A new Michigan Environmental Council study titled “Public Health Impacts of Old Coal-Fired Power Plants in Michigan” claims that coal-fired power plants put in operation between 1949 and 1968 are causing health problems in the state. Authors of the study claim that 10 percent of the coal-fired plants that are the oldest in the country account for 25 percent of the (power) generation and 43 percent of the public health threat. The study focuses on PM2.5 (fine particulate matter) particles emitted from coal combustion that are about 1/100th the width of a human hair.

All areas in Michigan are in attainment with national standards set by the EPA for PM2.5 and all other criteria air pollutants regulated under the Clean Air Act — a fact the study fails to mention. Whether or not one agrees with the findings of the study (clean air health studies are always open to debate), the study should more properly be viewed as a criticism of the PM2.5 air quality standard rather than an indictment of air quality in Michigan. 

The Michigan Environmental Council should focus its attention on changing the national PM2.5 air quality standard if they believe it is not protective of public health. With the state in attainment for the current PM2.5 air quality standard, the MEC should support the replacement of the older coal-fired power plants with new, cleaner ones instead of opposing their construction.

The opposition of environmental groups to clean technology power plants seems to have less to do with clean air than it does in promoting an idealistic push to alternative energy sources (mostly wind power in Michigan) that are generally more expensive and less reliable than coal-fired power plants. If Michigan households are forced to pay higher electric bills for alternative energy, they will have less to spend on other things like health care. The public health of Michigan residents will be better protected by using technology, not environmental ideology, to drive energy policy.