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Published: Wednesday, 10/29/2003

Ohio's air is rated worst for coal-fired plant emissions

BY TOM HENRY
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Ohio is the worst state for air pollution generated by coal-fired power plants, according to a report issued yesterday by one of several groups suing the Bush administration for tougher emission controls.

The U.S. Public Interest Research Group's study, based on 2002 government data, ranked Ohio coal-fired plants first for nitrogen oxide and sulfur dioxide emissions.

It also ranked Ohio second behind Texas for carbon-dioxide emissions.

Nitrogen oxide causes smog, while sulfur dioxide causes acid rain. Carbon dioxide is one of the so-called “greenhouse gases” that cause global warming.

Michigan was not ranked in the top 10 for any of those three pollutants, despite having one of the nation's largest coal-fired plants in Monroe. The state was ranked 14th for nitrogen oxide, 12th for sulfur dioxide, and 11th for carbon dioxide.

Detroit Edison Co.'s coal-fired plant in Monroe was used by President Bush on Sept. 17 as a locale to help promote his administration's controversial “Clear Skies” initiative.

The President claimed his proposed legislation would give the government more flexibility in enforcing laws while providing more incentives for industry to voluntarily reduce emissions.

Opponents have denounced it as one of the biggest assaults ever on the federal Clean Air Act, claiming it caters to big business by rolling back pollution laws and jeopardizing public health.

The Monroe coal-fired plant is the nation's fourth-largest for electrical generation and seventh largest for capacity. Detroit Edison is in the midst of a $650 million upgrade there to render many of its nitrogen-oxide emissions into harmless water vapor and nitrogen. That is the largest investment Detroit Edison has made at one site since it built its Fermi II nuclear plant.

Planning for that project began years ago and has not been curtailed by the Bush administration's efforts, said John Austerberry, a utility spokesman.

The research group's report was cited by several activists as they announced in Washington they jointly filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for publishing new rules. The report claimed half the nation's 1,100 coal-fired power plants could each reduce their annual emissions by 20 tons or more by modernizing their pollution control equipment.

Figures listed in a table at the back of the report claim the Monroe plant could have produced the same electricity it did in 2002 with fewer than two-thirds of the nitrogen-oxide and sulfur-oxide emissions the facility put into the air that year.

The same table claimed that FirstEnergy Corp.'s Bay Shore coal plant in Oregon, a much smaller facility, could have generated the same amount of power it did in 2002 if it had emitted less than half of the same pollutants.

“We try to do our best to minimize emissions from our plants and provide our customers with affordable power,” Ralph DiNicola, FirstEnergy spokesman, said. He claimed the Bush administration is being attacked by “certain groups who would love to see a shortage of power” to push their own political agenda.

Rose Garr, an Ohio spokesman for the Public Interest Research Group, said Ohioans “are being hit hardest by the Bush administration policies.”

Ms. Garr said activists can't “reiterate enough the danger the Clean Air Act is in.”

Ohio's ranking is largely the result of emissions by coal-fired plants in the eastern and southern parts of the state, including FirstEnergy's W.H. Sammis plant near Steubenville, according to the report.

The Sammis plant is one of the older coal plants. Millions of dollars have been spent on pollution-control devices there and at other facilities over the years. But one of the industry's more effective types of pollution controls, known as a “scrubber,” cannot be installed there because of the way the plant was designed, Mr. DiNicola said.



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