On Monday, Feb. 6, 16 states and numerous power companies that oppose new pollution-reduction rules must file their petitions with the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C. In response to their initial suit, the court granted a motion to temporarily “stay,” or halt, the implementation of the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule, or smog pollution rule, which the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) promulgated last summer. These “good neighbor” pollution-reduction standards will require power plants to slash their sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide pollution. These substances are the key ingredients in acid rain and smog, and they can travel hundreds of miles and contaminate other states.
Once implemented the rule will annually save thousands of lives and prevent thousands of illnesses. Not surprisingly, the 16 states that sued EPA to block these rules include 7 of the 10 highest-polluting states in the country. And their governors and attorneys general, who decide whether to file a lawsuit to stop these safeguards, received a combined $5 million in campaign contributions from big utilities and coal companies that benefit from higher-pollution levels.
This column reviews the rule and its benefits as well as the efforts of utilities and coal companies to block it so they can avoid or postpone investments in cleanup technology. EPA analysis demonstrates that the law’s benefits to public health and the environment are much greater than its costs. These governors and attorneys general should support EPA’s efforts to protect the residents of their states and people downwind from premature death, asthma attacks, and other respiratory ailments instead of bending to the will of dirty-money donors.
These safeguards protect neighboring states
The EPA’s new rules will address a major public-health threat, annually curbing millions of pounds of air pollution from power plants that travel downwind and across the country. An interactive EPA map shows that pollution doesn’t stop at state borders, which is why the agency is acting to reduce air pollution that drifts across state lines.
EPA’s map helps viewers connect the dots. When the cursor is placed over Michigan, for example, one can see that emissions from six different states travel into the state, causing air-pollution readings above the national threshold level for public-health standards. The map also shows that pollution from Michigan travels all the way to Virginia, diminishing the latter’s air quality.
The EPA estimates these rules with produce significant air-quality benefits. By 2014 the rules will reduce sulfur dioxide emissions by 73 percent from 2005 levels. Nitrogen oxide emissions will drop by 54 percent.
This improvement in air quality will result in $120 billion to $280 billion in annual benefits, including preventing up to 34,000 premature deaths and avoiding 858,000 other health problems annually that are linked to this pollution, as outlined in the table below.
When final safeguards were first announced in July 2011, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson commented on how the law helps Americans:
No community should have to bear the burden of another community's polluters, or be powerless to prevent air pollution that leads to asthma, heart attacks and other harmful illnesses. These Clean Air Act safeguards will help protect the health of millions of Americans and save lives by preventing smog and soot pollution from traveling hundreds of miles and contaminating the air they breathe.
Many utilities have already begun to invest in pollution-control technologies, such as scrubbers, to comply with the Clean Air Interstate Rules (CAIR) from 2005. It was struck down by federal court in 2008, so EPA revamped the measures that became the cross-state rules. These CAIR investments were an estimated $1.6 billion per year.
Compliance with the cross-state rules will cost $800 million annually beginning in 2014. Meanwhile, they will generate $120 billion to $280 billion in annual health benefits. According to EPA data the benefits from the improved rule are estimated to outweigh the costs by a ratio of at least 50-to-1, and as much as 115-to-1.
The aforementioned economic benefits are also a very conservative estimate because they do not include qualified estimates of other benefits from pollution reductions. For instance, lower pollution levels will increase agriculture crop and commercial forest yields, improve visibility in state and national parks, and increase protection from acid rain for sensitive ecosystems including Adirondack lakes, Appalachian streams, and coastal waters.
Stay means delay of health protection
The stay of the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule will last until at least April 13 when the states’ cases against the rule will be heard, but it could continue much longer. This setback unfortunately hinders vital reductions in air pollution from power plants, prolonging poor air quality for 240 million Americans in 27 eastern states.
A long list of plaintiffs sought this timeout on health protection, including 16 states—Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Nebraska, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas, Virginia, and Wisconsin. Another 12 states affected by the rule are not trying to stop it. It’s no coincidence that the suing states are responsible for more than 90 percent of the nation’s total sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide air pollution from power plants, which the law aims to reduce.
Big-polluting states are harping on costs associated with pollution-control technology rather than acknowledging the much greater economic benefits from public health that their own residents will enjoy as a result of the EPA rule. Smog and ozone pollution in the suing states—and the 12 other states that will be regulated by the EPA rule—are polluting communities hundreds of miles away as well as directly fouling their own backyards.
Not all 28 affected states oppose this rule, however. Three of the polluting states—Illinois, New York, and North Carolina—joined EPA in support of these safeguards. These three states emit more than a billion pounds of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide into the atmosphere each year, compared to the 8 billion pounds shot into the skies by the recalcitrant states.
These three states, along with the additional nine states uninvolved in the litigation, are not undermining these new health safeguards. Instead, they plan to take responsibility for the pollution imposed on their residents and neighboring states.
Roughly half of the people in the U.S. live in counties that have unhealthful levels of ozone-smog pollution. Based on American Lung Association rankings, 11 of the metropolitan areas with the highest particle pollution, and 12 of the metropolitan areas with the highest ozone-pollution levels reside in suing states.
Texas—the number one state for ozone pollution—had one of the worst air-quality years in its history for 2011, as high levels of pollution combined with record summer heat. Many of the state’s major metropolitan areas—including Dallas-Fort Worth, San Antonio, Austin, and even the small city of Waco—exceeded federal limits on ozone pollution last year, inflicting hazards to respiratory health on those who live there.
The Washington-Baltimore metropolitan area is ranked 14th for high levels of ozone pollution and the area houses 7.5 million people. These people, along with 50 percent of the country, live in areas where the air can be dirty enough to send people to the emergency room, and even to kill.
Dirty-money donors demand delays
Many of the utilities and coal companies responsible for this deadly air pollution oppose the cross-state rules because they make more money with uncontrolled pollution than by investing funds in cleanup equipment and practices.
These companies therefore donate campaign contributions to the governors and attorneys general in these states who can decide whether to file a lawsuit to stop these safeguards. A review of donations records by the Center for American Progress Action Fund found that the governors and attorneys general in these 16 plaintiff states received almost $5 million in campaign contributions from these companies during campaigns for their current office. (see table) See attached spreadsheet for CAPAF analysis of state breakdown by government officials.
As the chart shows, high campaign contributions occur in litigating states with high pollution. The top three ozone-polluting states—Indiana, Ohio, and Texas—also had governors and attorneys general with three of the four highest campaign contributions from utilities and coal companies, racking up a little over $3 million. There’s little doubt that the leaders in these states support dismantling EPA regulations as money pours in from polluters each election season.
But instead of echoing their dirty donors in opposition to these vital health safeguards, these governors and attorneys general should support EPA’s efforts to protect the residents of their states and others from premature death, asthma attacks, and other respiratory ailments.
Pollution safeguards enjoy wide support
Voters from both political parties and in all regions of the country are singing a different tune than these states. They support the EPA’s regulatory authority to determine air-pollution standards, a poll from October 2011 reveals.
Ceres and the University of Massachusetts conducted a bipartisan poll to gauge voters’ feelings nationwide about EPA’s cross-state air-pollution and mercury-toxics rules. Two-thirds of the respondents (67 percent) oppose delayed implementation of the air-pollution rules and trust EPA, not politicians, to get the job done. This includes support from 62 percent of Republicans and 79 percent of independents surveyed.
States need to stand up to dirty utilities and protect public health
Every month of delay in the implementation of the cross-state good neighbor air-pollution rules will allow 2,000 more unnecessary deaths. The judicial stay and lawsuit also prolongs uncertainty about the final rules (login required), which makes it harder and more expensive for power plants to comply with them. The sooner states’ legal challenges to these rules are settled, the sooner power plants can invest in pollution control and clean up the air.
States should emerge as leaders in this fight, choosing public health through improved air quality instead of succumbing to the influence from big utility and coal campaign cash. Americans certainly agree.
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In another strike against coal, a local utility near Atlanta, Ga. voted late Jan. 24 to cancel funding for two proposed new coal-fired power plant projects. Over the past decade three coal plants have been proposed in Georgia. With the Jan. 24 announcement, the remaining two projects have lost their primary source of funding and will likely be abandoned. The third project, the LS Power Longleaf project, was abandoned late last year as part of a nationwide settlement with the Sierra Club.
In a closed meeting, the Cobb Electric Membership Corporation (EMC) board of directors voted to stop funding the Power4Georgians proposed coal plant projects, Plant Washington and Plant Ben Hill, in Central Georgia. Each 850 megawatt coal plant would have cost more than $2 billion to build and would have added deadly new sources of toxic mercury and carbon pollution in Georgia and downwind states.
“Coal’s dominance is coming to an end,” said Bruce Nilles, senior director of Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign. “Today’s news from Georgia fits into a strong national trend of clean energy displacing coal. For the past decade we have successfully blocked the construction of now 164 proposed coal-fired power plants. With the cost of coal rising and clean energy prices plummeting, coal’s market share is shrinking and shrinking fast. At the same time, over the past three years the United States has installed records amount of wind and solar, and in the process has created thousands of new jobs. ”
For the past four years Sierra Club and the Georgians for Smart Energy Coalition have been campaigning to persuade Cobb EMC and its partners to abandon the coal plants and instead to invest in clean, home-grown energy sources like wind and solar. The proposed coal plants would have required Georgians to ship millions of dollars out of Georgia annually to buy imported coal.
"I am proud that since 2008, the Sierra Club and our partner organizations have been actively organizing and challenging these coal plant proposals, and working with cooperative members to highlight the risky nature of coal-fired power plants," said Seth Gunning, Georgia organizer with the Beyond Coal Campaign and Cobb EMC member.
A report released this week by the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) highlighted a predicted drop in coal’s market share, from 44 to 39 percent, between 2010 and 2035. The EIA reports traditionally underestimate coal's decline, and the Georgia board vote seems to suggest an even steeper drop for coal power in the U.S. The EIA report also predicted that no new coal plants would be constructed in this period, aside from those already under construction. Bruce Nilles’s recent writing on the EIA report can be found by clicking here.
No new coal plants have broken ground since 2008, except for a highly-subsidized Department of Energy demonstration project in Kemper County, Mississippi. Even with federal and state subsidies, the project is expected to increase consumers’ electric bills by more than 40 percent, according to the Mississippi Business Journal. The Great River Energy Spiritwood Plant in North Dakota, which came online in 2010, now sits idle because it is too expensive to run. The plant cost $400,000,000 to build.
New federal health protections finalized in 2011 will require existing coal plants to reduce their pollution, including toxic mercury pollution, and new plants will have to plan for scrubber technology, which will increase the projected price of construction.
The Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign works in partnership with Bloomberg Philanthropies and a nationwide coalition of allies to retire one-third of the nation's aging coal plants by 2020, replacing them with clean energy like wind and solar by 2030. Coal plants are the largest sources of climate disruption and toxic air pollution like mercury, soot and carbon pollution. Once finalized, Plant Washington and Plant Ben Hill would be the 163rd and 164th plants defeated or abandoned since the Sierra Club began its Beyond Coal campaign in 2002.
Cobb EMC, an electrical membership corporation based in Marietta, Ga., serves 200,000 members in the Northwest Metro Atlanta area. The nonprofit corporation has been embroiled in legal controversy for years, resulting in a legal settlement forcing CEO Dwight Brown to step down in February 2011. He was then indicted on 35 felony charges, including racketeering and conspiracy to commit fraud related to Brown’s establishment of a for-profit arm of the company, illegal under Georgia law. The coal plant proposals were tied into the controversy.
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Like many other plant-based foods and products, CBD oil is one dietary supplement where "organic" labels are very important to consumers. However, there are little to no regulations within the hemp industry when it comes to deeming a product as organic, which makes it increasingly difficult for shoppers to find the best CBD oil products available on the market.
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