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Illinois Pollution Regulator Sides With State EPA, Power Company, in Coal Emissions Ruling

Aaron Paul
Wikimedia Commons https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5/deed.en

Illinois’ pollution regulator moved ahead Thursday with a proposal to change emissions rules for coal power plants, a move opponents say could be dangerous to public health.

In Illinois, companies are allowed to run inefficient coal power plants that give off tons of pollutants, so long as they offset that with cleaner plants that have carbon capture technology.

But that can be expensive. So, The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency says those rules need to change to help companies compete in today’s energy market. They’ve asked the Illinois Pollution Control Board to set annual pollution caps instead.

The power company Dynergy is also pushing for the change. It operates a swath of coal-fired plans across Illinois

But James Gignac with the Union of Concerned Scientists says that means clean coal plants could close.

“That would mean higher operations from the dirtier plants to generate the same amount of power, and so it’s more pollution going into the air,” he explained.

If power companies are able run the cheaper, but dirtier coal plants more often, Gignac says that would pose an air quality hazard.

“That’s where we see the really large public health impacts," he said. "The very small particulate matter [from coal emissions] gets into people’s lungs and make respiratory conditions much worse.”

Don’t expect anything to change just yet: the Pollution Control Board lowered the caps proposed by the Illinois EPA, and will allow public comment on the new proposal before moving ahead.

Parent company Vistra Energy says the Pollution Control Board's proposed caps are more strigent, but "reasonable." It believes the lower caps will "benefit all Illinoisans."

Sam is a Public Affairs Reporting intern for spring 2018, working out the NPR Illinois Statehouse bureau.
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