Press Release

State’s experts exaggerate health effects of emissions reductions

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RALEIGH – Forcing the Tennessee Valley Authority to reduce emissions from its coal-fired power plants would create far more costs than benefits, according to a new John Locke Foundation Policy Report.

Click here to view and here to listen to Dr. Roy Cordato discussing this Policy Report.

That finding directly contradicts “expert” opinions N.C. Attorney General Roy Cooper cited when filing a lawsuit against the TVA in 2006.

“The attorney general’s experts grossly exaggerate potential benefits from power plant emissions reductions, ignore evidence that contradicts their assumptions, and misinterpret study results to make their case,” said report author Joel Schwartz, visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and JLF adjunct scholar.

“This new analysis should shed some light on the true costs of forcing power plant emissions reductions for little or no apparent benefit,” said Dr. Roy Cordato, JLF Vice President for Research and Resident Scholar.

TVA operates 11 coal-fired power plants in the southeastern United States. The plants emit nitrogen oxides (NOx) and sulfur dioxide (SO2) that contribute to particulate matter and ozone in North Carolina and other eastern states. Cooper’s January 2006 lawsuit aimed to force TVA to reduce its contribution to air pollution in the Tar Heel state.

Cooper tried to bolster his case by commissioning four “expert reports,” according to the JLF Policy Report. Cooper’s expert reports estimated that a 65 percent reduction in NOx and SO2 emissions from TVA power plants would create $10.9 billion in total health benefits, including fewer hospital visits, asthma attacks, and premature deaths. Cooper’s experts estimated the health benefits to be 18 times greater than the annual costs of emission reductions.

“In reality, the actual benefits of TVA power plant emission reductions would at best amount to only a tiny fraction of the totals claimed by the attorney general’s experts,” Schwartz said. “A close examination of these expert claims shows that most of them are not real.”

About 98.5 percent of the claimed health benefits from emission reductions come from reduced output of a substance called particulate matter, Schwartz said. “The problem with the experts’ assessment is that the particulate matter targeted by forced emissions reductions is not harmful,” he said. “Particulate matter from power plants is mostly ammonium sulfate and ammonium nitrate. Neither is harmful, even at levels tens of times greater than levels ever found in the air Americans breathe.”

“In other words, 98.5 percent of the benefits claimed for power plant emission reductions depend on the false assumption that ammonium sulfate and nitrate are toxic,” Schwartz added. “They’re not toxic, so 98.5 percent of the claimed benefits are not real.”

Schwartz also found problems with the other 1.5 percent of claimed health benefits. “These benefits come from proposed reduction of ozone pollution,” he said. “But the attorney general’s expert reports exaggerate the benefits of ozone reductions. The experts assume that ozone causes premature death, even at the relatively low levels encountered in the air today. Decades of studies show this is not true.”

The expert reports contend that 96 percent of projected ozone reduction benefits come from the reduced chance of premature death, Schwartz said. “Since ozone doesn’t cause premature death, this is another case of the attorney general’s experts citing benefits that are not real.”

Cooper’s experts might have offered a more realistic assessment if they had done a better job examining studies tied to particulate matter and ozone, Schwartz said. “These experts make error after error in evaluating the evidence from studies of infant mortality, school absences, and asthma-related emergency room visits,” he said. “It is their selective omission and mischaracterization of evidence that ultimately resulted in the vast exaggeration of the health benefits of TVA power plant emissions reductions.”

Using false assumptions and omitting contrary evidence, Cooper’s experts paint an inaccurate picture, Schwartz said.

“These errors make the benefits of emissions reductions appear to be at least 100 times greater than they actually are,” he said. “Correcting these false assumptions eliminates 99.9 percent of the air pollution reduction benefits claimed by the attorney general’s experts. Compare the real benefits to the costs, and you’ll find that the cost of TVA emissions reductions would be more than 50 times greater than the benefits.”

Joel Schwartz’s Policy Report, “Where the Bodies Are Buried: How experts for N.C.’s Attorney General mislead the public about TVA air pollution risks,” is available at the JLF Web site. For more information, please contact Dr. Roy Cordato at (919) 828-3876 or [email protected]. To arrange an interview, contact Mitch Kokai at (919) 306-8736 or [email protected].

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