CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Proposed new federal limits on hazardous air pollution from coal-fired power plants are likely to increase jobs across the economy, according to a new report from a think tank affiliated with organized labor.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency proposal -- under fire from some utilities and coalfield politicians -- would "have a modest positive net impact on overall employment," according to the report from the Washington, D.C.-based Economy Policy Institute.
In March, EPA officials proposed the first-ever national standard for toxic air pollutants from coal-fired power plants, based on a congressional mandate included in the 1990 Clean Air Act.
Josh Bivens, an economist with the institute, based his report on an EPA regulatory impact analysis, concluding that the number of new jobs created across the economy could range from as little as 28,000 to as many as 158,000 by 2015.
In the utility industry itself, the employment effects of the EPA proposal could range from 17,000 jobs lost to 35,000 jobs gained, depending on a variety of factors such as what plants are closed or retrofitted to meet the new standards.
Between 31,000 and 46,000 manufacturing jobs could be lost because of higher energy prices, the report said.
However, the rule could create between 81,000 and 101,000 jobs in the pollution abatement and control industry. Workers will be needed to manufacture and install new emissions control equipment at power plants. Others could be hired to monitor that new equipment, or help companies ensure compliance with the EPA rules.
"The political debate over regulations tends to ignore the overall benefits and be narrowed down to the jobs impact," the report said. "It is understandable that there is attention to jobs as they are always a concern and as the concern for jobs is certainly heightened by the current jobs crisis."
But in this case, the report said, "the jobs-impact of the rule will be modest, but it will be positive."
The institute's report also outlined the projected public health benefits of the EPA proposal: Between 6,800 and 17,000 lives saved, 11,000 fewer non-fatal heart attacks, 12,200 fewer emergency room visits, 225,000 fewer cases of respiratory ailments, and 850,000 more work days because workers are healthier.
"The primary economic impact of these rules is on health and quality-of-life outcomes," the report said. "The improvements to health and quality of life stemming from the proposed rule changes would be very large and make the regulatory change worthy of support in and of itself."
Earlier this week, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson defended the EPA proposal at a Senate committee hearing.
"While some argue that public health protections are too costly, history has repeatedly shown that we can clean up pollution, create jobs and grow our economy all at the same time," Jackson said. "Over the 40 years since the Clean Air Act was passed, the U.S. Gross Domestic Product grew more than 200 percent. In fact, some economic analysis suggests that the economy is billions of dollars larger today than it would have been without the act."Reach Ken Ward Jr. at kw...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1702.