NESCAUM Reports Coal Plants Can Comply with New Clean Air Rules

The Northeast States for Coordinated Air Use Management has released a report that claims pollution control technologies are available and already at work in many plants.

Proven pollution control technologies are widely available that will enable coal-fired power plants to meet the requirements of recently proposed U.S. Environmental Protection Agency clean air rules aimed at reducing harmful air pollutants, including ground-level ozone (smog), fine particles, mercury, arsenic, lead and acid gases, according to a new report from Northeast States for Coordinated Air Use Management (NESCAUM).

NESCAUM is a nonprofit association of air quality agencies in the Northeast. Its Board of Directors consists of the air directors of the six New England states (Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont), New Jersey, and New York. NESCAUM provides scientific, technical, analytical, and policy support to the air quality and climate programs of the eight northeast states, including assistance with the implementation of national environmental programs required under the Clean Air Act and other federal legislation

The report, "Control Technologies to Reduce Conventional and Hazardous Air Pollutants from Coal-Fired Power Plants," prepared by James E. Staudt, Ph.D., Andover Technology Partners and M.J. Bradley & Associates LLC, details the proven, commercially available emission control technologies, including scrubbers, baghouses, and dry sorbent injection, that will enable coal-fired power plants to comply withthe Transport Rule and the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (Air Toxics Rule).

Among the report’s key findings:

  • The electric power sector has extensive experience installing and operating advanced pollution control systems. The first scrubber to reduce sulfur oxides was installed in 1968. The first catalyst system to reduce nitrogen oxides (NOx) was installed in 1993. Over the intervening years, many coal plants have now installed modern controls.
  • Modern pollution controls can dramatically reduce toxic air emissions, including mercury — by 90 percent or more.
  • The electric power sector has demonstrated that it is capable of planning for and installing pollution controls on a large portion of the nation’s generating capacity in a relatively short period of time. Between 2008 and 2010, the industry added about 60 gigawatts (GW) of scrubbers and 20 GW of NOx catalyst systems.
  • Labor and technology organizations are confident that they have the capacity to install the necessary controls on the schedules required by EPA’s rules.
  • A range of control options are available for companies to cost-effectively comply with EPA’s rules.

“The northeast states have been at the forefront of efforts to control NOx, SO2, mercury and other coal plant emissions,” said Arthur Marin, executive director of NESCAUM. “We know from experience that the technologies work, that they can be cost-effectively deployed on power plants large and small, and that we all benefit from cleaner air.”

On March 16, EPA announced its Air Toxics Rule, which will establish, for the first time, national limits on hazardous air pollutant emissions from coal-fired power plants. The Clean Air Transport Rule, proposed in July 2010, is designed to reduce the interstate/downwind transport of harmful air pollution from power plants in the eastern half of the United States.

“The Toxics Rule is long overdue,” Marin said. “The technologies are commercially available and ready to deploy. We encourage EPA to move forward with its proposed rules that will protect public health and the environment.”

According to EPA, the Transport Rule alone will yield more than $120 to $290 billion in annual health and welfare benefits in 2014, including the value of avoiding 14,000 to 36,000 premature deaths. The agency also finds the implementation of the Air Toxics Rule will result in the annual prevention of approximately 17,000 premature deaths, 11,000 heart attacks, 120,000 cases of childhood asthma symptoms, 12,000 hospitalizations and emergency room visits, and 11,000 fewer cases of acute bronchitis among children.

“Electric companies are well-equipped to implement cost-effective compliance solutions without impacting the reliability of the electric system,” said Michael J. Bradley, president of M.J. Bradley & Associates. “The electric industry has known for over a decade that these rules were coming. Timing is just not a viable excuse to delay implementing rules that will generate important health benefits.”