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Study shows EPA standards could make New York cleaner

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A recent study shows federal guidelines announced Monday to reduce carbon dioxide emissions could result in a cleaner New York by also reducing other harmful air pollutants from power plants.

Led by scientists at Syracuse and Harvard universities, the study released in May shows that carbon emission reduction goals also would reduce co-pollutants that can make people sick, damage forests, crops and lakes, and harm fish and wildlife. The study analyzed an option similar to the new Environmental Protection Agency rule. It found that it would cut emissions of other harmful power plant pollutants by about 750,000 tons per year nationwide. The study is available online at http://wdt.me/cgqCf5.

The EPA’s proposal to combat the risks of climate change aims for a 30 percent cut in carbon dioxide emissions from 2005 levels by the year 2030, equal to the emissions from powering more than half of the homes in the U.S. for one year. The proposal assigned each state a reduction target under EPA’s Clean Air Act. Some states will be allowed to emit more than others to reach the nationwide goal; New York has a targeted reduction of 44 percent.

The scientific study found that New York is expected to see major improvements in air quality, with less smog-forming ozone and particulate matter, as a result of the new carbon dioxide restrictions that will affect existing power plants.

The most recent EPA study that gauged annual carbon dioxide emissions across the country in 2011 showed that New York was ranked ninth, with about 150 million metric tons in annual emissions. The three states with the highest emissions were Texas, California and Pennsylvania.

Among the three options simulated by the study, the top-performing scenario decreased sulfur dioxide and mercury emissions by 27 percent and nitrogen oxide by 22 percent nationwide by 2020. These findings were compared with a reference case that assumes current EPA rules won’t change. The optimal alternative is also projected to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from the power sector by 35 percent from 2005 levels by 2020.

“When power plants limit carbon dioxide emissions, they can also release less sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide and other pollutants,” Syracuse University professor Charles Driscoll said in a released statement. “We know that these other pollutants contribute to increased risk of premature death and heart attacks, as well as increased incidence and severity of asthma and other health effects. They also contribute to acid rain, ozone damage to trees and crops, and the accumulation of toxic mercury in fish.”

National Grid, which issued a statement in support of the EPA regulations, established its own carbon dioxide reduction goals of 45 percent by 2020 and 80 percent by 2050, compared with 1990 baseline levels. Total emissions across the utility’s coverage area in New York, Rhode Island and Massachusetts have decreased by about 65 percent from 1990 to 2013, mainly because of investments in electricity generation operations and distribution networks for natural gas and electricity.

“We look forward to working with the Administration, EPA, members of the energy industry and other stakeholders to ensure the regulations reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the energy sector and advance America’s efficient and clean energy future,” Thomas B. King, president of National Grid US, said in a statement.

National Grid spokesperson Wendy Ladd said Tuesday that the utility plans to make improvements to its power plant on Long Island, if necessary, to meet the EPA’s emission regulations in New York state.

“On Long Island, we are well-positioned to meet the New York state regulations from the EPA,” Ms. Ladd said. “Our environmentalists are still going through the regulations to find out how this is going to affect our power generation in particular. New York state regulations are already very strict, and we’ve made a lot of investments to meet those requirements. We’ve made millions of dollars in investments to minimize our carbon footprint.”

The EPA will accept comments on its proposal for 120 days. It plans to finalize standards in June 2015. A fact sheet about the proposal is available at www.epa.gov/cleanpowerplan.

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