Half of all industrial toxic air pollution comes from power plants, and 6,700 power plants and heavy industries are responsible for 80 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions in the United States. Coal- and oil-fired power plants contribute 44 percent of all toxic air pollution. Toxic mercury and emissions from the country’s electricity sector are estimated to cause tens of thousands of premature deaths, heart attacks, asthma cases and chronic bronchitis every year.
While there are varying lists of America’s most toxic states, we’ll focus on the latest top 10 list from the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), which ranks states in terms of overall industrial pollution, along with reporting from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Many of the US’ most toxic states have seen a reduction of pollution over the past several years, but a federal court of appeals ruling to scrap an EPA regulation on “Cross-State Air Pollution,” designed to reduce air pollution carried from one state to another. Power plants had been expecting this ruling to be approved for over a year, and had adjusted their practices accordingly. The immediate reaction to the federal court’s scrapping of the rule resulted in a queuing up of power plants to abandon preparations for this compliance. Likewise, the EPA’s Mercury and Air Toxics standards (MATs), designed to cut mercury air pollution beginning in 2015 by 79 percent from 2010 levels failed in the Senate in June.
So where are we now? Well, we’re stuck with this list of states that are the most toxic, and while much progress has been made, the list is likely to contain the usual suspects next year and fewer improvements on pollution.