Maryland is home to the fourth-worst power plant in the nation for nitrogen air pollution, which is washed into the Chesapeake Bay and causes low-oxygen "dead zones" that suffocate marine life, according to a new report.
The state is also the site of two of the 20 worst power plants for sulfur dioxide pollution, which causes acid rain and soot, according to the study by a Washington-based nonprofit group called the Environmental Integrity Project.
Subsidiaries of the Mirant Co. of Atlanta own all three of the plants: Chalk Point in Prince George's County, which made the nitrogen list; the Morgantown generator in Charles County, 19th on the sulfur pollution list; and the Dickerson plant in Montgomery County, 20th on the list.
"What is really most outrageous about these dirtiest power plants is that most of the health effects -- including asthma and heart problems ... are all avoidable with modern pollution controls," said Ilan Levin, counsel for the organization.
Steve Arabia, spokesman for Mirant, said that cleaner air is on the way, with a consent decree signed by the company last year requiring a 70 percent reduction in nitrogen pollution from all four of its plants in the region. Most of the improvements will be made by summer 2008, he said.
"There are also new federal laws in place that will require deep reductions in emissions," Arabia said. "We will comply with all of those laws and regulations, and thereby significantly reduce the emissions from our plants."
The Environmental Integrity Project was founded in March 2002 by Eric Schaeffer, a former top pollution enforcement official for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency who in February 2002 resigned in protest of what he called the Bush administration's dismantling of air pollution regulations.
The report released yesterday, called "Dirty Kilowatts," listed America's 50 dirtiest power plants based on the amount of pollution they emit for each kilowatt hour of electricity produced.
The study found that the top 50 of the nation's 539 power plants generate 14 percent of the nation's electricity but emit up to 50 percent of the sulfur dioxide pollution that comes from all plants, 42 percent of the mercury, 40 percent of the nitrogen air pollution and 35 percent of the carbon dioxide.
Pennsylvania had the most plants on the list, with half of the 10 worst sources of sulfur dioxide pollution and nine of the top 50. Indiana had the worst power plant in the nation for sulfur pollution, the Warrick generation station, and six of the top 50.
For nitrogen pollution, the worst plant was the Riverside generator in Minnesota.
Tom Snyder, director of air pollution management for the Maryland Department of the Environment, said the Bush administration's Clean Air Interstate Rule, which uses emissions trading to encourage reductions, should cut sulfur dioxide air pollution in Maryland by 85 percent to 90 percent by 2012, and nitrogen air pollution by 60 percent to 70 percent over that period.
"It's encouraging that Mirant is already installing emissions controls," Snyder said. "The new Clean Air Interstate Rule should reduce those levels even more."