Indiana is said to be killing some of its residents with soot:
An environmental group's national report said pollution from Indiana's coal-fired power plants will cause an estimated 550 premature deaths in the state this year.
The report from the Clean Air Task Force ranked Indiana fifth in the U.S. in per capita mortality risk from pollutants that create lung-choking soot. The elderly and people with respiratory disease are most susceptible to such pollution.
[. . .]
Jodi Perras of Improving Kids' Environment said there's no excuse that plant emissions still shorten so many lives when available technology could virtually eliminate that pollution.
Forgive me if I'm putting words in somebody's mouth, but that last statement sounds a little absolutist: No deaths from coal-fired plants! I think it's worth asking what the cost would be to use that "available technology" to reduce the deaths to zero and whether that would be good public policy.
Indiana had 693 highway deaths last year, almost 150 more than the coal-caused deaths, and that was way down from a 15-year average of 917. That's a terrible price to pay for the freedom and convenience we enjoy because of automobiles, but would you want to ban them and require a return to the horse and buggy? How about mandating a 20-mph maximum speed limit and forbidding left turns -- that would get the rate to almost zero. According to the CDC, more than 1,000 Hoosiers died of flu in 2007. We could fix that by requiring everyone to stay indoors or come out only in every-other-days shifts while wearing masks and never touching. The possibility of death from accidents or communicable disease is one of the prices we accept for driving and sharing public spaces. Is the electricity provided by coal burning less a public good than the ability do drive or interact with each other?
Now, don't go accusing me of being a shill for Big Energy or something, or a ghoul who doesn't care about the suffering of his fellow Hoosiers. But cost is a legitimate part of the public policy discussion. Just as we had a debate a few years ago about the benefits (including lives saved) and costs (chiefly invonvenience) of a 55-speed limit, we can discuss the costs and benefits of various coal-plant requirements. What would it cost to reduce deaths by 10 percent, and would that be good policy? How about half or 75 percent? How much for that zero-death option?