Dangerous air pollution comes in many forms. Oxides of nitrogen, also called NOx, are harmful gases that come from burning fossil fuels. NOx contribute to particle pollution and the formation of ground level ozone, or smog. NO2, one of the NOx gases, is among the widespread air pollutants (called “criteria air pollutants”) for which there are national air quality standards to set health-protective limits in outdoor air.
NOx pollution comes from cars, trucks, buses, diesel equipment, and power plants that burn fossil fuels, among other sources. NOx can create dangerous soot and smog, which harm the health of people near and far from the pollution sources. In the case of power plant pollution, the NOx can drift hundreds of miles, crossing state borders to reach millions in downwind states.
Particle pollution is deadly, contributing to tens of thousands of premature deaths each year. It triggers asthma attacks, causes heart attacks, causes babies to be born early, and is linked to dementia. Smog is also a major health threat that exacerbates lung conditions like asthma, increases the risk of lung infections, and is linked to a wide array of serious heart and lung diseases. Both particle pollution and smog are especially dangerous for children, the elderly, and people who work outdoors, and the levels of these pollutants tend to be higher in low-income communities and communities of color.
The prevailing weather patterns in the US carry pollution from the central part of the country, where many large power plants are located, eastward toward the densely population East Coast. These “downwind” states in the East bear a large burden of air pollution drifting across state lines from heartland states. EPA’s Cross-State Air Pollution Rule (CSAPR) was created to reduce NOx pollution from power plants across the Eastern United States and help these downwind states protect their residents from dangerous smog.
In March 2021, EPA updated CSAPR for 12 Eastern states. However, more than one-third of all coal plants operating today in the Eastern US and Texas have not yet installed modern pollution controls for NOx. Even worse, many coal-fired power plants that have invested in installing pollution controls sometimes don’t operate them or don’t use them to full capacity.
Our nation’s health-based smog standard was updated and made more protective in 2015. Unfortunately, the updated CSAPR is based on the 2008 smog standard, not the more protective 2015 standard. EPA should update the CSAPR to include the 2015 smog standard. This much-needed action would reduce NOx pollution from power plants and help protect those who live near those plants or in downwind states.
EDF, Moms Clean Air Force, and M.J. Bradley & Associates have developed an interactive mapping tool to visualize NOx pollution from power plants and their adverse impacts on environmental justice communities, using data from EPA’s Environmental Justice Screening tool.
It is crucial for families to be able to see high-polluting facilities mapped out clearly. This map helps us see how racial and socioeconomic inequity relate to NOx pollution from power plants, and how far we still have to go to achieve justice in every breath. Far too many power plants are still routinely spewing massive amounts of harmful pollution into our air. With this tool, families will better understand where dangerous air pollution is coming from, so we can raise our voices to make it stop.