NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Power Needs Trump Environmental Concerns In Some Western Areas

March 26, 2001

States are not permitted to approve construction of a new power plant if the added emissions would exceed a given area's air-quality standards, as set forth by the Environmental Protection Agency. But often they do.

Power plant emissions -- combined with other sources of pollution, like cars and construction vehicles -- can push an area out of compliance with EPA standards.

  • Energy companies have dozens of projects under construction, ready to go or on the drawing boards in nine Western states, including California -- most of which would be fueled by natural gas.
  • More than half the regions -- 70 out of 114 -- that the EPA currently cites as failing to meet federal air-quality standards for one pollutant or another are in 11 Western states.

Citizens' response to plans for building new power plants is largely supportive, observers report.

  • In Arizona, for example, there could be as many as 10 new power plants in operation by 2005 and 13 more are in the early stages of approval -- with the full backing of the three-member regulatory panel that approves plant construction.
  • The state's power capacity -- currently 30,509 megawatts -- would increase by 5,260, with one megawatt supporting about 1,000 homes.
  • Arizona's Gov. Jane Dee Hull (R) points out that pollution concerns could be overblown -- since as newer, cleaner-burning plants begin operating, older, less efficient plants would be shut down.

Arizona's population has grown 40 percent since 1990. Officials in some areas report that when plans for new plants are announced, they encounter "no opposition whatsoever." Others observe that Arizona residents recognize the need for more power and welcome the growth.

Source: Michael Janofsky, "States Face Tough Tradeoff in Race to Create Power," New York Times, March 26, 2001.  


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