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OCTOBER 28, 2003
4:49 PM
CONTACT:  U.S. Public Interest Research Group
Brandon Wu or Liz Hitchcock, 202-546-9707
New Report: Bush Administration Air Policies Allow Nearly 10 Million Tons of Excess Soot and Smog Pollution
WASHINGTON - October 28 - According to a new Clear the Air report released today, the vast majority of air pollution from the nation’s dirtiest power plants could be cleaned up with modern pollution controls – and should be under the Clean Air Act – but would remain untouched under the Bush Administration's new rules. Authored by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, “Lethal Legacy” is the first analysis of newly released EPA data on power plant emissions in 2002.

The authors found that power plants in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas, Indiana, and Florida led the way in emissions of three key pollutants: soot-forming sulfur dioxide, smog-forming nitrogen oxide, and carbon dioxide, a leading cause of global warming. A majority of the emissions of the first two pollutants is pollution that could be cleaned up with readily available pollution controls, and should be cleaned up under current law. The Bush Administration’s policies, however, would leave these “excess” emissions untouched.

“Americans in the Midwest and Southeast are the hardest hit by the Bush Administration’s policies,” said Angela Ledford, Executive Director of Clear the Air. “The soot and smog pollution that is left in the air thanks to the Bush plan causes serious health problems, triggering asthma attacks, heart attacks, and even causing premature death.”

According to the new report, the oldest and dirtiest grandfathered power plants constitute about half (548) of the power plants nationwide, but are responsible for emitting more than 98% of the smog-forming nitrogen oxide (NOx) pollution, 99% of soot-forming sulfur dioxide (SO2) pollution, and 91% of global warming gas carbon dioxide (CO2) from the entire electric sector. These plants are responsible for this lion’s share of pollution because Congress gave older power plants a temporary exemption or “grandfathering” from new pollution standards in the 1977 Clean Air Act amendments. These grandfathered plants are still using pollution control equipment that dates from the 1950s and 1960s, and are therefore emitting 80% to 90% more pollution per unit of electric output than a new plant.

“It’s high time to require old power plants to meet the same pollution standards that have been met by newer plants for years,” said U.S. PIRG’s Brandon Wu, the author of the report. “Doing so would prevent tens of thousands of premature deaths from heart and lung disease each year.”

While President Bush has promised on numerous occasions to clean up old power plants, he has broken those promises with two major actions while in office. First, the Bush Administration’s EPA issued controversial changes to the rules governing industrial emissions that extend the grandfathering status of power plants in perpetuity. The report shows that these rule changes to a program known as New Source Review (NSR) will conservatively allow 7.1 million tons of soot-forming SO2 emissions, and 2.7 million tons of smog-forming NOx emissions to go unchecked.

Second, he has announced support for a legislative policy that further weakens the Clean Air Act’s programs for soot, smog and toxic mercury, while ignoring the threat of global warming entirely. The Administration’s Clear Skies policy exempts power plants from the Clean Air Act rule that would require plant-specific controls for NOx, SO2 and mercury, while replacing those programs with pollution caps that allow higher levels of emissions over a longer period of time compared to current law. Moreover, it continues to allow power plants to emit unlimited amounts of CO2.

“The Bush Administration’s broken promises reverse more than thirty years of progress made under the Clean Air Act,” Wu said. “If the Administration’s policies stand, the public will face the consequences in the form of respiratory disease, acid rain, haze in our national parks and global warming.”

Key findings of the report include:

o In 2002, dirty, grandfathered power plants emitted more than 10 million tons of sulfur dioxide, the pollution that forms “fine particle” soot and causes asthma attacks, heart disease and even death. Research published in 2001 in the Journal of the American Medical Association shows that this pollution may also cause lung cancer. Seventy percent of this pollution is “excess” and would be eliminated with faithful enforcement of the Clean Air Act. Power plants in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Indiana emitted the most sulfur dioxide in the nation.

o In 2002, dirty power plants emitted 4.4 million tons of nitrogen oxides, the pollution that forms ozone smog and can trigger asthma attacks. Research has shown that this pollution may actually cause asthma in athletic children. Nearly two-thirds (62%) of nitrogen oxide pollution from power plants would be eliminated with faithful enforcement of the Clean Air Act. Power plants in Ohio, Indiana, and Florida emitted the most nitrogen oxide.

o In 2002, dirty, grandfathered power plants emitted 2.2 billion tons of carbon dioxide, the leading cause of global warming. This represents roughly 35% of total CO2 emissions in the U.S. from all sources. Power plants in Texas are by far the largest emitters of CO2 in the nation, with Ohio and Indiana second and third respectively.

Instead of rolling back clean air protections, the organizations recommended stronger enforcement of the current Clean Air Act, and a comprehensive federal policy on power plant pollution to include mandatory reductions of CO2.

Clear the Air is a joint effort of:

Clean Air Task Force (CATF), National Environmental Trust (NET) and U. S. Public Interest Research Group (U.S. PIRG)


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