Air Quality: Multi-Pollutant Legislation in the 108th Congress Page: 4 of 13
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Air Quality: Multi-Pollutant Legislation
in the 108th Congress
Electric utility generating facilities are a major source of air pollution. The
combustion of fossil fuels (petroleum, natural gas, and coal), which accounts for 67%
of U.S. electricity generation, results in the emission of a stream of gases. These
gases include several pollutants that directly pose risks to human health and welfare,
including particulate matter (PM),1 sulfur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen oxides (NOx), and
mercury (Hg). Particulate matter, SO2 and NOx are currently regulated under the
Clean Air Act (CAA), and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has
announced its intention to regulate mercury. Other gases may pose indirect risks,
notably carbon dioxide (C02), which may contribute to global warming.2 Table 1
provides estimates of SO2, NOx, and CO2 emissions from electric generating
facilities. Annual emissions of Hg from utility facilities are more uncertain; current
estimates indicate about 48 tons. Utilities are subject to an array of environmental
regulations, which affect in different ways both the cost of operating existing
generating facilities and of constructing new ones.
Table 1: Emissions From U.S. Fossil-fuel Electric Generating Plants
(thousands of short tons)
Emissions 1994 1995 1996 1997 1998 1999
SO2 14,211 11,437 12,053 12,317 12,432 11,968
NOx 6,790 6,737 6,996 7,227 7,221 7,051
CO2 1,986,079 1,995,471 2,065,339 2,142,118 2,209,286 2,191,576
Source: Energy Information Administration, Electric Power Annual 1999, vol. II, p. 40
Particulate matter is regulated depending on the particle size; current regulations address
particles less than 10 microns in diameter (PM10); EPA has promulgated regulations for
particles less than 2.5 microns in diameter (PM2.5) which have not yet been implemented.
SO2 and NOx emissions could be affected by regulations of PM2.5. Current concerns about
emissions from fossil-fuel electric generating plants do not explicitly address PM, but could
indirectly do so through attention to SO2 and NOx.
2 Steam-electric utilities produce minor amounts of volatile organic compounds (VOCs),
carbon monoxide (CO), and lead - on the order of 2% or less of all sources.
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Air Quality: Multi-Pollutant Legislation in the 108th Congress, report, November 17, 2003; Washington D.C.. (digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc813402/m1/4/: accessed November 17, 2018), University of North Texas Libraries, Digital Library, digital.library.unt.edu; crediting UNT Libraries Government Documents Department.