But Companies Have Ample Cash Reserves to Cushion Reductions
By December 16 the Environmental Protection Agency will promulgate its final rule requiring coal-fired power plants to reduce their emissions of mercury, arsenic, acid gases, and other toxic chemicals. The EPA notes that these safeguards will reduce premature deaths by 17,000 people annually as well as prevent 12,000 hospital visits and 120,000 cases of aggravated asthma. The economic benefits could outweigh the costs by up to $14-to-$1.
Yet a concerted cadre of big dirty utilities and coal companies are doing everything in their power to scuttle or delay these essential safeguards 21 years after the Clean Air Act required them.
The American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, or ACCCE, is a coal industry coalition leading the charge to block the mercury and air toxics reduction rules. These efforts include spending $35 million on misleading television ads. Its members include major utilities such as Southern Company and DTE Energy. Huge coal companies are also major ACCCE supporters, including Arch Coal and Peabody. Other members include railroads that haul coal.
ACCCE is a vocal opponent of the air toxics rule for utilities. They even have a “countdown clock” for the days until the safeguards are issued. Its members are primarily concerned that the air toxics rule “is the most expensive rule the EPA has ever written for coal-fueled power plants.”
But this claim ignores the fact that the 22 ACCCE companies have nearly $18 billion in cash reserves, which should substantially ease their ability to withstand any economic impact of cleanup.
A Federal Reserve report released this month documented the massive cash reserves held by American corporations. The Wall Street Journal reported:
Corporations have a higher share of cash on their balance sheets than at any time in nearly half a century, as businesses build up buffers rather than invest in new plants or hiring.
The ACCCE companies are part of this cash-rich phenomenon. An analysis of the ACCCE member companies’ 10K forms filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission determined that they had $17.8 billion in “cash and cash equivalents” on hand at the end of the last reporting period on September 30, 2011. (Two companies’ last reports were from earlier dates.)