Coal- and oil-fired power plants produce almost half the toxic air pollution in the U.S., according to a new report by the Natural Resources Defense Council and Physicians for Social Responsibility, which identifies the 20 states with the biggest polluters and the worst air quality.
For those who follow these issues, the results are not at all shocking. Some states have big, old power plants that have been around since before the Clean Air Act was passed. For decades, much of their emissions have been grandfathered in, and environmentalists not only nonprofit watchdogs, but also the state attorneys general in downwind states) have fought to close or clean up the oldest dirtiest plants. The study is a useful reminder to all, though, that data about pollution in their communities is a few clicks away; the Environmental Protection Agency's Toxic Release Inventory compiles information about air and water pollution in a form that can be easily searched to define local toxic profiles. (It's also a useful reminder this week, when air pollution is at its worst in many parts of the country because high heat triggers increased ozone and smog.)
The facilities that generate our electricity are also our biggest sources of air pollution, including both smog and acid rain, and also mercury, which rains down and contaminates us through the fish we eat.
The Environmental Protection Agency recently announced new rules (which actually replace rules that were set in the George W. Bush Administration, but struck down in court) to reduce smog-forming air pollution from power plants in much of the country, and mercury from all coal-fired power plants. The House of Representatives, though, has considered measures that would undermine those and other pollution-reduction efforts by the EPA. The release of this report is designed at least in part to support the EPA's efforts against attacks from Congress.
So which states make the so-called "Toxic 20" list? Here they are, from worst to best:
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