The new report: Toxic Power: How Power Plants Contaminate Our Air and States is an appalling indictment of the well-understood public health effects of burning coal to produce electricity.
But there is some good news in the report.
The analysis found that overall toxic pollution declined by 19 percent compared to 2009 levels, including a 4 percent decrease in mercury emissions. According to NRDC, the EPA estimates that these reductions will prevent as many as 11,000 premature deaths; 130,000 asthma attacks; 5,700 hospital visits; 4,700 heart attacks; and 2,800 cases of chronic bronchitis annually. The public health improvements will save between $37 billion and $90 billion in health costs, and prevent up to 540,000 missed work or "sick" days each year.
In part, the reduction in pollution - and the saving of lives - is due to the switch from coal to natural gas as fuel for power plants. The trend is likely to continue, thanks to natural gas and renewable energy dominating the new generation market.
As we continue to grapple with the complexities of getting shale gas right, the public health (and climate) benefits of replacing coal with gas must be borne in mind.