Air Pollution From Most Old Power Plants Getting Worse

From: Robina Suwol
Date: 07 Apr 2002
Time: 12:22:24
Remote Name:


Date: 020404

Air Pollution From Most Old Power Plants Getting Worse, Not Better
April 4, 2002 

Trenton - Most of the nation's oldest and dirtiest power plants, are actually getting dirtier, not cleaner, according to a new report released today by 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.

"Power plants across the country have become dramatically dirtier, emitting tens of thousands of tons more of soot-forming sulfur dioxide, smog-forming nitrogen oxides, and carbon dioxide, the leading cause of global warming," said Energy Associate Emily Rusch of  NJPIRG. "This pollution causes serious health problems, such as asthma, bronchitis, even premature death." 

According to the new report, hundreds of power plants emit more pollution today than just a few years ago, many increasing by thousands of tons per year. For example, here in New Jersey carbon dioxide produced in just five of our power plants increased by almost four million tons from 1995 to 2000. The increases occurred 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 "hotspots," the Bush plan would actually expand the concept of "cap and trade" to include mercury, a toxic pollutant. This is of particular concern for New Jersey because the EPA has issued mercury advisories for 100 percent of our lakes and rivers. 

"What we've seen in the administration has been a cut of environmental enforcement actions by 20 percent in the first year. Now the administration is trying to implement a "No-Source-Review" program for dirty power plants," said Jeff Tittel, Director of the New Jersey chapter of the Sierra Club. 

By analyzing Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) emissions data from 1995 and 2000, "Darkening Skies" finds that: 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 earlier this month shows that this pollution may also cause lung cancer. 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 cause asthma in athletic children. Many of the plants with the highest increase in 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." Virtually all of New Jersey is classified as an "extreme and severe" non-attainment area for national standards for ground level ozone. 

"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," said Rusch. "The answer is to combine caps with modern pollution standards for all plants, and to step up enforcement of current Clean Air Act rules," she continued. 

New Jersey has firsthand experience with the effectiveness of modern pollution standards. In late January of this year, PSE&G settled a lawsuit with the Department of Justice to spend over $300 million dollars to clean up its Mercer and Hudson plants. Currently the plants are by far the two largest polluters in the state. 

"Because of this settlement, New Jersey understands better than any other state the importance of enforcement standards such as New Source Review. The good news is that our statewide emissions of nitrogen oxides and sulfur dioxide will decrease. However, New Jersey power plants should also be reducing carbon dioxide, and challenging our neighboring states to do the same, said Rusch." 

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 emissions by thirteen percent in the six years studied. The state of Texas had far and away the largest net CO2 increase from its power plants, which collectively emitted 37 million tons more CO2 in 2000 than in 1995. In New Jersey, PSE&G's Hudson plant had the greatest increase in CO2 emissions, over 2 million tons higher in 2000 than in 1995. PSE&G's settlement with the Department of Justice did not include mandatory reductions for carbon dioxide. 

"It has never been so clear that we need a serious plan to curb power plant pollution, to protect the communities left out in the cold by the current law," Rusch said. "Such a plan exists: the Jeffords-Lieberman Clean Power Act (S. 556) in the Senate, and the Waxman-Boehlert Clean Smokestacks Act (H.R. 1256) in the House. We know what we need to do to clean up power plants, and we have the technology to do it. We thank Senators Corzine and Torricelli for sponsoring the Clean Power Act. New Jersey should be leading the way to cleaning up our air and protecting our health. 

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For More Information: 
Emily Rusch, NJPIRG (609) 394-8155 x307 
Jeff Tittel, Sierra Club (609) 558-9100 

The New Jersey Public Interest Research Group 
Citizen Lobby and Law & Policy Center 
11 North Willow Street 
Trenton NJ 08608 

Last changed: May 16, 2007