TOLEDO —”Ohio’s energy future must become a more prominent issue in this year’s political campaigns, given its role as a key swing state. Ohio also is a battleground for the nation’s energy-policy debate, considering its proximity to the Great Lakes.
The lakes get most of their pollution from toxic air releases that settle on the water. The EPA’s mercury rule is projected to bring down emissions of that dangerous neurotoxin by 79 percent from 2010 levels starting in 2015.
The Obama Administration, with help from U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D., Ohio), has staved off an intense effort by Republican lawmakers to undo the mercury rule. But such misguided attempts at repeal are likely to continue.
Ohio’s future energy markets and public health, as well as the health of the Great Lakes region, will be greatly influenced by the outcome of this fall’s election. Ohio has made progress in reducing air pollution, but has far to go. State and federal policy makers should build on, not demolish, what’s already in place.”
— editorial, Toledo Blade
link to article
Brown, Mandel duke it out over resources
WASHINGTON, DC — “Brown and Mandel have skirmished over a rule proposed by the Environmental Protection Agency, called the Utility MACT rule. The proposed EPA rule — issued last year to comply a court order stemming from the 1990 Clean Air Act — would require coal and oil-fired power plants to reduce emissions of mercury and other pollutants. MACT stands for Maximum Achievable Control Technology.
Mandel says the rule would cripple Ohio’s coal industry and has sharply criticized Brown for a vote last month in the Senate against legislation to block the rule from taking effect.
‘Sen. Brown had the opportunity to stand up for Ohio manufacturing jobs, but instead he stood with Washington bureaucrats and fringe extremists,’ said Mandel, pointing to figures from the Ohio Manufacturing Association that estimate the rule could cost 50,000 jobs in the state.
Brown said the rule will not cost jobs and said his position is based on protecting public health. ‘Mercury is a very toxic substance,’he said. ‘I reject the false choice between having clean air to breath and a job to support a family.’”
— Deirdre Shesgreen, Cincinnati Enquirer
link to article
WASHINGTON, DC — “The Democrat-controlled Senate defeated a bid Wednesday to block the Environmental Protection Agency from setting the first federal standards to reduce toxic air pollution from power plants.
Republicans were behind the effort, but they didn’t get enough votes to move ahead. It was the second time in this Congress that Senate Republicans failed to muster a majority to scrap an Obama administration rule aimed at curbing air pollution from primarily coal-fired power plants.
…The measure would have overturned a long-overdue regulation to slash mercury and other toxic emissions from the oldest and most polluting oil- and coal-fired power plants. Since 1990, the EPA has had that power, and in 2000 concluded that such action was necessary.”
— Dina Cappiello, Associated Press
link to article
— Ben Geman and Daniel Strauss, The Hill
“Others haven’t prepared – because they have chosen to focus on profits rather than upgrading or investing in these smaller, older and less efficient coal-fired plants that were paid for decades ago and that they’ll tell you would be retired anyway. That’s right. Every single plant slated for closure in West Virginia was already on the chopping block from their own corporate boards within several years. It’s important to be truthful to miners that coal plants will close because of decisions made by corporate boards long ago – not just because of EPA regulations, but because the plants are no longer economical as utilities build low-emission natural gas plants.” — Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), during yesterday’s Senate debate on the mercury rule
— Ken Ward Jr., Charleston Gazette
Congratulations to everyone who contributed to this victory. Ohio Citizen Action members sent 10,366 handwritten letters and petition signatures to Ohio’s U.S. Senators urging them to support these new pollution rules. 6,615 messages went to Senator Sherrod Brown, and 3,751 messages went to Senator Rob Portman. The two legislators split on the mercury rule, with Brown voting to uphold it, and Portman voting against.
— Paul Ryder, Assistant Director, Ohio Citizen Action
ELYRIA — “Lake Erie receives the most mercury pollution from coal-fired power plants of the five Great Lakes, according to a report released Wednesday by the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental watchdog.
Coal-fired power plants are responsible for 50 percent of emissions of mercury — a toxic substance that can damage the brain, heart and lungs, and cause brain damage in children and fetuses — according to the federal Environmental Protection Agency.
With 2,865 pounds emitted per year, Ohio accounts for 21 percent of annual mercury emissions, the most of the eight Great Lakes states, according to the report, which relied on EPA statistics.
The report also said the Genon power plant in Avon Lake had the seventh-highest mercury emissions in Ohio. The 732-megawatt, coal-fired plant — the No. 1 air polluter in Lorain County in 2010 with 2.4 million metric tons of greenhouse gases emitted — has been slated for closure in 2015.”
— Evan Goodenow, Elyria Chronicle-Telegram
link to article
WASHINGTON, DC — “On Wednesday, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) released its “Environmental Outlook to 2050,” which contained a few spots of cheery news. Humanity is making steady progress against malaria. Worldwide, the number of deaths from the disease are expected to fall by half by 2050. And fewer people will die from unsafe drinking water and poor sanitation in the future. But the number of deaths caused by air pollution — which includes ground-level ozone, particulate matter, and “indoor pollution” — are expected to skyrocket, killing more than 6 million people per year by mid-century:
…Wealthy countries aren’t immune, either, especially as places like the United States and Europe age, given that the elderly are especially sensitive to ozone pollution. While it’s technically feasible to reduce ground-level ozone, these control measures tend to be pricey and controversial — the Obama White House nixed stricter ozone standards last September for this very reason.
Other pollutants, however, could prove much easier to tackle. Take particulate pollution, which the OECD expects will kill 3.6 million people per year by 2050. A lot of lung-damaging particulate matter comes from the burning of fossil fuels. And actions to curb them can prove quite cost-effective. The EPA’s new regulations on mercury, for instance, will reduce U.S. particulate pollution, as coal plants install new scrubbers. That, the agency estimates, will save an estimated 11,000 lives per year by 2016 and deliver between $36 billion to $89 billion per year in health benefits. And all for a cost of $9.6 billion per year.”
— Brad Plumer, Washington Post
Read the whole story: http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/ezra-klein/post/whats-going-to-kill-us-in-2050-air-pollution–and-lots-of-it/2012/03/15/gIQAgiDgES_blog.html
COLUMBUS — “A new analysis is shedding light on a little-known source of toxic air pollution. Industrial boilers are the on-site power plants used by major industrial operations. They are believed to be contributing to the deaths of thousands of people across the country and in Ohio.
A report from Earthjustice finds these boilers are releasing millions of pounds of toxic pollutants into the air, including 800 pounds of mercury each year in Ohio alone. Earthjustice staff attorney Jim Pew explains that so much mercury can do a lot of damage.
‘Less than a teaspoon is enough to contaminate a 20-acre lake to the point where that lake is not safe to eat fish from, so 800 pounds is a remarkable amount – especially given that Ohio has other sources of mercury, as well.’
Among the states, Ohio ranks second for boiler emissions of mercury and first for lead and chromium emissions. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is preparing tighter boiler air-pollution standards that will bring industrial plants into Clean Air Act compliance, like other power plants. Some in the industry fear the planned federal rules could slow economic growth.”
— Mary Kuhlman, Public News Service
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Read the story en español
WASHINGTON, DC — “After 20 years of delay and litigation by polluters, the Obama administration approved in December one of the most important rules in the history of the Clean Air Act. It will require power plants to reduce emissions of mercury and other toxic pollutants by more than 90 percent in the next five years and is expected to prevent as many as 11,000 premature deaths annually from asthma, other respiratory diseases and heart attacks.
The technology to control the pollutants is readily available. The health benefits far outweigh the costs to the power companies.
…It is true that the mercury rule, and other clean air regulations, will require substantial upgrades in older, coal-burning power plants and force others to close down. The power companies have had years to prepare. In addition to reducing emissions of global warming gases and ground-level pollutants, the upgrades are expected to create as many as 45,000 temporary construction jobs over the next five years and possibly 8,000 permanent jobs.”
— editorial, New York Times
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CLEVELAND — “To read the maps [78 MB pdf download] is actually easy, but it’s more important to understand how to interpret what they mean to the average neighbor. Each color is a different average daily concentration that will be experienced over the five years they modeled. As you get further away, the concentration gets lower. Purple and dark blue are highest, light pink is lowest. They only modeled the impact to a distance of 2,000 meters, 6,561 feet, or about 1.2 miles away from the stacks. (Not really “well over a mile” as the report says.)
The report states the following:
“The AERMOD [American Meteorological Society/Environmental Protection Agency Regulatory Model] dispersion modeling was performed with the maximum worst case hourly emissions requested in the air permit application. The air quality modeling assumed that all four proposed gasifier lines were simultaneously operating at the maximum operating rate and maximum emission rate for each air pollutant for each hour of the five‐year period.”
Put another way, the maps show the average additional pollution that these neighborhoods will experience every day for five years if the plant runs at max capacity and all things go as planned.
First, some background. They are using the National Ambient Air Quality Standards. These standards are not for a single source. They are what is allowed for the outdoor air. In other words, if the air currently has 50 percent of that pollutant, a new pollution source adds to it. In order to determine impact of a single source such as the incinerator, one needs to know the average and max concentrations already present. So don’t be fooled when someone quotes that the plant will only emit a low percentage of the National Ambient Air Quality Standards. They are allowing that plant to add to our air. That puts a burden not only on health, but on the entire region, because the region must stay below the standards. According to the U.S. EPA –
“The Clean Air Act, which was last amended in 1990, requires [the U.S.] EPA to set National Ambient Air Quality Standards for pollutants considered harmful to public health and the environment. The Clean Air Act identifies two types of national ambient air quality standards. Primary standards provide public health protection, including protecting the health of ‘sensitive’ populations such as asthmatics, children, and the elderly. Secondary standards provide public welfare protection, including protection against decreased visibility and damage to animals, crops, vegetation, and buildings.”
The U.S. EPA has set National Ambient Air Quality Standards for six principal pollutants, which are called “criteria” pollutants. For example, from the modeling maps, let’s take a look at one of the pollutants, SO2, the rotten egg smell, a known toxin, and is a primary cause of acid rain (mix SO2 with water, get sulfuric acid). It may be important to note the model reports SO2 in concentrations of micrograms per cubic meter of air. The standard uses parts-per-billion or parts-per-million for SO2.
According to the model, the average per hour emission of SO2 for five years can be anywhere from 10% of the max allowable up to more than 40. The maps do not provide the complete upper range of the concentration for any area, only a color area showing the range of that average. In other words, any one of these spots may experience the max predicted concentration at any given time (unpredictable). For SO2, that max is predicted to be 23% of the allowable. So there is a very close neighborhood shown in purple/dark blue that will always experience a range of greater than 20% of the allowable for SO2. The next area, blue, will experience, always, a range of 30-40% of the max allowable; then light blue, a 20-30%; the pinks are less than 20%.
So when they say the plant won’t emit odors, ask them how sensitive they are to that rotten egg smell. We often get it from other plants around town, depending on their operations. It is always unwanted.
For lead, the max range is greater than 13% of the allowable. This is in addition to the exposure currently experienced by an already poisoned and at risk population. Lead poisoning in children has long been a problem in Cleveland, with huge efforts by the public health sector to reduce the incidence. Lead poisoning is thought by some to be one of our region’s worst public health tragedies, annually impacting tens of thousands of our children over several decades if not nearly a century of exposure.
More quotes from the U.S. EPA, not the Ohio EPA, which is a bit different, both in operations, quality, experience, and legality –
“Sulfur dioxide (SO2) is one of a group of highly reactive gasses known as ‘oxides of sulfur.’ The largest sources of SO2 emissions are from fossil fuel combustion at power plants (73%) and other industrial facilities (20%). Smaller sources of SO2 emissions include industrial processes such as extracting metal from ore, and the burning of high sulfur containing fuels by locomotives, large ships, and non-road equipment. SO2 is linked with a number of adverse effects on the respiratory system.
“EPA first set standards for SO2 in 1971. EPA set a 24-hour primary standard at 140 parts-per-billion and an annual average standard at 30 parts-per-billion (to protect health). EPA also set a 3-hour average secondary standard at 500 parts-per-billion (to protect the public welfare). In the last review, EPA also considered, but did not set, a 5-minute NAAQS to protect asthmatics at elevated ventilation rates from bronchoconstriction and respiratory symptoms associated with 5-10 minute peaks of SO2. [This means that high but short concentrations that produce acute, dangerous reactions is a small sector of the population are not considered].
“Current scientific evidence links short-term exposures to SO2, ranging from 5 minutes to 24 hours, with an array of adverse respiratory effects including bronchoconstriction and increased asthma symptoms. These effects are particularly important for asthmatics at elevated ventilation rates (e.g., while exercising or playing.)
“Studies also show a connection between short-term exposure and increased visits to emergency departments and hospital admissions for respiratory illnesses, particularly in at-risk populations including children, the elderly, and asthmatics. EPA’s National Ambient Air Quality Standard for SO2 is designed to protect against exposure to the entire group of sulfur oxides (SOx). SO2 is the component of greatest concern and is used as the indicator for the larger group of gaseous sulfur oxides (SOx). Other gaseous sulfur oxides (e.g., SO3) are found in the atmosphere at concentrations much lower than SO2. Emissions that lead to high concentrations of SO2 generally also lead to the formation of other SOx. Control measures that reduce SO2 can generally be expected to reduce people’s exposures to all gaseous SOx. This may have the important co-benefit of reducing the formation of fine sulfate particles, which pose significant public health threats.
“SOx can react with other compounds in the atmosphere to form small particles. These particles penetrate deeply into sensitive parts of the lungs and can cause or worsen respiratory disease, such as emphysema and bronchitis, and can aggravate existing heart disease, leading to increased hospital admissions and premature death. EPA’s NAAQS for particulate matter (PM) are designed to provide protection against these health effects.”
— Scott Armour, Armour Applied Science, LLC, Director, Cleveland Chapter of the Indoor Air Quality Association
— Nathan Rutz, Angela Oster, Ohio Citizen Action
The closure of the Bay Shore Power Plant could restore the fish population. / WNWO newsfile
TOLEDO — “Environmentalists and charter fishing captains expect Lake Erie’s fish population to climb with the closing of coal-burning units at a Ohio power plant near the mouth of the lake’s biggest tributary.
The plant, which is being shut down by its operator because of new air pollution rules, sucks in billions of gallons of water each year and kills millions of fish near some of the lake’s most popular fishing spots.
Environmental groups have said for years that the fish kills have contributed to declining levels of both yellow perch and walleye, two prized fish that draw anglers from around the Midwest. The groups have tried to force the plant’s owner, Akron-based FirstEnergy Corp., to install costly changes that would stop millions of fish from being killed each year.
But last week, FirstEnergy announced it was shutting down six older, coal-fired power plants, including one that sits along the Maumee River near Toledo. The plant cools its machinery with water from the river, which also is a prime spot for spawning walleye.
Drawing out the water kills 46 million adult fish each year, many of which were less desirable fish, but would have gone into the lake’s food chain. The toll includes millions more fish eggs and tiny fish in their larval form. ‘Now those numbers will be way down,’ said Sandy Bihn, who leads a group called the Western Lake Erie Waterkeeper Association.”
— Associated Press
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AKRON — “What deserves emphasis is the reason behind the closings, the Clean Air Act placing the national priority on public health. Mercury is a neurotoxin, science revealing its capacity to cause developmental problems for children, not to mention contributing, along with other toxic pollutants, to heart disease, asthma, cancer and premature death. More, emissions fall to the ground, and carried by rain and snow flow into rivers and lakes, even attaching to the food chain.
For years, federal officials have had the task of curbing mercury pollution. George W. Bush attempted to implement rules, but they were found insufficient by the courts. In that way, the effort of the Obama White House comes as no surprise, the Environmental Protection Agency finally issuing rules that reflect the mandate of the law.
The cry quickly sounded about the excessive cost, especially in a fragile economy. What the critics push aside are the far greater benefits, long the outcome of such environmental legislation. The EPA calculates that the mercury rules will prevent 11,000 premature deaths and 4,700 heart attacks per year. They will reduce childhood asthma cases by 130,000 and result in fewer hospital visits and fewer missed days at school and work.
The agency projects that an estimated $11 billion in implementation costs will translate into $37 billion to $90 billion in benefits by 2016.”
— editorial, Akron Beacon Journal
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CLEVELAND — “The EPA should be more deliberative in rolling out regulations that disproportionately affect coal states, with adjustment assistance to the communities most affected.
The EPA’s draft rules on the temperature of water discharges by power plants are expected by the end of the summer, with final rules on fly ash and cinders by the end of the year, said Ray Evans, director of FirstEnergy’s environmental department. FirstEnergy officials said the company is looking at whether other plants will have to be shut down, although they didn’t identify which ones might be vulnerable.
Even if PJM Interconnection, the regional transmission organization to which FirstEnergy belongs, decides that FirstEnergy must build a plant or keep one of the six plants open to protect the grid, the decision still won’t save all of the jobs.
The feds have to find a way to make achieving clean air hurt a lot less.”
— editorial, Cleveland Plain Dealer
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TOLEDO — “FirstEnergy Corp. says it will close by Sept. 1 the three oldest and most-polluting units at its Bay Shore power plant in Oregon. It’s time.
Bay Shore is not primarily a victim of new anti-pollution rules, as the utility asserts. Instead, its poor planning and lack of vision date to 1955, when the largely coal-fired plant opened.
The plant provided decades of stable local employment, but too often at the expense of Ohio’s greatest natural asset, Lake Erie. Although the closures will cost 80 of Bay Shore’s 153 remaining employees their jobs, FirstEnergy says 57 of them qualify for the company’s most-generous severance package.
Last year, the Obama Administration imposed a new rule on mercury emissions, a long-overdue measure that, FirstEnergy says, doomed Bay Shore because of enormous compliance costs. The utility also is closing five other small and mid-sized facilities; with Bay Shore, they generate 10 percent of the company’s energy and are used mostly on a seasonal basis.
Bay Shore’s problems began with its site in the Great Lakes region’s most productive area for spawning fish — a narrow intake canal where the Maumee River meets Lake Erie’s Maumee Bay. Built before modern anti-pollution laws took effect in the 1970s, Bay Shore killed 46 million adult and 14 million juvenile fish annually for years — more than all other Ohio power plants combined.
That was lethal to the Great Lakes region’s $7 billion fishery, which generates $1 billion a year for Ohio’s economy. Despite protests by elected officials, regulators, and scientists, FirstEnergy never solved Bay Shore’s fish-kill problem.
…Bay Shore has operated on borrowed time for years. No single policy is responsible for the closures there. Advances in science and technology, and a greater understanding of how pollution affects public health, also have contributed.
Utilities such as FirstEnergy must embrace those advances, or wait for their aging facilities to be replaced by cleaner sources of energy.
— editorial, Toledo Blade
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Tighter regulation, bountiful natural gas and declining installation costs for renewable energy herald the end of America’s coal era
HARLAN COUNTY, KY — “But if the raw numbers look good, the trends tell a different story. Regulatory uncertainty and the emergence of alternative fuel sources (natural gas and renewables) will probably make America’s future far less coal-reliant than its past. In 2000 America got 52% of its electricity from coal; in 2010 that number was 45%. Robust as exports are, they account for less than one-tenth of American mined coal; exports cannot pick up the slack if America’s taste for coal declines. Appalachian coal production peaked in the early 1990s; the EIA forecasts a decline for the next three years, followed by two decades of low-level stability. Increased employment and declining productivity suggest that Appalachian coal is getting harder to find.
Toughening regulation has an effect, too. Coal-fired power plants are the source of more than one-third of greenhouse-gas emissions in America. Last July the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a rule that requires 28 states to reduce the amount of sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxide they emit; in December came another, reducing the amount of mercury and other toxic air pollutants that power plants can puff out.
…The EIA forecasts that America will still obtain 39% of its energy from coal by 2035, but that assumes a consistent regulatory framework. Other sources are less sanguine. Deutsche Bank predicts that coal’s share will fall to 20% by 2030 as regulatory risk grows, with natural gas and renewables rising. That seems more likely. The EPA’s new emissions rules may have been stayed by the courts, but they loom nonetheless, hampering investment in coal.
The switch away from it will be painful for some. But as Robert Byrd, the late senator from West Virginia, once said, coal-dependent regions ‘can choose to anticipate change and adapt to it, or resist and be overrun by it.’”
— The Economist
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Plants Located in Ohio, Pennsylvania and Maryland
AKRON — “FirstEnergy Corp. (NYSE: FE) announced today that its generation subsidiaries will retire six older coal-fired power plants located in Ohio, Pennsylvania and Maryland by September 1, 2012. The decision to close the plants is based on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS), which were recently finalized, and other environmental regulations.
The total capacity of the competitive plants that will be retired is 2,689 megawatts (MW). Recently, these plants served mostly as peaking or intermediate facilities, generating, on average, approximately 10 percent of the electricity produced by the company over the past three years.
The following plants will be retired: Bay Shore Plant, Units 2-4, Oregon, Ohio; Eastlake Plant, Eastlake, Ohio; Ashtabula Plant, Ashtabula, Ohio; Lake Shore Plant, Cleveland, Ohio; Armstrong Power Station, Adrian, Pa.; and R. Paul Smith Power Station, Williamsport, Md.”
…The plant retirements are subject to review for reliability impacts, if any, by PJM Interconnection, the regional transmission organization that controls the area where they are located.
FirstEnergy is finalizing MATS compliance plans for its remaining coal-fired units. Since the Clean Air Act became law in 1970, FirstEnergy and its predecessor companies have invested more than $10 billion in environmental protection efforts.
Since 1990, FirstEnergy has reduced emissions of nitrogen oxides by more than 76 percent, sulfer dioxide by more than 86 percent and mercury by about 56 percent. When the six coal-fired plants are removed from FirstEnergy’s competitive generating fleet, more than 96 percent of the power provided will come from resources that are non- or low-emitting, including nuclear, hydro, pumped-storage hydro, natural gas and scrubbed coal units. ”
— PR Newswire
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Statement by Sandy Buchanan, Executive Director, Ohio Citizen Action, on today’s First Energy announcement that it would close all four of its obsolete Lake Erie coal plants
“Today’s news is more than a victory for our campaign to convince FirstEnergy to close these plants. It is a milestone in a much much longer grassroots effort to pass the Clean Air Act back in 1970, and then to get it enforced.
This is especially gratifying for the tens of thousands of members of Ohio Citizen Action who have relentlessly pursued FirstEnergy since the late 1970’s. We are looking forward to breathing cleaner air. “