Power plants play a huge role in emitting pollutants that make up the ozone. This pollution browns and blackens our horizons. We call it smog. Smog has been linked to premature deaths, thousands of emergency room visits, and tens of thousands of asthma attacks each year. Pollution in the ozone is particularly dangerous to small children and the elderly, who are often warned to stay indoors on days with poor air quality due to pollutants.
Not only are the pollutants spewed out by power plants bad for our health, but they contain greenhouse gases that have been linked with climate change; thus they are killing the world as we know it as well.
Despite the danger to both humankind and the earth, the Bush administration created rules that allowed power plants to emit uncontrolled pollution into the air in cities that already have severely polluted air. Under rules created by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), plants could buy rights to pollute – sometimes from plants hundreds of miles away – instead of installing modern emission controls.
But the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit found that the EPA rules were illegal. “This decision will mean cleaner air and stronger air quality protections across the country,” said John Walke, Clean Air Director for the Natural Resources Defense Council. “With summer smog blanketing our communities, this decision is a welcome relief and promise of stronger health safeguards.”
“The EPA rule let power plants pump uncontrolled air pollution into regions that already had dangerous smog levels. We said that violated the law, and the court agreed,” said David Baron an attorney for Earthjustice, who filed the suit.
The EPA rule, which was overturned, was part of an air pollution trading program aimed at reducing pollution that travels between states. The rule, however, allowed power plants in heavily polluted areas to buy pollution credits from other plants, which could be hundreds of miles away. Swapping credits led to power plants in highly polluted areas getting away without curbing emissions, creating an even darker cloud on the horizon.
The challenged Bush rules also allowed new plants to claim offset credits for historical pollution reductions from plants that closed down decades ago, allowing such credits even in cities that lacked programs to assure that they would still meet health standards on time if the old credits were used. But the ruling changed that. The court held that the credits could not be allowed in cities that lacked approved plans.
The ruling also rejected weakening Clean Air Act limits on new and expanded factories in polluted communities. The law requires new plants to more than offset their increased emissions, for example by arranging for greater pollution reductions from other facilities in the area.
While this ruling to overturn illegal policy is a breath of fresh air, it is only a small step in the right direction. More than policy change, a change in mindset is required. A shift from coal to other forms of energy is required. Efficiency is required.
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