Air and Water Pollution Regulation: Accomplishments and Economic Consequences

By Martin Freedman; Bikki Jaggi | Go to book overview

Chapter 3
AIR POLLUTION BY ELECTRIC UTILITY PLANTS

Fossil fuel-burning electric utility plants are the largest industrial producers of air pollution in the United States.1 Since the Clean Air Acts of 1970, 1977 and 1990 targeted fossil fuel-burning plants, one question is whether the technology was, and is, available to reduce air pollution. Furthermore, given the technology, how effective has the electric utility industry been in reducing air pollution emissions? Included in this chapter is a discussion of the air pollutants produced by electric utilities, the technology that was available to reduce pollutants in 1975, 1987 and 1991, and a comparison of air pollution emissions, by plant, in 1975 and 1987.


AIR POLLUTANTS FROM FOSSIL FUELS

The process of making electricity from fossil fuels (coal, oil or natural gas) consists of burning the fuels to heat water which, in turn, creates steam. This steam provides the power to turn a generator, which creates electricity. The air pollutants are a by-product of this process, as is the heated water (which is cooled by using water from whatever water body in which the plant is located). Fossil fuel-burning electric utilities may produce three major types of air pollutants: particulates, sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides.

Particulates are basically the soot that is emitted from the smokestack. In scientific terms, they consist of finely dispersed liquids and solids that are .1-100 average micrometers (u. m) in diameter. In addition to soot, they may consist of dust or organic or inorganic substances, including sulfur compounds, metallic oxides and salts.2 Particulates are a potential health problem because their inhalation can lead to serious respiratory problems,

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