Humans recognized the health risks of burning coal way back in medieval England, but it was the early 20th century before we created rules that would actually reign in polluters. Now, the United States has the Clean Air Act, a comprehensive piece of legislation that limits toxic emissions from both stationary (industrial) sources and mobile sources.

Because coal and gas companies are some of the worst offenders when it comes to air pollution, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) created special rules to monitor them. Under these regulations, high-polluting plants are required close or undergo significant renovations in order to meet air safety standards.

Since coal and gas companies rake in billions in profit each year, you’d think they could at least try not to give us all asthma. According to a new report from the Natural Resources Defense Council, however, the fossil fuel industry would rather not be troubled with public health. The report revealed that eight leading U.S. utilities, known as the “Gang of Eight” has spent millions of dollars lobbying and litigating to block, weaken, or delay major Clean Air Act safeguards.

So who’s in this dirty gang? According to the report, these companies are AEP, Ameren, DTE Energy, Energy Future Holdings, FirstEnergy, GenOn, PPL and Southern Company.

In 2011, the coal-fired power plants operated by these companies generated enough air pollution to have contributed to 10,400 deaths; 65,000 asthma attacks; 6,600 hospital and emergency room visits; and 3.4 million lost work-days. According to the NRDC, their combined economic toll on America (based on a widely-accepted model that links air pollution to adverse health consequences) is a staggering $78 billion. It seems these companies would rather waste money defending their right to kill people rather than simply updating their plants to reduce emissions.

“The ‘Gang of Eight’ utilities are putting their profits over protecting kids and communities from deadly and dangerous air pollution,” said Pete Altman, climate and clean air campaign director at NRDC. “Without these health protections from the Clean Air Act, we will see more premature deaths, asthma attacks and other illnesses every year, together with billions of dollars in estimated health costs that go with them.  We want to see these companies focus their money on cleaning up pollution rather than using litigation and lobbying to delay important improvements in clean air protections. ”

To find out how much each company has spent on blocking these regulations, read the full report here. 

via Inhabitat

Photo credit: takomabibelot/Flickr