By Duane W. Gang / The Tennessean
Toxic air pollution from Tennessee's power plants increased in 2010, putting the state among nation's worst polluters, a national environmental group said Thursday.
The Natural Resources Defense Council released its second annual "Toxic 20" list of states with the most air pollution from coal- and oil-fired power plants. Kentucky, Ohio and Pennsylvania topped the list with Tennessee ranking 11th.
Tennessee was one of the few states to increase its output of toxic air pollutants from 2009 to 2010, spewing out 9.6 million pounds of pollutants from its power plants, concluded the environmental group's report, which is based on U.S. Environmental Protection Agency data.
But John Walke, the NRDC's clean air director, said he expects pollution from power plants in Tennessee to decrease in next year's report because of actions under way by the Tennessee Valley Authority. In 2009, power plants in Tennessee emitted 8.8 million pounds of pollutants.
The 2010 data is the most recent available through the EPA's Toxic Release Inventory database, where power plants report emissions to the federal government.
"I would expect Tennessee has experienced drops from the levels we reported in 2009 compared to today," Walke said during a news conference today. "TVA has announced steps to shutter some individual units and are proceding with controls."
Walke said the jump from 2009 to 2010 in Tennessee could be from increased economic and industrial activity.
Nationwide, there was a 19 percent drop in all toxic air pollution from power plants in 2010 compared to 2009, the report found.
Walke attributed the drop to increasing use of natural gas, which is cleaner burning than coal, and measures under way by power plants to install new pollution controls in anticipation of new EPA rules.
"Toxic pollution is already being reduced as a result of EPA's health-protecting standards," Walke said in a statement. "Thanks to the agency's latest safeguards, millions of children and their families in the states hardest hit by toxic air pollution from power plants will be able to breathe easier."
Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation spokeswoman Meg Lockhart said by email Thursday that the department has not yet had a chance to review the NRDC's report and the methodology the group uses.
"However, it is TDEC's assessment that the rules and regulations of the Tennessee Air Quality Act are fully protective of air quality in the state and remain consistent with the federal Clean Air Act as set forth by EPA,'' she said. "TDEC is committed to continue working with counties in each region of the state to protect Tennessee's air quality.''