Alabama made a list recently, but it didn’t bring good news to our state. Toxic emissions from coal-fired power plants in the state rank Alabama number eight among the “Filthy 15″ states, according to a new analysis by the nonprofit advocacy group, Environmental Integrity Project (EIP). These rankings are based on the total releases of arsenic, chromium, hydrochloric acid, lead, mercury, nickel and selenium. The totals are drawn from reports submitted by utilities to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Unlike other industries that face federal clean air restrictions on the release of air toxics, the utility industry won a temporary exemption to the 1990 revisions to the Clean Air Act and has continued to fight hard against the proposed regulations. Southern Company, Alabama Power’s parent company, has vocally opposed the regulations, claiming they could force the shutdown of some plants. Bruce Niles, the director of the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal initiative, and other advocates, contended that the technology exists and has existed for decades to reduce emissions. They say power companies have made dire predictions of economic consequences that simply haven’t panned out.
Environmental advocates contend that the benefits to health would outweigh the costs of updates. The EPA has estimated that the power plant air toxics rule would avoid between 6,800 and 17,000 premature deaths each year. The agency is facing a court-ordered deadline to adopt air toxics rules for power plants, which will force reductions of mercury, acid gasses and fine particulates, which contain heavy metals.
Alabama ranks sixth in the nation for electrical power generation, and a majority of that power is generated by the nine coal-fired power plants in the state. Despite Alabama’s ranking among the top eight states for toxic releases, there are suggestions in the numbers released by EIP that pollution controls are having some effect. Hopefully, that is an accurate appraisal.
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