Clean air ads highlight energy debate in Va.
A new television ad hit Virginia media markets Wednesday, encouraging Virginians to support the EPA’s newly proposed clean air standards.
Three environmental groups – the League of Conservation Voters, Mom’s Clean Air Force, and the Environment Defense Fund – sponsored the 30-second ad, which will also run in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Washington, D.C.
The ad supports proposed regulations that would require any new power plants to emit no more than 1,000 pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt hour. On average, existing coal plants emit more than 1,700 pounds per megawatt hour.
“We chose Virginia because it is a swing state,” said Dominique Browning, the director of Mom’s Clean Air Force, one of the organization the sponsored the ad. “We looked at all states, their environmental issues and children’s health. Virginia would reap a lot of benefits from these regulations.”
Browning said Mom’s Clean Air Force had not bought television air time in the past, but felt the time was right.
“The regulations have just been released and the comment period is open,” Browning said. “This particular ruling on carbon pollution is important, as is the cross-state air pollution rule.”
In addition to the carbon dioxide regulations, the ad also encourages support for two other regulations recently proposed by the EPA.
In December, the EPA proposed the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards, which aim to reduce mercury emissions from coal plants by 90 percent. Last summer, standards for cross-state air pollution were proposed, which would require power plants to limit sulfur dioxide and nitrous oxide pollution that crossed into neighboring states.
Mom’s Clean Air Force focuses exclusively on environmental issues that impact children’s health, Browning said, and she hoped that the new regulations would help curb the increase in cases of childhood asthma that have occurred during recent years.
According to the EPA, its mercury and cross-state air pollution rules will prevent an estimated 540,000 asthma attacks each year.
In a position paper published in March, a professional organization of respiratory doctors concluded that cases of asthma and allergies would rise because of a number of factors associated with global climate change, including worsening ozone levels and increased desertification.
“My biggest concern has been with issues of air quality,” said UC-Davis School of Medicine professor Kent Pinkerton. “In particular, we know that infants and young children, people with asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and those who are elderly or who have compromised immune systems will have more difficulties when air quality is poorer.”
“Our greatest concern is infants, children, the elderly and other sensitive populations,” Pinkerton said. “They will be the first to experience serious climate change-related health problems.”
A group of Virginia environmentalists said it also supported the new regulations and ads.
“These rules are important safeguards for public health and the environment, as they are expected to reduce numbers of asthma attacks and premature deaths from air pollution, among countless other benefits,” said Whitney Byrd, a spokeswoman for the Wise Energy Coalition of Virginia.
While many energy companies stopped building or planning for coal plants in recent years, a proposal for a new coal-fired plant in southwest Virginia remained a divisive issue as recently as last month.
But now, the EPA’s new standards could kill the project before it begins.
The proposed plant, known as the Cypress Creek Coal Plant, would have become Virginia’s largest coal-fired plant. The Wise Energy Coalition said the current plans for the plant would not meet the new standards.
“It is unclear how the new EPA Carbon Pollution Standards will affect the status of [the Cypress Creek] proposal since they will be subject to extensive review before the new regulations will be implemented,” Byrd said in an email to The American Independent. “However, as the rule stands and from what we understand about the coal plant proposal, the plant would fail to comply with the new Carbon Pollution Standards.”
Bill Sherrod, a spokesman for the Old Dominion Energy Co-operative that proposed the plant, said the plans had been in the works for years, but that officials were aware that regulations could cause a roadblock.
“It takes a long time to plan a base-load plant so the plans go way back,” ODEC spokesman Bill Sherrod said. “When this thing was started, none of these regulations existed, but in 2010 it became apparent that new regulations were going to come out and we’ve been kind of in a holding pattern since then.”
Although zoning plans for the Surry County plant were approved in March, Sherrod said the co-op withdrew its air permit application in 2010. As a result, construction on the plant would not begin in 2012, and therefore it would not qualify for an exemption from the proposed regulations.
Sherrod said that the co-op did not yet have a plan on how to proceed in light of the regulations, but he stressed that it had a responsibility to explore all forms of power to serve its nearly 500,000 consumers.
“We’re a co-op, we’re not an investor owned utility, so our main obligation is to provide power for the members,” Sherrod said. “The truth of the matter is that demand keeps going up and we’ve got to find a way to provide the electricity.”
Old Dominion, which primarily serves residential consumers in Virginia, Maryland and Delaware, continued to explore coal even with the possibility of regulations because of its price stability, Sherrod said.
“The price of natural gas right now is great, but it wasn’t that long ago that it wasn’t,” Sherrod said. “Coal has been more stable over the long run, and that’s why a little more than half of the electricity on the grid right now is produced by coal plants.”
Sherrod said the co-op already owned portions of the North Anna Nuclear plant and had contracted with wind energy companies and landfill gas-to-electric plants. He said the group constantly looked for new, efficient sources of energy.
“We’ll provide enough electricity one way or the other, but it has to be reliable, safe and, as much as we can make it, affordable,” he said.
The regulations also highlight a policy disagreement between Virginia Senate candidates Tim Kaine (D) and George Allen (R).
Allen, who the League of Conservation Voters named to its “Dirty Dozen” list for lawmakers with records of voting against clean energy, criticized the regulations and said they would kill jobs and damage the economy.
“Coal is an enormous benefit that reaches well beyond the tens of thousands of mining, railroad and coal-related jobs throughout our Commonwealth,” Allen said in a statement. “This new regulation would eliminate significant numbers of good-paying jobs in Virginia alone.”
Kaine, who has consistently run on a clean energy platform, said in a conference call Wednesday that he continued to speak with energy industry officials about their concerns regarding the regulations.
“If the proposed rule is too tough, then we figure out what the right emissions levels are,” Kaine said, according to the Roanoke Times. “But I think the wrong answer would be to say, ‘No, we don’t need tomorrow’s technology to be cleaner than today’s.’”
**Public comments on the EPA’s proposed carbon regulation can be made here.
Image: A coal power plant in North Carolina. Rainforest Action Network, via flickr.