(IPS) New Clean Air Rules Force Some Coal Plants to Close


This article first appeared on the Inter-Press Service website at: http://ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=56683

ATLANTA, Georgia, Jul 29, 2011 (IPS) – Utility companies across the U.S. have announced plans to shut down and retire several coal-fired power plants following a new rule published by the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) intended to reduce emissions of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide.

The new rule, called the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule (CSAP), announced on Jul. 7, is one of several new rules expected from the EPA that will make it difficult for the coal industry to keep aging plants running.

Other proposed rules which will likely force the closure of several coal plants in the near future include a new standard limiting mercury pollution, expected later this year; a limit to carbon dioxide pollution; a limit to ozone pollution; and regulations on coal ash, a toxic by-product of coal power plants.

EPA estimates the CSAP rule will save as many as 34,000 lives nationally each year.

“No community should have to bear the burden of another community’s polluters, or be powerless to prevent air pollution that leads to asthma, heart attacks and other harmful illnesses. These Clean Air Act safeguards will help protect the health of millions of Americans and save lives by preventing smog and soot pollution from traveling hundreds of miles and contaminating the air they breathe,” EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson said in a statement.

On Jul. 11, Southern Company announced plans to retire two coal-fired units at Plant Branch in Millidgeville, Georgia, as a result of the new CSAP rule. One is scheduled to close in October 2013 and another by December 2013.

Two days later, Dallas-based Energy Future Holdings Corp said it may have to close some of its 12 coal-burning power plants in the state of Texas as a result of the new CSAP rule.

On Jul. 15, Duke Energy Ohio announced it will retire all six coal- fired generation units at its W.C. Beckjord Station, southwest of Cincinnati, Ohio, by Jan. 1, 2015, as a result of the new rule and new proposals.

On Jul. 24, Duke Energy announced it will retire three coal units at the Lee Steam Station in Williamston, South Carolina, in late 2014.

“Lisa Jackson’s doing an amazing job fighting for the little guy, she’s getting beat up by utilities, she deserves kudos,” Jennette Gayer, an advocate with Environment Georgia, told IPS.

“Some utilities are supporting the rule moving forward, they’ve been looking at the tea leaves and seen this rule coming for decades. The utilities that are kicking and screaming are the ones who’ve been kicking and screaming all along. Some of them said, this is coming for real, we do need to control pollution that’s making people sick. And others said, we’re gonna fight this,” Gayer said.

Companies are choosing to close coal plants based on the cost of implementing the upgrades that would be required to comply with the new EPA rules.

“Some of it is the alternatives are becoming a lot cheaper, as solar and wind comes down, and as natural gas is really cheap right now,” Gayer said, adding she prefers solar and wind to natural gas, but is happy to make progress in eliminating coal power.

The new CSAP rule sets limits on how much sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide can be emitted into the environment in each state, and then gives each state discretion on how it will ensure the limit is not exceeded.

“Coal is the dirtiest source of energy we know. It’s been causing problems all over the country for many, many years. Power companies like to say we’ve had really cheap power all this time. But we’re having to pay the health care costs for all these people, lost work, lost school. We as a society pay more than what we pay on our power bill,” Colleen Kiernan, executive director ofSierra Club‘s Georgia Chapter, told IPS.

Part of the new EPA rule, called selective catalytic reduction, deals with nitrogen pollution. Nitrogen mixes with other chemicals in the atmosphere to create ozone, which, if inhaled, causes the equivalent of a “sun burn in your throat”, according to Kiernan.

The other part of the rule, requiring wet scrubbers in coal plants, deals with sulfur pollution. Sulfur mixes with other chemicals in the atmosphere to create very tiny particles called particulate matter, which can get into people’s blood streams and cause various diseases, Kiernan said.

Kiernan added that “cleaner energy sources will now be able to compete”, noting that utility companies have enjoyed relatively cheap coal production at the expense of not having to pay for technologies to reduce pollution and protect public health.

“And now there’s more room for clean energy to come on line,” she said.

Republicans in the U.S. Congress, particularly the House of Representatives, are attempting to delay the new rules, and strip the EPA of its resources, among other measures.

But environmental and health advocates hope these efforts, backed by the utility industry lobbyists, are not successful.

“The Cross-State Air Pollution Rule is a vital component of the EPA’s effort to protect the health of millions of Americans who live downwind of power plants that belch out life-threatening pollution,” Albert Rizzo of the American Lung Association said in a statement.

“Too many Americans suffer from life-threatening ozone and air pollution emitted by coal-burning power plants,” Georges C. Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association, added.

(END / 2011)

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