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Jul. 6 2010 - 10:55 am | 220 views | 0 recommendations | 9 comments

Air pollution alerts spike as EPA announces new regulations


Air quality for the U.S. on July 6, 2010.


The Environmental Protection Agency is expected to announce new rules today regulating power-plant pollution that crosses state lines.

Gina McCarthy, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s assistant administrator for air and radiation, is holding a press conference at 12:30 to announce a “significant Clean Air Act proposal to protect public health and the environment.”

The White House Office of Management and Budget recently cleared the way for EPA to enact the new power plant rules, which will focus on emissions that cross state lines and that contribute to smog and soot pollution.

“This will be one of the most significant steps EPA can take to clean up the air and improve public health,” said Frank O’Donnell of Clean Air Watch, in an email. ”This cleanup plan could literally prevent thousands of premature deaths each year and make it possible for tens of millions of others to breathe easier.”

The rules arrive just as summer smog levels reach new peaks in most of the Eastern United States and parts of California’s valleys.

Unhealthy-air alerts–red alerts in EPA parlance–have been issued today in Charlotte and Hickory, North Carolina, Northern Delaware, Philadelphia, and Baltimore. The EPA anticipates orange alerts tomorrow in Camden and Brigatine, New Jersey.

“It’s only the latest episode of dirty-air misery,” O’Donnell said. “Our Clean Air Watch Smog Watch Survey finds that no fewer than 40 states and the District of Columbia have already experienced unhealthful levels of ozone, or smog, this year, through the end of June.”

That compares to 35 states and DC last year.

It sounds like 1975, but it’s 2010, and even though automobile emissions have been cleaned up substantially from the era of daily smog alerts in Los Angeles, pollution continues to billow forth from power plants, some of which are exempted by their age from the Clean Air Act, and from factories.

“It is safe to say that we need more aggressive efforts to purge the air of contaminants that create smog,” O’Donnell said.

The new EPA rules will employ, and are expected to revitalize, existing cap and trade markets for sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides.

The program announced in 2005 by the EPA under President George W. Bush was aimed at making the largest reduction in air pollution in more than a decade. It used existing environmental markets to reduce emissions of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides mostly from coal-fired power plants in 28 eastern states.

The plan prompted a flurry of activity in U.S. emissions markets and increased investments by utilities in pollution controls. But a federal appeals court in July 2008 rejected the rule, saying it was fatally flawed, and sent it back to the EPA to rewrite. That caused some utilities to pull back on pollution-control projects, while the thriving market for U.S. emission allowances collapsed and remains in disarray.

via WSJ.com.

The Senate may also consider a much watered-down climate bill this summer that targets power plants, which produce about a third of the nation’s greenhouse gas pollution. Such a bill would leave industrial sources largely unchecked.

And EPA is keeping a close watch on BP’s controlled burns in the Gulf of Mexico, with air-monitoring stations throughout the Gulf Coast. The oil company has removed more than 10 million gallons of oil from the sea by converting it into billowing clouds of black smoke.

So far, those EPA stations are reporting clean air. But that smoke is going somewhere.


9 Total Comments
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  1. collapse expand

    Do you think US population growth might have something to do with air pollution, Jeff? Cars put out 100 times less toxic pollution today than they did in 1973 when our population was about 210 million. And yet air pollution is still a massive problem, as you point out. We have added precisely 100 million people in those 47 years and will add another 100 million in the next 30 or less years. Don’t like air pollution? or sprawl? or habitat destruction? or loss of prime farmland? or US ecological, economic and military imperialism? Try supporting immigration reduction, starting with illegal immigration. The lion’s share of our population growth is directly and indirectly due to immigration. OK, I’m ready now for your flippant response.

    • collapse expand

      Bob, absolutely, human population is at the root of most of the earth’s woes. Immigration, however, just moves polluters from one place to another. Often it moves them from places with no pollution controls to places with pollution controls. The real culprit, obviously, is human reproduction, wherever it occurs. Most of the world lacks the political will to control population (China has it), and so governments fall back upon finding ways to do what we do with less pollution.

      In response to another comment. See in context »
  2. collapse expand

    You doubleclutch like a Pope. What value is it for you to ignore the fact that making a USAmerican out of a Mexican, a Central American or a Chinese creates five times more pollution? And ten times more for an African, Indian or Bengali turned USAmerican? Your post is about US air pollution. One of the ways of limiting US air pollution is to do as most every nation of Europe has done (UK hasn’t), limit immigration. France, for example, has a net immigration rate of 1 per thousand. The US, including illegal immigration, is on the order of 5/1000.

  3. collapse expand

    No, you don’t know that to be a fact and you make it clear that it doesn’t matter to you whether it is or not since to your mind all immigration limitations are discriminatory. Ever wonder how indigenous peoples of the world’s rainforests might vote on the issue of the US growing at some 33 million persons per decade? Or how the world’s great apes or tigers or myriad other beings might vote?

  4. collapse expand

    Not bad. You managed to avoid being flip for two responses in a row, before slipping into your habit. But, hey, we’re making progress: Which immigration limitations are, to your mind, not discriminatory?

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    About Me

    Environmental reporting recruited me 25 years ago—on my first day as a reporter for my college newspaper, when I discovered my college was discarding radioactive waste in the regular city trash. Since then I've written hard news for dailies, including the Arizona Republic, and slanty news for alternative weeklies, including Newcity. I've written a column for New Times, stories on the Web for Forecast Earth, essays for PEN International and other magazines. I lived in an idyllic California village nestled among volcanoes and vineyards until my batteries were full of sunshine, and then I returned to my origins on the South Side of Chicago, where hope persists with no illusions about the struggle ahead. I cross the asphalt jungle by bicycle and el, mostly to get to the University of Chicago, where I teach journalism. But what matters more than any of this is a lifelong love for the natural world. We are all born with it, I believe, but some turn away.

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