DENVER – Environmentalists say Washington has some unfinished business when it comes to clean air standards. By the end of the year, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) needs to finalize regulations to curb what is considered to be one of the deadliest and most dangerous forms of air pollution: fine particulate matter – soot – from coal-burning power plants.
The national president of Earthjustice, Trip Van Noppen, says finishing these safeguards is necessary to protect the health of Coloradans and all Americans.
“Thousands of people are dying across the country from pollution from old, dirty coal-burning power plants that need better pollution controls. We’ve been taking steps in the direction of cleaning them up or closing them down. Some of that work has gotten done, but we’ve got a lot more to do.”
State standards exist in Colorado because of the Clean Air-Clean Jobs Act. It requires coal-fired power plants to reduce emissions by 80 percent in the state and utilities to move to cleaner energy sources. But environmentalists say the law cannot stop the airborne particulates from neighboring states from being carried into Colorado.
Van Noppen points to strong public support for strengthening air pollution standards, with more than 430,000 comments recently submitted to the EPA in favor of limits on soot pollution.
“It’s particularly important and particularly strongly supported in states that have a lot of coal-burning power plants, like Pennsylvania and Ohio, where the impacts are really felt in a most concentrated way.”
The standards would only cover new power plants, but Van Noppen says leaders need to consider extending the standards to existing plants. Some have argued the rules will raise electricity prices and close coal plants. Van Noppen says that’s not the case, adding that cleaning up dirty power plants will create jobs and provide critical health benefits.
The devastation of Hurricane Sandy is a wake-up call for national leaders on the critical need to curb the pollution that contributes to climate change, Van Noppen says.
“Sea levels are rising and storms are getting more intense because of climate change, and those storms will hit heavily populated places with very vulnerable infrastructure and very vulnerable residential areas; there’s going to be a lot of damage.”
Long-term exposure to soot pollution has been linked to chronic respiratory illnesses. Some studies show it is associated with lung cancer, stroke and heart disease.