CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Complaints from business leaders and their political supporters that new federal air pollution rules will case an economic "train wreck" are wrong, according to a new report from the bipartisan Congressional Research Service.
The service, which conducts policy research for lawmakers, reports that many of the coal-fired power plants that can't meet the new U.S. Environmental Protection Agency proposals were destined to close anyway.
"Many of these plants are inefficient and are being replaced by more efficient combined cycle natural gas plants, a development likely to be encouraged if the price of competing fuel -- natural gas -- continues to be low, almost regardless of EPA rules," the CRS report said.
And the benefits of the EPA rules -- preventing thousands of premature deaths and illnesses -- outweigh the potential costs, the CRS report says.
"The costs of the rules may be large, but, in most cases, the benefits are larger, especially estimated public health benefits," the report says.
CRS analysts also criticized the findings of reports issued by industry groups, including the Edison Electric Institute and the North American Electric Reliability Corporation, warning that the EPA proposals would greatly damage an already ailing economy.
"The studies sponsored by industry groups were written before EPA proposed most of the rules whose impacts they analyze, and they assumed that the rules would impose more stringent requirements than EPA proposed in many cases," the CRS report says.
Also, the CRS report says, the EPA proposals are expected to change in coming months and, even after they're finalized, will give the industry several years to comply.
The CRS report has been circulating among lawmakers since it was issued Aug. 8 and was first made public Friday in an energy and environmental news blog published by The Hill newspaper.
In June, EPA proposals to, for the first time, regulate hazardous air pollutant emissions from coal-fired power plants caused a stir in West Virginia when American Electric Power said it planned to close three aging facilities in the state by the end of 2014.
But the power company had already planned to close those facilities -- the Kanawha River Plant in Glasgow, the Phillip Sporn Plant in New Haven and the Kammer Plant near Moundsville -- sometime between 2017 and 2020.
Reach Ken Ward Jr. at kw...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1702.