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Improving Air Quality Means Health Benefits for Mainers

Maine should see improving air quality as the EPA's Clean Power Plan curbs pollution from coal-fired power plants, even those not in the Northeast, since polluted air from plants in the Midwest ends up in New England on air currents. Credit: Edbrown05/Wikimedia Commons.
Maine should see improving air quality as the EPA's Clean Power Plan curbs pollution from coal-fired power plants, even those not in the Northeast, since polluted air from plants in the Midwest ends up in New England on air currents. Credit: Edbrown05/Wikimedia Commons.
August 10, 2015

AUGUSTA, Maine – The air is often dangerous to breathe for 44 percent of Americans, according to a new report – and for Mainers who live in what's known as the tailpipe of the nation, the Environmental Protection Agency's new Clean Power Plan should bring major improvements.

Michael Seilback, vice president of public policy for the American Lung Association of the Northeast, says the new 32 percent cap on carbon emissions from power plants is expected to mean shutdowns of some of the oldest and dirtiest plants in the Midwest.

And since that pollution migrates on air currents to Maine, he says the changes should mean improvements in local air quality.

"While air quality has been moving in the right direction, far too many communities in Maine still are breathing unhealthy air,” he points out. “Our State of the Air Report gave York County, for example, an 'F.'”

The American Lung Association compiles the annual State of the Air report and says nationwide, the Clean Power Plan is expected to have the greatest impact on economically disadvantaged communities that often are located near power plants. Only a handful of coal-fired plants remain in operation in New England.

But the Clean Power Plan is getting sharp criticism, including from the National Black Chamber of Commerce. It says the pollution standards will be "especially severe" for African Americans and Hispanics, destroying jobs and increasing the cost of electricity and natural gas.

Janice Nolen, the American Lung Association’s assistant vice president of national policy, counters that the Clean Power Plan was designed to address those very concerns.

"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 neighborhoods, which means that for the first time, they may actually get more cleanup than they would otherwise," she points out.

Seilbeck adds low-income communities and vulnerable populations should benefit from reduced medical costs as the plan improves overall air quality in New England.

"The Clean Power Plan is going to reduce pollution from power plants by close to 90 percent, and that's going to mean – for the elderly, for youth, and certainly for people that have heart and lung issues – it's going to mean less trips to the hospital," he stresses.

The State of the Air report says at least 800,000 Maine residents should see improved health under the plan.

Mike Clifford, Public News Service - ME