Air Quality Matters – 2014 in review: Stationary sources – Part 3: Power generation

Quality being the operative word in this review as it relates to energy generation and air, the two should in no way be dissociative, one relative to the other.

But, as it happens, this is the case more often than not.

Generating energy, both cleanly and efficiently, are key – the main ideas of the “Stationary sources” conversation – Part 3.

Power generation – from: “Air report findings cause for optimism, concern” (May 1):

“‘The 15th annual [American Lung Association] national [‘STATE OF THE AIR® 2014’] report card shows that while the nation overall continued to reduce particle pollution, a pollutant recently found to cause lung cancer, poor air quality remains a significant public health concern and a changing climate threatens to make it harder to protect human health,’ the ALA reported in ‘American Lung Association ‘State of the Air 2014’ Shows Half the U.S. Lives with Unhealthy Air’ press release, released Apr. 30th. ‘Especially alarming is that levels of ozone (smog), a powerful respiratory irritant and the most widespread air pollutant, were much worse than in the previous year’s report.’”

Farther on in the same post, in no uncertain terms, stressed was: “‘While particle pollution levels generally showed improvement, ozone worsened in the most polluted metropolitan areas in 2010-2012 compared to 2009-2011,’ the ALA in the release noted. ‘The warm summers in 2010 and 2012 contributed to higher ozone readings and more frequent high ozone days.’”

If that weren’t enough and relatedly, it was reported that, in Pennsylvania, “‘The Sierra Club, the American Lung Association, the Clean Air Council, and other groups say that under the new emission limits, the state’s biggest emitters, coal-fired power plants would be allowed to release more than 130,000 tons of smog-causing nitrogen oxides annually,’ Joanna M. Foster in ‘Will Pennsylvania’s Proposed Anti-Smog Regs Actually Create New Pollution Hot Spots?’ stated. ‘That’s 40 percent more than they do now. Coal-fired power plants are responsible for about one-quarter of smog-causing pollutants in the state.’”1

I reported on this in: “Pennsylvania’s proposed new air rules generating furor” (Apr. 24).

Moreover, I was curious to know how regulations designed to reduce smog-forming emissions at said coal-fired power plants could make the Keystone State’s air quality worse. What I had discovered was, well, shocking.

“As explained by Foster, ‘Part of the problem is also that Corbett’s plan doesn’t require that individual facilities meet the standards, just that the power-plant operators comply ‘on average’ across their facilities. This means that certain areas could still experience hazardous smog even if the problem is no longer visible in official numbers.’2

“The ‘Corbett’ referenced here is Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett and that so-called ‘plan’ refers to proposed new laws to move air quality levels into compliance with 2008 National Ambient Air Quality Standards,” I explained.

The concern I have now is whether this is an isolated case or if this is one among a number of such instances.

So, in what ways are these and other issues being addressed?

“… I am thoroughly convinced that to thoroughly clean the air will take a combination of factors: technological innovation, commitment, regulatory compliance, and common-sense practices.” From: “Fight to make air right: Runaway train or ducks in a row?” (Feb. 22).

From the same post, there is this also:

“It was Time magazine Science & Space writer Bryan Walsh himself who, in fact, in ‘Unbreathable: Air Pollution Becomes a Major Global Killer’ in the Dec. 20, 2012 issue wrote: ‘Fortunately in the U.S. and other developed nations, urban air is for the most part cleaner than it was 30 or 40 years ago, thanks to regulations and new technologies like the catalytic converters that reduce automobile emissions.’”

Bituminous coal
Bituminous coal

And to this I would add: Effective mitigating efforts are ongoing: everything from the seemingly innumerable technologically-centric remedies available in the form of installation of power plant smokestack scrubbers and others, to power-plant upgrades as in switching fuel supplies to cleaner-burning natural gas from, say, coal, these are proven solutions.

However, as good as these are, this is not as good as it could get. Way more could and should be done.

In the pipeline for Part 4 is fuel production – liquid and gas.

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