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Study: Even low levels of air pollution kills people

Lester Graham
Michigan Radio
DTE's Monroe coal-burning power plant

A new study from Harvard University concludes that there is no "safe" level of air pollution.

Researcher Qian Di and colleagues find that particulate matter and ozone kills thousands of people every year, even at levels below the federal standard.  

James Clift of the Michigan Environmental Council says the message for the state is clear: DTE Energy and Consumers Energy should not delay shutting down their remaining coal-burning plants.

"These are plants where if we shut them down as quickly as possible, over the next five years we could hit those lower levels they talk about in this study and save hundreds of lives in Michigan," says Clift.

Clift says keeping the plants operating is so expensive for the utilities, it is likely that shutting them down and switching to cleaner natural gas plants would have little effect on people's electricity bills.

"And that's really the sad part of this," he says, "how easy it would be to drop these numbers."

Consumers Energy shut down seven of its older coal-burning plants last year, but five remain open.  The utility says the plants are necessary to keep electricity reliable for its customers.

Seventy-five percent of DTE's electricity is produced by burning coal. The company plans to phase out the use of the fossil fuel, but says it will not shut down its last coal-burning plant until the year 2040 -- 23 years from now.

The utility notes that its emissions of particulate matter have dropped 95% since the year 1974, despite greatly increased demand for energy in Michigan.

Tracy Samilton covers energy and transportation, including the auto industry and the business response to climate change for Michigan Public. She began her career at Michigan Public as an intern, where she was promptly “bitten by the radio bug,” and never recovered.
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