EPA Announces New Rule For Sulfur Dioxide Emissions

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced a final new health standard for sulfur dioxide (SO2) emissions. The new rule for SO2 emissions is 75 parts per billion (ppb), which is designed to protect people from short-term exposure. Monitoring requirements for SO2 are also changing. Monitors will be placed where SO2 emissions impact populated areas. All new monitors required by the new rule will begin operating no later than January 1, 2013.

Short-term exposure to SO2 mainly comes from power plants (coal) and industrial facilities. Fossil fuel combustion at power plants accounts for 73 percent of all SO2 emissions, and other industrial facilities account for 20 percent, according to the EPA. Smaller sources of SO2 emissions include extracting metal from ore, and the burning of high sulfur containing fuels by trains, large ships and non-road equipment.

Asthma is aggravated by SO2 exposure, and SO2 exposure also causes other respiratory problems. Children and elderly people are also vulnerable to effects of SO2.

The EPA estimates that the health benefits from the rule will save between $13 billion and $33 billion a year; prevent 2,300 to 5,900 premature deaths and 54,000 asthma attacks a year.

The EPA will address the secondary standard, protecting the public welfare, including the environment, in a separate review which will be completed by 2012.

EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson said, “Moving to a one-hour standard and monitoring in the areas with the highest SO2 levels is the most efficient and effective way to protect against sulfur dioxide pollution in the air we breathe.” Jackson added that SO2 is among other pollutants the EPA has been able to “significantly reduce through the Clean Air Act.” She pointed out that the new standard for SO2 is “the first in almost 40 years.”

Barbara Freese, a coal expert with the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) commented on the new rule. “There is a lot of talk about the need to curb our dependence on oil, but we have to address our coal habit, too. Unlike oil and coal, cleaner forms of energy — wind, solar and geothermal — and energy efficiency are good for public health and the environment because they emit relatively little air pollution.”

Freese pointed out that the new rule can help the U.S.  “transition to a cleaner energy economy. However, she also said that Congress needs to pass a comprehensive clean energy bill that holds polluters accountable for their global warming emissions and dramatically increases the use energy efficiency and renewable energy.”


Kelly B.
K Burch7 years ago

Then again, I reconsidered that I'll be dead when my kids have grandchildren, so it's really not my problem if they think I'm a socialist Nazi cow or a pig swilling in oil.

Kelly B.
K Burch7 years ago

The Nazi in me wants to stand up and cheer for my grandchildren while the socialist in me is thrilled.
However the bitter bargain hunter who frequents Walmart aisles is betrayed that big government is taking over and will ruin my search for the $1 razor (made in China)
Can't we all see that this placement of social costs on Big Business is only going to make us poorer sooner so that our great grankiddies can see bears in the wild? I mean can't we just strike a happy medium and allow China to construct robotic bears which will fool our children into forgiving us for our lust and greed and shortsighted ways?

Linda Mills
Linda Mills7 years ago

thanks for the good news

Lori A.
Lori A7 years ago

I guess every little bit helps.

Rodney Paige
Rodney Paige7 years ago

A small step toward progress, but real change comes with exploring energy alternatives with no harmful effects to the environment. Time to pressure big companies to let go of licensing for green technologies. The technology is there, however, licensing for manufacturing of these technologies are held by large corporations that are in line with the interests of oil companies and the auto industry. Hats off to the partnership between Toyota and Tesla, which will enable Toyota to begin manufacturing of fully electric automobiles. Now all we need is the infrastructure to support the electric automobile industry.

Sherry F.
Sherry D7 years ago

Thank you EPA for beginning a long awaiting need.

Sara T.
Sara T7 years ago

Finally the EPA is doing something about this pollutant in our air! I agree with the coal expert from the Union of Concerned Scientists, though, when she pointed out that we should focus on energy production that does little harm to the environment, like solar, geothermal and wind power! Lets get rid of our dependence on oil and coal!

Joanne B.
Joanne B7 years ago

This is a big help! It would be even better to include with this standard an annual DECREASE in the SO2 ppb allowed.

This is the strategy of The CLEAR Act,in relation to limiting carbon introduced annually--it sets a limit as of 2012, and then from 2015 on that limit is lowered by a set percentage. This carbon limiting bill is in senate committee now, and I hope it will replace in peoples mind, the Kerry Lieberman bill as "the senate climate bill." Unlike the KL bill, the CLEAR Act has no corporate or dirty energy giveaways, no trading of carbon permits, and no hardships on poor and low middle class energy consumers.

I'm sure Kerry, Lieberman and Graham were being realists at the time, and were trying to create a helpful bill that could pass. Public feeling has changed however (BP, Massey, etc.), and we can really get support for a bill that is to the point and effective. What's more, people who tend align with corporate interests may well feel it their right to have the dividend that this bill would give them monthly (75% of the carbon permit revenue divided equally among all legal USA residents), much like the dividend check Alaskans receive on their oil and gas royalty revenues.

As this article and new SO2 standard sugggest, climate is not the only reason for cleaner air. The European Environmental Agency estimates that the 20% reductions in carbon emissions to be achieved in Europe by 2020 will result in $44 billion in annual health care savings.

Wayne M.
Wayne M7 years ago

These limits are absolutely essential. We cannot continue to pollute as we have been. Our habits need to change and the habits of industries and corporations that pollute also need to change. WE OWE THIS TO OUR CHILDREN AND GRANDCHILDREN.

Gavan A.
Gavan A7 years ago

Interesting, thanks for giving us the good news!