Monday, August 13, 2012

Pennsylvania Wins Bronze for Pollution

The Cromby coal-fired power plant outside Phoenixville.
This is one of those times when coming in third is almost as bad as coming in first.

According to data analyzed by the Natural Resources Defense Council, Pennsylvania is the 3rd worst state in the nation when it comes to exposing residents to toxic air pollution from coal-fired power plants.

Pennsylvania ranked 3rd among all states in industrial mercury air pollution from power plants with more than 3,960 pounds emitted in 2010.

As Digital Notebook reported in April, air pollution is
one of the primary causes of childhood asthma.
That accounts for 64 percent of state mercury air pollution and 6 percent of U.S. electric sector mercury pollution.  

When looking beyond just mercury pollution, we still win the bronze.

Pennsylvania’s electric sector ranked third in overall industrial toxic air pollution in 2010, emitting nearly 31.5 million pounds of harmful chemicals. 

This accounted for 78 percent of state pollution and about 10 percent of toxic pollution from all U.S. power plants, according to the NRDC analysis. 

The data was taken from the federal Toxic Release Inventory, a list of emissions made by polluters to the Environmental Protection Agency, which in turn makes it public.

The good news is, as bad as it is, it's getting better.

On the national level, the report found a 19 percent decrease nationally in all air toxics emitted from power plants in 2010, the most recent data available, compared to 2009 levels. 

"The welcomed drop, which also includes a four percent decrease in mercury emissions, results from two key factors. One is the increasing use by power companies of natural gas, which has become cheaper and is cleaner burning than coal; the other is the installation of state-of-the-art pollution controls by many plants--in anticipation of new health protections issued by the Environmental Protection Agency," the environmental advocacy organization reported.

“Toxic pollution is already being reduced as a result of EPA’s health-protecting standards,” said John Walke, NRDC’s clean air director. “Thanks to the agency’s latest safeguards, millions of children and their families in the states hardest hit by toxic air pollution from power plants will be able to breathe easier.’’

James "What heat wave?" Inhofe
“But these protections are threatened,” Walke said, “because polluters are intent on persuading future Congresses or presidential administrations to repeal them.”

Finalized in 2011, EPA’s Mercury and Air Toxics standards will cut mercury air pollution by 79 percent from 2010 levels, beginning in 2015.

NRDC reported that one senator from Pennsylvania, Robert Casey, opposed attempts by Oklahoma Republican and climate-change denier Sen. James Inhofe to repeal the standards.
Pat "Let's not be too hasty about clean air" Toomey

Sen. Pat Toomey supported Inhofe's attempt to gut the regulations, they said. 

In an earlier assault on the EPA’s new standards, the House passed a bill to gut them last year; but a similar measure in June failed in the Senate.

In the second edition of “Toxic Power: How Power Plants Contaminate Our Air and States,” NRDC also found that coal- and oil-fired power plants still contribute nearly half (44 percent) of all the toxic air pollution reported to the Environmental Protection Agency’s Toxics Release Inventory (TRI).

NRDC: Electric sector pollution by state
Compared to 2010 levels, the standard will reduce mercury pollution from 34 tons to seven tons, a 79 percent reduction, by 2015. Sulfur dioxide pollution will be reduced from 5,140,000 tons in 2010 to 1,900,000 tons in 2015, a 63 percent reduction. 

Another dangerous acid gas, hydrochloric acid, will be reduced from 106,000 tons in 2010 to 5,500 tons in 2015, a 95 percent reduction.

With those and other pollution reductions resulting from the standard, as many as 11,000 premature deaths and 130,000 asthma attacks, 5,700 hospital visits, 4,700 heart attacks, and 2,800 cases of chronic bronchitis will be avoided in 2016. 

The public health improvements are also estimated to save $37 billion to $90 billion in health costs, and prevent up to 540,000 missed work or “sick” days each year.

Despite the overall reductions in total emissions, 18 of the Toxic 20 from 2009 remain in the 2010 list released today, although several states have made significant improvements highlighted in the report.
Most of the worst polluting plants are in the western part of the state

The states on the "Toxic 20" list (from worst to best) are:
1. Kentucky
2. Ohio
3. Pennsylvania
4. Indiana
5. West Virginia
6. Florida
7. Michigan
8. North Carolina
9. Georgia
10. Texas
11. Tennessee
12. Virginia
13. South Carolina
14. Alabama
15. Missouri
16. Illinois
17. Mississippi
18. Wisconsin
19. Maryland
20. Delaware 

This NRDC chart provides more information on the "Toxic 20"

For the full methodology, see the analysis “Toxic Power: How Power Plants Contaminate Our Air and States,” which can be found here:

Of course all of this raises an interesting question.

Since we all like electricity, and we complain about air pollution from coal, and we complain about water pollution from fracking for gas and we complain about radioactivity from nuclear, and we complain about how dams for hydro-electricity blog fish migrations just where exactly do we expect it to come from?

Personally,  I would love it if our energy could come from solar and wind, but is that realistic?

What do you think?


  1. Great information, Thanks For Sharing with us. The Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) is a publicly available database containing information on toxic chemical releases and other waste management activities in the United States.