Power Engineering

The Air Really Is Getting Cleaner

By Robynn Andracsek, P.E., Burns & McDonnell and Contributing Editor

For those of us down in the trenches on a daily basis, trying to implement specific regulations of the Clean Air Act (CAA), it is instructive to step back and realize that the CAA really is working. When measured objectively, the air actually is getting cleaner. And, if cleaner air is the goal of the CAA, then it is successful.

The first principle of the CAA is defining what is, and what is not, clean air. This is accomplished numerically with the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS). Compliance with the NAAQS is determined by monitoring air quality at stations all over the U.S and comparing the measured values to the standards. As seen in Figure 1, monitored concentrations of every pollutant measured (ozone, carbon monoxide, lead, nitrogen dioxide, and sulfur dioxide) have decreased since 1980. Particulate matter has been monitored nationally for a shorter period (since 1990 for PM10 and since 1999 for Pm2.5) but also shows a downward trend. This data was normalized so that all pollutants would fit on the same scale. Carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases (GHGs) are not shown since there are no NAAQS for GHG and therefore no GHG non-attainment areas.

Cleaner air makes sense when you realize that the total tons of pollution emitted from factories, power plants, and other industrial sources has been cut by almost two-thirds, as shown in Figure 2. In addition, from 1990 to 2005, emissions of air toxics declined by approximately 42 percent. These reductions are the result of implementing stationary and mobile source regulations.

At the same time however, the total number of cities with "bad" air has not shown the same consistent downward trend. This is due to the EPA redefining "unhealthy" air. From 2003-2005, the number of nonattainment areas doubled. This does not mean that air quality became twice as bad. As required, EPA reexamines the NAAQS every five years and this dramatic uptick in the number of nonattainment areas is due to two actions by EPA. First, EPA shortened the ozone NAAQS averaging time from an 8-hour basis to a 1-hour basis. NAAQS with shorter averaging times are harder to meet. Secondly, EPA added particulate matter less than 2.5 microns in diameter (Pm2.5) as a NAAQS pollutant.

EPA recently added 1-hour averaging periods to the NO2 and SO2 NAAQS. When the nonattainment areas are designated for these new NAAQS in 2014-2015, another surge in nonattainment areas can be expected, without a causal increase in pollutant emissions or degradation of air quality.

The NAAQS aren't the only aspects of the CAA that works. The Acid Rain reduction program, emissions inventories, and Title V operating permits have also met their objectives of reducing pollution and better defining a source's emissions and responsibilities. Not so successful are Prevention of Significant Deterioration (PSD), Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS), and Cross-State Air Pollution Rule (CSAPR). These programs have been riddled with errors, fraught with confusion, and haunted by legal delays.

Sometimes it's hard to see the forest for the trees. But the efforts of industry and yes, even coal-fired power plants, to operate in a cleaner manner are improving the nation's air quality.

More Power Engineering Issue Articles
Power Engineerng Issue Archives
View Power Generation Articles on PennEnergy.com

Sponsored by FLSmidth

Related Articles

Using Predictive Analytics to Minimize Risk Associated with Aging Assets

It's no secret that an aging asset infrastructure is of major concern to power generation companies.

Remote Vibration Monitoring Keeps Power Plants Running at Full Capacity

You can get the monitoring and analysis you need without requiring your equipment specialist to be on-site at the plant.

Follow Power Engineering on Twitter
Latest News
GE names two to leadership positions GE Power & Water Global Research

GE names two to leadership positions

GE (NYSE: GE) announced the appointment of two new company officers.

Preferred bidders picked for new UK nuclear power project

EDF Energy announced more preferred bidders for construction of the Hinkley Point C nuclear p...

Nuclear unit returns to service after water leak repaired

The 600-MW Fort Calhoun nuclear power plant in Nebraska was returned to full power after a le...

Exxon profit falls by half but production rises

Exxon Mobil Corp. profit dropped by half in the second quarter on sharply lower oil and gas p...

NY to give low-cost electricity to Amazon, Bausch & Lomb

New York state is giving low-cost electricity to 15 businesses around the state as part of a ...
TEPCO executives face charges in Fukushima accident

3 ex-TEPCO execs to face criminal charges

A Japanese judicial committee has decided that three former utility executives should face cr...
07/29 Henry Hub Average Natural Gas Spot Prices

07/29 Henry Hub Average Natural Gas Spot Prices

The Henry Hub is the pricing point for natural gas futures contracts traded on the New York M...

GE wind turbines to power British Columbia’s largest wind farm

GE today confirmed it will supply Pattern Development with 61 wind turbines for its 180-megaw...

Power Engineering Current Issue

03/01/2014
Volume 118, Issue 3
1403PE-cover
Products Showcase
Dynamic Fluoride Ion cleaning DFIC of industrial natural gas turbines Hi-Tech Furnace Systems

Dynamic Fluoride Ion Cleaning of IGT Parts

The Dynamic Fluoride Ion Cleaning (DFIC) Process from Hi-Tech Furnace Systems is able to clean deep, narrow cracks of oxides by cycling between negative, atmospheric, and positive pressure.

Archived Articles

2000 | 2001 | 2002 | 2003 | 2004 | 2005 | 2006 | 2007 | 2008 | 2009 | 2010 | 2011 | 2012 | 2013

Buyers Guide Product Listings

Amended Silicates HgX

Amended Silicates® HgX is an innovative, non-ca...

PowerPAC Premium®

This halogenated powdered activated carbon (PAC...

The NEW FastPAC™ Series

These patent-pending, next-generation powdered ...

Circulating Dry Scrubber

CDS removes acid gas pollutants and heavy metal...
Power Industry Wire News

Vantage Drilling Company Schedules Second Quarter 2015 Earnings Release Date and Conference Call

Vantage Drilling Company Schedules Second Quarter 2015 Earnings Release Date and Confer...

EnerJex Resources Declares Monthly Cash Dividend on 10% Series A Preferred Stock

EnerJex Resources Declares Monthly Cash Dividend on 10% Series A Preferred Stock

FX Energy Schedules Second Quarter 2015 Financial and Operating Results Conference Call

FX Energy Schedules Second Quarter 2015 Financial and Operating Results Conference Call

Scorpio Bulkers Inc. Announces Purchase of 1,050,000 Common Shares by Scorpio Service Holdings Limited

Scorpio Bulkers Inc. Announces Purchase of 1,050,000 Common Shares by Scorpio Service H...

Magellan Petroleum Regains Compliance With NASDAQ Listing Requirements

Magellan Petroleum Regains Compliance With NASDAQ Listing Requirements

Power Engineering

Article Archives for Power Engineering Magazine

Continuing Education

Professional Development Hours

To access a course listing associated to a specific topic listed below, click on the topic of choice from the list below.

Latest Energy Jobs

View more Job Listings >>