Climate 411

Advanced methane technologies can strengthen new landfill pollution limits

(This post was co-authored by EDF’s Peter Zalzal)

When organic waste ends up in landfills, it produces methane — a powerful climate pollutant —as it decomposes.

In the U.S., landfills are our third largest source of methane and a major driver of climate change. They also emit large amounts of health-harming and even cancer-causing pollution, such as toxic benzene, that endangers nearby communities. And to make matters even worse, they cause noise and odor problems.

Recent scientific studies indicate that landfills may be an even greater source of pollution than we thought. A study led by scientists at Carbon Mapper and recently published in the journal Science surveyed 20% of open U.S. landfills and found significant point source emissions at the majority (52%) of sites.

Earlier work based on data from the TROPOMI space satellite looked at 73 landfills and found their pollution was, on median, 77% more than what was reported to EPA’s Greenhouse Gas Reporting Program.

Advanced methane monitoring technology has developed rapidly in recent years, creating new opportunities to substantially reduce harmful pollution from landfills. EPA’s recently finalized oil and gas standards allow operators to deploy these technologies, such as aerial flyovers and drones, to find and fix methane leaks.

Building from this work, EPA now has a vital opportunity to incorporate advanced technologies into new landfill rules.

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Also posted in Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Innovation, News, Policy / Leave a comment

We need to close a mercury pollution loophole for lignite coal plants

(This post was co-authored by EDF attorney Richard Yates)

The Environmental Protection Agency is soon expected to update our national protections against mercury and other toxic pollution from coal-fired power plants – pollution that is extremely dangerous to human health and has been linked to brain damage in children.

EPA proposed strengthening the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards and closing a loophole for lignite coal and is expected to issue its final update soon. EDF has found that, even as we have made great progress in reducing mercury pollution overall, the lignite coal loophole leaves parts of the U.S. at especially high risk.

Mapping Big Mercury Polluters

[(i) The owner/operator of the Comanche plant in Colorado has announced its intention to retire unit 2 by 2025 and unit 3 by 2030; unit 1 retired in 2022. (ii) The owner/operator of the Sherburne County plant in Minnesota has announced its intention to retire unit 1 by 2025 and unit 3 by 2034; unit 2 retired in 2023. (iii) The owner/operator of the Cardinal plant in Ohio has announced its intention to retire unit 3 by 2028; units 1 and 2 have no scheduled retirement dates. (Data: EPA’s Clean Air Markets Program Data; EIA’s 2022 Form EIA-860 Data – Schedule 3)] 

Two years ago, EDF published a map of the top 30 mercury-polluting power plants in 2020 across the United States. We have now refreshed this map based on data from 2022, and you can see the results above.

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Also posted in Health, Indigenous People, News, Policy / Comments are closed

EPA’s Good Neighbor Rule will protect millions of people from poorly-controlled smokestack pollution

photo of a smokestack at sunset(This post was co-authored by EDF analyst Jolie Villegas) 

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) just finalized its Good Neighbor Plan this month and that means millions of people in downwind states will be protected from unhealthy smokestack pollution that blows across state lines.

The new plan will significantly reduce smog-forming nitrogen oxides (NOx) pollution from fossil fuel power plants and industrial sources in 23 states.

EPA’s action addresses an urgent problem: NOx pollution from power plants without modern pollution controls. As depicted below, well over half of the NOx pollution from coal units in states covered by the Good Neighbor Plan is from coal units without modern pollution controls.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Graphic: EDF 

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Also posted in Cities and states, Health, News, Policy, Smog / Read 2 Responses

Mercury pollution from coal plants is still a danger to Americans. We need stronger standards to protect us.

Mercury pollution from coal-fired power plants is extremely dangerous — it causes brain damage in babies and is associated with heart disease and many other serious health issues.

Fortunately, mercury pollution has fallen significantly since EPA finalized the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards in 2012. However, despite the success of the standards in reducing pollution as a significantly lower than projected cost, many power plants continue to emit mercury and other dangerous air pollutants in large quantities. That means stronger safeguards are needed to protect the health of Americans across the country.

The top 30 power plants for mercury pollution

Coal-fired power plants continue to be the largest source of mercury pollution in the United States, accounting for approximately 8,800 pounds of mercury emissions in 2017 alone. Mercury is emitted in the combustion process of coal and other fossil fuels. Coal has much higher mercury concentrations than other fossil fuels, which explains why coal-fired power plants often emit larger quantities of mercury pollution than do power plants that burn other fossil fuels.

Mercury pollution from coal plants is particularly severe in certain parts of the country. EDF just published the above map, based on estimates calculated using publicly available data from 2020. It shows the top 30 power plants emitting the highest amount of mercury pollution in the country.

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Also posted in Cities and states, Health, News, Policy / Comments are closed

New study shows federal agencies must consider climate risk in environmental reviews under NEPA

(This post was co-authored by Romany Webb of the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia Law School and EDF’s Michael Panfil. It is also posted on the Sabin Center’s website.)

From pipelines destabilized by melting permafrost to powerline-sparked wildfires exacerbated by drought, the impacts of climate change are affecting infrastructure across the U.S. and heightening the risks posed to the environment and communities.

A new study, undertaken jointly by Environmental Defense Fund and Columbia Law School’s Sabin Center for Climate Change Law, finds that federal agencies are not adequately considering climate change impacts in energy project reviews conducted under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).

The finding stands at odds with NEPA’s requirement that federal agencies take a “hard look” at the environmental effects of proposed actions, including considering ways to mitigate adverse effects and alternative courses of action, before proceeding.

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Also posted in Energy, Greenhouse Gas Emissions, News, Partners for Change, Policy / Comments are closed

Protective pollution safeguards can dramatically increase deployment of zero-emission freight trucks and buses

Photo: Scharfsinn86

A new study developed by Roush Industries for EDF shows rapidly declining costs for zero-emission freight trucks and buses, underscoring the feasibility of rapidly deploying these vehicles that will help us save money, have healthier air, and address the climate crisis.

The study, Medium- and Heavy-Duty Electrification Cost Evaluation, analyzes the cost of electrifying vehicles in several medium and heavy-duty market segments, including transit and school buses, shuttle and delivery vehicles, and garbage trucks – vehicles that typically operate in cities where average trip distances are short and the health and pollution effects of transportation pollution are of particular concern. It projects the upfront costs of buying an electric vehicle instead of a diesel vehicle, and the total cost of ownership for electric vehicles in model years 2027 to 2030.

The study finds that a rapid transition to electric freight trucks and buses makes economic sense when considering both the upfront purchase cost and the total cost of ownership.

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Also posted in Cars and Pollution, Cities and states, Economics, Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Health, News, Policy / Comments are closed