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Report: Soot particles kill 201 here annually
Reliant-HL&P rips paper as 'political'

October 17, 2000

By Bill Dawson
Houston Chronicle
Environment Writer

Sooty pollution from power plants kills 30,000 Americans annually, including 201 in the Houston area, according to a study issued Monday by environmentalists.

The national report by the Clean Air Task Force, A Boston-based coalition, said fine-particle pollution from power plants cuts "several years" from these people's lives. The report says that 1,310 people in Texas die each year as a result of such pollution.

It called for the passage of legislation introduced in Congress to reduce coal-burning plants' emissions of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide by 75 percent nationally.

This action would end older power plants' grandfathered status under the federal Clean Air Act, which excuses them from tighter pollution limits applying to newer plants.

Reliant Energy-HL&P, the Houston area's major supplier of electric power, issued a statement charging that the environmentalists' report "bases its conclusions on selective use of available scientific research".

The company statement said the report "ignores more than a dozen equally valid studies that have found no association between sulfates (which come from sulfur dioxide emissions) and health effects."

Fine particle pollution is an old and complex subject, now involved in a number of pending state and federal issues.

The environmentalists' report, for instance, praises unfolding regulatory efforts in Texas, New York, Connecticut, and Massachusetts to significantly reduce emissions from their power plants.

In Texas, older power plants that were grandfathered under the state's 1971 Clean Air Act were ordered in the 1999 electricity deregulation law to cut emissions by 50 percent and sulfur dioxide by 25 percent statewide.

At the same time, power plants within metropolitan areas that violate the national health standards for ozone, smog's chief ingredient, will come under even stricter regulations for nitrogen oxide.

In the Houston region, all major industrial facilities will be required under the state's proposed smog plan to cut nitrogen oxide emissions by 90 percent. The plan does not cover sulfur dioxide, however.

Tom "Smitty" Smith, Texas director of the environmental group Public Citizen, said the new report underscores the need for a stricter national health standard for fine-particle pollution.

Such a standard was adopted by the Clinton administration but was blocked by an appeals court ruling the lawsuit by several business groups. That ruling is being appealed to the Supreme Court.

Last year, a study commissioned by the city of Houston concluded that 435 premature deaths could be averted annually in the area of fine particle levels from all sources are brought below the maximum level permitted in the stalled national standard.

Calculations underlying that standard and behind the city's study are based on previous research linking particle pollution to increased incidence of cardiac arrest problems and serious respiratory problems.

The Clean Air Task Force report issued Monday said 127 of the 201 annual Houston-area deaths it attributed to power plants could be avoided by 75 percent cuts in nitrogen oxide and sulfur dioxide. It said that other health problems-3,820 asthma attacks annually, for instance-also could be avoided here.

Reliant Energy-HL&P called the Clean Air Task Force report "a political statement, not conclusive scientific study", and said it offers no proof that pollution from power plants, instead of other sources, is implicated in the health problems it highlights.

Despite increasing demand for electricity, utility companies "continue to make major emissions reductions," the company said.

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