Study Examines Impact of 'Overly Stringent' Regulations

Feb. 26, 2003
A new study might have regulators and legislators rethinking some regulatory actions that may limit the use of coal to generate electricity.

"Mortality Reductions from the Use of Low-Cost Coal-Fueled Power: An Analytical Framework", is a new, peer-reviewed study co-authored by Daniel E. Klein and Ralph L. Keeney. This research examines, for the first time, the human mortality impacts associated with overly stringent regulations that would displace coal as the primary fuel used for electricity generation in the United States.

In their analyses, Klein and Keeney examined established research, which shows that, taken as a whole, increased regulation does not always mean reduced risk. The Klein-Keeney report identifies trade-offs American households will face as a result of increased regulation of the coal-based electricity sector. The authors' analyses indicate these trade-offs can have a negative affect on adult mortality.

According to this report, removing coal from America's energy mix and possibly increasing the cost of electricity for consumers would directly result in 14,000 to 25,000 premature adult deaths per year. Child deaths due to reduced income, as well as deaths resulting from increased unemployment, were not quantified in this study. However, the authors' extrapolations from other studies suggest that these increased incidences of mortality could be substantial.

The Klein-Keeney analyses also show that these cases of increased mortality are not spread evenly across the population. The highest levels of increased mortality are likely to be concentrated in lower-income brackets. Assuming that costs are distributed proportionally to electricity consumption, households with incomes of less than $15,000 per year (about 16.5 percent of American households) would incur about 43 percent of the deaths identified in the study. In contrast, those households with incomes over $50,000 per year (about 41 percent of American households) would incur only about eight percent of the premature deaths. Since these disproportionate effects would disadvantage certain minority communities, the study is of particular interest to leader's in the African American community.

"Minorities cannot afford to ignore energy policy issues," says Harry C. Alford, president/CEO of the National Black Chamber of Commerce (NBCC). "Minority households and small business owners already pay higher per capita energy costs; so when costs go up, minorities are more likely to be hurt the hardest. Raising awareness both within our communities and among policy makers is something we must do if we are to continue our focus on increasing empowerment opportunities."

Both the NBCC and the Center for Energy and Economic Development (CEED) see this study as an important addition to the energy and environmental policy dialogue.

"Policy makers can't be expected to develop regulations that protect the public if they don't have balanced and complete information," said Stephen L. Miller, president of CEED. "Up until now, the regulatory debate has only focused on one side of the benefits curve, but as this study clearly shows, that is only part of the picture."

For more information on the study, please go to or

About the Author

Sandy Smith

Sandy Smith is the former content director of EHS Today, and is currently the EHSQ content & community lead at Intelex Technologies Inc. She has written about occupational safety and health and environmental issues since 1990.

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