About a dozen coal-fired power plants across the country — including one with a plant in just a few hours drive from Manhattan — are quietly shutting down this summer as the Trump administration fulfills one of its top environmental goals: conserving water by forcing plants to cut water use by 25 percent.
In past administrations, greenhouse gas emissions from coal-fired power plants would be higher in summer months than during the rest of the year. It was in response to that, that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) brought forth new rules on water use in the country’s largest energy producing region last year. These rules essentially limit a utility’s water usage on a by-product of coal combustion, known as fly ash.
While the use of fly ash is common in power plants and keeps leaks and pollution down, the new rules on its use require plants to turn off the process in summer months when demand for energy is low and air pollution levels are the highest.
So far this year, there are 24 plants that have stopped the fly ash process — or the steam process that spins the fly ash into dry waste material. The EPA’s inspector general noted last week that 20 of those plants are in the Northeast. There are 16 of those 24 plants in the six-state region that extends from the Canadian border north to Chicago. And all four plants from New York and New Jersey are producing more electricity this summer than in the previous four years combined.
These are places that people like. Con Edison in Manhattan and local water companies in Pennsylvania and Illinois urged the EPA to move forward with the rules. These plants come online every day, are in and out of use for at least a month, and are located close to communities. But also, from an emissions perspective, they have out of the way. When companies like PPL announced they were shutting down one of their coal-fired power plants in Pennsylvania this week, they sent two slides, which talked about why they were closing the plant in question and the benefits. Those slides, while being informative, were not purely PR. They highlighted many of the benefits the plant had the community.
The flying of fly ash is certainly dangerous for the planet’s water resources, and more dangerous when it’s used by the recreational activities involved. But these plans are in place not because people particularly want to scrub out those ash right now. They’re not even really aware of that. This is the EPA’s job, to move ahead, and face the community’s reaction, be they positive or negative.
For PPL, it says the potential negative impact of the coming closures in and around its high-polluting coal plants in Pennsylvania outweighed the positive benefit the company receives from having these communities use its power.
Both PPL and Con Edison wanted the rules the EPA has forced power plants to follow.
“This not intended to keep people from doing what they want to do,” EPA inspector general Bruce Bozarth told reporters. But “If you have heavy pollution, they want people to fly their boats and keep their beaches free of pollution.”
EPA’s stated goal of saving water that’s used for transportation or other uses seems relatively impossible — up to the agency — but it’s not one the EPA is willing to ignore. One thing is crystal clear, though: Here’s a key player in the nation’s largest energy production region, in the most populous state in the nation, which gets two-thirds of its electricity from coal, has begun actively shutting down coal-fired power plants in this same region that produce electricity.
By July 15 of this year, some 13 plants had closed. The other plants left for the year by the end of the month.
Read the full story at HuffPost.
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