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What Will Limits on Soot Pollution Mean for Energy Production?

ImageLast week, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) created a new standard that will limit the amount of soot produced from manufacturers, power plants, diesel engines, and other polluters.  This restriction will be implemented by 2020, and those who do not meet this standard will be faced with severe penalties.

In 1997, the EPA set the annual limit of 15 micrograms per cubic meter of air, but the federal government argued that this was not strong enough to protect the health of the surrounding communities.  Since then, the agency has decided to reduce this limit to 12 micrograms, within the limit recommended by the advisory panel.

Health studies have found that those who have exposure to these tiny particles have heightened risk of heart disease, bronchitis, strong asthma attacks and even early death.  States will be accountable for determining the methods they wish to take in order to reduce these emissions.   EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson commented, “These fine particles penetrate deep into the lungs, causing serious and costly health effects.  As a mother of two sons who have battled asthma, the benefits are not just numbers or abstract concepts.”

The EPA has analyzed the pros and cons of this ruling.  The cost to implement this would range from $53 million to $350 million, but estimates have also shown that it will save up to 40,000 lives, while cutting annual health care bills by up to $9 billion.

Sixty-six counties are currently not meeting this standard, including the cities of Pittsburgh, Los Angeles, Cleveland, St. Louis, Houston, and Chicago.  The EPA projects that by 2020, when this rule is in full swing, only seven counties (all located in California) will exceed this limit.

Although this decision has much support among the community and environmentalists, there are many critics.  Representatives of the utility industry have requested that the EPA postpone this ruling, claiming that it will create a hefty financial burden on certain areas.  Manufacturers and chemical companies, represented by trade associations, say that new businesses will find it difficult to acquire the proper permits, which will have a negative effect on job creation.

The National Association of Manufacturers is fighting for the EPA to consider keeping the original standard of 15 micrograms.  President and CEO Jay Timmons has stated, “With the fiscal cliff only a few weeks away and so much hanging in the balance, the EPA displayed a staggering level of shortsightedness by dropping another harsh regulation on America’s job creators.”

Although environmentalists have applauded the EPA’s verdict, certain manufacturing associations have considered filing for lawsuits.  Despite the conflicting views, Jackson has confirmed that the agency will continue to apply more pollution rules on power plants and refineries that have been postponed because of the recent election.

Sarah Battaglia
Energy Curtailment Specialists, Inc.

Sarah can be found on LinkedIn and Google+.

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Thank Sarah for the Post!

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James Hopf's picture
James Hopf on Jan 18, 2013 6:07 am GMT

It's sickening how groups like NAM refuse to address the profound results of the govt's. analysis concerning both the health and economic costs of this air pollution, and instead respond with (largely unfounded) rhetoric about jobs and "harsh" regulations.  That is, they simply choose to change the subject (probably because they know they don't have a case, or legitimate response).

How is it possible that anyone would be OK with causing 40,000 deaths and paying ~$9 billion annually in health care costs, just to save a few industries a few hundred million?  You would think that the only plausible explanation is that they don't believe that this pollution is having those effects (or any significant effects at all).  Well, those figures are currently the formal position of the US govt.  If they want to contest those results, scientifically, we'd all be happy to hear their (scientific) arguments.  But instead, the choose to avoid challenging the science, and instead try to change the subject (which is extremely telling).

As for the jobs argument, they're obviously ignoring any jobs created in the pollution-abatement fields, or in other other energy sources (that would replace old, ultra-dirty coal plants).

Part of my bitterness is due to the black and white double standard between how the nuclear industry is treated vs. what fossil fuels get away with.  Fossil-fueled power generation, worldwide, causes hundreds of thousands of deaths every single year (~1000 every single day), along with global warming. Policies, like the one above, that save tens of thousands of lives and have economic savings 10-100 times what they cost are (inconceivably) rejected.

Meanwhile, nuclear is required to spend inconceivable amounts of money to reduce even the chance of emitting any pollution to beyond negligible levels (i.e., for negligible public health benefit).  The first significant release in non-Soviet nuclear power's entire 40-year history (still!) causes no deaths and has no measurable public health impact.  And yet, the response, from the Japanese people and politicians is to promptly shut down all their nuclear plants and replace them with.......fossil fuels!!!  (you literally couldn't make this stuff up!).

Sarah Battaglia's picture
Sarah Battaglia on Jan 18, 2013 12:46 pm GMT

Thanks for the comment, Jim. I agree, these numbers are shocking, and something needs to be done. Although this ruling is a good place to start, it will not actually go into effect until 2020, and who knows how much worse the situation will get by then.

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