U.S. power plants have witnessed a steep drop in greenhouse gas emissions lately, and operators say the bad economy cannot take all the credit, Reuters reported July 7. Sulfur dioxide (SO2) emissions have dropped 24 percent since mid-2008, nitrous oxide (NOx) has dropped 11 percent, and carbon dioxide (CO2) has gone down by 10 percent, according to Genscape Inc., a company that provides energy generation and transmission data to the energy industry.
Reuters reported that Genscape’s quarterly report indicates that NOx and CO2 emissions have decreased due to the recession and a lack of energy demand, but these alone cannot account for the immense drop in sulfur dioxide emissions; SO2 has most likely endured its dramatic plunge in preparation for the Clean Air Interstate Rule (CAIR), to be implemented in full force in 2010, Genscape said.
The Clean Air Interstate Rule was originally issued in 2005 by the EPA for the purpose of achieving the largest reduction in air pollution since the 1990s. The rule will go into effect next year in 28 eastern U.S. states, and will permanently cap SO2 and NOx emissions. By 2015, CAIR should achieve a 70 percent decrease in SO2 pollution and a 60 percent drop in NOx, and the estimated $85 billion gain in health benefits and $200 billion in visibility benefits are 25 times the implementation costs.
Currently, each permit allows for one ton of sulfur dioxide emissions, but CAIR will cut that in half so that each permit allows a half-ton of emissions. CAIR offers incentives for early action, which is why there has been a decrease in emissions before the initiation of the legislation. Plants have switched from high-sulfur coal to low-sulfur coal and have installed equipment to remove sulfur dioxide, Reuters reported. Still, many coal-fired plants have been losing business to nuclear and renewable energy plants. Energy demand has dropped 10 percent in the past year, according to Genscape, and investing in coal and abiding by CAIR requirements will be a challenge for power plant operators. For now though, the drop in emissions from the new rule proves promising for our climate’s future.