Leavitt Ties Power Plant Emissions to Cleveland-Area Health Issues

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Mike Leavitt told a Cleveland audience Dec. 16 that proposed caps on power plant pollution would make the city a healthier place to live.

Eight counties in the Cleveland-Akron metropolitan area were recently identified as having unhealthy air because of elevated levels of ozone. Ozone is caused in part by emissions from coal-fired power plants.

"We propose deep cuts in power plant emissions of sulfur dioxide (SO2) and nitrogen oxides (NOx)," Leavitt told an audience of state and local officials and business leaders at Burke Lakefront Airport. "These cuts will help Cleveland and Akron meet health standards for both ozone and particle pollution."

Leavitt said he signed a proposed rule Dec. 15 that would cut mercury emissions by 70 percent. "That's a critical health issue in areas like this where consumption of local fish is a concern because of mercury contamination," Leavitt noted.

Mercury rules proposed Dec. 15 mark the first time the agency has attempted to regulate mercury emissions from power plants. Coal-fired electric power plants are the largest source of human-caused mercury air emissions in the United States, accounting for about 40 percent of total U.S. manmade mercury emissions.

The Natural Resources Defense Council claims the mercury proposal will "weaken and delay" efforts to clean up mercury emissions from America's coal-fired power plants. Those 1,100 facilities are the largest unregulated industrial sources of mercury contamination in the country. The 50 tons they release into the air every year amount to roughly 40 percent of total U.S. industrial mercury emissions, according to NRDC.

Leavitt has defended the proposal as an emissions trading program similar to the one that has reduced acid rain. A close examination of the draft proposal reveals it will downgrade mercury from being regulated as a "hazardous" pollutant to one that requires less stringent pollution controls. This change, claims the NRDC, means EPA's "cap" would allow nearly seven times more annual mercury emissions for five times longer than current law. Moreover, an emissions trading program would allow "hot spots" of mercury contamination in the lakes and rivers neighboring the plants that buy pollution credits instead of reducing their mercury emissions.

Leavitt, however, says EPA and the Bush administration "are calling for the largest single industry investment in any clean air program in U.S. history. By addressing all the Clean Air Act requirements for power plants at one time, we also help maintain affordable energy prices for American consumers."

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