Posts Tagged ‘power plants’

The Associated Press is reporting that the World Health Organization (WHO) is declaring – what many of us who spend our days in traffic choking on smog or who live near a power plant or other industrial facility have long suspected but now has finally been scientifically validated – air pollution causes lung cancer.

The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), the cancer agency of the World Health Organization based in Lyon, France, declared  that air pollution is a carcinogen, alongside known dangers such as asbestos, tobacco and ultraviolet radiation. The decision came after a consultation by an expert panel organized by IARC declared air pollution an important environmental carcinogen, more so than passive smoking.

IARC had previously deemed some of the components in air pollution such as diesel fumes to be carcinogens, but this is the first time it has classified air pollution in its entirety as cancer causing.

The risk to the individual is low according to their statement, but main sources of pollution are widespread, including transportation, power plants, and industrial and agricultural emissions, and they are difficult for individuals to avoid.

WHO and the European Commission are reviewing their recommended limits on air pollution. Previously, pollution had been found to boost the chances of heart and respiratory diseases, but the recent analysis of more than 1,000 studies worldwide points to enough evidence that exposure to outdoor air pollution is now considered to cause lung cancer and WHO will review their recommended limits on air pollution based on these new findings.

Click here to read the NBC news story on this new finding.

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Texas environmental and public health groups welcome today’s new EPA safeguards to reduce mercury and other toxic air pollutants from the smokestacks of the nation’s aging fleet of coal and oil-fired power plants.  The new public health protection has been developed over nearly twenty years and is required by law under the Clean Air Act, the landmark public health legislation passed during the Nixon Administration.  The rules will be a significant benefit to public health and water quality in Texas since six of the top 10 worst mercury emitting power plants in the nation are in Texas.  Twenty-three Texas lakes near coal plants are so contaminated with mercury that eating fish from those lakes could cause brain damage to unborn children. Information about the new health protection can be found at http://epa.gov/mats/.


“As a family doctor, I am regularly obligated to council young women to limit fish consumption.  Mercury exposure during pregnancy can cause severe mental retardation, cerebral palsy, deafness, blindness, and seizures in children.  Kids who eat contaminated seafood have demonstrated deficits in attention, fine motor function, language, visual-spatial abilities, and memory. Prevention is key — I can’t fix a child’s brain that has been damaged by mercury.  The costs both to those families that are affected by mercury toxicity and to our society as a whole are staggering.  At last there is good news.  I applaud the EPA standards which could go a long way to clean up our air and reduce unnecessary exposures to mercury and other dangerous toxins,” said Dr. Lisa Doggett, a practicing Physician and co-president of Austin Physicians for Social Responsibility.


In July, more than 800,000 comments from across the country were delivered to EPA in support of the new mercury and air toxics rule, with more than 600,000 of these from Sierra Club members and supporters. Despite being the single largest industrial emitters of heavy metals like arsenic, mercury, and selenium, power plants have been exempt from Clean Air Act standards that apply to all other industry sectors.


“The only thing more shocking than the large amounts of toxic chemicals released into the air each year by coal and oil fired power plants is the fact that these emissions have been allowed for so many years,” said Ilan Levin, Environmental Integrity Project Associate Director.


According to a report based on utility data by the Environmental Integrity Project (available at http://www.environmentalintegrity.org), Texas is by far the nation’s top power plant mercury polluter.  Texas coal-fired power plants emitted 16.9 percent of the total U.S. mercury air emissions for 2010, and Texas is home to 11 of the top 50 mercury polluters in the nation. Dallas-based Luminant (formerly TXU) operates the nation’s dirtiest power plant for mercury emissions; the Big Brown coal plant, located about halfway between Houston and Dallas, pumped 1,610.1 pounds of mercury into the air in 2010.  Three of Luminant’s other large coal-fired power plants are also ranked among the top 50 dirtiest power plants in the nation: Martin Lake (number three), Monticello (number seven), and Sandow 4 (a single coal-fired boiler ranked number 28).


Other Texas coal-fired power plants owned by American Electric Power, NRG, and the Lower Colorado River Authority and City of Austin are among the nation’s top 50 worst mercury air polluters.  EPA’s new rule is intended to reduce the levels of toxic metals and acid gases that these electric power plants emit into the atmosphere.


The list of the most polluting plants and states can be found here: http://www.environmentamerica.org/home/reports/report-archives/clean-air/clean-air/americas-biggest-polluters-how-cleaning-up-the-dirtiest-power-plants-will-protect-public-health


“Today’s new health protection will reduce mercury pollution in our air and water substantially over the next decade,” said Jen Powis, Senior Regional Representative with the Sierra Club.  “Reducing mercury pollution will have a significant impact for Texans’ health, and all Texas power generators should look forward to the opportunity to promote the health of women, babies, and young children in our state.”


In addition to lowering mercury emissions, the rule will reduce other fine particle heavy metals like arsenic, chromium, and lead, saving thousands of lives and billions of dollars each year.  EPA has estimated that the power plant air toxics rule will avoid between 6,800 and 17,000 premature deaths each year, and will result in annual savings of $48 to $140 billion.


“The hidden costs of toxic pollution from power plants far exceed the pennies that cleanup will cost each consumer. For every dollar spent on pollution controls we will get $5 to $13 in health benefits. Coal-fired power plants are also the single largest source of toxic mercury air pollution in Texas and the rest of the United States.  Besides mercury, coal-fired power plants emit a suite of other toxic air pollutants, which can cause serious health effects, especially for children and developing fetuses. Studies by the University of Texas Health Sciences Center in San Antonio have found correlations between high levels of mercury emissions and kids with autism in schools in Texas,” said Karen Hadden, Director of the Sustainable Energy and Economic Development (SEED) Coalition.


Tom “Smitty” Smith of Public Citizen said, “For decades, the electric power industry has delayed cleanup and lobbied against public health rules designed to reduce pollution. They have decided that it was cheaper to invest in politicians than pollution controls and we see the result here in Texas. The technology and pollution control equipment necessary to reduce emissions of mercury and other dangerous air toxics are widely available and are working at some power plants across the country. There is no reason for Americans — and Texans in particular — to continue to live with risks to their health and to the environment.”


Stacy Guidry, Director of Texas Campaign for the Environment, Austin office, said, “The City of Austin has a ‘green’ reputation, but our very own Fayette Power Plant is right up there among the dirtiest – number 49 out of more than 450 coal fired power plants nationwide, in terms of sheer pounds of mercury emitted into the air.  In 2010, the Fayette power plant, owned by the Lower Colorado River Authority and Austin Energy, reported spewing 360 pounds of mercury out of the smokestacks.  Airborne mercury falls to the ground and contaminates water and soil.  That’s not my definition of ‘green’ and the City of Austin can do better.”

EPA Rule Information


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In 2009, a drought nearly emptied Lake Travis. People living and working in the surrounding communities remember businesses closing up as the economic activity around the lake ground to a halt. In 2010, a new threat to lake levels and local businesses has emerged.

Photograph by Bill Smotrilla

Despite rising temperatures and projections of less and less available water in our state, 3 unneeded power plants have been proposed that would suck more water – billions of gallons of water – out of the Colorado River. Fortunately, Public Citizen has joined forces with ReEnergize Texas, SEED Coalition, and the Lonestar Chapter of the Sierra Club to stop these plants from ever seeing the light of day.

On October 10th a new campaign will be launched, not with an activist rally or press conference on the steps of the capitol (both of which are fine ways to start a campaign), but with people enjoying good food and live music while watching the sun go down over Lake Travis. We’ll be entertained by such musicians as the legendary Mr. Butch Hancock, the Richard Jessee Project, Tommy Elskes & Lisa Marshall and David Komie. You’re invited to join us.

About the Issue (more…)

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Statement of Tyson Slocum, Director, Public Citizen’s Energy Program

*Note: Tyson Slocum is delivered this statement today at a public hearing held by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on regulating greenhouse gas emissions from new and existing industrial facilities under the Clean Air Act.

As we approach the 40th anniversary of the Clean Air Act, it is appropriate for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to use this law for the agency’s most important and challenging task yet: solving climate change. Decades of success using the act to make America’s communities cleaner and safer can serve as a model of how to tackle climate change.

Public Citizen supports the development of strong, science-based regulations to sharply reduce greenhouse gas emissions from power plants, oil refineries and other “smokestack” emitters responsible for 70 percent of our nation’s emissions of pollutants that cause climate change. The EPA has emerged as the only arm of the federal government with the credibility to solve climate change, as Congress thus far has produced deeply flawed legislation that provides billions of dollars in financial giveaways to polluters while failing to fix our corporate-controlled energy system, which contributes to unsustainability and pollution.

Most unsettling is the fact that climate legislation passed by the House of Representatives would end the ability of the EPA to regulate greenhouse gas emissions under the Clean Air Act. Public Citizen understands why polluters’ lobbyists have tried to eviscerate the EPA’s authority: Because they know that the agency now is largely shielded from the influence of corporate special interests and can therefore concentrate on formulating the regulatory solutions to climate change based on science, not politics.

As world leaders prepare to meet in Copenhagen next month to discuss how nations can work together to solve climate change, the eyes of the world will look not to Congress, but to the EPA for leadership. Public Citizen strongly supports the agency’s efforts to use the full extent of the Clean Air Act to implement science-based regulations to sharply reduce America’s greenhouse gas emissions from new and existing industrial sources.


By promoting cleaner energy, cleaner government, cleaner cars, and cleaner air for all Texans, we hope to provide for a healthy place to live and prosper. We are Public Citizen Texas.

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Smitty MugSustainLane, an on-line “people powered sustainability guide”, recently wrote an in-depth profile piece on Public Citizen’s own Tom “Smitty” Smith.  For an excellent glimpse of the man behind the machine, our very own white-hat-wearing fearless leader and official “American Changemaker,” check out the following:

‘Smitty’ Wrangles Texans for Environmental Battles

by Amy Linn, SustainLane Staff

Tom “Smitty” Smith is one of the leading lights in the environmental movement, in his home state of Texas and beyond.

A large part of wisdom is awareness; another is putting awareness to good use. Taking both those skills—and using them to win countless battles for people and the planet—has made veteran activist Tom “Smitty” Smith one of the leading lights in the environmental movement, in his home state of Texas and beyond.

For 24 years, Tom “Smitty” Smith has been the Texas director of Public Citizen, a consumer and environmental watchdog group that weighs in on nearly every eco-issue, whether it’s fighting the construction of new coal-fired power plants (an ongoing struggle), pushing for renewable energy (one of the group’s major success stories), or combating global warming. Name a progressive battle in Texas, and Smith’s been there, won that.

It’s a path he says he was primed for by his childhood amid the farm belt of Champaign, Ill. In his 20s—before the word “green” meant anything but a color—Smith fought for anti-pollution laws; after graduating college, he stayed on the eco front lines.

What sparked his interest in this tough (and, on bad days, Sisyphusian) line of work?

“My parents,” he says, without hesitation. “When I was a kid we went for walks every Sunday. And they taught me how wonderful nature was, and how little damage it took to the balance of our ecological system to turn a pure little stream into a muddy slough. And they taught me about the impact of pesticides on birds and animals.” (more…)

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A federal appeals court yesterday ordered the EPA to reconsider its standards for pollutants, particularly particulate matter (PM).  Fine particulates, such as soot, have been linked to premature death, asthma, lung cancer, and heart disease.  Furthermore, black carbon soot is a major greenhouse player,  as it absorbs and then radiates massive amounts of heat back to earth when it is in the air.

Reports the New York Times,

pm1Researchers have drawn direct and immediate links between ambient levels of fine particulates and hospital admissions and deaths. By some estimates, tens of thousands of Americans die each year from exposure to airborne particulates.

Among other sources, fine particulates come from diesel engines, power plants, certain industrial processes and even fireplaces. Perhaps one-thirtieth the diameter of a human hair, they can make their way deep into the lungs and in some cases even into the bloodstream.

The EPA last approved PM standards in 2006, when scientists from within the agency itself argued that they were too weak.  Scientists argued that acceptable levels should be lowered to 12 to 14 micrograms per cubic meter of air instead of 15, but (surprise, surprise) then-chief administrator Steven Johnson said that not enough evidence linked PM to detrimental health effects.

The article continues,

The case decided on Tuesday also involved coarse particulates, like dust, and particulate contributions to haze… and it said the E.P.A. must act to reduce the role of particulates in haze.

The court’s ruling may mean that cities notorious for smog– such as Houston – will have to start doing even more to clean up the air.  If pollutant standards are fixed at lower levels that will actually protect public health, these cities may find themselves even closer to non-attainment.

Reports the Houston Chronicle,

For Houston, which is already struggling to meet the EPA’s standards for smog-forming ozone, the designation would mean another deadline, another costly pollution-fighting plan and another threat that federal highway dollars will be withheld if the air doesn’t get cleaner.

“This comes at a really good time because there is concern that the state and federal agencies will take their eye off the ball when it comes to fine particulates,” said Matthew Tejada, executive director of the Galveston-Houston Association for Smog Prevention. “It will force use to look at this important issue in a timely manner.”

Its pretty nice to have an EPA that is serious about Environmental Protection Again.

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