Ohio is ranked No. 2 on a list of 20 states that are responsible for a disproportionate share of toxic emmissions from the U.S. electric sector, according to a recent report released earlier this month by the Natural Resources Defense Council.
The report states that emissions include key power plant pollutants such as a mercury, hydrochloric acid, sulfuric acid, ammonia and others. The 20 states accounted for approximately 92 percent of the electric sector toxic air pollution and 72 percent of electric sector mercury emissions.
‘This should be viewed as an urgent call to clean up or shut down the dirtiest power plants,” said Jack Shaner, deputy director of the Ohio Environmental Council, a network of environmental and conservation groups.
Ohio, which topped the list in 2009, had an 18 percent decrease in emissions between 2009 and 2010.
“Even though we have seen major reductions in emissions in Ohio, the ranking stays pretty much the same because Ohio is an industrial state,” said Linda Oros of the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency. “We’re using coal-fired plants for power. They are going to have emissions.”
In December, the EPA adopted rules regarding mercury and air toxic standards for power plants that burned coal and oil. Those standards will take effect in 2015, said John Walke, NRDC’s Clean Air director and senior attorney. Power plant operators are already ordering cleanup equipment or announcing units that will be retired and replaced with natural gas plants.
“There are federal clean air standards that are already on the books that will clean up toxic air pollution in Ohio and elsewhere, if only we allow them to be enforced,” Walke said. “There have been attacks on these health standards in Congress.”
Ohio’s ranking in the study means good and bad news for its residents, according to Nachy Kanfer, deputy director for the Central Region of the Sierra Club, a grassroots environmental organization.
“The bad news is that Ohioans suffer disproportionately from heart attacks, asthma, lung disease and other impacts of coal pollution,” Kanfer said. “The good news is that coal has become a risky and expensive investment, so (utility companies) are not burning so much of it anymore.”
Coal is a key factor when it comes to utility companies and air pollution. The Ohio EPA’s 2010 Toxic Release Inventory Annual Report, released in January, stated that power-generating facilities reported the largest TRI air releases and represented eight of the top 10 facilities that reported significant increases or decreases in waste management or releases between 2009 and 2010.
The releases for the power-generating facilities primarily contain hydrochloric and sulfuric acid aerosols that result from coal combustion. These two chemicals make up 60 percent of all reported air releases.
The move away from coal could benefit customers of utility companies.
“Rather than putting hundreds of millions of dollars into coal, they are investing in cheaper and cleaner technologies,” Kanfer said. “In a weak economy, where people are feeling the pinch, it’s a good thing that utility companies are deciding not to spend so much money on their coal plants and that would save rate-payers in the long run.”
Kentucky was No. 1 on the NRDC list and Delaware was No. 20.
The report is based on 2010 data collected by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for the Toxics Release Inventory, a national database of toxic emissions from industrial sources. The Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental action group based in New York, analyzed the data. This is the council’s second annual report.
Maryland had the greatest decline in emissions between 2009 and 2010 with an 88 percent decrease, according to Walke. He said that is likely due to the fact that Maryland legislators passed a law in 2009 that dealt with clearing up toxic emissions.
“We fully expect 2011 emissions to be lower and 2012 to be even lower than that,” Walke said.
The reason for the expectation is the fact that “plants are starting to comply with recently adopted EPA safeguards and installing controls,” he said. “The second reason is that coal plant operators are responding to market conditions by converting coal plants to natural gas plants due to lower natural gas prices.”
He added that this is attributed to a wave of fracking: “That has caused the price of natural gas to drop relative to coal as a fuel stock. Most of the cost of operating a power plant is the cost of fuel.”
As far as Ohio is concerned, Oros said, “The air that we’re breathing now is significantly cleaner than it was 10 years ago and we will continue to work towards making it even cleaner.”
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