Kentucky power plants—as well as those in many neighboring states—are among the country’s top emitters of toxic pollutants. The rankings come from a new report with data the plants self-reported to the government.
The report by the Environmental Integrity Project ranked states on their emissions of heavy metals like mercury, chromium and lead from power plants. Overall, Kentucky was fourth in the nation behind Pennsylvania, Ohio and Indiana. Nearby West Virginia and Missouri also made the top 15.
But emitting high levels of these air toxins isn’t against the law, yet. The federal government is scheduled to finalize a rule next week that will require power plants to install advanced technology to control mercury and other pollutants.
Ilan Levin is the associate director of the Environmental Integrity Project. He says this year, United States power plants emitted about 33 tons of mercury into the air.
“And the pollution controls are available—they’ve been around for ten years and longer—that can get us down to five tons a year,” he said. “And that’s just of mercury.”
Even though President Obama abandoned efforts to tighten ozone rules earlier this year, Bruce Nilles of the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign says he’s optimistic Mr. Obama will follow through on the air toxins rule.
“When President Obama was a state senator in Illinois we worked together on cleaning up coal plant pollution and he was the author of a bill to undo at the state level some of the Bush Administration rollback,” Nilles said. “This is an issue he gets and understands that cleaning up coal fired power plants is an important part of addressing significant public health issues.”
The report also ranked the power plants in the country by the pounds of mercury, arsenic, chromium and mercury they emit. The Tennessee Valley Authority’s Paradise Fossil Plant in western Kentucky was second nationwide, emitting more than 6700 pounds of chromium, lead, mercury and arsenic annually.