Good News in the Air, Maryland

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Deciding air quality in Maryland

Doris Toles, watches as decisions are made on the quality of her air. Toles has been hospitalized when poor air quality in Baltimore left her struggling to breathe. She was attending the Air Quality Control Advisory Council meeting at the Maryland Department of the Environment in Baltimore, MD. The council approved new regulations which will require coal burning power plants to use their existing pollution controls daily and meet new emission standards.

There is good news in the air for those who breathe in Maryland: The Air Quality Control Advisory Council approved new regulations which mandate that all coal burning power plants must use their existing pollution controls.

WHAT?!!!! We needed regulations to get the owners of coal burning power plants to use their existing pollution controls?

That’s right. Outside of what the Maryland Department of the Environment are calling the “Summer Study,” quite a few coal burning plants had been switching off their pollution controls until they started bumping into mandated emission limits. A report by the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) found that if the Brandon Shores and Wagner power plants had used their pollution controls continuously in 2012, they could have prevented 2,035 tons of NOx (nitrous oxide) emissions.

Until the “Summer Study,” some plants had simply not used their SNRC controls for years; others were using them less than half the time.
These new requirements to use their existing pollution controls, combined with daily and monthly emission levels are good news for Marylander’s who enjoy breathing.

It is interesting to be in a room where people are deciding how clean (or dirty) our air will be.
To people who breathe, this can seem to be a simple question with an equally simple answer: CLEAN.
But inside the conference room at MDE, the discussion is complex and strategic.

Remember that bit about the coal burning power plants not using their pollution controls?
The same stuff is going on in other states like Ohio, Virginia, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania –and their air comes here, sometimes making up a majority of the ozone (smog) we experience in the summer.
How do we get them to stop sending us polluted air if we keep polluting our own?

An executive from a power producing company warns of power blackouts if they have to close their polluting plants. Pointing out that the demand doesn’t go away just because we quit producing electricity; he suggests that plants in other states would simply step in to provide the power and pollution that we lost.

An executive from another power company supports the regulations, perhaps eager to inherit market share from other power companies who might have to close under these rules.

A member of the council worries that natural gas might actually cause more harm to the environment than the coal that these regulations are attempting to replace.
Another member wonders if the state will be sued by a power company to delay or nullify the regulations.

Underlying each of these complex conversations is our addiction to cheap, dirty energy.

Look across our skylines– the smokestacks from coal burning power plants look cigarettes that our cities are chain smoking day after day, hour after hour. But inside the room, the talk wasn’t focused on renewable energy or gains in energy efficiency. It’s about rising power demands and perhaps a transition to natural gas, another fossil fuel– a different brand of smoke.

Responding to questions about the dangers of NOx pollution, a power company executive talks about balance, cost and reliability: weighing of the benefit of the electricity against the harm of the emissions. But he doesn’t talk about the costs of air pollution which are borne by the public. Their deaths, asthma and hospitalizations are not found on the balance sheets of his plants.

A recent two part study by Harvard, Syracuse and Boston Universities estimated that lowering pollutants from power plants in a scenario similar to the proposed EPA plan would prevent 3,500 early deaths and a thousand hospitalizations every year in the United States by 2020. Their report found that Maryland would see some of the greatest health benefits of this plan.

How many early deaths, hospitalizations or heart attacks will these new NOx regulations prevent in Maryland?
How many more will the two year extension for closing or refitting power plants create?
These are hard numbers to come by, but stay tuned as we talk to health and energy experts over the next few months.
And say a prayer with me for Doris, the kind woman with COPD, that her life will stay in the saved column.

The Second Battle of Baltimore

posted in: Environment, News and Issues | 0

If you think that the only aerial bombardment of Baltimore was by the British navy in 1814, think again.

Gaze south of Ft. McHenry a few miles to near where the British ships fired their canons and rockets.
O say, can you see the plumes of pollution spewing from the smokestacks of the Brandon Shores and Wagner power plants?

In the dawn’s early light, look north past where the battle of North point took place to see if the cloud from the Crane power plant yet waves.

Year after year, day after day, hour by hour these plants pollute our air with toxic chemicals that fill our lungs, our emergency rooms and our cemeteries.

Four Americans died defending Ft. McHenry during the bombardment of 1814. We will probably never know just how many of us die prematurely, or struggle for                                                                                                    breath with asthma attacks triggered by this silent and constant poisoning of our air.

What we do know is that Baltimore has almost twice the asthma rate as the rest of the state.
We know that one in four of our children receive an asthma diagnosis by the time they are in high school.
We know that the Baltimore/DC area is rated 8th highest in the country for ozone (smog) by the American Lung Association.
(This is one time it’s not great to beat Philadelphia and Pittsburgh).

And now we know that much of this pollution could have been prevented is these plants had just kept using their pollution controls.

That’s right. Many of these coal burning power plants did not run their pollution controls most of the time.
In a report titled “The History of Power Plant Controls in Maryland,” the Maryland Department of the Environment found that Unit 2 at the Wagner plant used its SNCR 28% of the time                                                          that they could have during 2012; Unit 1 at the Crane plant operated its SNCR 14 % of the time; while unit 2 at Crane operated its SNCR a third of the time that it could have.

Know anyone who breathes a third of the time?

The report found that if the Brandon Shores and Wagner plants had used their pollution controls continuously during 2012they would have reduced NOx emissions by 2,016 tons.
Now I don’t know what you think about dog walkers who don’t pick up after their dog, but the owners of these plants left a 2,016 ton pile of toxic chemicals in the air that we can’t walk around.                                   We breathe this stuff.

So when the owners of the power plants start whimpering about the cost of installing pollution controls or switching to less polluting fuels at their plants, I hope our leaders also hear the gasping of children with asthma attacks and the sirens of ambulances taking people to emergency rooms.

Why should we continue to subsidize the owners of dirty coal burning plants with our air and the health of our families? Why should dirty, polluting plants gain a price advantage over cleaner plants and energy sources? Why do they get free dumping rights to our air?

It is time that we tell the owners of dirty old coal burning plants that poison our air to boost their profits: NEVERMORE.

Please urge the Maryland Department of the Environment to adopt regulations that help make our air cleaner and our families healthier.