The Michigan utility Consumers Energy agreed to a proposed settlement with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Justice Department to reduce emission including sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, and particulate matter at its coal-fired plants, which were found to exceed allowable levels under the Clean Air Act.
The agreement will affect the company’s five Michigan coal-fired plants located in West Olive, Essexville, Muskegon, and Luna Pier. Each plant has several coal burning operating units, comprising a total of 12 units for the company as a whole.
As part of the agreement, the company said that it will shut down its seven oldest coal-fired units. These will encompass three units at the J.R. Whiting Generating Complex near Luna Pier; two at the B.C Cobb Generating Plant in Muskegon; and two at the Karn/Weadock Generating Complex near Bay City bordering Essexville.
Consumers Energy said that, “These units will comply with new interim emissions limits until their retirement in April 2016.” In the meantime the settlement agreement will require the company to continue operating existing pollution controls as well as install new pollution control technologies onto these and all of the remaining units to meet current Clean Air Act emissions standards.
The EPA says that sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide are the two predominant pollutants emitted from the power plants. The agency adds that these pollutants can be converted into fine particulate matter once in the air, which can then be “breathed in and lodged deep in the lungs, leading to a variety of health problems and even premature death.”
The EPA explains that high concentrations of sulfur dioxide can effect breathing and aggravate existing respiratory and cardiovascular disease. Those most at risk include asthmatics, individuals with bronchitis or emphysema, children, and the elderly. Sulfur dioxide is also a primary contributor to acid rain.
Nitrogen oxide is also a contributor to acid rain deteriorating water quality, as well as contributing to ground-level ozone (smog) and global warming. The EPA adds that children, people with lung problems such as asthma, and people who either work or exercise outside are also susceptible to adverse effects such as lung tissue damage.