Study of Air Quality Ranks Maryland 14th in Sulfur Dioxide Emissions

The Edwards Amendment, had it been submitted to Congress, would have allowed states to continue using the stronger clean air standards that were in effect in 2002 even if national standards are weakened nationally by the Bush administration so-called "Clear Skies" initiative.
BALTIMORE—According to “Lethal Legacy,” a report issued on Oct. 30 by Maryland Public Interest Research Group (MaryPIRG), the vast majority of air pollution from the nation’s dirtiest power plants, particularly from the Morgantown and Chalk Point plants in Maryland, is pollution. As such, MaryPIRG assets it should be cleaned up by using modern pollution controls under the Clean Air Act. However, the pollution will not be cleaned up because of the Bush administration's new rules relaxing power plant emission limits.

“Lethal Legacy: a Comprehensive Look at America’s Dirtiest Power Plants,” the first analysis of newly released EPA data on power plant emissions in 2002, showed that Maryland is a leading producer of both soot-producing sulfur dioxide and smog-producing nitrogen oxide from power plant sources. The state’s 10 dirtiest power plants emit 255,000 tons of sulfur dioxide annually, 81% of which would be eliminated if those plants installed modern pollution controls. Sulfur dioxide has been shown to cause premature death from heart and lung diseases and is a key component of acid rain. Two Maryland power plants ranked among the top 50 largest emitters of sulfur dioxide in the nation: the Morgantown plant in Charles County and the Chalk Point facility in Prince George’s County.

The Edwards Amendment, which would have allowed states to continue using the stronger clean air standards that were in effect in 2002 even though national standards have been weakened nationally by the Bush administration so-called "Clear Skies" initiative, was proposed for inclusion in this year’s “energy bill” in the Senate, but was not included as hoped by environmentalists. Had it passed, Maryland Delegate James Hubbard (Prince George’s County) was ready to introduce the Protect Maryland’s Air Act of 2004. This would have ensured that Maryland is one of the first states to re-enact the New Source Review (NSR) program, which would require dirty power plants to install modern pollution technology whenever they make major additions. The Edwards Amendment may be resubmitted in the spring, according to MaryPIRG spokesperson Gillian Ream.

The MaryPIRG report shows that the recent NSR changes by the Bush administration’s EPA will conservatively allow 7.1 million tons of soot-forming SO2 emissions, and 2.7 million tons of smog-forming NOx emissions to go unchecked.

According to the new report, about half of the power plants nationwide (548) are responsible for emitting more than 98% of all nitrogen oxide (NOx) pollution and 99% of all soot-forming sulfur dioxide (SO2) pollution from the entire electric sector. These same 548 plants are responsible for 91% of carbon dioxide, the leading cause of global warming, from the entire electric sector. Ten of these plants are in Maryland. These plants emit a disproportionate amount of pollution because Congress gave older power plants a temporary exemption, or "grandfathering," from new pollution standards when the Clean Air Act was first written. These old, grandfathered plants are still using pollution controls available in the 50s and 60s, and therefore emit 80-90 percent more pollution per unit of electric output than a new plant could emit.

Power plant pollution, including smog, soot and carbon dioxide, is particularly harmful to vulnerable populations, including children, older adults and people with respiratory diseases.

Instead of rolling back clean air protections, MaryPIRG and the Clear the Air campaign advocate stronger enforcement of the current Clean Air Act and a comprehensive federal policy on power plant pollution to include mandatory reductions of carbon dioxide.

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This story was published on December 2, 2003.