Power Plant Issues

The informative excerpts below are from a report on New England's
dirtiest power plants called Polluting Power, a cooperative effort by Clean Water Fund, MASSPIRG, Natural Resources of Maine and the Toxics Action Center.

New England's Air: Harming Our Health, Damaging Our Natural Resources

Despite progress in reducing some forms of air pollution since the passage of the Clean Air Act in 1970, throughout New England the simple act of breathing can put you at risk. One out of every three summer days, New Englanders breathe levels of smog that cause increased lung inflammation, coughing, asthma attacks, emergency room visits, and hospitalizations due to respiratory distress. The vast majority of the people in New England live within areas that fail to meet the federal air quality standards for summer smog. Deadly soot is estimated to cause premature deaths of over 1500 New Englanders each year. Mercury contamination in fish has caused most New England states to issue fish consumption advisories warning people to seriously limit or avoid eating freshwater fish.

In addition, air pollution continues to threaten New England's fragile ecosystems. Acid Rain threatens fish populations in many lakes and streams while damaging upper elevation tree stands. New information suggests that Acid Rain falling on forest ecosystems could be helping dissolve and leach out essential soil nutrients. Lastly, the risk of global climate change threatens the health and makeup of New England's ecosystems.

More than any single source, pollution from the electric power industry is the common denominator in all these serious air pollution problems. Nationwide, electric power plants are responsible for: 66% of the sulphur dioxide that causes deadly soot and acid rain; 30% of the nitrogen oxide that contributes to summer smog and soil nutrient depletion; 21% of all fish-poisoning mercury emissions; and 35% of the carbon dioxide that contributes to climate change. In 1997 alone, New England's dirtiest power plants spewed 260,000 tons of sulphur dioxide, over 74,000 tons of nitrogen dioxide, over 41,000,000 tons of carbon dioxide. and over 600 pounds of mercury into the air.

The Filthy 14: Old, Inefficient and Capable of Harm

All power plants are not created equal. Older plants, many dating to the Eisenhower-era, generate the lion's share of pollution. Many are underutilized and could potentially increase production and related environmental harm. these plants are not just old, they are extremely inefficient compared with power plants being built today. Efficiency is really a measure of fuel wasted in producing electricity. On average, New England's oldest power plants are only 30% efficient, that is, 70% of the fuel they burn is wasted. By contrast, today's most modern natural gas combined-cycle power plants approach 60% efficiency - twice as efficient as the outdated plants built decades ago. New England is home to 14 such outdated plants, many of which are located in densely populated, highly-polluted areas.

Old Plants are Exempt from the Most Protective Federal Standards

Despite progress toward cleaner air, the majority of coal and oil plants in New England have avoided the most protective air emissions standards. When the federal Clean Air Act was amended in 1970 and 1977, the utility industry argued that many of the nation's older plants would be retired and replaced by cleaner sources. As a result, these "grandfathered" plants are not subject to the federal Clean Air Act's most protective standards, and thus, are allowed to pollute 4 to 10 times more than new, more efficient power plants.

Electric Industry Deregulation Threatens More Pollution

Efforts are underway to bring more competition to the monopoly utility industry. Because they have escaped modern emissions controls, grandfathered coal and oil plants enjoy a cost advantage over new or alternative energy sources. In some cases, older plants are the power companies' least expensive, most competitive way to generate electricity. To reduce costs to meet the new challenges of market competition, power companies are likely to rely more heavily on their fleet of aging plants.

For a list of the "Filthy 14" go to www.mtholyoke.edu/~ajchrist/filthy.html


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