‘Toxic’ reliance on Pa. coal, oil plants

Pennsylvania’s addiction to coal and oil-fired power plants is well documented, but a new analysis released yesterday puts it in a new light as Congress considers stricter standards proposed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The commonwealth ranks second-highest for toxic air pollution from power plants, according to the analysis from the National Resources Defense Council and Physicians for Social Responsibility, based on 2009 data from the EPA. Medical experts say increased exposure to pollution can lead to medical conditions such as asthma, birth defects and development disorders.

“We know very clearly that the toxins pose a health risk,” said Peter Altman, Climate Campaign Director for the NRDC, an international nonprofit. “As a rule, the less of it there is the better.”

EPA has proposed revising its public health protections by making its Mercury and Air Toxics standard stricter, but some federal lawmakers have vowed to block the measure.

According to NRDC analysis, only Ohio has more industrial toxic air pollution. In 2009, the last full year for which data is available, Pennsylvania produced more than 50 million pounds in industrial toxic air pollution, most of which came from the electrical sector.

The coal industry argues that it has reduced the amount of pollutants and that opponents are trying to get America away from coal-based energy.

“When you use the word ‘toxic,’ I do dispute the use of that word,” George Ellis, of the Pennsylvania Coal Association, said of the analysis. “I think it’s more a scare tactic than scientifically based.”