Nathan Willcox,
Environment America

AEP Cries Wolf on Power Plant Shutdowns Due to Public Health Protections

For Immediate Release

Washington, DC — Last week, American Electric Power (AEP) announced that it will shut down 21 coal-fired power plants across the country—plants that, according to analysis by Center for American Progress, emitted 1,186 pounds of mercury, 3,842 pounds of arsenic, 1,578 pounds of lead, and more than 4 million pounds of acid gases in 2009. The utility claimed that this decision is due to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s work to limit air pollution from power plants. However, the utility’s prior statements indicate that it had already planned for these shutdowns to occur.

“With American lives at stake, AEP is trying to derail critical air pollution standards by crying wolf about the standards’ potential impacts,” said Shelley Vinyard, Toxics Advocate for Environment America. “The utility’s statements to the press don’t match its statements to its own investors. Our kids, seniors and people with respiratory problems are most at risk from AEP’s deceptive campaign.”

AEP’s fleet of coal plants emits tons of toxic air pollution, including mercury, arsenic, lead, and acid gases, putting our health and our children’s health at risk. According to Environment America’s report, Dirty Energy’s Assault on our Health: Mercury, AEP is the second worst utility in the country for pounds of mercury emitted from its power plants. Mercury pollution is linked to learning disabilities, developmental disorders, and lower IQs in children, while arsenic is linked to cancer, lead to neurological problems, and acid gases to respiratory illness.

In contrast to its statements last week, AEP issued a statement in June 2010 saying that the company was closing 10 of its power plants because of lower electricity demand. As recently as April of this year, CEO Michael Morris said on an earnings call with shareholders that AEP “fully intend[s] to retire 5,480 megawatts of [its] overall coal fleet.”

Additionally, given that many of the life-saving air pollution standards for power plants have been in the pipeline for decades, AEP and other utilities have had ample time to plan for cutting their toxic air pollution levels. In fact, 16 of the AEP plants were already under legal requirement to either shut down or install new pollution-control technology, and the average age of the entire group is more than 55 years old, which is a typical age for power plant retirement.

Finally, AEP suggests that shutting down these plants will cripple its business. However, on average these plants operate at 37 percent capacity—indicating that these plants are hardly the backbone of AEP’s fleet.

“This is further proof that some polluters will do and say anything to avoid health-protecting and life-saving air pollution standards—including purposefully misleading the public and blaming an agency that has saved hundreds of thousands of lives by cutting dangerous air pollution,” Vinyard said. “We applaud EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson for standing up to big polluters and protecting Americans’ health.”