Which "Toxic 20" States Would Get Olympic Medals for Pollution?

Maybe I’ve been watching way too much TV from London over the last few days, but it occurs to me that if they held a power plant pollution Olympics and states “won” medals for being home to the most toxic emissions, the gold, silver and bronze would go to Kentucky, Ohio and Pennsylvania.

That’s the conclusion of a report out today from the Natural Resources Defense Council ranking the “Toxic 20” states in terms of pollution from coal- and air-fired power plants.  

Wondering if your state is on the list?  Starting with the worst, here it is:

  1. Kentucky
  2. Ohio
  3. Pennsylvania
  4. Indiana
  5. West Virginia
  6. Florida
  7. Michigan
  8. North Carolina
  9. Georgia
  10. Texas
  11. Tennessee
  12. Virginia
  13. South Carolina
  14. Alabama
  15. Missouri
  16. Illinois
  17. Mississippi
  18. Wisconsin
  19. Maryland
  20. Delaware 

If there is a silver lining in this pollution-choked cloud, it is the good news in the “Toxic 20” report: There was a 19 percent drop in all air toxics emitted from power plants in 2010 compared to the previous year. The bad news is that some in Congress are trying to stop the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from getting the rest of the job done to further reduce the death, disease and economic losses from power plant pollution

As my colleague, John Walke, NRDC’s clean air director, points out:

Toxic pollution is already being reduced as a result of EPA’s health-protecting standards.  Thanks to the agency’s latest safeguards, millions of children and their families in the states hardest hit by toxic air pollution from power plants will be able to breathe easier … But these protections are threatened because polluters are intent on persuading future Congresses or presidential administrations to repeal them.”

Here’s a good example of what John is concerned about: EPA’s Mercury and Air Toxics standards (MATs) would slash mercury air pollution beginning in 2015 by 79 percent from 2010 levels.  The U.S. House passed a bill to gut them last year; but a similar measure in June failed in the Senate. 

What about in the higher Congressional chamber, where reason is supposed to prevail?  Many U.S. Senators from the “Toxic 20” were not exactly profiles in courage.

Both senators from eight states of the “Toxic 20” states -- Kentucky, Indiana, Georgia, Texas, Virginia, South Carolina, Alabama and Mississippi -- supported a resolution by Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., to repeal the health-protective mercury and air toxics standard.

On the other hand, some states are represented by two Senators who are willing to stand up for our health: Both senators from three states: Michigan, Maryland and Delaware voted against repealing the mercury standard. Senators from the remaining nine states out of our twenty split their votes for and against.

Based on the mixed performance of our elected officials when it comes to pandering to polluters at the expense of constituents, I am now rethinking the concept of the pollution Olympics.   Perhaps a whole new category – the toxic mercury medal – should be reserved for U.S. senators who make themselves the teammates of the dirtiest and most toxic polluters in the nation.

P.S. Here's the new analysis:

Toxic Power: How Power Plants Contaminate Our Air and States from peteraltman13

About the Authors

Pete Altman

Director of Federal Campaigns

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