EPA tightens standards for sulfur dioxide emissions

Posted on Jun 9, 2010 in Health & Wellness

07:54 AM CDT on Friday, June 4, 2010

The Associated Press

COLUMBUS, Ohio – The Environmental Protection Agency on Thursday issued a new health standard on sulfur dioxide emissions, a pollutant linked to smog and acid rain blamed for aggravating asthma and other respiratory difficulties.

The EPA said the health benefits of the new rule, the first crackdown on sulfur dioxide emissions in nearly 40 years, range from $13 billion and $33 billion annually. These include preventing 2,300 to 5,900 premature deaths and 54,000 asthma attacks a year, according to the agency. The estimated cost in 2020 to fully implement this standard is about $1.5 billion.

“We’re taking on an old problem in a new way, one designed to give all American communities the clean air protections they deserve,” EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson said.

About three-quarters of the SO2 emissions come from coal-fired power plants and 20 percent from other industrial facilities.

The rule probably means higher costs for some utilities that may need to install equipment, such as scrubbers, to control emissions of SO2 and other pollutants from coal-fired power plants.

How the rule will affect utilities with coal-fired plants is not exactly clear since states will be able to develop plans to bring areas into compliance with the rule.

Some utilities with older coal-fired units have opted to shut them down instead of investing in new emissions controls because of pending rules.

Progress Energy said last year that by 2017 it will close 11 coal-burning power plants in North Carolina that don’t have scrubbers. The company said that the cost to retrofit and operate these plants, more than 50 years old, will increase dramatically because of expected new environmental regulations.

The company plans to build a massive power plant fueled by cleaner natural gas.

Annual average SO2 concentrations have decreased by more than 71 percent since 1980, the EPA said.

The new standard will be 75 parts per billion, measured per hour. The current standard is 140 parts per billion over 24 hours.

States will have until 2014 to develop plans to bring areas that don’t meet the new standard into compliance.

The Associated Press