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10/16/2011

A national RPS is key to reduce SO2 and NOx emissions that destroy streams, lakes and kill fish

Dr. Sovacool, & Cooper, 7 – *Senior Research Fellow for the Network for New Energy Choices in New York and Adjunct
Assistant Professor at the Virginia Polytechnic Institute & State University in Blacksburg, VA and ** Executive Director of
the Network for New Energy Choices
(Benjamin K. Sovacool, also a Research Fellow at the Centre for Asia and Globalization at the Lee Kuan Yew School of
Public Policy and Christopher Cooper, Renewing America: The Case for Federal Leadership on a National Renewable
Portfolio Standard (RPS), Network for New Energy Choices • Report No. 01-07, June, 2007,
http://www.newenergychoices.org/dev/uploads/RPS%20Report_Cooper_Sovacool_FINAL_HILL.pdf) // JMP

Sulfur Dioxide (SOx) and Nitrous Oxide (NOx)
Sulfur dioxide (SO2) is a pollutant responsible for lake- and forest-damaging acid precipitation and a precursor to health-
damaging particulates. In 2003, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimated that roughly 40 million Americans
lived in areas with unhealthy levels of SO2. 277
Nitrous oxide (NOx) emissions react with volatile organic compounds in the atmosphere (gasoline vapors or solvents, for
example) and produce compounds that can result in severe lung damage, asthma, and emphysema, if inhaled.278
NOx is also a major source of ground-level ozone (smog) and contributed to acid rain, and pollution of surface water.279 In
2003, the EPA estimated that more than 70 million Americans lived in areas with unhealthy deposits of NOx.
Emissions of SO2 and NOx create further problems when they react together in the atmosphere to form compounds that are
transported long distances and induce acidification of lakes, streams, rivers, and soils .280 Many parts of the country
(especially the Ohio Valley and mid-Atlantic states) have hazardous concentrations of sulfur and nitrogen deposits. 281
Acid rain from SO2 and NOx compounds can render many bodies of water unfit for certain fishand wildlife species. Acidic
deposition can also mobilize toxic amounts of aluminum, increasing its availability for uptake by plants and fish that are then
ingested by humans.
Concern over the significant environmental impacts of SO2 and NOx led the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to
implement a “cap-and-trade” system that limits the aggregate emissions of SO2 and NOx and distributing allowances to
regulated entities. Companies that reduce their emissions beyond the caps can sell allowances to other companies that have
not reduced their emissions enough under the existing caps. The EPA periodically reduces the emissions caps to ensure that
the total amount of pollution decreases over time.
While stricter environmental controls like the SO2 and NOx cap-and-trade system have helped to decrease power plant
emissions, in 2004 fossil fuel-fired plants in the U.S. still emitted nearly 10 million tons of sulfur dioxide (SO2) (roughly
two-thirds of the nation’s entire output) and 4 million tons of nitrous oxides (NOx).
Despite the immense progress made under the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990, the EPA noted in 2003 that surface water
sulfate concentrations have actually increased in the Ridge and Blue Ridge provinces of Virginia and that some parts of the
Northern Appalachian Plateau region continue to experience dangerously high levels of stream acidification. 284
By mandating a higher penetration of renewable generation, a national RPS should empower regulators to expedite SO2 and
NOx cap reductions while still maintaining the market-based capand- trade system that has proved marginally successful at
reducing power plant emissions over the past 15 years.
Mercury (Hg)
A comprehensive EPA study on mercury noted that epidemics of mercury poisoning following high-doses in Japan and Iraq
have demonstrated that neurotoxicity is of greatest concern when mercury exposure occurs to the developing fetus. Dietary
mercury is almost completely absorbed into the blood and distributed to all tissues including the brain; it also readily passes
through the placenta to the fetus and fetal brain.285
Most Americans do not ingest mercury directly, but accumulate small amounts of the poisonous metal through the
consumption of fish. In 2003, 43 states had to issue mercury advisories to warn the public to avoid consuming contaminated
fish from in-state water sources.286
The EPA estimates that as many as 3 percent of women of child-bearing age eat sufficient amounts of fish to be at risk from
mercury exposure. Conventional power plants are responsible for nearly one third of all U.S. emissions of mercury.287
In 2004, for example, U.S. coal-fired power plants alone released about 100,000 lbs. of mercury into the nation’s air. The
greatest concentrations of these emissions were found in the southern Great Lakes and Ohio River valley, the Northeast and
scattered areas in the South. However, the most elevated concentrations were found in the Miami and Tampa areas. 289 // pg.
105-110

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