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NRDC Rates Top 20 Most Toxic States

Common Dreams staff

Photo: AP/File

Residents of Kentucky, Ohio and Pennsylvania are exposed to more toxic air pollution from coal-fired power plants than in any other state, according to a new analysis by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), released Thursday.

The report, Toxic Power: How Power Plants Contaminate Our Air and States, lists the top 20 states with the worst air pollution -- the 'Toxic 20' -- where residents are at a higher risk of numerous health problems simply by the act of breathing.

Due to new standards by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) called the Mercury and Air Toxics standards finalized in 2011, toxic pollution from power plants may decline over the next several years.

Compared to 2010 levels, the EPA's Mercury and Air Toxics standard (MATS) will cut mercury pollution from 34 tons to 7 tons, a 79 percent reduction, by 2015. Sulfur dioxide pollution will be reduced from 5,140,000 tons in 2010 to 1,900,000 tons in 2015, a 63 percent reduction. Hydrochloric acid will be reduced from 106,000 tons in 2010 to 5,500 tons in 2015, a 95 percent reduction.

However pro-fossil-fuel law makers as well as energy companies may still be able weaken the new rules. Power companies continue to sue to block the pollution reductions, and coal and oil friendly Congress members continue to attempt to repeal, weaken, or delay the standards, according to the report.

Of the Toxic 20, both senators from eight states, Kentucky, Indiana, Georgia, Texas, Virginia, South Carolina, Alabama and Mississippi, supported a resolution by Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., to stop the EPA safeguards. Other states have showed varrying levels of EPA support.

As it stands now, coal and oil fired power plants still contribute nearly half (44 percent) of all toxic air pollution reported to the EPA's Toxics Release Inventory (TRI).

Franz Matzner, NRDC associate director of Government Affairs, stated:

“For too long, Americans have had no choice but to breathe toxic air pollution. Thanks to the EPA, the air is getting cleaner. But we need lawmakers who will help clean up the air we all breathe --- not lawmakers who do the bidding of Big Polluters trying to repeal safeguards that protect children’s health."

The states on the "Toxic 20" list (from worst to best) are:

West Virginia
North Carolina
South Carolina

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