Environment
7:00 pm
Thu August 9, 2012

PA Third Worst State for Toxic Air Pollution from Power Plants, Down from Second

For the second year running Pennsylvania made the list—the Natural Resources Defense Council’s ranking of the “Toxic 20.” The report lists the states where the most toxic air pollution from coal- and oil-fired power plants is released.

The report analyzed the emissions of common power plant pollutants, such as mercury, hydrochloric acid, sulfuric acid, and ammonia, that were released during 2010, the most recent year data is available. The report is based on data from the Environmental Protection Agency and was first produced last year based on 2009 emissions.

From 2009 to 2010, Pennsylvania slid from second to third worst, ranked below Kentucky and Ohio, according to the report. State emissions fell 24%, from 50.5 million pounds to 40.2 million. All but 6 states on the list improved on last year’s levels, leading to a national reduction of 19%.

NRDC clean air director and senior attorney John Walke said the “very welcome” decline is a result to two factors: “The first is the increasing use by power companies of natural gas, which is a cheaper and less-polluting fuel. The second factor is the installation of state-of-the-art pollution controls by many plants,” he said.

Pennsylvania, however, is still home to the second heaviest polluting power plant in the country, the Keystone Generation Station, located approximately 50 miles northeast of Pittsburgh. This coal-fired plant released more than 6.7 million pounds of toxic air pollution in 2010. While still large, this number is nearly a third it was in 2009, due to the installation of pollution control systems.

“Make no mistake about it,” Walke said, “we have a long way to go to reduce toxic air pollution from power plants. Our report found that coal- and oil-fired power plants still contribute nearly half, approximately 44%, of all the toxic air pollution reported,” he said. And by far the biggest contributor to the state’s toxic air pollution level is electricity generation (78%), following by petroleum products, paper products, and primary metals, at 4% each. Similar ratios are echoed throughout the country.

New EPA standards regulating mercury and air toxins are set to take effect in 2015. If upheld, the standards will cut the 2010 mercury air pollution levels by 79%. “We’re talking about major public health benefits for all Americans,” Walke said. The resulting pollution reductions could avoid up to 11,000 premature deaths, 130,000 asthma attacks, 4,700 heart attacks, and 2,800 cases of chronic bronchitis annually, Walke said. In June, Sen. James M. Inhofe (R-Okla.) attempted to block the new EPA limits, but failed. The NRDC expects the dispute will be re-opened once Congress resumes its session.