EPA administrator tells power companies to invest in clean air

Jan. 12, 2004 — “It’s time to start cleaning up,” Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Mike Leavitt told a Board of Directors meeting of the Edison Electric Institute on Friday.

The new administrator told the nation’s power company officials their industry must begin investing now to reduce emissions of sulfur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen oxides (NOx) and mercury from power plants.

Leavitt noted that EPA last month sent letters to the governors of 31 states affirming that more than 530 counties were unable to meet new health-based ozone standards. “Many of those counties have unhealthy air through no fault of their own,” he said, “It’s because they live downwind from one or more coal burning power plants.”

In December 2003, EPA proposed a suite of integrated air actions to significantly reduce current levels of power plant emissions. The Interstate Air Quality proposal would utilize a cap and trade program based on EPA’s highly successful Acid Rain Program to cut emissions of SO2 by 70 percent and NOX by approximately 65 percent from today’s levels.

The Agency’s first ever proposed rule to regulate mercury emissions would cut by 70 percent the estimated 48 tons of mercury emitted each year by coal-burning power plants in the United States.

“I intend to be very aggressive in keeping these proposals on a tight, fast track. In return, I ask you to be equally aggressive in committing to cleaning up the air America breathes,” said Administrator Leavitt.

“These rules constitute a move away from a command-and-control style regulation, adopting a market-oriented cap and trade system where the operators of the power plants find the best ways, the fastest ways, and the most efficient ways to make the reductions,” Leavitt added. “It provides incentives to do more than required and serious market-imposed sanctions for those who do less.”

SO2 and NOx are key contributors to fine particles (PM2.5) and ground-level ozone. Fine particles can pose serious health risks, especially for people with heart or lung disease (including asthma) and older adults and children. Ground-level ozone can irritate the respiratory system, aggravate asthma, reduce lung capacity and increase people’s susceptibility to respiratory illnesses like pneumonia and bronchitis. Mercury is a toxic, persistent pollutant that Americans are exposed to primarily through eating mercury-contaminated fish.

The Edison Electric Institute is a trade association whose members generate almost 70 percent of the electricity produced by U.S. electric utilities.

For more information on Leavitt’s speech, go to: http://www.epa.gov/adminweb/leavitt/speeches.htm ; Interstate Air Quality Rule, go to: http://www.epa.gov/interstateairquality/ ; and mercury, go to: http://www.epa.gov/mercury/

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