In exchange for passing the Clean Air Act three decades ago polluter-funded politicians negotiated rules to ignore the oldest, dirtiest coal plants. Some of these plants are so old you could effectively say the Clean Air Act 'great-grandfathered' them.

Yesterday, EPA issued a final standard that finally includes hundreds of coal plants across the country that were never required to install basic technologies to control for their pollution of sulfur dioxide (SO2) and nitrogen oxides (NOx). SO2 and NOx penetrate deep into the lungs, damaging them, and essentially suffocate people.

Pollution from each American coal plant on average kills up to 50 people per year, but coal plants with no controls for SO2 and Nox are far more lethal. Examples are the Fisk and Crawford plants in Chicago owned by Edison International, which has been lobbying against EPA health protections. Chicagoans are fighting to close these plants.

More people live within a three-mile radius of Chicago's Fisk and Crawford plants than any others in the country. Neither plant has a current operating permit (expired 29 September 2010), and neither actually delivers power to utility customers in Illinois. Chicagoans get nothing but bad health from Fisk and Crawford. Across the state of Illinois, this new EPA protection will save between 720 and 1800 premature deaths, or 5% of the national total, by 2014. Only Ohio, Pennsylvania and New York stand to benefit more.

Coal industry utilities other than Edison International, such as American Electric Power and GenOn, spend vast sums of money fighting public health protections, instead of investing in pollution controls on sulfur dioxide and nitrous oxide that have been available for decades. Today, the stock these polluting utility companies put in their lobbyists must be plummeting now that new, commonsense safeguards will be put in place to protect the health of America’s communities.

No method of harnessing energy is more expensive and damaging to American's health than burning coal, and yet coal polluters take every opportunity to outsource costs of up to 500 billion dollars per year to American communities in the form of healthcare and environmental costs. Hopefully, yesterday's EPA announcement will set a precedent for future safeguards that will protect communities from coal pollution in the form of 130 million tons of toxic ash annually, as well as airborne arsenic, lead, cadmium, and mercury.