With these findings in mind, the OTC, an organization of 12 northeastern and mid-Atlantic states plus the District of Columbia created under the Clean Air Act of 1990, is asking the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to require deeper emission reductions from power generators, above and beyond those provided in the 2005 Clean Air Interstate Rule.
'The science is clear; we can save lives by reducing power plant emissions,' said OTC Chair Lisa Jackson, commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection.
'It is time for the federal government to work with the states to immediately implement national controls that put the health of people before the wealth of industry,' Jackson said.
The Clean Air Interstate Rule will permanently cap emissions of sulfur dioxide, SO2, and nitrogen oxides, NOx, in the eastern United States and establishes a cap-and-trade system for these gases.
When fully implemented in 2015, CAIR is expected to reduce SO2 emissions in 28 eastern states and the District of Columbia by over 70 percent and NOx emissions by over 60 percent from 2003 levels.
Since 2001, the OTC has periodically recommended that emissions from power plants be slashed. The organization has complained that power plant emissions blowing into the region from midwestern generating stations would create unhealthy conditions even if no emissions were produced by power plants in the northeast.
Now, new analyses conducted by the Northeast States for Coordinated Air Use Management in collaboration with the OTC also show that additional health benefits would be achieved by reducing power plant emissions beyond levels currently required by the EPA.
Cutting sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide power plant emissions by about 20 percent from levels currently required by the EPA provides $1.7 to 2 billion in annual health benefits in the OTC states by 2018, the research shows.
The results show benefits in the eastern United States will range between $6.7 and 7.8 billion annually.
The OTC member jurisdictions are: Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont and Virginia.
In May, the OTC released the results of a modeling analysis showing that power plants could achieve this level of emission reductions in 2018 for $2.6 billion in incremental total production costs nationally.
'In light of this compelling evidence that the benefits of further reducing emissions from the power sector far outweigh the costs, it is time now for EPA to require the power sector to implement the latest pollution-reducing technology to prevent further unacceptable and avoidable health effects,' said Jared Snyder, assistant commissioner of the New York Department of Environmental Conservation and vice chair of the OTC.
Many OTC member states, including New Hampshire, Delaware, Massachusetts, and Maryland, are requiring advanced controls on power plants by as soon as 2010, showing that additional levels of control are achievable in the very near future.
The OTC results are supported by research conducted by the American Lung Association. In May, for the first time since the association began issuing its annual air quality report card, data revealed a split picture along either side of the Mississippi River. Particle pollution, or soot, the most dangerous pollutant, increased in the East but decreased in the West.
'The increased particle pollution in the East is a particularly troubling trend, because exposure to particle pollution can not only take years off your life, it can threaten your life immediately,' said Terri Weaver, PhD, RN, who chairs the American Lung Association.
'Even in many areas EPA currently considers safe, the science clearly shows that the air is too often dangerous to breathe, particularly for those with lung diseasem' said Weaver. 'Protecting Americans from potentially deadly air pollution means we need more protective federal standards, so that every community in the United States can have truly clean air.'
Higher soot levels in the East are linked to an increase in electricity generated by heavy polluting power plants, the association says. In the West, by contrast, soot levels continue to drop even in areas that rank historically high in particle pollution.