The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is promoting industry collaboration to reduce smog travelling across states and affecting the health of millions of people.
- The new ‘Good Neighbor Plan’ is imposing lower levels of nitrogen oxide emissions from power plants and other industrial facilities in 23 states.
- Nitrogen oxide significantly contributes to unhealthy levels of smog, which is harmful to human health and ultimately costly for the taxpayer and for businesses.
- The new measures will improve the health of vulnerable communities, therefore contributing to environmental justice, while simultaneously delivering significant economic benefits.
Under the Clean Air Act, the EPA finalised the Good Neighbor Plan, a rule that will impose lower smog-forming nitrogen oxide pollution from power plants and other industrial facilities in 23 states. It is expected to improve air quality for millions of people living in downwind communities, saving thousands of lives, keeping people out of the hospital, preventing asthma attacks, and reducing sick days.
What are the consequences of nitrogen oxide pollution?
The release of nitrogen oxide in the atmosphere significantly contributes to unhealthy levels of ground-level ozone, or smog. Exposure to ground-level ozone can cause respiratory issues, aggravate asthma and other lung diseases, with long-term exposure potentially causing chronic lung disease. It can also affect the senses, such as smell, and can be toxic for plants.
Air pollution is the world’s largest environmental health threat, according to IQAir, which found that only six countries met the World Health Organization’s guidelines for PM2.5 – fine particulate aerosol particles up to 2.5 microns in diameter, used as the standard air quality indicator for the report. The US improved its concentration of PM2.5 by 13-14% between 2021 and 2022, but was still above the global limit.
How does it affect the US?
In the US, the smog caused by nitrogen oxide travels across certain states and has costly public health impacts, such as missed days of work or school, emergency room visits and premature deaths. These issues can be especially harmful to children and older adults, disproportionately affecting people of colour, families with low incomes and other vulnerable populations, the EPA said.
In addressing the significant contribution of upwind states to downwind smog, the EPA’s federal plan is anticipated to deliver emissions reductions and contribute to environmental justice, which was established as an agency-wide priority in 2010.
“Every community deserves fresh air to breathe. EPA’s ‘Good Neighbor’ plan will lock in significant pollution reductions to ensure cleaner air and deliver public health protections for those who’ve suffered far too long from air-quality related impacts and illness,” said EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan. “We know air pollution doesn’t stop at the state line. Today’s action will help our state partners meet stronger air quality health standards beyond borders.”
What does the ‘Good Neighbor Plan’ entail?
The goal is to reduce ozone season NOX pollution by approximately 70,000 tons from power plants and industrial facilities in 2026. By 2027, it is hoped the emissions budget for power plants will be 50% lower than 2021 levels. Ozone season refers to the time of the year when there are high concentrations of ozone in the atmosphere, which varies across the US.
It also includes a NOX allowance trading programme for fossil fuel-fired power plants in 22 states and NOX emissions standards for certain sources within nine industry categories in 20 states.
Beginning in the 2023 ozone season, power plants in 22 states will participate in a revised and strengthened Cross-State Air Pollution Rule ozone season trading programme. To achieve emissions reductions as soon as possible, the EPA is basing the initial control stringency on the level of reductions achievable through immediately available measures, including consistently operating emissions controls already installed at power plants. Further reductions will be phased in over several years starting in 2024 and reflect emissions levels that could be achieved through installation of new emissions controls.
They will begin in the 2026 ozone season and will apply in 20 states, targeting emission sources such as reciprocating internal combustion engines in natural gas pipelines, kilns in the cement industry, reheat furnaces in iron and steel mills, ferroalloy manufacturing and in the glass industry, and combustors and incinerators for solid waste. It will also apply to boilers in iron and steel mills, ferroalloy manufacturing, metal ore mining, basic chemical manufacturing, petroleum and coal products manufacturing, and pulp, paper, and paperboard mills.
What is it expected to achieve?
The EPA estimated annual net benefits, after taking costs into account, of $13 billion each year over the period from 2023 to 2042. Reducing smog also will improve visibility in national and state parks and increase protection for sensitive ecosystems, coastal waters, estuaries and forests.
In terms of public health benefits, the plan is expected to prevent 1,300 premature deaths, avoid more than 2,300 hospital and emergency room visits, cut asthma symptoms by 1.3 million cases, and avoid 430,000 school absence days and 25,000 lost work days – all in 2026 alone.
“Smog-forming pollution from power plants and industrial sites does not respect state borders,” commented Noha Haggag, a clean air attorney for Environmental Defense Fund. “Poorly controlled fossil fuel power plants and industrial sources in upwind states harm millions of people in downwind states who suffer from unhealthy smog levels. The Good Neighbor Plan announced today will help clean up poorly controlled smokestack pollution, save lives, and provide vital health protections for millions of people.”