The Battle over Clean Air Standards

This week an American Lung Association ad, Red Carriage Advertisement III, caught my attention. This ad associates childhood asthma and to the pollution generated by power plants. In my life I have never seen an asthma attack triggered by pollution from a power plant so I am skeptical. Today I decided to check on their allegation. I found that the EPA site has a page on asthma triggers,, and power plant pollution is not one of nine major sources listed on that page. The closet source I could find to power plant pollution was Outdoor Air Pollution so I followed that link. This category includes car exhaust, smoke, road dust, factory emissions, and pollen from plants, crops and weeds. From my limited experience around asthma sufferers, I suspect that power plant pollution would rank third or lower in this category at causing asthma attacks.

To put a face on the problem with pollution politics here is a power plant we go by every time we go to Virginia Tech. Across from the plant is a gas station I have stopped at on several of my trips. This part of my trip is one of the most scenic parts of my trip. The air is clean, the nearby forests are lush, and the water in the New River is cold and fast.  It is no surprise that the gas station is full of hunting and fishing supplies. So where do we draw the line when you cannot see, smell, or taste pollution? Are we trying to fix a problem that does not affect this community? In this rural area there are probably only two sources of good paying jobs, this plant and the chemical plant a few miles away at the Narrows.  I suspect that the closing of this plant will be catastrophic for the community. I doubt that these employees will find jobs nearby. Although this plant is 92 years old, requires updated scrubber technology, and is probably getting their butts kicked by gas powered generators, it is probably still making money for its parent company, AEP. Despite its money making prowess AEP did not find it to be cost effective to install scrubbers or convert the facility over to gas. To make up for the lost generating capacity AEP appears to have decided to install gas powered generators in some place that is not close to Glen Lyn or its employees. The really big problem I have with pollution politics is that closing this plant will increase rates by 15% and the community will not see, smell, or taste any benefits. The air will still be clear, the forests will still be lush, and the New River will still be cold and fast. For these “improvements” they get dramatically higher unemployment. As a country with a variety of complex business and environmental problems, you would think we would be getting better at balancing the needs of the business, environment, and community. At the very least we should be trying to avoid lose-lose decisions like this. Instead it appears that AEP and the folks around Glen Lyn did not have a say in the matter. We seem to have constructed a political system that is particularly adept at making “good” environmental decisions that appear to be lose-lose decisions for businesses and communities. We seem to have lost our way on how to make decisions that balances the needs of most of the people. We may not be able to satisfy everyone but we not even trying to balance the needs of these different groups. The sad part is that when this plant is closed, asthma sufferers will still be suffering from the same old triggers of asthma attacks. Nothing has changed for them!

Appalachian Power customers could see up to a 15 percent increase in monthly bills as a result.

By Laurence Hammack | The Roanoke Times


The Roanoke Times | File 2003

American Electric Power announced today that the Glen Lyn Plant along the New River in Giles County will be closed by Dec. 31, 2014. The plant is one of 11 in seven states to be retired or modified by AEP to meet new regulations from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

A coal-burning power plant in Giles County that has spewed carbon emissions for years faces a shutdown to comply with clean-air requirements ”” and consumers are facing the possibility of higher electric bills

AEP announces plan to close coal-burning Giles County power plant –