EPA: Utilities, Mines Worst U.S. Polluters
More toxic pollution is emitted from electric utilities and
mines than any other industries in the U.S. --- up to 63% of the
nation's reported releases --- according to the U.S. Environmental
Protection Agency. The EPA released its annual Toxic Chemical
Inventory Report last week, which for the first time included
fossil fuel-burning utilities - but it wasn't a "first" for which
the industries would most like to be known.
The reporting period covered emissions released from facilities
between 1997 and 1998, and included seven industrial sectors. The
annual reports are required under EPA's Emergency Planning and
Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA), which requires certain
industries to report on releases to the environment of 650 listed
EPA's annual report, also known as the TRI, is not a
condemnation of the industries that report, rather it is a listing
--- made available by company reporting --- that details the types
and amounts of certain emissions that contribute to pollution.
Until the 1998 reporting period, manufacturing plants had been the
only facilities required to report toxic emissions. EPA upgraded
its rules in 1997, adding seven more types to report, including
electric utilities, mines and commercial hazardous waste
Electric utilities' sulfuric acid and hydrochloric acid
emissions put them in second place for their first year's
inclusion, second only to mining facilities, which topped the list.
Mines, which EPA says accounted for 3.5 billion pounds of toxins
released in 1998, released both toxic heavy metals unearthed in the
mining process, as well as materials added to ores to leach out
According to EPA 1998 data, top five electric utility emitters
in the country, and their total releases in pounds located in Ohio,
113,923,643; West Virginia, 75,881,813; Pennsylvania, 73,183,707;
Florida, 68,738,697; and Indiana, 61,887,971.
American Electric Power Co. in West Virginia was that state's
leading toxic polluter, with reported emissions of more than 41
million pounds of acid aerosols from fuel combustion and metals. In
Maryland, Baltimore Gas & Electric (BGE), a unit of
Constellation Energy Group Inc., reported releases totaling 11.4
million pounds - the highest toxic pollution of any company in the
According to the consumer advocacy U.S. Public Interest Research
Group, U.S. electric utilities released 1.1 billion pounds of
toxins in 1998, including hydrochloric acid, sulfuric acid and
"We now have a much more comprehensive record of toxics in our
environment," said EPA regional administrator Bradley Campbell. "As
we expand and refine the toxics reporting process, we raise public
awareness, and our ability to make more informed environmental
At BGE, officials supported EPCRA, and pointed to the fact that
electric consumption is higher, and thus, higher emissions will be
reflected in that.
"The community has a right to know how we operate our plants,"
said Ronald W. Lowman, BGE vice president, Fossil Energy. In April
1999, BGE launched an education campaign to inform the public of
the high-volume, low-impact releases that are natural byproducts of
coal and oil combustion. "The amount of emissions is directly
related to the amount of energy produced to meet customer demand
for power," said BGE officials.
"The EPA and the state of Maryland have strict regulations on
emissions and BGE meets or is below all of those requirements,"
said Lowman. "We're striving to reduce plant emissions even further
with the help of new technologies."
BGE's six coal-fired plants produce more than 2,000 MW of
electricity, and supply about 40% of the electricity used in
central Maryland. Lowman pointed to an effort by BGE to lower
emissions by installing Selective Catalytic Reduction Technology in
both units of its Brandon Shores Power Plant, and in Unit 3 of the
adjacent Wagner Power Plant. The technology works like the
catalytic converter in an automobile, according to BGE, and will
reduce Brandon Shores' nitrogen oxide emissions by 90%. That move
will make the plant the "cleanest coal-fired plant of its size" in
the country, according to BGE. SRC technology is expected to be
operational there by May 2001, and at Wagner the following year.
Though it had no comment last week on the EPA report, earlier
this week, AEP asked a court in San Francisco to dismiss the claims
against it in a pending lawsuit by EPA related to emissions from
its coal-fired plants.
"AEP believes firmly that these complaints are without merit,"
said Janet Henry, assistant counsel for AEP in a statement. "We
have complied with both the letter and spirit of environmental laws
In November 1999, the U.S. Department of Justice, acting on
behalf of EPA, filed a lawsuit against seven major utilities for
failing to reduce emissions at older coal-fired plants that EPA
claims are the cause of airborne pollution in most of the
Northeast. EPA and the Justice Department announced enforcement
actions against AEP and six other electric utilities, and the
states of New York, Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, New
Hampshire, New Jersey, Rhode Island and Vermont intervened in the
case. On March 1, the Justice Department and EPA added 12 more
facilities to the lawsuit.
The gist of the legal battle is this: EPA contends that the
nation's utilities ignored a 1970 federal law requiring older
plants to install anti-pollution equipment when they made major
modifications to their facilities. The federal Clean Air Act (CAA)
allows facilities to be grandfathered in, which exempts them from
meeting some of the more stringent regulations as long as they do
not add generating capacity or increase their use of coal. Under
the CAA, any grandfathered plant that made major modifications had
to apply to EPA for a permit, and had to add state-of-the-art
However, Columbus, OH's AEP argued that the requirement was not
applied to routine activities such as maintenance, replacing old or
broken equipment, or other regular repairs to ensure reliable, safe
and efficient operation. It said AEP projects cited in EPA's
lawsuits fit the description of routine activities, and said that
none of the maintenance work resulted in an increase in generating
capacity, but some had helped to reduce plant emissions.
Carolyn Davis, Houston