Job-creating regulations strike Ottumwa

Some politicians at the federal and state level would have you believe that rules intended to protect public health and the environment are “job-killing regulations.” Congressional Republicans and some Democrats have voted several times to block air quality rules that would force certain industrial plants to retrofit. Although the Obama administration has enacted promising rules to reduce air pollution from coal-fired power plants, President Barack Obama has occasionally validated Republican scaremongering over pollution regulations. For instance, he delayed new smog rules from going into effect in 2011, citing a concern for “reducing regulatory burdens and regulatory uncertainty, particularly as our economy continues to recover.”

The reality of pollution control looks different. It looks like hundreds of construction workers getting a job, and Ottumwa-area businesses reaping the benefits.

Governor Terry Branstad continually speaks out against “job-killing” regulations and just issued an executive order to help “stakeholders” keep “burdensome” administrative rules off the books. But if there’s one thing this man loves, it’s a ceremonial groundbreaking, so there he was in Ottumwa on August 16:

The Ottumwa Generating Station is co-owned by Interstate Power and Light Company, a subsidiary of Alliant Energy, and by MidAmerican Energy. Governor Branstad was in Ottumwa for the “ceremonial groundbreaking” and he says up to 400 people will work on the three-year-long [$325 million] project.

“It’s a significant deal,” Branstad says.

New “scrubber” systems will be installed, reducing sulfur dioxide and mercury emissions by 90 percent according to utility officials.

The Ottumwa Courier quoted Branstad touting the project as “a long-term investment in Iowa’s economy and environment.”

As for what it means locally, Alliant officials said over the next two to three years, those 400 direct jobs will support at least as many indirect jobs.

Dave Shafer, the city of Ottumwa’s planning and development director, explained the direct jobs are the crews needed to build the addition, while the “indirect” are people in the local community who will find work that supports an influx of hundreds of temporary residents. […]

The addition of the OGS [Ottumwa Generating Station] scrubber and other filter technology by Alliant and the co-owners, MidAmerican Energy, is supposed to reduce sulfur dioxide and mercury emissions by 90 percent.

That means of the roughly 150 pounds of mercury currently pumped into the local air every year, they can cut out 135 pounds. Results are more obvious when it comes to sulfur emissions, which will be reduced by 4,900 tons every year, they said. That means less sulfuric acid mist.

You don’t hear much about the need to reduce sulfur emissions, but that is a big deal for Iowans living downwind of the Ottumwa power plant.

Sulfur emissions form some of the most harmful and environmentally damaging pollutants in our air. Each year, uncontrolled power plants release twice as much sulfur into the air as cars, factories and trucks combined. Most of this power plant sulfur (94% nationally, 99% in the Midwest states) comes from burning coal to produce our electricity. Sulfur air pollutants from power plants include sulfur dioxide (SO2 ), a deadly gas that is toxic to communities near power plants, sulfate particulate matter, unhealthy fine particles that pollute our communities and places hundreds of miles away, and sulfuric acid that damages our environment. These air pollutants are responsible for asthma attacks, heart attacks, lost workdays, school absences and thousands of premature deaths each year.

Last week Branstad created a new way for “stakeholders” to weigh in on potential regulations affecting Iowa businesses. I hope that the governor’s staff and the leaders of state government agencies will recognize that a lot more people besides business owners have a stake in rules that affect air or water quality.

Speaking in Ottumwa on August 16, Branstad and Iowa Economic Development Authority Director Debi Durham focused on the collateral economic benefits Ottumwa will experience from the pollution control project. That is typical in communities where power plants and large factories are retrofitted. Matt Kasper of the Center for American Progress cited a 2011 report by the Ceres coalition and the University of Massachusetts Political Economy and Research Institute, which found,

Meeting new standards that limit sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, mercury and other pollutants will create, in the report’s own words, “a wide array of skilled construction and professional jobs” – from the electricians, plumbers, laborers and engineers who will build and retrofit power plants all across the eastern U.S., to operation and maintenance (O&M) employees who will keep the modernized facilities running.

The report finds that investments driven by the EPA’s two new air quality rules will create nearly 1.5 million jobs, or nearly 300,000 jobs a year on average over the next five years – and at a critical moment for a struggling economy. The end product will be an up- graded, cleaner American industry, along with good paying jobs and better health for the nation’s most vulnerable citizens. […]

Focusing on 36 states3 in the eastern half of the United States, this report evaluates the employment impacts of the electric sector’s transformation to a cleaner, mod- ern fleet through investment in pollution controls and new generation capacity and through retirement of older, less efficient generating facilities. In particular, we assess the impacts from two CAA [Clean Air Act] regulations expected to be issued in 2011: the Clean Air Transport Rule (“Transport Rule”) governing sulfur dioxide (SO2) and nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions from targeted states in the eastern half of the U.S.; and the National Emissions Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants for Utility Boilers (“Utility MACT”) rule which will, for the first time, set federal limits for hazardous air pollutants such as mercury, lead, dioxin, and arsenic. Although our analysis considers only employment- related impacts under the new air regulations, the reality is these new standards will yield numerous other concrete economic benefits, including better public health from cleaner air, increased competitiveness from developing innovative technologies and mitigation of climate change. Moreover, increased employment during this critical five year period will also benefit severely stressed state budgets through increased payroll taxes and reduced unemployment benefit costs.

I recommend clicking through to view the tables in this report, but here’s a summary of some data (emphasis in original):

between 2010 and 2015, these capital investments in pollution controls and new generation will create an estimated 1.46 million jobs or about 291,577 year-round jobs on average for each of those five years.

transforming to a cleaner, modern fleet through retirement of older, less efficient plants, installation of pollution controls and construction of new capacity will result in a net gain of over 4,254 operation and maintenance (O&M) jobs across the Eastern Interconnection. Distribution of these O&M jobs will vary from state-to-state, depending on where coal plants are retired (O&M job reduction) and where new generation capacity is installed (O&M job gains).

A report by the Environmental Integrity Project listed the Ottumwa Generating Station among the top 20 percent of mercury emitters nationwide. That power plant is also one of Iowa’s top ten greenhouse gas emitters.

Any relevant comments are welcome in this thread.

  • CO2 neutral

    Earlier leading versions of this technology (wet, instead of semi-dry) increase CO2 emissions significantly. I was curious about the impact, so I looked up the PSD (Prevention of Significant Deterioration) Review.

    It’s a trade-off. Quote:

    This is a dry scrubber system using hydrated lime for SO2 control. The use of hydrated lime does not form CO2 in the scrubbing reaction at the facility. However, producing lime from limestone would release an equivalent amount of CO2 as would a wet scrubber using limestone as the sorbent. Therefore, while the dry scrubber minimizes the CO2 released from the facility, the net global greenhouse gas emissions as a result of using a dry scrubber rather than a wet scrubber are equivalent.

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