Mich. Utility Deregulation Could Do More Harm Than Good

Lung Association experts caution that a utility deregulation bill will seriously\r\ncompromise the respiratory health of Michigan's children, elderly and\r\nthose with chronic lung disease.

"Is saving a nickel a day worth taking our breath away?" asked members of the American Lung Association of Michigan''s Environmental and Occupational Health Committees as they deliberated on the potential effects of a new law for Michigan.

State lawmakers recently passed a bill which would deregulate the state''s electric utilities.

Lung Association experts caution, however, that it will seriously compromise the respiratory health of Michigan''s children, elderly and those with chronic lung disease.

The new bill offers a 5 percent rate savings and even provides for disclosure of energy source by type and emissions.

However, when compared to other states'' existing deregulation laws, Lung Association experts feel Michigan''s new law will rank as one of the weakest in the country, failing to provide real environmental protections.

The Lung Association said this new law will allow Michigan''s "dirty dinosaurs," -- old coal burning power plants located throughout the state -- to continue spewing out harmful pollutants into our air, further endangering both public health and the environment.

Approximately 30 percent of the state''s air pollution comes from the stacks of these old coal burning plants.

"What a shame -- our legislature missed a great opportunity to reduce dangerous emissions from these dirty old plants with this new legislation," said East Lansing, Mich., physician Dr. Kenneth Rosenman.

"This situation could have been avoided had the legislators added minimal standards for pollution control and renewable energy provisions. We received an apparent 5 percent rate decrease," continued Rosenman, "but the cost saving are false. Now we''ll just have to pay more for the health care costs caused by dirty air."

A report of the American Lung Association, "State of the Air: 2000," shows that 15 counties in Michigan got an "F" or failing grade for unhealthy levels of ground-level ozone from 1996 to 1998.

The report said that "as ozone levels rise, hospital admissions and emergency department visits do the same. Even children at summer camp lose the ability to breathe normally -- even when the air is clean by reference to the federal standard."

"It is unfortunate," said Douglas Klegon, CEO of the American Lung Association of Michigan, "that Michigan''s utility companies will continue contributing to poor air quality in our state. The dirty air they produce harms Michigan residents as well as many others as it moves downwind. A small savings is not worth the negative health effects of continued use of outdated power plants."

For details on the American Lung Association''s State of the Air 2000 report, long on to www.lungusa.com .

by Virginia Sutcliffe

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