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Air Quality

Published on February 2nd, 2010 | by Susan Kraemer

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Democratic EPA Moves Decisively on Coal

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February 2nd, 2010 by  

The Obama administration is moving ahead with not one, but three EPA rules that will start to reduce our use of coal, (by far the worst emitter of greenhouse gases in the nation) despite misuse of the Senate filibuster by Republicans who are heavily funded by fossil interests to obstruct this kind of good governance.

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As a result, even in the absence of climate and energy policy being written by congress to turn around our use of harmful energy sources and fund an investment in clean safe energy sources, US greenhouse gas emissions will start to drop as coal powered electricity is already being reduced, halting pollution of our air and water.

Coal was the only energy source that was lower last year as coal-powered electricity was swapped by many utilities in favor of natural gas. Most coal power stations could equally well burn natural gas, which is not without its own health problems, but it is only about half as harmful to our climate as coal.

But more constraints are coming from the new Democratic administration, which should lead to further drops in the future, and to replace it, an increase in renewable energy purchases by utilities, which are now eligible for 30% tax credits for renewable energy investment to move the nation towards a cleaner, safer, healthier energy future.

The three EPA rules…

1. EPA greenhouse gas regulation

The first is that the EPA will add greenhouse gases to the extremely effective acid rain prevention allowance trading system that the EPA manages so well now, that has already limited the amount of particulate pollution companies can emit, by rewarding companies who reduce emissions and holding those who don’t accountable.

The inclusion of greenhouse gases has already begun, with new monitoring and accounting now required from the 14,000 sources to be regulated, 11,000 of whom already must comply with acid rain reduction cap and trade rules to reduce emissions.

2. Tightened sulfur dioxide rules

In a decision reverses EPA inaction since 1998, (despite the urging of the American Lung Association) a new 1 hour standard of allowable pollution monitored by 348 new monitoring sites near emitting sources to be operational and reporting 1 hour averaged SO2 concentrations in the air by 2013.

The revised standards would yield an estimated health benefits valued at between $16 billion and $100 billion. including reduced hospital admissions, emergency room visits, work days lost, cases of aggravated asthma and chronic bronchitis, among others.

Sixty six percent comes from fossil power plants and most of the rest from locomotives and large ships. Locomotives are required to get coal to power plants, so this is only going to further reduce the attractiveness of coal power to utilities already under state pressure in 24 states to add renewable power.

3. New nitrogen dioxide rules

In the first revision since 1971, a similar new one hour standard for concentrations of the air pollutant nitrogen dioxide for below 100 parts per billion per hour under a new national air quality standard was just set in 2010, the first revision since 1971.

NO2 is formed from vehicle, power plant and other industrial emissions, and contributes to the formation of fine particle pollution and smog, and is already among the EPA’s criteria pollutants already reported by polluting coal power plants and regulated under the EPA administered cap and trade program.The new 1 hour rule is clearly seen as the death knell by the coal industry.

The EPA cap and trade program to stop acid rain pollution was put in place decades ago – well before the partly Saudi-funded disinformation campaign that make good governance so beyond us now.

Adding greenhouse gases to the pollutants restricted will result in initial lawsuits, but the newly activist EPA is now settling lawsuits with real consequences. Duke Energy just paid $98 million, and after only a year in court, Westar Energy just settled with the EPA to spend $500 million to fix decades-old New Source Review infractions that have never before been enforced.

Image: Open Secrets Graph data

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About the Author

writes at CleanTechnica, CSP-Today, PV-Insider , SmartGridUpdate, and GreenProphet. She has also been published at Ecoseed, NRDC OnEarth, MatterNetwork, Celsius, EnergyNow, and Scientific American. As a former serial entrepreneur in product design, Susan brings an innovator's perspective on inventing a carbon-constrained civilization: If necessity is the mother of invention, solving climate change is the mother of all necessities! As a lover of history and sci-fi, she enjoys chronicling the strange future we are creating in these interesting times.    Follow Susan on Twitter @dotcommodity.



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