News / USA

US Power Plants Ordered to Reduce Pollution

New rule is a breath of fresh air for downwind states

Night shot of Brandon Shores Power Plant, a 1,273 megawatt coal-fired power plant in Anne Arundel County, Maryland.
Night shot of Brandon Shores Power Plant, a 1,273 megawatt coal-fired power plant in Anne Arundel County, Maryland.

Multimedia

Audio
Rosanne Skirble

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has stepped up efforts to cut dirty emissions from power plants. Its new Cross State Air Pollution rule targets pollutants caused by smog and acid rain. The mandate requires plants in 27 states to reduce sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions that contribute to pollution problems in other states.   

John Quinn, environmental affairs director for Constellation Energy, which owns a wide mix of power plants, says the company has worked hard over the past decade to reduce pollution at its coal-fired plant near Baltimore.

According to Quinn, the $800 million scrubber at its Brandon Shores coal-fired plant already reduces SO2 by 95 percent. That's better than the 73-percent target the federal law will require to protect states downwind.

A ball mill inside Brandon Shore scrubber crushes limestone that's eventually mixed with water and sprayed on gases created during the coal combustion process. The end product is gypsum, best known as the material inside wallboard.
A ball mill inside Brandon Shore scrubber crushes limestone that's eventually mixed with water and sprayed on gases created during the coal combustion process. The end product is gypsum, best known as the material inside wallboard.

“You can scrub the sulfur out of the air after it becomes part of the emissions stream," says Quinn. "And the sulfur falls out in a gypsum slurry and that product can be used in a variety of ways, including wallboard. So you make a positive use of that product.”  

The cleaner air resulting from the new standard will save an estimated $280 billion per year in healthcare costs, according to EPA Assistant Administrator Gina McCarthy. She says that benefit far outweighs the estimated cost of capital investments and annual emissions reductions to comply with the new rule.  

“As a result of this rule we will be reducing, starting in 2014 and every year thereafter 34,000 premature deaths, 1.8 million lost work days," says McCarthy. "These are significant health benefits for three-quarters of the U.S. population.”

Jeffrey Holmstead was the architect of a similar emissions-reduction standard when he served as assistant administrator of the EPA under former President George W. Bush. That mandate was thrown out by a federal judge in 2008 for not meeting the requirements of the Clean Air Act.

Holmstead thinks the new rule will survive judicial challenge. But he’s concerned about how power plant operators will respond to other EPA rules still on the way.  

They include mercury and air toxics standards. EPA is also expected to rule later this year on climate-changing greenhouse gas emissions, such as carbon dioxide. Holmstead says the costs of complying with such rules will make it hard for utilities and factories to run profitably in an already difficult U.S. economy.  

“I think that EPA’s view is the cost is acceptable and I think the industry’s view is that EPA is really underestimating the cost and especially given the tight time frames, EPA has said that people have to comply in some cases six months, in some cases, a few years, but not nearly the amount of time that is normally given in these kinds of regulations.”

Holmstead, like many politically conservative critics of the EPA, fears the regulatory climate will cause many U.S. manufacturers either to shut down their operations or move their factories overseas.   

“We’ve already seen in the U.S. that the manufacturing sector has shrunk and with the number of new requirements coming out of EPA, I think there’s significant concern, especially in areas where we have heavy manufacturing today that they just won’t be competitive in global markets, given the increase in the cost of electricity.”

That’s not the scenario envisioned by EPA officials. Current Assistant Administrator McCarthy says power plant upgrades like those at Constellation Energy can create thousands of new jobs. And she says the new rules make industries more competitive by requiring that older, dirtier plants either close or comply with the same clean-air rules as newer facilities.  

McCarthy notes that proposed agency rules for reducing mercury and other toxic air pollutants have been delayed for decades and she believes it’s past time for the EPA to act. “Believe it or not that in this country nationally we have no national standard for toxics, for the largest sector that emits toxic pollution. So we regulate over 90 industry sectors for toxics.  We have failed to regulate the power sector, which emits more toxics than all of the rest of them.”

While critics of the agency in Congress and private industry oppose tighter regulations because of concerns about their potential economic harm, EPA’s Gina McCarthy says the new rules make sense, both for the U.S. economy and for public health.

“We’re doing what we’re supposed to do. We’re implementing the Clean Air Act and we’re doing it in the most cost effective way that we can and we recognize that people are concerned about jobs. People are concerned about the economy. We see that. We factor cost into the rules we do and know that we don’t have to make choices between people breathing clean air and the economy.”

Back at the Brandon Shores power plant near Baltimore, environmental affairs manager Quinn says Constellation Energy has kept pace with change.

“It justifies the expenditures that we made over the last ten years in cleaning up our emissions.”

Constellation Energy has managed to stay ahead of the regulatory curve. EPA officials hope its compliance with the stricter clean air rules will be a model for other U.S. companies. And they hope that success will strengthen the agency’s case against its vocal and powerful critics.  

You May Like

Is Air Travel Safe?

Aviation expert says despite tragic losses of Malaysian Airlines flights 370 and 17, industry experienced lowest fatality rate in recorded history last year More

Multimedia 100 Days Later, Nigerian Girls Still Held

Activists holding rallies in Nigeria and several other countries to mark 100th day of captivity for more than 200 schoolgirls being held by Boko Haram More

Chocolate Too Bitter? Swap Sugar for Mushrooms

US food technology company develops fermentation process using mushrooms to reduce bitterness in cocoa beans, believes it will cut sugar content in candy More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Formi
X
July 22, 2014 10:26 AM
Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Form

Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Relic of Saint Draws Catholics Worried About Immigration Issue

A Roman Catholic saint who is a figure of devotion for those crossing the border into the United States is attracting believers concerned about the plight of undocumented immigrants. Mike O'Sullivan reports from Los Angeles, where a relic of Saint Toribio has drawn thousands to local churches.
Video

Video Ukraine Rebels Surrender MH17 Black Boxes

After days of negotiations, a senior separatist leader handed over two black boxes from an airliner downed over eastern Ukraine to Malaysian experts early Tuesday. While on Monday, the U.N. Security Council unanimously demanded that armed groups controlling the crash site allow safe and unrestricted access to the wreckage.
Video

Video In Cambodia, HIV Diagnosis Brings Deadly Shame

Although HIV/AIDS is now a treatable condition, a positive diagnosis is still a life altering experience. In Cambodia, people living with HIV are often disowned by friends, family and the community. This humiliation can be unbearable. We bring you one Cambodian woman’s struggle to overcome a life tragedy and her own HIV positive diagnosis.
Video

Video Nature of Space Exploration Enters New Age

Forty-five years ago this month, the first humans walked on the moon. It was during an era of the space race between the United States and the Soviet Union. World politics have changed since then and -- as Elizabeth Lee reports -- so has the nature of space exploration.
Video

Video Chicago’s Argonne Lab Developing Battery of the Future

In 2012, the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science awarded a $120 million grant to a new technology center focused on battery development - headquartered at Argonne National Laboratory in suburban Chicago, Illinois. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, there scientists are making the next technological breakthroughs in energy storage.
Video

Video In NW Pakistan, Army Offensive Causes Massive Number of Displaced

Pakistan’s army offensive in North Waziristan has resulted in the large-scale displacement of the local population. VOA's Ayaz Gul reports from northwest Pakistan where authorities say around 80 percent of the estimated 1 million internally displaced persons [IDPs] have settled in Bannu district, while much of the remaining 20 percent are scattered in nearby cities.
Video

Video Kurdish Peshmerga Force Secures Kirkuk, Its Oil

The Kurdistan regional government has sent its Peshmerga troops into the adjacent province of Kirkuk to drive out insurgents, and to secure the area's rich oil fields. By doing this, the regional government has added a fourth province to the three it officially controls. The oil also provides revenue that could make an independent Kurdistan economically strong. VOA’s Jeffrey Young went out with the Peshmerga and filed this report.
Video

Video Malaysia Reeling: Second Air Disaster in Four Months

Malaysia is reeling from the second air disaster in four months involving the country’s flag carrier. Flight 340 vanished in March and despite an extensive search, no debris has been found. And on Thursday, Flight 17, likely hit by a surface-to-air missile, came apart over eastern Ukraine. The two incidents together have left more than 500 people dead. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Kuala Lumpur.

AppleAndroid