very highs in the air. His is practically in our house because his smoke comes down to the ground and over into my house.

  2. Adesina adebesin
    West Africa
    January 13, 2012, 10:14 am

    Yes a good insight in check emisson and saving the life of children.,but my question is woun’t these end coal supply to europe?.

  3. […] desulfurization devices and took other steps to limit the release of SO2. The EPA finalized new rules to address coal power plant pollution that drifts across state borders earlier this year. (Even though the Obama administration has […]

  4. Marianne Lavelle
    July 18, 2011, 12:15 pm

    Thanks so much for your comment, Rob.
    But since the photo above is a coal plant, I can assure you there is more than steam coming out of that plant. (If this were a photo of a nuclear plant, indeed, the billows would be steam.) You can easily look up the latest emissions for American Electric Power’s Gavin plant here at the EPA’s eGRID database here: To summarize a few of the highlights: Its annual NOx emissions: 33,500 tons; annual SO2 emissions: 29,163 tons; annual CO2 emissions 19.1 million tons.

  5. Rob
    Florence, AL
    July 18, 2011, 11:28 am

    Are you going to tell your readers the truth? That is steam coming from the stacks in the picture and not smoke?