Quick Hit Ellyn Fortino Friday May 25th, 2012, 11:21am

Health Advocates Push For Carbon Emission Standards At Coal Plants

The Environmental Protection Agency held a hearing Thursday regarding the first of its kind limits on carbon dioxide emissions for new power plants.

News of the EPA’s proposed standards for power-plant emissions comes shortly after Midwest Generation announced Chicago’s two infamous coal-fired power plants, Frisk and Crawford, will shut down. Progress Illinois reported last month about Chicago’s power-plant saga.

Double lung-transplant recipient Dan Dolan-Laughlin, 65, is one of many people who planned to speak at the hearing to urge the EPA to follow through with its carbon-regulation proposal.

Dolan-Laughlin, of Wheaton, had to wear a mask while traveling to the hearing, because he received his new lungs six months ago, and they are sensitive to all forms of pollution.

He’s one of many people across the state and country whose health depends on clean air.

“Anyone with (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) is so incredibly sensitive to air pollution,” Dolan-Laughlin said.

While living with COPD, Dolan-Laughlin couldn’t walk downtown because of the pollution. On high smog-alert days he wouldn’t leave his house.

It’s not only the coal-fired power plants contributing to high smog levels -- which used to trigger his asthma attacks -- but regulating new power plants is a first step toward better air quality, Dolan-Laughlin said.

“The coal plants account for 40 percent of the pollution in the air right now, and that’s a lot,” he said. “It’s something that can be controlled.”

Peter Iwanowicz, vice president of the American Lung Association and the director of the Healthy Air Campaign, said the American Lung Association, which testified at the hearing, is encouraged the EPA is moving forward with standards that will lead to the future cleanup of dirty power.

“For us, we see power plants as a real killer -- quite literally,” Iwanowicz said.

Carbon emissions contribute to rising temperatures, and rising temperatures cook the pollution that’s already in the atmosphere. That process increases ozone levels, or smog, which can cause asthma attacks, other health complications or even premature death, Iwanowicz said.

If the EPA standards are approved, power plants built in the future would not be allow to emit more than 1,000 pounds of carbon pollution for each megawatt of electricity produced—that’s about half of what some current power plants are pumping out, he said.

That standard could be lower, Iwanowicz said, but it’s a good start.

Susan Buchanan, assistant professor of environmental and occupational health sciences at the University of Illinois at Chicago School of Public Health, said this rule is “desperately needed.”

“It may be too little too late at this point,” she said. “I’m a little frustrated that this rule applies to new plants and not to plants that are already operating.”

The current operating plants should have to abide by the same standards as the new plants, she said.

She added now is the time for carbon-emission regulation.

“Climate change is going to be one of the big challenges in public health in the 21st century,” Buchanan said, adding that droughts and changes in food production and more heat-related stress and deaths will occur because of climate change, among public health concerns.

Throughout the week, the American Lung Association’s volunteers have been walking around the downtown area, pushing red baby carriages. The baby carriages signify what’s at stake if the U.S. doesn’t come up with a power-plant solution, Iwanowicz said.

The EPA is held a hearing on the issue in Washington, D.C. the same day.

The EPA is also accepting written comments on the proposed standards until June 25, 2012, according to their web site.

More information on the hearings and instructions for submitting written comments can be found here.

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