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Power Plant Neighbors Hoping for Cleaner Air

Advocates for cleaner air say those living closest to coal-fired power plants will benefit the most from the EPA's new pollution rules. Credit: Chris Jordan-Bloch/Earthjustice.
Advocates for cleaner air say those living closest to coal-fired power plants will benefit the most from the EPA's new pollution rules. Credit: Chris Jordan-Bloch/Earthjustice.




August 11, 2015

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – As the Obama administration's 15-year plan to cut carbon emissions by nearly one-third begins, an American Lung Association report underscores the challenges that lay ahead.

According to the State of the Air 2015 report, more than 138 million Americans – about 44 percent of the country's population – live in areas where pollution levels are considered too dangerous to breathe.

Louisville native Sean Hardy grew up in the industrial Rubbertown area along the Ohio River. Now 29, he recently moved away.

"We were incredibly ignorant as to what was going on," he says. "I smelled something in the air, but you don't really consider that maybe what you're smelling is some type of carbon pollution that is doing you harm."

The EPA projects $45 billion in health and climate-related savings from the Clean Power Plan. The plan requires states to engage low-income and minority communities as they develop plans to curb power plant emissions.

Janice Nolen, assistant vice president for national policy with the American Lung Association, says the plan will directly benefit low-income communities, where many coal-burning plants are located.

"Under the plan as it's in place now, the requirements would be that we have to make sure that we're not harming lower-income communities," she says. "That means that for the first time, these communities may actually get more cleanup than they would otherwise."

However, the National Black Chamber of Commerce claims the pollution-cutting rules could more than double power and natural gas rates. The White House estimates the average U.S. family will save nearly $85 on its annual energy bill in 2030, when the plan is fully implemented.

In addition to savings and health benefits, Lane Boldman with the Kentucky Conservation Committee says the plan is designed to help low-income households transition to cleaner energy.

"More incentives for energy retrofits. It rewards more energy efficiency," he says. "All of these come down to the bottom line of your utility bill, and that's always a good thing for low-income communities."

Boldman says there also are federal incentives to help low-income households install solar panels.

Hardy sees the plan as an opportunity for clean energy and better air quality in neighborhoods like the one he grew up in, although most of his home-state politicians have blasted the Obama administration's new rules. Hardy has a message for Kentucky's leaders.

"Take charge and use this as an opportunity for us to move forward, with those on the ground in mind," he says.

Greg Stotelmyer , Public News Service - KY