This looks like a pretty good deal between the EPA and the Tennessee Valley Authority:

The Tennessee Valley Authority agreed Thursday to mothball 18 coal-fired boilers and spend as much as $5 billion on new pollution controls in a far-reaching deal with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to settle Clean Air Act complaints.

The TVA agreement to shut down 16% of its total coal-fired power-generation capacity is the largest such commitment by any company that has settled with EPA under a clean-air enforcement action. The company, which is owned by the federal government, said it will replace the lost capacity with cleaner generation sources, such as natural gas or nuclear power. TVA said the retirements include about 1,000 megawatts of capacity that was already slated for idling. The TVA will also invest $350 million in clean-energy projects.

That the replacement comes in the form of clean-energy rather than renewable-energy sources is annoying, especially considering the reports that fracking for natural gas is dirtier than coal. And this is the end of a twelve-year odyssey to get the TVA to comply with Clean Air Act requirements.

Still, I think this winds up as an advance. EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson claims that 3,000 premature deaths will be avoided as a direct result of their anti-pollution rules on mercury, sulfur and greenhouse gas emissions, and that $27 billion in annual health benefits will be found. This TVA action is kind of a proof of concept. If the coal boilers are retired, and cleaner sources used as replacement, and the area around the Tennessee Valley gets healthier and more prosperous, then we have primary evidence that EPA did its job well. Of course, conservative lawmakers went back to the only argument they have, that this will raise energy costs. TVA disputes that, and even if it were true, an extra nickel on dime on your electric bill in exchange for an asthma-free child sounds like a good trade. It’s notable that the new Republican Governor of Tennessee, Bill Haslam, endorsed the deal, specifically because of the economic development possibilities.

Hopefully the EPA will get more coal plants retired as soon as possible. This, incidentally, is why you don’t want their regulatory authority curtailed.