New Clean Air Rule in Place

  • The EPA is planning big cuts in certain air pollutants, but environmentalists disagree on whether the rule will help get rid of smog. (Photo courtesy of the National Institutes of Health)

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says Midwest states will have to develop ways to reduce emissions of two air pollutants that can drift for hundreds of miles. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Chuck Quirmbach reports on a new EPA rule:

Transcript

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says Midwest
states
will have to develop ways to reduce emissions
of two air pollutants that can drift for hundreds of miles. The
Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Chuck Quirmbach reports on a new EPA rule:


The EPA wants big cuts in emissions of nitrogen oxide
oxide and sulfur dioxide in 28 eastern states.


The agency predicts reductions will
largely come through emissions cuts at coal burning power
plants, possibly through programs that allow cleaner-burning
utilities to sell their pollution credits to others, as long as
total emissions are reduced.


Bharat Mathur is acting administrator of the EPA’s Midwest region. He says the rule will cut smog and soot while preserving the use of coal as a viable energy source.


“That’s good for coal producing states in our region such as Illinois, Indiana and Ohio.”

Some environmental groups are happy with the EPA rule. But others
say some urban counties in the midwest would still not meet federal
standards for ground-level smog.


For the GLRC, I’m Chuck Quirmbach.

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A Cleaner Coal-Fired Power Plant

  • So far, coal-burning power plants have been a dominant source of electricity for the U.S. They've also been known to be bad for the environment. New technology makes coal a cleaner source of fuel, but some environmentalists have their doubts. (Photo by Lester Graham)

A new kind of cleaner, coal-fired power plant will soon be built somewhere in the Midwest. American Electric Power, the nation’s largest producer of electricity, says the new plant will be more efficient and pollute less than traditional coal plants. But critics say if utilities were doing more to promote energy efficiency, they wouldn’t need to build new power plants that burn fossil fuels. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Erin Toner
reports:

Transcript

A new kind of cleaner, coal-fired power plant will soon be
built somewhere in the Midwest. American Electric Power, the nation’s
largest producer of electricity, says the new plant will be more efficient
and pollute less than traditional coal plants. But critics say if utilities
were doing more to promote energy efficiency, they wouldn’t need to build
new power plants that burn fossil fuels. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s
Erin Toner reports:


Coal-fired power plants are blamed for contributing to air pollution and global warming and aggravating health problems such as asthma. In the 1970s, Congress passed the Clean Air Act to reduce air pollution. But since many coal plants were built before the Clean Air Act, they’ve been exempt from pollution control updates.


So there are a lot of older, dirtier power plants out there. At the same time, demand for electricity is increasing. To meet demand, many utilities, including Ohio-based American Electric Power, are looking at building new plants, or adding on to their old ones. American Electric Power spokesperson Melissa McHenry says the company needs a new plant that will last at least 30 years.


“As we looked forward, you’re looking at increasingly stringent air quality regulations, so we wanted to ensure we would have a plant that would have improved environmental performance.”


And McHenry says the cleanest, and most efficient coal-burning process, is something practically brand-new to the industry. It’s called Integrated Gasification Combined-Cycle, or IGCC. It converts coal to gas, and then removes pollutants from the gas before it’s burned. The process results in almost zero emissions of sulfur dioxide, which causes acid rain, nitrogen oxides, which cause smog, and mercury, which is toxic to people and animals. There’s also much less carbon dioxide pollution, which is believed to contribute to global warming. And gasification is said to be twice as efficient as traditional coal plants.


There are a couple of IGCC plants in the US, but they’re small – only about a quarter of the size of a traditional coal plant. American Electric Power’s IGCC plant would be the biggest one to date – a full-size plant that would serve the power needs of more than a million homes in the Midwest. American Electric Power Spokesperson Melissa McHenry says this plant be only the first of its kind.


“We’re stepping up to build the first one and we think there will be more as we need additional generation capacity. And we think other utilities, you know, obviously other utilities have announced plans to look at this since we have announced ours. The U.S. has significant reserves of coal available, and we think it’s very important that we are able to use this domestic fuel source in a more environmentally responsible way going forward.”


Most environmentalists agree that IGCC is a much improved way to make power. But they say it’s not the best way, since it still depends on a non-renewable energy source – coal. Environmental groups say relying on coal is not a long-term solution to growing energy needs. Although, the coal industry says there is at least a 200-year supply. Marty Kushler is with the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy. He says utilities should consider ways to reduce the need to build new power plants.


“There are a number of other resource options available that can be achieved at a lower cost than building and fueling and operating a new power plant, such as energy efficiency. Energy efficiency can save electricity at a cost that is less than half the cost of building, fueling and operating a new power plant.”


But getting people to use less power isn’t that easy. Kushler says more states should implement power bill surcharges to fund programs to encourage the public to use more energy efficient appliances and cut electricity use.


But even with those kinds of programs, almost everyone agrees coal will be a part of the American energy mix for some time. And people in the energy industry say gasification is the future of coal power.


Jim Childress is with the Gasification Technologies Council. He says the only drawbacks right now are money. IGCC is about 20 percent more expensive than traditional coal power production. And he says there are a lot of bugs to work out in engineering one of these plants.


“The base technology is set. The question mark is based upon marrying that technology with about three, four, five major components and getting the darn thing to run right.”


Childress says the tough part is getting technology that’s working now on a small scale to work in a full-size coal plant.


American Electric Power says its Integrated Gasification Combined-Cycle plant will cost 2 billion dollars, and should be online by 2010. The company is expected to announce a site for the new plant by summer.


For the GLRC, I’m Erin Toner.

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How Long Do You Keep a Polluting Heap?

  • Motor oil dripping from cars can add up and end up contaminating waterways and sediments. (Photo by Brandon Blinkenberg)

Industries and companies get labeled as
“polluters.” But what do you do when you find out you’re a pretty big polluter yourself… and you find out it’s going to cost you a lot of money to fix the
problem? As part of the series, “Your Choice; Your
Planet,” the Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Rebecca
Williams finds herself in that dilemma:

Transcript

Industries and companies get labeled as “polluters.” But what do you do when you find out you’re a pretty big polluter yourself… and you find out it’s going to cost you a lot of money to fix the problem? As part of the series, “Your Choice; Your Planet,” the Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Rebecca Williams finds herself in that dilemma:


(sound of car starting)


This is my ‘89 Toyota Camry. It has 188,000 miles on it. Pieces of
plastic trim fly off on the highway, and I have to climb in from the
backseat when my door gets frozen in the winter. But I got it for free, I get good gas mileage, and my insurance is cheap. But now, it’s leaking oil – lots of oil. I knew it was bad when I started
pouring in a quart of oil every other week.


I thought I’d better take it in to the shop.


(sound of car shop)


My mechanic, Walt Hayes, didn’t exactly have good news for me.


“You know, you’re probably leaking about 80% of that, just from experience, I’d say
you’re burning 20% and leaking 80%.”


Walt says the rear main seal is leaking, and the oil’s just dripping
straight to the ground. Walt tells me the seal costs 25 dollars, but he’d
have to take the transmission out to get to the seal. That means I’d be
paying him 650 dollars.


650 bucks to fix an oil leak, when no one would steal my car’s radio. There’s no way. Obviously, it’s cheaper to spend two dollars on each quart of oil, than to fix the seal.


“Right – what else is going to break, you know? You might fix the rear main
seal, and your transmission might go out next week or something. Your car,
because of its age, is on the edge all the time. So to invest in a 25 dollar seal, spending a lot of money for labor, almost doesn’t make sense on an
older car.”


That’s my mechanic telling me not to fix my car. In fact, he says he’s seen
plenty of people driving even older Toyotas, and he says my engine will
probably hold out a while longer. But now I can’t stop thinking about the
quarts of oil I’m slowly dripping all over town.


I need someone to tell me: is my one leaky car really all that bad? Ralph
Reznick works with the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality. He
spends his time trying to get polluters to change their behavior.


“That’s a lot for an old car. If you were the only car in the parking lot,
that wouldn’t be very much. But the fact is, there’s a lot of cars just
like yours that are doing the same thing.”


Reznick says the oil and antifreeze and other things that leak from and fall
off cars like mine add up.


“The accumulative impact of your car and other cars, by hitting the
pavement, and washing off the pavement into the waterways, is a very large
impact. It’s one of the largest sources of pollution we’re dealing with
today.”


Reznick says even just a quart of oil can pollute thousands of gallons of
water. And he says toxins in oil can build up in sediment at the bottom of
rivers and lakes. That can be bad news for aquatic animals and plants.
There’s no question – he wants me to fix the leak.


But I am NOT pouring 650 bucks into this car when the only thing it has going
for it is that it’s saving me money. So I can either keep driving it, and
feel pretty guilty, or I can scrap it and get a new car.


But it does take a lot of steel and plastic and aluminum to make a new car.
Maybe I’m doing something right for the environment by driving a car that’s
already got that stuff invested in it.


I went to the Center for Sustainable Systems at the University of Michigan
and talked to Greg Keoleian. He’s done studies on how many years it makes
sense to keep a car. He says if you look at personal costs, and the energy
that goes into a making a midsize car, it makes sense to hang onto it for a
long time… like 16 years.


No problem there – I finally did something right!


Well, sort of.


“In your case, from an emissions point of view, you should definitely
replace your vehicle. It turns out that a small fraction of vehicles are
really contributing to a lot of the local air pollution. Older vehicles
tend to be more polluting, and you would definitely benefit the environment
by retiring your vehicle.”


Keoleian says if I get a newer car, it won’t be leaking oil, and it won’t
putting out nearly as much nitrogen oxide and other chemicals that lead to
smog. Oh yeah, he also says I really need to start looking today.


And so doing the right thing for the environment is going to cost me money.
There’s no way around that. The more I think about my rusty old car, the
more I notice all the OTHER old heaps on the road. Maybe all of you are a
bit like me, hoping to make it through just one more winter without car
payments.


For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Rebecca Williams.

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Drivers Filling Up With Cleaner Fuel

  • Low-sulfur fuel is now available to everyone, even if they haven't realized it yet. (Photo by Pam Roth)

A quiet revolution of cleaner air began this year for cars
and trucks. Motorists might not know it, but they’ve been burning
low-sulfur fuel as part of a requirement under the federal Clean Air
Act. The requirement was put in place during the Clinton Administration.
The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Mike Simonson reports:

Transcript

A quiet revolution of cleaner air began this year for cars and trucks. Motorists might
not know it, but they’ve been burning low-sulfur fuel as part of requirement under the
federal Clean Air Act. The requirement was put in place during the Clinton Administration.
The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Mike Simonson reports:


Low-sulfur fuel is sometimes referred to as “green gas.” The gas isn’t really colored green.
But if it was, people might have noticed that they’re pumping different gas. For two years,
refineries in the United States have been investing millions of dollars to produce the new gas.
Dave Podratz is the manager of the Murphy Oil refinery in Superior, Wisconsin. He says his
refinery spent 26 million dollars to begin making the gas since October.


“It’s not the kind of thing you would notice, the average consumer going to the pump probably
wouldn’t even notice it watching tail pipe emissions, but the sufur dioxide emissions are
definitely going down.”


Podratz says the new fuel cut the amount of sulfur by 90 percent. And other tail pipe
emissions are going down as well. That’s because low sulfur fuel improves the efficiency
of your car’s catalytic converter, Which, in turn, reduces the amount of pollutants like
nitrogen oxide and carbon monoxide.


For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Mike Simonson.

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Tough Emissions Controls to Help Forest?

Environmentalists say upstate New York’s six million acre Adirondack Park is suffering the most damage from acid rain in the country. To help control that, the state could soon pass the toughest power plant emission regulations in the U.S. But as the Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Mark Brodie reports, some critics say the new regulations will not solve the problem:

Transcript

Environmentalists say upstate New York’s six million acre Adirondack Park is suffering the most damage from acid rain in the country. To help control that, the state could soon pass the toughest power plant emission regulations in the U.S. But as the Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Mark Brodie reports, some critics say the new regulations will not solve the problem:


The new regulations would force New York power plants to reduce emissions of the two leading causes of acid rain. The plants would have to cut sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions by more than half of 1990 Clean Air Amendment levels. John Sheehan is the spokesman for the advocacy group, the Adirondack Council.


“We feel that New York is setting an example for the rest of the United States…this was the step that we needed to show the Midwest that we were willing to take in order to ask them to do the same thing.”


But many power plant owners in the state feel singling out New York’s facilities will put them at a competitive disadvantage. They also say reducing New York’s emissions will not prevent acid rain from reaching the Adirondacks. To do that, they say power plants across the country would have to adopt similar regulations. The New York state Department of Environmental Conservation is currently reviewing the draft proposal and public comment. The agency expects to have a final decision sometime this fall.


For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Mark Brodie.

Reining in Diesel Exhaust

  • The EPA is planning to regulate smoke from diesel engines in farm and construction equipment. Photo courtesy of NESCAUM.

You see them every time you pass a construction site: big machines belching thick diesel smoke. The smoke isn’t just annoying. It causes major health and environmental problems. Now, after years of dealing with other issues, the EPA is taking on this major source of uncontrolled pollution: emissions from farm and construction equipment. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Julie Halpert looks at the challenges the EPA faces in this far-reaching regulatory effort:

Transcript

You see them every time you pass a construction site. Big machines belching thick diesel smoke. The smoke isn’t just annoying. It causes major health and environmental problems. Now, after years of dealing with other issues, the EPA is taking on this major source of uncontrolled pollution: emissions from farm and construction equipment. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Julie Halpert looks at the challenges EPA faces in this far-reaching regulatory effort.


Emissions from diesel engines create problems for both the environment and people’s health. Diesels release nitrogen oxides, which are a factor in acid rain and smog. They also spew very fine particulates that can lodge deep in the lung when inhaled. And that causes respiratory problems.


Controlling these emissions is no easy task. That’s because most diesel engines still burn fuel containing high amounts of sulfur. The sulfur clogs up existing pollution control devices. And that makes it a lot tougher to come up with ways to reduce emissions. But Christopher Grundler, deputy director of the EPA’s Office of Transportation and Air Quality in Ann Arbor, Michigan, says its an important challenge.


“In the year 2007 we estimate that off road or non-road emissions will make up over 40% of the air pollution from mobile sources or transportation sources, so it’s a big deal.”


In tackling air pollution, EPA’s first job was to clean up gasoline car emissions. Now its moving onto diesels. The agency’s first challenge came when they issued a rule for highway trucks last year. That plan drops sulfur content in diesel fuel from 500 parts per million to 15 parts per million. It also reduces overall diesel emissions by 90% by the year 2007. The EPA now wants to use this rule as a model for farm and construction equipment as well. But the agency is likely to face opposition from refiners, who are fighting the on road rule. Jim Williams is with the American Petroleum Institute.


“We feel that the ability of the refining industry to make sufficient volumes of 15 ppm in the timeframe that EPA wants us to is highly questionable, whether we can do that. We’ve done some studies that show there will be supply shortfalls with the 15-ppm limit.”


Williams is pushing to phase in the requirement over a longer period. He says that would give refiners more time to produce the necessary quantities of low sulfur fuel. Until then, refiners also want to continue providing high sulfur fuel.


But Engine Manufacturers don’t like that idea. They’ve agreed to support tough standards only if the switchover to low sulfur fuel happens quickly. Jed Mandel runs the Engine Manufacturers Association. He’s worried that if cheaper, low sulfur fuel remains abundant; users could continue relying on the dirtier fuel.


“If there are dual fuels available — if there’s cleaner fuel on the marketplace for some time, as well as higher sulfur dirtier fuel, and there’s a price differential in that fuel, there will be a disincentive for users to buy the cleanest engines.”


Mandel says that could cause a delay in purchasing these engines for several years.


Like Mandel, Jason Grumet, executive director of the Northeast States for Coordinated Air Use Management, also wants tight standards. Northeast states, plagued with acid rain and smog caused largely by these diesels, are pushing the EPA to develop the tightest standards possible to meet clean air goals and also to better protect equipment operators.


“The particles from diesel emissions can lodge very deep within the human lung and we know that these particles are carcinogens, so for folks who work with construction equipment every day or on construction sites, for people who farm or plow fields for several hours a day, we think that the emissions of diesel pollutants cause a very substantial and real threat to their health.”


(sound of tractor)


Herb Smith isn’t worried about his health. Smith hops off his tractor and stands on the land that his family has farmed in Ida Township, Michigan since 1865. Despite years of inhaling diesel fumes, Smith said he’s in perfect physical condition. Though he supports regulations to control diesel emissions, he’s worried that the EPA will place undue hardship on farmers.


“I am concerned about fuel costs because our margin in farming is very slim and anything we add to fuel costs, we have to absorb it.”


Smith fears that some of the smaller farmers may not be able to bear higher fuel and engine costs and could go out of business.


Despite the many different viewpoints on the issue, EPA’s Grundler is confident that his agency can develop a rule that will bring tremendous public health benefits at a reasonable cost.


“We’ve shown we can do it for cars and SUVs. We’ve shown it can be done for heavy duty on highway engines. I’m absolutely certain it can be done for these sorts of engines as well.”


The agency expects to issue a technical report outlining emission control options by the end of the year. A proposal is due by the middle of next year. For The Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Julie Halpert.

Smog Reduction Plan in Motion

Great Lakes states are slowly complying with new EPA rules designed to reduce smog. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Jonathan Ahl explains:

Transcript

Great Lakes states are slowly complying with new EPA rules designed to reduce smog. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Jonathan Ahl reports:


The US EPA is requiring states to reduce emissions of Nitrogen Oxides, a main component in smog and ground level ozone. Coal-fired power plants and industrial boilers are the main producers of the pollutants. John Summerhays is an environmental scientist with the EPA’s Midwest Office. He says the reduction is an attempt to improve public health:


“The smog and ozone can cause a variety of health effects that are principally hard on the lungs. It can contribute to various lung diseases, so this is a big step forward for public health protection.”


Illinois and Indiana recently had their emission reduction plans approved by the Federal Government. Pennsylvania and New York have also been approved. Ohio and Michigan still have yet to submit reduction plans. The deadline for implementing the measures is 2004. For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Jonathan Ahl.

States Cooperate to Reduce Air Pollution

  • States around Lake Michigan are working with Missouri to reduce emissions from coal-burning power plants such as this one near St. Louis.

States surrounding Lake Michigan are working together to reduce
air pollution. Instead of filing lawsuits against each other, the
states
agreed how to fix the problem. The federal government is keeping an
eye
on the agreement. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham
reports:

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STATES COOPERATE TO REDUCE AIR POLLUTION (Shorter Version)

  • States around Lake Michigan are working with Missouri to reduce emissions from coal-burning power plants such as this one near St. Louis.

States surrounding Lake Michigan are working together to reduce
air pollution. Instead of filing lawsuits against each other, the
states
agreed how to fix the problem. The federal government is keeping an
eye
on the agreement. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham
reports:

Related Links