By Candia Dames
WASHINGTON – The authors of a new report on air pollution said Marylanders should be concerned that Midwestern power plants dominate the list of polluters, since breezes from those states carry the harmful emissions to Maryland.
The study ranks the power companies by the amount of pollution their plants emit in relation to the amount of energy they produce. Midwestern power plants accounted for the bulk of the 20 dirtiest companies on several measures in the report.
“Maryland is on the receiving end of that air emission,” said Mark S. Brownstein, a spokesman for Public Service Enterprise Group, an electric and gas company that co-sponsored the report with the Natural Resources Defense Council.
Daniel A. Lashof, a scientist with the Natural Resources Defense Council, said power plants in the Midwest tend to have less pollution-control equipment than plants in other regions of the country.
“We need to clean up the plants in Maryland, but we also have to have a comprehensive cleanup so that the upwind plants in Ohio, in Kentucky, in West Virginia are also cleaned up, because all those plants contribute to the air quality problems that Maryland faces,” Lashof said.
Those plants also contribute to pollution problems experienced by the Chesapeake Bay, said Chesapeake Bay Program spokesman Peter Marx.
“We’ve know this for a while,” he said.
Nitrogen has long been blamed for respiratory ailments and for the death of organisms in the bay, which has an “airshed” that covers all of Ohio and half of Indiana.
“This means that some of the nitrogen from smokestacks from power plants in those regions will fall into the bay,” Marx said. “It’s all a downward cycle from there.”
Marx said 32 percent of nitrogen that ends up in the bay comes from the air, and much of that comes from power plants. He said power plant emissions 1,000 miles away are just as damaging as fertilizers from farms next to the bay.
Experts say nitrogen fuels algae blooms and kills grasses that provide food and habitats for crabs, small fish and other bay animals.
Of the 20 power companies that had the highest rate of nitrogen emissions in 2000, the report said 13 had plants in the Midwest. Plants owned by the Ohio- based American Electric Power were the biggest source of air pollution overall, and are among the power generators that Maryland should be most concerned about, Lashof said.
Maryland-based power companies were also high in certain areas. Hagerstown-based Allegheny Energy ranked fourth in the rate of sulfur dioxide emissions and eighth for nitrogen emissions. Orion Power, which is headquartered in Baltimore and owns power plants in New York, Ohio and Pennsylvania, was seventh for the rate of nitrogen emissions.
Baltimore Gas & Electric owner Constellation Energy was 24th for its rate of sulfur dioxide emissions, 60th for nitrogen emissions and 70th for carbon dioxide emissions, which contribute to global warming.
Constellation spokesman Charles Welsh said the company recently spent $157 million on pollution control technologies that will reduce nitrogen oxide emissions from its plants by 90 percent.
“It makes us one of the cleanest coal-burning facilities in the country,” Welsh said.
He also said Constellation Energy plants burn low-sulfur coal to reduce sulfur dioxide emissions. More efficient technology has also reduced carbon dioxide emissions by 200 tons a year, Welsh said.
Three other companies with plants in Maryland – Conectiv, Mirant and AES – were also ranked in the top 30 for emissions of sulfur dioxide, which leads to haze, acidic lakes and streams, and has been linked to premature death due to lung and heart diseases.
Brownstein said his company has already pledged $340 million to reduce nitrogen and sulfur dioxide emissions from its three coal-fired power plants in New Jersey.
“Others, I would expect, are going to be stepping up to the plate either because regulations or law drives them there or because they care about their environmental performance and how they stack up against competitors,” he said.
-30- CNS 03-21-02