Cross-state air pollution from the electric power sector continues to kill Americans. Decade’s coal plant closures saved 26K lives in US: study. Fracking bills introduced.

Midwestern states are the biggest exporters of air pollution, while Northeastern states are the leading importers.

BY REBECCA BEITSCH, The Hill, 01/06/20

Shuttering of coal plants has saved 26K lives in US: study

The decline of coal could be saving thousands of lives as power plants reduce air pollution by switching to natural gas, according to a study published Monday.

More than 26,000 lives in the U.S. were saved over the course of a decade as a result of a drop in carbon emissions, along with smog and other pollutants tied with asthma and other ailments, according to a University of California, San Diego study published in the journal Nature.

Coal has been losing ground to both natural gas and renewable forms of energy like wind and solar, despite efforts by the Trump administration to bolster the industry.

From 2005 to 2016, the period analyzed in the study, 334 coal-fired units were shut down, while 612 new natural gas-fired units came online across the U.S.

“Decommissioning of a coal-fired unit was associated with reduced nearby pollution concentrations and subsequent reductions in mortality and increases in crop yield,” the study said.

Those changes, alongside better emissions controls, led to an 80 percent drop in sulfur dioxide and a 60 percent drop in nitrogen oxides.

The study found the health benefits from the decrease in pollution were almost immediate and corresponded with a drop in the mortality rate.

Natural gas, however, is “not entirely benign,” the study noted, as the fossil fuel is a major source of methane — a heat-trapping gas more potent than carbon.


Neela Banerjee Inside Climate News Feb 12, 2020

Power Plant. Credit: plus49/Construction Photography/Avalon/Getty Images
A shift in U.S. energy use may have helped the decline of premature deaths associated with air pollution. Credit: plus49/Construction Photography/Avalon/Getty Images

More than four in 10 deaths in the United States associated with air pollution can be attributed to emissions that came from states other than where the deaths occurred, according to a study published Wednesday in the journal Nature.

The easterly drift of emissions across the country is known as cross-state air pollution, the largest source of which has historically been fossil fuel-burning power plants. The new study identifies the key trends in cross-state air pollution from 2005 to 2018, including which sectors of the economy contribute the most pollution, which states are net exporters of pollutants, and which states suffer most from air pollution wafting across their borders. 

Overall, premature deaths associated with air pollution from fossil fuel combustion declined markedly, or by about 30 percent, over the 14-year period studied, thanks to a shift to renewable energy, curbs on particulate matter in the air, and greater fuel efficiency in automobiles. The percentage of premature deaths attributable to out-of-state pollutants also fell, from 53 percent in 2005 to 41 percent in 2018, according to the study, which was conducted by researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and funded in part by the Environmental Protection Agency. 

The sector that showed the greatest reduction in deaths linked to its emissions was power generation. In 2005, emissions from electric utilities accounted for about one of every four early deaths linked to cross-state air pollution. By 2018, the industry accounted for about one of every eight deaths. 

Electricity generation owes much of the reduction to the ongoing industry-wide switch from coal to natural gas and renewables, and to increased regulation. It is the only sector whose emissions are limited by the EPA under the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule. The Trump administration has worked to ease those limits, an effort stymied so far by litigation brought by East Coast states whose residents are most seriously harmed by cross-state air pollution.

The study, which MIT researchers launched in 2012, is meant in part to provide regulators and policymakers with a fine-grained understanding of the states and industries that bear the most responsibility for cross-state pollution. “This sort of information from peer-reviewed studies shows the impact of transboundary pollutants, and hopefully will be taken into account by the judiciary and the EPA when they interpret the Clean Air Act,” said the study’s principal investigator, Steven R.H. Barrett, professor of aeronautics and astronautics at MIT.

Although the EPA partially funded the study, it declined to comment on the findings, citing the ongoing litigation over the cross-state air pollution rule.

John Walke, director of the clean air program at the Natural Resources Defense Council, said the study underscores the need to continue tightening air pollution standards, rather than adhering to the Trump EPA’s broad environmental deregulatory agenda. 

“What this study and the data show are that air pollution from the electric power sector continues to kill Americans and EPA must do more,” Walke said. “We know that tiny soot particles are harmful, even deadly, at any level. We know that downwind states cannot control emissions from upwind states. It’s EPA’s job to enforce the law by making upwind states clean up their own pollution, or EPA must step in to demand those reductions.”

Outdoor air pollution accounts for five to 10 percent of annual premature deaths in the United States, according to the study. The pollutants that most frequently account for premature deaths are ground-level ozone, or smog, and fine suspended particles from combustion known as PM2.5., which are smaller than 2.5 micrometers in diameter, or 30 times smaller than the width of a human hair.  Combustion of fossil fuels is the greatest source of these pollutants in the U.S., and estimates of early deaths attributed to them range from 90,000 to 360,000 people annually, the study said.

Ozone travels farther from its emissions sources than PM2.5, but fine particles are more damaging to human health. Ground-level ozone reduces lung function and is particularly dangerous for people with respiratory ailments such as asthma. PM2.5 can worsen heart and respiratory illnesses, diabetes and Parkinson’s disease. In late 2019, a Harvard study concluded that even short-term exposure to the microscopic pollutant could lead to increased hospitalization among elderly Americans for conditions as diverse as septicemia, or blood poisoning, kidney failure, urinary tract infections, skin and other tissue infections.

Efforts to reduce PM2.5, ozone and other pollutants often lead to an overall reduction in the use of fossil fuels, which in turn helps lower emissions of greenhouse gases that drive climate change.

The study looked at air pollution trends in the contiguous 48 states, and tracked emissions from seven sources: power generation; industry; commercial and residential sector; road transportation; marine; rail and aviation. 

Northeastern states, including those currently suing the EPA over the pollution rule, were consistently “net importers” of pollution, meaning that more pollution entered their borders than they emitted toward their neighbors. Over the 14-year period studied, New York was the “highest net importer of deaths,” the analysis said, with around 60 percent of its premature deaths attributable to emissions from out of state. 

The biggest exporters of air pollution were states in the northern Midwest, led by Wyoming and North Dakota, “owing to low local populations, high emissions, and large downwind populations,” the study said. Farther east, West Virginia was also a large emitter. All three states are heavily reliant on coal-fired electricity generation. But the study noted that even those states saw a 50 percent drop in the premature deaths their pollution could be linked to. 

Besides power generation, other sectors also experienced a reduction in emissions and with it, a drop in the premature deaths linked to them. A sharp fall in road transportation emissions grew out of more stringent federal fuel economy standards over the last decade. Now, the Trump administration has moved to freeze mileage standards at 2020 levels, hobbling the chances of further pollution reductions from vehicles.

The biggest culprit of dangerous pollutants now is the commercial and residential real estate sector, which by 2018 surpassed power generation in the number of estimated premature deaths linked to it. Driven in part by continued reliance on heating from fossil fuels such as natural gas and heating oil, homes and commercial spaces accounted for about 28,200 premature deaths in 2018, or 28 percent of the estimated total of 66,100. 

For each of the lower 48 states, the researchers traced pollution going to and from the other 47. The study was based on vast sets of data the researchers drew from multiple sources, including the EPA’s National Emissions Inventory, a “census” of pollution the regulator conducts only every few years, MIT’s Barrett said. As a result, the study examined emissions data from 2005, 2011 and 2018, the three most recent occasions when the NEI was conducted. The analysis retraced the weather and wind patterns for each hour of every year studied, and employed an air chemistry transport model to calculate the impact of air pollution in all 48 states. 

Barrett said his team is busy with the next phase of their research into cross-state pollution: tracking pollution in a given state back to individual sources, whether a power plant, busy road or neighborhood. PUBLISHED UNDER: CLEAN ENERGYREGULATIONAIR POLLUTIONHEALTHRENEWABLE ENERGYNATURAL GASFOSSIL FUELS

Ocasio-Cortez introduces national fracking ban

BY JUSTINE COLEMAN, The Hill, 02/12/20

Ocasio-Cortez introduces national fracking ban

© Greg Nash

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), along with Rep. Darren Soto (D-Fla.) officially introduced a national fracking ban in the House.

The bill, announced at the end of last month, serves as a companion bill to the Senate legislation proposed by Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), one that Ocasio-Cortez helped draft. Both bills would ban fracking across the nation by 2025.  The laws would also prohibit fracking within 2,500 feet of homes and schools by February 2021. They also would provide a transition for working families in the fracking industry.

Fracking is destroying our land and our water,” Ocasio-Cortez posted on Twitter. “It is wreaking havoc on our communities’ health. We must do our job to protect our future from the harms caused by the fracking industry. That is why I am proud to introduce the Fracking Ban Act with @RepDarrenSoto today.”

Soto said in a statement that fracking poses a hazard to “our health, safety and environment.”

“If we want to transition from fossil fuel emissions as we work towards building a 100 percent clean economy, pulling back from fracking is a critical first step,” he said. “Failure to act will only make the crisis at hand even more detrimental for future generations of Americans.” 

Sanders has vowed during his presidential campaign to eliminate fracking in the country if he wins in 2020. American Petroleum Institute spokeswoman Bethany Aronhalt told The Hill in a statement last month that a ban could produce an increase in household energy costs. “Banning a safe, successful method of developing energy would erase a generation of American energy progress and in the process destroy millions of U.S. jobs, spike household energy costs and hurt farmers and manufacturers,” she said after the Senate bill was first announced.



Bernie’s Fracking bill – Senate

Sponsor:Sen. Sanders, Bernard [I-VT] (Introduced 01/28/2020)
Committees:Senate – Energy and Natural Resources
Latest Action:Senate – 01/28/2020 Read twice and referred to the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources.  (All Actions)

Text: S.3247 — 116th Congress (2019-2020)All Information (Except Text)

There is one version of the bill. Text available as:

Shown Here: Introduced in Senate (01/28/2020)

2d Session

S. 3247

To ban the practice of hydraulic fracturing, and for other purposes.


Mr. Sanders (for himself and Mr. Merkley) introduced the following bill; which was read twice and referred to the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources


To ban the practice of hydraulic fracturing, and for other purposes.

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled,


This Act may be cited as the “Fracking Ban Act”.


Congress finds that—

(1) the chemicals injected into the ground during the hydraulic fracturing process include acids, detergents, and toxic chemicals that put drinking water at risk;

(2) hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, extracts natural gas containing methane, a greenhouse gas that traps more than 86 times the heat of carbon dioxide in the short term;

(3) the process of fracking results in further methane leakages that could increase carbon pollution in the United States by 25 percent by 2050;

(4) fracked natural gas is not a bridge fuel, as previously understood;

(5) even if every coal plant were replaced by fracked gas electricity by 2030, emissions would remain on track to grow through 2050 due in part to pervasive methane leaks that make fracked gas as dangerous as coal;

(6) similarly, even if methane leaks could be totally eliminated, the direct emissions from burning the huge volumes of natural gas the United States plans to produce in the next decade do not fit in safe climate scenarios;

(7) the American Petroleum Institute reports that “up to 95% of natural gas wells in the next decade in the United States will be fracked”;

(8) renewable energy and storage eliminate any need for fracked gas;

(9) all the technologies needed to support a transition to 100 percent renewable electricity exist at commercial scale and equal or cheaper costs compared to fossil fuels;

(10) significant carbon reductions are impossible if even 10 percent of electricity comes from natural gas going forward;

(11) in some instances, fracking operations violate property rights by taking the land of property owners for drilling and transportation of fracked gas;

(12) in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, the Transcontinental Gas Pipe Line Company, or Transco, seized private land and began construction for a fracked gas pipeline before the landowners could appear in court to protest and once the landowners did file an official protest, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission allowed Transco to continue construction while the case was decided in court;

(13) scientists, along with governmental agencies in the United States and Canada, report that fracking and fracking wastewater injections can be linked to earthquakes all across North America, including in the States of Pennsylvania, Oklahoma, Texas, Kansas, and Arkansas and in British Columbia;

(14) fracking contaminates ground and surface water with toxic chemicals though waste discharge, underground migration of fracking gas and chemicals into drinking water sources, and spills;

(15) numerous scientific studies have shown that the chemicals referred to in paragraph (14) cause serious negative health impacts such as cancer and birth defects;

(16) in addition to toxic chemicals injected underground, fracking fluid traveling back up to the surface contains additional toxic substances such as heavy metals, arsenic, barium, strontium, uranium, radium, and radon;

(17) fracking pollutes the air and substantially contributes to ground-level ozone, which can cause serious negative health impacts such as strokes, heart attacks, and asthma;

(18) research shows that expectant mothers living near heavy fracking in the State of Pennsylvania were significantly more likely to experience a high-risk pregnancy or give birth prematurely;

(19) studies have linked drilling and fracking to elevated incidences of infant deaths, high-risk pregnancies, and low birth weight in the States of Colorado and Texas;

(20) the fracking industry regularly disposes of waste that will remain radioactive for thousands of years by spraying it on roads next to homes and farms;

(21) the climate crisis represents a national emergency to the future stability, prosperity, and general welfare of the United States and a growing body of scientific research has demonstrated that leakage, venting, and flaring of methane and other greenhouse gases in the course of oil and gas production and transmission significantly contributes to increased climate change;

(22) a global rise in temperatures of more than 1.5 degrees Celsius would result in irreversible and catastrophic changes to public health, livelihoods, quality of life, food security, water supplies, human security, and economic growth;

(23) limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius requires global carbon pollution emissions to be cut in half by 2030, and completely eliminated by 2050;

(24) the United States is on track to account for 60 percent of world growth in oil and gas production by 2030 and extract enough new oil and gas by 2050 to make it impossible to avoid a rise in temperatures of more than 1.5 degrees Celsius;

(25) fracking can expose workers to toxic substances like radon, the second-leading cause of lung cancer in the United States, in concentrations hundreds of times more radioactive than the legal limit for nuclear power plant discharges, as well as other dangerous substances like silica dust;

(26) low-income communities, communities of color, indigenous communities, and other environmental justice communities in the United States are disproportionately exposed to pollution from hydraulic fracturing;

(27) more than 17,000,000 individuals in the United States, including 1,400,000 young children and 1,100,000 elderly people, live within a mile of an oil or natural gas well or an oil or natural gas processing, transmission, and storage facility;

(28) the air in many African-American communities violates air quality standards for ozone smog, and more than 1,000,000 African Americans live within a half mile of oil and natural gas wells or processing, transmission, and storage facilities;

(29) children in African-American communities experience 138,000 additional asthma attacks and 101,000 lost school days each year due to ozone increases from natural gas emissions;

(30) frontline and vulnerable communities that are currently being exposed to fracking will also be hit hardest by the impacts of climate change;

(31) several States, including the States of Vermont, New York, Washington, and Maryland, and cities, counties, and towns across the United States, have banned hydraulic fracturing;

(32) the Federal Government should follow the lead of the States, cities, counties, and towns that have banned hydraulic fracturing by banning hydraulic fracturing on all onshore and offshore land in the United States;

(33) the Federal Government should commit to transitioning toward energy efficiency and 100-percent-sustainable energy sources, such as wind and solar;

(34) exporting liquefied natural gas requires supercooling fracked natural gas, an energy intensive process that makes the climate impacts even worse;

(35) the process described in paragraph (34) requires major investments in expensive new dirty energy infrastructure that poses risk of disastrous explosions;

(36) the Interstate Commerce Clause of section 8 of article I of the Constitution of the United States provides Congress the power to regulate or ban fracking due to the substantial role of oil and gas in the stream of interstate commerce and the fact that produced waters generated from the practice of hydraulic fracturing are transported across State lines;

(37) under the Foreign Commerce Clause of section 8 of article I of the Constitution of the United States, Congress has the power to regulate commerce with foreign nations, and the practice of hydraulic fracturing has a substantial and growing effect on national and international oil and gas markets;

(38) the Federal Government must provide fossil fuel workers, and the communities in which they live, with a just and fair transition away from the fossil fuel industry, including by guaranteeing the incomes, training, healthcare, and pensions of affected workers, creating new, high-wage, unionized, green jobs, and investing in economic development and infrastructure in fossil fuel communities;

(39) the Federal Government must assist frontline and vulnerable communities that have been most polluted by the fossil fuel industry by cleaning up pollution, remediating negative health impacts, and building resilient infrastructure to prepare for the unavoidable impacts of climate change;

(40) the Federal Government must hold the fossil fuel industry accountable by requiring the fossil fuel industry to pay for the costs of cleaning up pollution and preparing communities for the unavoidable impacts of climate change;

(41) hydraulic fracturing activities and related infrastructure create public nuisances for local communities, impact disproportionally affected communities, and create a public nuisance nationwide by exacerbating negative impacts of climate change, including worse heat waves, floods, droughts, extreme weather, spread of disease, and sea level rise; and

(42) hydraulic fracturing is not in the national interest of the United States.


In this Act:

(1) ACID.—The term “acid” means any fluid injected into crude oil- or natural gas-bearing geological formations to create, dissolve, etch, erode, or increase the permeability of fractures or fissures.

(2) COMMITTEE.—The term “Committee” means the Just Transition Committee established under section 4(d)(1).

(3) FRACKING; HYDRAULIC FRACTURING.—The terms “fracking” and “hydraulic fracturing” include the practice of injecting acids, chemicals, proppants, solvents, and other fluids underground to create fractures or fissures in oil- or natural gas-bearing geological formations to extract oil or natural gas.

(4) FRONTLINE AND VULNERABLE COMMUNITY.—The term “frontline and vulnerable community” means a community in which climate change, pollution, or environmental destruction have exacerbated systemic racial, regional, social, environmental, and economic injustices by disproportionately affecting indigenous peoples, communities of color, migrant communities, deindustrialized communities, depopulated rural communities, the poor, low-income workers, women, the elderly, the unhoused, people with disabilities, or youth.

(5) PRODUCED WATERS.—The term “produced waters” means liquids produced as a byproduct during the fracking process.

(6) PROPPANT.—The term “proppant” means any material intended to keep a hydraulic fracture open during or after the extraction of oil or natural gas.

(7) SOLVENT.—The term “solvent” means any fluid, including steam, injected into oil- or natural gas-bearing geological formations for the purpose of liquefying, decreasing the viscosity of, or increasing the flow of any other injected fluid or oil or natural gas.


(a) In General.—No Federal agency may approve any Federal permit for the expansion of hydraulic fracturing or fracked oil and natural gas infrastructure, including new hydraulic fracturing operations, new pipelines, new liquefied natural gas or oil export terminals, new natural gas storage, new ethane cracker plants, new natural gas power generation plants, or other infrastructure intended to extract, transport, or burn natural gas or oil.

(b) Survey.—

(1) IN GENERAL.—Not later than January 31, 2021, the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency shall complete a national survey of all oil and natural gas wells in the United States to identify all wells where hydraulic fracturing has been used or is in the process of being used.

(2) INCLUSIONS.—The survey under paragraph (1) shall include, with respect to each well identified under the survey as a well where hydraulic fracturing has been used or is in the process of being used, data on—

(A) the location of the well;

(B) the proximity of the well to homes, schools, and other inhabited structures;

(C) the historic, current, and future production rates of the well; and

(D) any known health and safety violations of the well.

(c) Revocation Of Permits.—Effective on February 1, 2021—

(1) all Federal operating permits for any well identified under the survey under subsection (b) as a well where hydraulic fracturing has been used or is in the process of being used and found to be operating within 2,500 feet of a home, school, or other inhabited structure shall be immediately revoked; and

(2) the well shall immediately cease all production operations.

(d) Just Transition Committee.—

(1) IN GENERAL.—Not later than 60 days after the date of enactment of this Act, the Secretary of Labor shall establish a multistakeholder, multiagency committee, to be known as the “Just Transition Committee”, which shall include the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Education, the Department of Energy, and the Department of Commerce.

(2) REPORT.—

(A) IN GENERAL.—Not later than January 1, 2021, the Committee shall submit to Congress a report that details the recommendations of the Committee for ensuring the health and safety of individuals residing in, and the prosperity of, natural gas- and oil-producing regions during the phaseout of the production of natural gas and oil in those regions.

(B) CONSULTATION REQUIRED.—In preparing the report under subparagraph (A), the Committee shall consult with relevant stakeholders, including representatives of organized labor, frontline and vulnerable communities, and State and local governmental representatives of the natural gas- and oil-producing regions referred to in subparagraph (A).

(e) Prohibition.—Beginning on January 1, 2025, the practice of hydraulic fracturing for oil and natural gas is prohibited on all onshore and offshore land in the United States.