Power Plants Agree to Slash Pollution

Operators of six coal-burning power plants in New York state have agreed to dramatically reduce emissions that cause smog and acid rain. New York Governor George Pataki and Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, who would like to take Pataki's job in two years, made the announcement jointly. They said the agreements will reduce nitrogen oxide by 18,000 tons annually—the equivalent of removing 2.5 million cars from the state's roads—and cut sulfur dioxide by 123,000 tons annually—the equivalent of removing every diesel truck and bus from U.S. roads.

The agreements build on Spitzer's pioneering lawsuits in 1999 against 17 Midwestern power plants. Although those plants are outside of New York, state, Spitzer argued that their emissions harmed his state's air quality. One Midwestern company has settled, while other cases are still pending.

The Clean Air Act allows older plants to do routine maintenance without adhering to stricter pollution standards, with the expectation that the plants would eventually be retired and replaced. Spitzer charged that both the Midwestern and New York plants had been significantly modified to extend their life spans while continuing to pollute. In 2003, the Bush administration announced regulations, called the Clear Skies Initiative, that loosens pollution controls and enforcement under the Clean Air Act.

As part of the agreement with the New York state power companies, the plants will cut emissions by 70 to 90 percent by installing filters, switching to cleaner-burning coal, and shutting down some inefficient units. The companies also will pay millions to the state in fines and fees to support environmental projects. One company will turn over 2,500 acres of environmentally sensitive land in the Adirondacks to the state.

The American Lung Association of New York state estimates that the reduced emissions could result in about 63 fewer premature deaths of elderly New Yorkers each year, 460 fewer emergency room visits, 530 fewer cases of bronchitis in children, and 6,400 fewer asthma attacks.

—Carolyn McConnell


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