Friday, November 11, 2005

One bit of bad news before it gets too far away

The White House is again trying to manipulate the rules for coal-fired power plants to let them keep spewing pollution, revealed a Reuters article in mid-October.

What's involved are the "new source review" regulations under the Clean Air Act. When the Act was first passed, existing plants were grandfathered in under the assumption that over time they'd be replaced with new plants. But to avoid the expense of pollution control equipment, utilities kept expanding existing power plants instead of replacing them. To close this loophole, Congress imposed the new source review, under which any significant change to or expansion of an existing plant was to be regarded as if it were new construction, subject to pollution control laws. The Bush administration, not for the first time, is trying to re-open the loophole by fiddling with the regulations. What it wants to do now is to change the way that utilities calculate their emissions, which
would allow existing plants to emit more pollutants without triggering federal emission-reduction requirements, environmentalists said. ...

Environmental groups said the EPA's plan, if finalized, means U.S. utilities can spew more nitrogen oxides and sulfur dioxide - precursors of acid rain and smog linked to respiratory diseases like asthma.

"Under the new rule, emissions can increase entirely without limit, as long as a facility's hourly efficiency rate increases," the National Environmental Trust said.
The EPA maintains that the changes, which the White House failed to get into an energy bill passed earlier in the month, are all about efficiency and clean air and good health and ice cream for everyone. However,
[i]n internal EPA memos distributed by environmental groups, an EPA enforcement official said the proposed rule is "largely unenforceable as written."

"The effect of the rule is to make very few, if any, changes modifications that trigger NSR," according to the memo, provided by the Natural Resources Defense Council.
Which is exactly the point.

The action came just about two weeks after a new report said
[t]he health risks associated with air pollution may be nearly three times greater than previously thought....

Researchers say earlier studies may have seriously underestimated air pollution's health risks by basing their calculations on one or two air pollution measures from several cities and then comparing the health effects.
That is, previous researchers have compared the average air pollution over one entire city to that over another entire city without taking into account the fact that levels of air pollution can vary considerably within a city. Instead, this study looked at 23 sites in Los Angeles over a period of two decades.
The results of this in-depth analysis show that the risk of death from any cause rose by 11% to 17% for each increase in the level of fine particles found in vehicle exhaust, smoke, and industrial emissions in the neighborhood's air.

"By looking at the effects of pollution within communities, not only did we observe pollution's influence on overall mortality, but we saw specific links between particulate matter and death from ischemic heart disease, such as heart attack, as well as lung cancers," says researcher Michael Jarrett, PhD, associate professor of preventive medicine at the University of Southern California, in a news release.
One thing the researchers say needs to be examined is whether the type of air pollution found around L.A., which is "strongly influenced" by vehicle exhaust, is more dangerous than that found in the eastern US, where dirty air is more the result of power plants and factory emissions.

By the way, in case you hadn't guessed, among the most damaging types of air pollution, because the small size of the particulates involved allows them to penetrate deeper into the lungs, comes from burning fossil fuels - such as coal.

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