Coal pollution contains all sorts of nasty, dangerous things, but one of the worst pollutants is sulfur dioxide. Just five minutes of exposure to sulfur dioxide can lead to respiratory problems, difficulty breathing, and contribute to lung disease.
So you can imagine the sigh of relief from Pennsylvanians with this major news: The Homer City Generating Station -- the largest source of sulfur dioxide pollution in the U.S. in 2010 - will now be subject to new, strong limits for this particularly dangerous pollutant. Up until now, only one of the coal plant's boilers had any ability to limit sulfur dioxide pollution!
According to the Clean Air Task force, pollution from Homer City causes 43 premature deaths every year.
This new agreement comes after a year of litigation from the Sierra Club and Earthjustice and sets a national precedent in the fight to secure the health and safety of families in coal-dependent Pennsylvania and beyond: These new conditions of the Homer City permit makes it among the first in the nation to set hourly limits on sulfur dioxide emissions.
What's more, these limits also apply to times when the coal plant is shut down and restarted, which facilities do from time to time (for maintenance, etc..) and frequently causes excessive pollution to be released.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) expects these new standards will especially benefit children, the elderly, and people with asthma.
This victory sets an important standard for other clean air fights across the country. As we continue the fight to replace old dirty energy sources with clean renewable ones like wind and solar, we must make sure to limit the dangerous pollution from our remaining coal-fired power plants.
And the fight will continue against Homer City's coal plant, too. Local activists have long fought the big polluter, repeatedly noting that the facility is a filthy money-waster - one that repeatedly violates Clean Air Act standards.
Sierra Club Pennsylvania released monitoring and modeling last year showing that the plant wasn't even being monitored for its downwind pollution up until 2010, which helped plant owners avoid being cited despite it repeatedly violating state air quality standards.
Meanwhile, plant-owner Edison International continues to sink money into the 43-year-old fossil. Just last year the state Department of Environmental Protection approved a $725 million pollution control unit for the coal plant. This money could be much better spent on clean energy investment for the community.
"Some of the best economic analysts in the region have repeatedly shown that this plant simply isn't economically viable...and it's certainly a bad investment for the people of Indiana County. Rather than let $725 million go up in smoke, it's time for this plant to retire," said Randy Francisco, of Sierra Club Pennsylvania.
"Pennsylvania has the opportunity to become a national leader in clean energy manufacturing and production, and Indiana County (where Homer City is located) is well-positioned to take advantage of this clean energy economy."
Finally, and related, did you see our new "Coal 101" video we released this week? It explains in two minutes what's wrong with coal and what's right with clean energy.