US air pollution trading scheme achieving reductions

Emissions of sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxides from power plants are both down – due to the emissions trading programme, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has announced.

According to the EPA, sulphur dioxide emissions in 2001 from participating electricity generators were 39% down on 1980 levels and 33% down on 1990 levels, a 5% drop from the previous year down to 10.6 million tonnes. Nitrogen oxide emissions in 2001 were down 25% on 1990 levels, to 4.1 million tonnes – an 8% lower than the previous year.

Only one facility covered by the NOx scheme failed to meet its targets, missing by 60 tonnes. The facility has been fined over US$166,000, at nearly US$3,000 per tonne.

Across the country as a whole, however, there was a 5% increase in nitrogen oxide emissions between 1990 and 1999, primarily due to a 17% increase in NOx emissions from vehicles, particularly heavy-duty vehicles.

The trading scheme requires a 50% cut in sulphur dioxide emissions from 1980 levels by 2010, using cap and trade. Nitrogen oxide emission cuts are being achieved with a more conventional cap system. Phase I of the scheme applied primarily to the largest coal-fired power plants, and ran until 1999. The second phase – including smaller combustion units – of the programme began in 2000, and now involves nearly 2,800 facilities reducing their sulphur dioxide emissions, over 1,000 of which are required to cut their nitrogen oxide emissions.

“Clean air means fewer Americans will suffer from respiratory-related illnesses such as asthma, lung disease and heart disease,” said EPA Administrator Christie Whitman.

The US and Canada have also announced the sixth biennial progress report on acid rain, ozone and other transboundary air quality issues. The report states that both countries are on target for meeting their targets for cutting sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxide.

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