New Metrics
EPA Power Plant Carbon Rules Could Drastically Reduce Harmful Air Pollution

Setting strong standards for climate-changing carbon emissions from power plants would also result in reductions in more than 750,000 tons of other air pollutants that can make people sick; damage forests, crops, and lakes; and harm fish and wildlife, according to a new study by scientists at Syracuse University and Harvard.

Co-benefits of Carbon Standards: Air Pollution Changes under Different 111d Options for Existing Power Plants explores three policy options for the upcoming EPA rule as a guide to model changes in power plant emissions of four other harmful air pollutants: fine particulate matter, nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide, and mercury. The scientists compared the model results with a business-as-usual reference case for the year 2020.

Of the three scenarios simulated, the top-performing option decreased sulfur dioxide and mercury emissions by 27 percent and nitrogen oxide emissions by 22 percent by 2020 compared to the reference case. This option reduced carbon dioxide emissions from the power sector by 35 percent from 2005 levels by 2020. The scientists said the resulting air quality improvements are likely to lead to significant gains in public and environmental health.

Besides summarizing changes in emissions, the study also quantifies the resulting improvements in air quality. It features detailed maps illustrating the benefits of decreased emissions from roughly 2,400 power plants for every 12x12km area of the continental United States. With a strong carbon standard, improvements are widespread, and every state receives some benefit. The maps show that the greatest benefits occur in the eastern US, particularly in states in and around the Ohio River Valley, as well as the Rocky Mountain region.

  • States that are projected to benefit from the largest average decreases in fine particle pollution (PM2.5) and summer ozone pollution detrimental to human health include: Ohio, Pennsylvania, Maryland, West Virginia, Illinois, Kentucky,Missouri, Indiana, Arkansas, Colorado, and Alabama (based on the top 6 states for each pollutant).
  • States that are projected to benefit from the largest average decreases in sulfur and nitrogen pollution detrimental to ecosystems include: Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohio, Maryland, Kentucky, Delaware, Indiana, Illinois, and Missouri(based on the top 6 states for each pollutant).
  • Most other states see improvements in both air quality and atmospheric deposition of pollutants which vary state to state.

The findings also show that different policy options yield different outcomes. The detailed air quality modeling makes it clear that a modest rule limited to making power plant improvements "inside the fence," similar to what some industry groups have proposed, would bring little if any air quality benefits for states.

"Our analysis demonstrates that strong carbon standards could also have widespread benefits to air quality and public health," said Dr. Jonathan Buonocore, of the Harvard School of Public Health at Harvard University. "With a mix of stringency and flexibility, the new EPA rules have the potential to substantially reduce emissions of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides from power plants, which contribute to local and regional air pollution. This is an opportunity to both mitigate climate change and protect public health."

The EPA is expected to release its proposed rules for carbon pollution from existing power plants June 2.

The EPA recently honored General Motors, Samsung and Best Buy and 124 other organizations with its 2014 Energy Star Partner of the Year Awards, which the agency awards to organizations that have demonstrated innovative strategies to help customers, partners and stakeholders to save energy and reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions through energy-efficiency projects.

In other energy news, Chevron Energy Solutions recently announced it will design and build a waste-to-energy plant at Broward County, Fla.’s wastewater treatment facility. The project will generate electricity from fats, oils and grease and is expected to generate almost 2 megawatts (MW) of power, reduce electricity usage by over 30 percent and save the county nearly $27 million in its first 17 years of operation.

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