For the first time in four decades, the Environmental Protection Agency is proposing to tighten the sulfur dioxide (SO2) air quality standard to protect public health. Power plants and other industrial facilities emit SO2 directly into the air.
Exposure to SO2 can aggravate asthma, cause respiratory difficulties, and result in emergency room visits and hospitalization. People with asthma, children, and the elderly are especially vulnerable to SO2’s effects.
“Short-term exposures to peak SO2 levels can have significant health effects – especially for children and the elderly – and leave our families and taxpayers saddled with high health care costs,” said EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson.
“We’re strengthening clean air standards, stepping up monitoring and reporting in communities most in need, and providing the American people with protections they rightly deserve,” Jackson said.
Since 40% of the nation’s electricity is generated by coal-powered plants, a new standard that is as low as the 50 parts per billion (ppb) that environmental groups are calling for, the rule could have negative effects on electric rates and the operating costs of electric vehicles.
Environmental groups are of course touting EVs as the green cars of the future, but they are costly, and so compromised in performance and packaging that it is not clear that a mass market exists for them.
The marketing problem is compounded by advances in direct-injection gasoline engines and refined hybrid technologies that are significantly increasing fuel economy, thereby decreasing greenhouse gas emissions, at a fraction of the price of EVs and with no need for costly infrastructure changes.