Proposed air quality rule could improve health, stifle industry growth

  • NITROGEN OXIDE

    Short-term exposures to nitrogen oxide can aggravate the symptoms of asthma and have been linked to respiratory problems including airway inflammation in healthy people. Nitrous oxides react with ammonia, moisture and other compounds to form small particles. ...

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  • NITROGEN OXIDE

    Short-term exposures to nitrogen oxide can aggravate the symptoms of asthma and have been linked to respiratory problems including airway inflammation in healthy people. Nitrous oxides react with ammonia, moisture and other compounds to form small particles. These small particles penetrate deeply into sensitive parts of the lungs and can cause or worsen respiratory disease, such as emphysema and bronchitis, and can aggravate existing heart disease, leading to increased hospital admissions and premature death.

    SULFUR DIOXIDE

    Short-term exposures to sulfur dioxide can constrict the airways in the lungs and increase asthma symptoms. These effects are particularly important for asthmatics when they're breathing hard while exercising or playing.

    SOURCE: DEPARTMENT OF STATE HEALTH SERVICES

Crossroads area residents may breathe easier come 2012, but a proposed rule to reduce smog transport from state to state could also stifle coal industry growth, a state air quality official said.

"If there are significant reductions of those pollutants, it can have a significant impact on improved air quality in Texas," said David Brymer, a Texas Commission on Environmental Quality air quality expert.

The Environmental Protection Agency is proposing the Transport Rule, which aims to cut 2005 sulfur dioxide emissions levels by 71 percent and ozone emissions from the same year by 52 percent in 2014. It affects 31 states in the eastern portion of the country.

Texas plants won't have to worry about sulfur dioxide emissions with regard to that rule. That's because Texas sulfur dioxide emissions do not influence other states' levels, Brymer said.

The states listed as part of the sulfur dioxide rule are all upwind of Texas.

But improved air quality could come at a cost. Coal-burning power plants, expected to be affected by the Transport Rule, provide 52 percent of the nation's electricity, according to the federal agency.

Mike Fields, a spokesman for Coleto Creek Power, said the impact on the Fannin power plant's operations is unknown until the rule is finalized.

"We really don't have any idea what impact it's going to have directly on Coleto Creek until they do the delegation for the different states," he said.

As for its pollutant levels, Fields said, the power plant has dropped nitrogen oxide emissions by 75 percent since 1980, when the plant started up.

"We should be in good shape there," he said.

The federal agency proposed the rule because many communities are not meeting the minimum air quality standards under the Clean Air Act, according to the agency's website. The rule would replace the Clean Air Interstate Rule, which covered the same pollutants and was implemented in 2005.

Industry in upwind states contributes to pollution in downwind neighbors, which hurts their chances of reaching attainment levels.

Victoria is at risk of falling out of acceptable ozone levels mostly because of pollution imported from other areas, University of Texas researcher Cyril Durrenberger said at an air quality meeting in April.

According to the researchers' modeling studies, 91 percent of Victoria's ozone emanates from outside Victoria County.

The new rule is not expected to constrict the flow of electricity to American households or hike costs, according to the EPA.

Laura Martin, who monitors these markets for the Energy Information Administration, said in an e-mail that her agency has not conducted an analysis of this potential ruling.

Generally, she said, adding controls for sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide does not cause facility shutdowns, but problems arise when regulatory bodies add new rules for greenhouse gases.

"When carbon emissions are regulated, that tends to have more dramatic impacts on coal retirements and shifts in the generation mix, as well as higher electricity prices," she said. "But the impacts are highly dependent on the structure of the proposal."

Chris Van Deusen, spokesman for the Department of State Health Services, said reducing nitrogen oxide and sulfur dioxide should limit human exposure to these pollutants.

"This may have the additional benefit of reducing the formation of ozone and fine particles, both of which pose significant public health threats." Van Deusen said.

The proposal is in the public comment phase. The final version of the rule is expected in June.

"Once we get a final allocation, then I think we'll have a better feel for that," Brymer said. "I think it will potentially impact growth more than existing facilities."