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Clean Power Plan would benefit Michigan more than many states

May 4, 2015

The coal-burning power plant in Muskegon, Michigan. Consumers Energy will shut the plant down in April, 2016
Credit Tracy Samilton / Michigan Radio

Researchers say there would be beneficial side effects from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's proposed Clean Power Plan. 

The plan is intended to lower carbon dioxide emissions from power plants by 30% by the year 2030.  CO2 is a large factor in climate change.

The researchers' new study says the plan would also - and more quickly - clean up the air we breathe every day.  The study was published May 4th in the journal Nature - Climate Change.

Charles Driskoll is a professor in the Civil and Environmental Engineering department at Syracuse University.  He was the lead author.

Driskoll says power plants emit particulate matter, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and mercury - all bad things for people's health.  The pollutants are linked to asthma and increased rates of heart attacks and early deaths.

"So if we lower the emissions," says Driskoll, "we lower the release of these other co-pollutants.  And that results in an improvement in air quality and health benefits."

Driskoll says states that are heavily reliant on coal, like Michigan, would receive the greatest benefit from the EPA's plan. 

"Over a ten year period between 2020 and 2030, there would be 130 heart attacks prevented, 450 fewer hospitalizations, and 1,900 lives saved," says Driskoll.

A final decision on whether to implement the regulation is expected later this summer.

Michigan's large utilities are already planning for the expected change.  DTE Energy says it will need to shut down roughly 60% of its coal-burning power plants by 2030 to comply.

Consumers Energy is already in the process of shutting down seven of its coal-burning units, but it will likely have to shut down additional plants in the future.

A mix of natural gas plants, wind farms and possibly a new nuclear power plant is expected to replace the lost electric generation capacity.