Lignite Energy Council’s Myths about EPA’s Regional Haze Rule

Intermountain Power Plant

Even the dirtiest coal needs a lobbyist, that’s where the Lignite Energy Council whose mission is to maintain a viable industry for their dirty product comes in. They’re on a rampage in North Dakota and Northwestern Minnesota right now to vilify the EPA’s efforts to reduce air pollution under the regional haze rule. 

Their myths debunked:

1. DIRTY COAL MYTH: EPA’s required pollution controls are not effective with lignite coal.

Sorry guys, you may be the dirtiest type of coal in the land; still, the Institute of Clean Air Companies and multiple vendors of the specific pollution control technology (known as selective catalytic reactor) has demonstrated and guaranteed the controls will reduce pollution by 90%. In fact, these controls have been used on a lignite-fired coal plant in Texas since 1990. Just because you’ve been dirty, doesn’t mean you get to stay dirty.

2. DIRTY COAL MYTH: It’s not about health.

Actually, it is. When the air is hazy with dirty pollution we breathe that stuff into our lungs. Haze pollutants include nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide, particulate matter (“PM”), ammonia, and sulfuric acid, each of which poses a threat to public health. Nitrogen oxide is a precursor to ground level ozone, which is associated with respiratory diseases, asthma attacks, and decreased lung function.  In addition, nitrogen oxide reacts with ammonia, moisture, and other compounds to form particulates that can cause and worsen respiratory diseases, aggravate heart disease, and lead to premature death. Similarly, sulfur dioxide  increases asthma symptoms, leads to increased hospital visits, and can form particulates that aggravate respiratory and heart diseases and cause premature death. Particulate matter can penetrate deep into the lungs and cause a host of health problems, such as aggravated asthma, chronic bronchitis, and heart attacks.

Reducing these pollutants will have tremendous public health benefits that far outweigh concerns associated with rising electricity rates. EPA estimated that in 2015, full implementation of the Regional Haze Rule nationally will prevent 1,600 premature deaths, 2,200 non-fatal heart attacks, 960 hospital admissions, and over 1 million lost school and work days. Nationally, the Regional Haze Rule will result in health benefits valued at $8.4 to $9.8 billion annually.

In Minnesota, it is estimated that, in 2004, asthma cost $240 million directly in hospitalizations, emergency department visits, office visits, and medications, and $181 million indirectly in lost school and work days, for total of $421 million. In 2009, 60 Minnesota residents died of asthma. According to the Clean Air Task Force, the two units at issue annually cause approximately 63 deaths, 98 heart attacks, 1,070 asthma attacks, 46 hospital admissions, 39 cases of chronic bronchitis, and 64 emergency room visits.

Investing in technologies that will reduce the pollutants that cause these asthma attacks, hospitalizations, heart attacks, emergency room visits and premature deaths is the right choice for Minnesota, North Dakota and the rest of the nation.

3. DIRTY COAL MYTH: EPA safeguards will cost you more.

It’s actually the reliance on dirty coal that costs ratepayers. Coal is no longer the cheapest energy source and costs are continuing to rise. Minnkota’s coal plant is nearly four decades old and, in 2005, was the 2nd largest emitter of nitrogen oxide pollution in the entire country.   This pollution is associated with asthma and other respiratory illnesses that cost us in health bills, lost days of work and school and in the worst cases our lives.

Pollution controls do cost money, but not nearly as much as the Dirty Coal lobby would like you to believe. Technical experts have determined that the utilities inflated estimated costs by 30-50% for the pollution controls.  Rather than fighting pollution controls and violating federal clean air laws, utilities and the Dirty Coal lobby need to get serious about energy efficiency programs that save their customers money and investing in renewables because once built the fuel costs for wind and solar are essentially free.

The public can submit comments at www.regulations.gov or by emailing r8airndhaze@eap.gov. Make sure to identify the Docket ID No.  EPA-R08-OAR-2010-0406.

To learn more about the regional haze rule, see the EPA’s proposed rule announcement.

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