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The hidden costs — and benefits — of clean air

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Kai Ryssdal: The Environmental Protection Agency is in something of a rule-making mood. Over the next months the EPA’s expected to hold forth on everything from carbon dioxide to car exhaust. Coming tomorrow, new rules to cut the smog and soot from power plants (.pdf). From the Marketplace Sustainability Desk, Adriene Hill reports.

Adriene Hill: Here’s my best impression of politicians talking about environmental rules: “They’re job killers.” “Are not.” “Are too.” “Are not.”

You get the point.

But these environmental regulations are political because they’re about more than green trees and clean air — they’re about money. On the cost side: the EPA estimates energy companies will need to pay up about $3 billion to comply with the new smog rule. Some plants will close probably down.

And for you and me:

Metin Celebi: All of these regulations would likely result in an increase in the cost of power.

Metin Celebi is an analyst at the economic consulting firm the Brattle Group.

The EPA estimates the price of electricity could inch up around 2 percent. But there are economic benefits to clean air. According to the EPA, the new rule could save between $120 billion and $290 billion.

Lisa Marganelli: Maybe if we were in a different political mindset, we wouldn’t call it the Environmental Protection Agency, maybe we’d call it the Environmental Investment Agency.

Lisa Marganelli is with the non-partisan New America Foundation. She says a lot of the benefit comes in the form of better public health: less asthma, fewer sick days, fewer early deaths.

Marganelli: Putting those scrubbers on the tip of smoke stacks sounds kind of abstract, but the quality of life issues are actually really real.

The White House Office of Management and Budget recently released a report (.pdf) estimating the economic costs and benefits of EPA rules. It found that the long-term benefits dwarf the initial price tag.

I’m Adriene Hill for Marketplace.

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