The EPA has been charged with reducing the pollutants released into the environment, but they are meeting opposition from power companies, politicians, and people who want cheap energy, though other people’s health and the environment may suffer the consequences . The EPA is accepting comments on the issue through May 23, 2011. (1)
The Environmental Protection Agency is seeking a 95 percent reduction in emissions at three of Oklahoma’s coal-fired power plants owned by OG&E and AEP. (2) This has brought howls from the utility companies and from Oklahoma’s politicians. Utility companies claim that installing scrubbers or converting to natural gas will cost them billions of dollars and drive the rates for electricity up by 10 to 12%. The utility companies have defined the costs for the plant conversions or upgrades in the worst possible terms, without considering the long-term savings of conversion to natural gas or the impact on people’s health.
EPA. Stopping the EPA has been put forth as a Conservative and a Republican cause, but it really is neither. President Richard Nixon created the EPA to protect the environment as the United States developed industrially. The Clean Air Act was passed not only to reduce smog in our cities, but to ensure that the air was kept pure and clean in our national parks and wilderness areas. Under the Clean Air Act, the EPA has the right to limit sulfur oxides, nitrogen oxides, organic compounds, and particulates to ensure the quality of the air in our region. Limiting regional haze would have the added benefit of improving the health of people, wildlife, and plants in the region. Sulfur and nitrogen oxides are known to damage plants and those, along with small particulates, cause respiratory problems in people. Also, the particulates emitted contain mercury, arsenic, lead, cadmium, chromium, dioxins, and radioactive isotopes, which are all health hazards.
Regional problem. The emissions from Oklahoma plants do not remain in Oklahoma, and some of the haze in Oklahoma likely comes from surrounding states, particularly Texas, which has a large number of unregulated power plants. Emissions from a source may remain in the air for many weeks and travel for hundreds of miles. Although each state in the region might wish to address its own air pollution problems, it is a regional problem and must be addressed as such. Some of the states in the region are regulatory averse, and may lack the political will to act in the matter. For instance, a fly ash disposal plant at Bokoshe Oklahoma was allowed to operate for seven years while it violated Oklahoma statutes and apparently caused health problems and possibly deaths among Bokoshe residents.
Cost. The main objection to limiting emissions at the power plants is the cost. However, the power plants have operated for years without paying the true cost of energy production, which should include the cost of limiting their air pollution. It also appears that the companies have overstated the costs by as much as two or three times over the EPA estimates. AEP reported $1.2 billion in profit last year and OG&E $292 million, so they can apparently afford to address the problem without passing all the costs to customers.
Timetable. Three years would be a reasonable time for the power plants to come into compliance. It has been known for several decades that the emissions are damaging to the environment and health, yet the companies did not act. Also, the EPA had previously informed the companies that they were out of compliance, yet they have failed to come up with a satisfactory plan. They should have made a move toward compliance long ago, and further stalling should not be allowed.
Alternate plan. The alternate plan of converting the power plants to natural gas is certainly an acceptable plan. Methane produces about 2 1/2 times as much energy per unit of carbon dioxide as coal. And, switching to methane would also alleviate the problem of properly disposing of fly ash, bottom ash, and scrubber sludge. Those, and carbon emissions will necessarily be regulated in the future. Addressing the haze, the solid and liquid waste, and the carbon emissions piecemeal will certainly be less effective and more costly in the long run. If the companies should choose to convert the plants to methane, the added benefits would justify an increase in the timetable of up to five years.
(1) Comments may be submitted to firstname.lastname@example.org or at http://act.credoaction.com/campaign/oklahoma_coal_pollution/?r=7901&id=21282-3213732-Kunk_Zx
(c) 2011 J.C. Moore
V Share This: