By Dan Klepal
The Cincinnati Enquirer
Ohio's coal-fired power plants spew more of the pollution that causes respiratory illness and premature death than plants in any other state, according to a report by an environmental group that analyzed federal records.
The Buckeye state also ranks second in the nation in producing carbon dioxide, the leading cause of global warming.
The U.S. Public Interest Research Group, which analyzed 2002 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency records, says Ohio's 23 plants that generate power by burning coal produce more sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide than larger states with more plants. Texas, for example, has more than twice the number of coal-fired plants, but those produced half the amount of sulfur dioxide and about two-thirds the amount of nitrogen oxide.
Sulfur dioxide creates soot in the atmosphere, which causes acid rain, haze and respiratory illness in people. Nitrogen oxide is the primary ingredient in smog and can also lead to respiratory illness and asthma.
"Right now, being an Ohioan means being exposed to some of the highest levels of soot and smog pollution in the country, pollution that shortens lives," said Rose Garr, an organizer with the Ohio chapter of the advocacy group.
But spokeswomen representing two power plants in Ohio said emissions at those plants are within permitted limits.
The report will be used to educate the public and to lobby lawmakers in an attempt to reject the weakening of the Clean Air Act, said Becky Stanfield, director of the clean air program for the environmental group in Washington, D.C. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recently drafted new rules that would allow power plants to expand energy production - which can create more pollution - without installing the latest pollution controls, as was required under the so-called "New Source Review" rule in the Clean Air Act.
Several states, cities and environmental groups are suing the EPA over the rule change.
Cinergy has two plants that are among the nation's largest producers of sulfur dioxide: the Miami Fort plant in North Bend ranks 22nd in the nation after releasing 74,130 tons of the chemical in 2002, while the Walter C. Beckjord plant in New Richmond produced 59,084 tons and ranks 33rd.
In addition, the J.M. Stuart plant in Adams County - a utility owned by both Dayton Power & Light and Cinergy - ranks third nationally for most nitrogen oxide emissions, eighth for sulfur dioxide emissions and 20th for carbon dioxide.
Cinergy spokeswoman Kathy Meinke said Cinergy's emissions are within their permitted limits, and that the company has spent $650 million since the early 1990s to reduce nitrogen oxide emissions. None of Cinergy's plants rank in the list of 50 worst nitrogen oxide emitters.
The company will spend an additional $850 million in the coming years to further reduce its emissions, she said.
Cinergy is in the midst of billion-dollar settlement negotiations with the U.S. Department of Justice, the federal EPA and two environmental groups over a lawsuit filed in 1999 that claimed the energy company expanded its plants without installing new pollution controls - a violation of the Clean Air Act. The Department of Justice sued a handful of energy companies at the same time it filed against Cinergy.
Cinergy entered into a tentative agreement to settle the lawsuit in 2000, but has been in negotiations ever since.
Environmental groups say Cinergy has been stalling because it knew the Bush administration was working to weaken the law, and that could make it more difficult for the government to win the lawsuit.
Cinergy says the delay in reaching a settlement has more to do with new government demands than new rules. CEO Jim Rogers has said the government is asking for an additional $400 million in pollution controls that weren't part of the original deal.
Amy Wright, director of environmental management for Dayton Power & Light, said the Stuart plant is one of the largest in the nation, which is why it tops most emission lists. Wright said the plant operates within legal limits set by the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency.
"We provide safe, reliable, low-cost electricity," Wright said. "And we rely on our customers to reduce demand and be energy-efficient."
Ohio topped the list of worst polluting states in a similar 2000 report, which was the first such analysis by the nonprofit environmental group. That report analyzed 1999 data and found Ohio was the leader in sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions, and third in carbon dioxide emissions behind Texas and Indiana.
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