Air pollution from old power plants getting worse

Air pollution from old power plants getting worse

By By Brian Metcalf

By Brian Metcalf

Environmental Associate

Most of the nation’s oldest and dirtiest power plants, including the E.D. Edwards and Marion plants in Illinois, are actually getting dirtier, not cleaner, according to a new report released today by the Illinois Public Interest Research Group (Illinois PIRG) and the Clear the Air Campaign. “Darkening Skies: Trends Toward Increasing Power Plant Emissions” comes just weeks after the release of the Bush administration’s highly-touted “Clear Skies” power plant initiative–and demonstrates significant inherent flaws in the president’s approach.

“Illinois’ coal-fired power plants continue to pollute at unacceptable levels, producing 11,319,749 more tons of carbon dioxide, the leading cause of global warming, in the year 2000 than in the year 1995,” said Frank Houston, legislative associate for Illinois PIRG. “We cannot continue to expect voluntary action on the part of the polluters to be sufficient in protecting us from the impacts of global warming,” Houston continued.

According to the new report, hundreds of power plants nationally emit more pollution today than just a few years ago, many increasing by thousands of tons per year. This is despite the Clean Air Act’s “Acid Rain” program, which has been in place for a decade and is frequently hailed as a great success.

Though the Acid Rain program has resulted in pollution cuts on a nationwide scale, its “cap and trade” approach allows individual plants to increase emissions if they buy “pollution credits” from other plants that have cut their emissions more deeply than required. Such increases can have dramatic public health and environmental impacts on the communities adjacent to those power plants. Instead of crafting a plan that would make every power plant clean up and thus avoid these “hot spots,” the Bush plan would actually expand the concept of “cap and trade” to include mercury, a toxic pollutant.

“Americans want their kids to breathe healthy air. We need our government to make dirty power plants clean up their act, not create a “pollution trading” smokescreen to hide behind,” stated Jack Darin, executive director of the Illinois Chapter of the Sierra Club.

By analyzing Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) emissions data from 1995 and 2000, “Darkening Skies” finds that:

l 300 of the 500 dirtiest power plants increased their emissions of sulfur dioxide, the pollution that forms “fine particle” soot and causes asthma attacks, heart disease and even death. New research published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) last month connects this pollution to new cases of lung cancer as well as lung cancer deaths. The E.D. Edwards Power plant has the greatest increase in sulfur dioxide pollution in Illinois from 1995-2000, at 13,763 more tons a year.

l 263 of the 500 dirtiest power plants increased their emissions of nitrogen oxides, the pollution that forms ozone smog and can trigger asthma attacks. New research published last month shows that this pollution may actually trigger asthma in athletic children. The Marion power plant has the greatest increase in nitrogen oxides in the state from 1995-2000, at 7,272 more tons a year.

Many of the plants that increased emissions were located in places that can least afford pollution increases—areas that are not meeting the 1997 national health standards for fine particles and ozone “smog.”

For example:

l Cook, DuPage, Macon, Madison, St. Clair and Peoria counties are not meeting the 1997 fine particle standard for sulfur dioxide. Sulfur dioxide emissions cause the formation of fine particles, and the increasing sulfur dioxide emissions from nearby plants will make it even more difficult for these counties to meet public health standards.

l Cook, Jersey, and Madison counties are not meeting the 1997 ozone (smog) standard. Nitrogen oxides form smog and increased nitrogen oxides from nearby plants will make it even more difficult to meet public health.

“The lesson in this data is that we cannot rely on pollution caps to ensure pollution reductions where they are needed most, where people are suffering most from smog and soot in the air,” stated James Reed, legislative director with Citizen Action/Illinois. “The answer is to combine caps with modern pollution standards for all plants, and to step up enforcement of current Clean Air Act rules,” Reed continued.

Finally, the report finds that the absence of mandatory limits on carbon dioxide has resulted in a sharp rise in total emissions of the gas, which forms a heat-trapping blanket in the atmosphere that leads to global warming. In fact, the 500 most polluting power plants increased carbon dioxide (C02) emissions by 13 percent in the six years studied. The state of Texas had far and away the largest net C02 increase from its power plants, which collectively emitted 37 million tons more C02 in 2000 than in 1995. In Illinois, the Kincaid Power plant had the greatest increase in C02 emissions from 1995-2000, of 3,518,911 tons.

Other local findings in the report include:

l Power plants in Illinois had a massive increase in C02. From 1995-2000, C02 emissions increased by 11,319,749 tons, more than all but seven states.

l Illinois is home to two power plants with the largest nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions increases in the country. Emissions increased by 7,272 tons at the Marion Power Plant in Williamson County and 6,807 tons at the Kincaid Power Plant.

l Illinois is home to three power plants with large increases of sulfur dioxide (S02) emissions. Between 1995-2000, S02 emissions increased by:

l 13,763 tons at the E D Edwards Power Plant in Peoria County.

l 13,443 tons at the Marion County Power Plant in Williamson County.

l 10,378 tons at the Vermillion Power Plant in Vermillion County.

l Since these pollutants have their worst impacts on people living nearby, communities where any of these plants are located should be concerned. However, the problem is especially worrisome for people in Peoria County, where air quality has failed to meet the federal health standard for fine particles in 1999-2000. Increasing S02 emissions from the E.D. Edwards plant will make attainment of this standard more difficult.

“Darkening Skies: Trends Toward Increasing Power Plant Emissions” reinforces how the increase in coal-fired power plant pollution in Illinois continues to cause:

l Significant premature loss of life, with an estimated loss of 1,700 lives a year attributed to this pollution.

l Significant increases in asthma attacks and other breathing difficulties, with an estimated 33,100 asthma attacks a year attributed to this pollution.

l Significant economic impacts, with an estimated loss of 283,000 work days a year attributed to this pollution.

“It has never been so clear that we need a serious plan to curb power plant pollution, in order to protect the health and welfare of Illinois communities,” Houston said. “Such a plan exists: the Jeffords-Lieberman Clean Power Act in the U.S. Senate, and the Waxman-Boehlert Clean Smokestacks Act in the U.S. House. We know what needs to done to clean up our power plants. We have the technology to do it. Now we need our elected leaders to act. We are calling on U.S. Senators Durbin and Fitzgerald to cosponsor the Clean Power Act and to oppose any administration-backed rollbacks of the Clean Air Act,” Houston concluded.

Enjoy The Rock River Times? Help spread the word!