PA Comes in Third on Coal-Driven Toxic Air Pollution List

Tom Joseph, Public News Service-PA

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(08/10/12) HARRISBURG, Penn. – More air pollution is coming from the smokestacks of coal-fired plants in Pennsylvania than in almost any other state in the nation, according to a new report from the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).

The nonprofit environmental group ranks Pennsylvania in third place on its “Toxic 10” list. Its report says plants in the Keystone State emitted more than 31 million pounds of chemicals in 2010, accounting for 78 percent of all air pollution in the state.

The good news, says NRDC Clean Air Director John Walke, is that Pennsylvania’s emissions were down 24 percent from 2009. That’s a better record than the national decrease of 19 percent during the same time period, a statistic Walke attributes to two major factors:

“The increasing use by power companies of natural gas, which is a cheaper and less polluting fuel. The second factor is the installation of state-of-the-art pollution controls by many plants.”

Walke says the EPA’s Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS) going into effect in 2015 are expected to cut air pollution from mercury by nearly 80 percent over 2010 levels. Nationwide, it should also reduce some health problems attributable, at least in part, to air pollution. The figures are impressive, he adds.

“Up to 11,000 premature deaths; 130,000 asthma attacks; 4,700 heart attacks; and 2,800 cases of chronic bronchitis.”

While some plant operators may be making conscious choices to start reducing emissions ahead of the upcoming EPA standards, Walke thinks it is likely that more are doing so for a different reason.

“Changes in the natural gas market and the prices are the single, most influential factor in the decisions to convert to natural gas, or to retire units or even entire plants.”

Pennsylvania’s Keystone Generating Station and the Homer City Station are listed in the report as being among the top ten power plant polluters in the country.

The numbers used in the report come from the EPA’s Toxic Release Inventory, a national database of toxic emissions provided by industrial sources. See the full NRDC report online at

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