sulfur dioxide

Electricity supply endangered by EPA regulations

The Environmental Protection Agency is promulgating new regulations regarding emissions of nitrogen dioxide, sulfur dioxide, and ozone which may greatly increase the cost of electricity, cause some power plants to close, and endanger our ability to produce adequate power.

According to Investors Business Daily:

The Cross-State Pollution Rule, announced last month, and its implementation over the next 18 months will likely result in the loss of a fifth of the nation’s electricity-generating capacity.

The rule requires [coal-fired power plants] in 27 states to slash emissions of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide by 73% and 54%, respectively, from 2005 levels by 2014.

Up to 110 gigawatts of capacity came on-line between 1940 and 1969 and were grand fathered under the Clean Air Act. Now the EPA is saying bring them up to their code or shut them down.

An analysis released earlier last month by the National Economic Research Associates used government data to examine the combined impacts of this latest rule and other EPA rules and found the EPA’s actions would cause a net job loss of more than 1.4 million job-years by 2020.

Even the New York Times says “Because of new Environmental Protection Agency rules, and some yet to be written, many of those [power] plants are expected to close in coming years.”

The Washington Times reports:

The EPA said it would soon release updated ozone regulations that are going to kill jobs and impose substantial costs on the U.S. economy – at least $90 billion, by its own estimates, and $1 trillion annually between 2020 and 2030 according to industry estimates.

The Clean Air Act requires the EPA to review standards every five years. The EPA last did so three years ago. Why the rush to imposes new stricter standards two years early? Is this political science rather than real science? According to the EPA, ozone levels have been falling since 1980 and are now just 50% of what they were then.

Sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, and ozone are associated with fine particulate matter which is regulated by the EPA.

Again from the Washington Times:

What if today’s levels of air pollution didn’t kill anybody? That certainly would be bad news for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which has spent the past 15 years stubbornly defending its extraordinarily expensive and ever-tightening air-quality regulations.

The EPA claims airborne fine particulate matter kills tens of thousands annually and that the prevention of those deaths will provide society $2 trillion annually in monetized health benefits by 2020.

But we can debunk those claims with more than mere criticisms of EPA’s statistical malpractice and secret data. We have actual data that simply discredit the EPA’s claims.

Continue reading.

For the most part, current standards have been met, so the EPA is moving the goal posts. The EPA has yet to provide any solid scientific justification for these regulations. And the regulations will greatly harm our economy. But regulators tend to regulate to justify their own existence. How clean is clean enough?

For a more in-depth analysis see: Pretending Air Pollution Is Worse Than It Is from Junkscience.com.

NASA says volcanoes, not coal burning is major source of sulfur dioxide in atmosphere

Sulfur dioxide (SO2) aerosols in the atmosphere are due mainly to increasing volcanic activity not from burning coal, according to NASA.  Sulfur dioxide aerosols have a cooling effect and have recently been blamed for “hiding global warming.”

Citation: Vernier, J.-P., et al. (2011), Major influence of tropical volcanic eruptions on the stratospheric aerosol layer during the last decade, Geophys. Res. Lett., 38, L12807, doi:10.1029/2011GL047563.

The abstract reads:

The variability of stratospheric aerosol loading between 1985 and 2010 is explored with measurements from SAGE II, CALIPSO, GOMOS/ENVISAT, and OSIRIS/Odin space-based instruments. We find that, following the 1991 eruption of Mount Pinatubo, stratospheric aerosol levels increased by as much as two orders of magnitude and only reached “background levels” between 1998 and 2002. From 2002 onwards, a systematic increase has been reported by a number of investigators. Recently, the trend, based on ground-based lidar measurements, has been tentatively attributed to an increase of SO2 entering the stratosphere associated with coal burning in Southeast Asia. However, we demonstrate with these satellite measurements that the observed trend is mainly driven by a series of moderate but increasingly intense volcanic eruptions primarily at tropical latitudes. These events injected sulfur directly to altitudes between 18 and 20 km. The resulting aerosol particles are slowly lofted into the middle stratosphere by the Brewer-Dobson circulation and are eventually transported to higher latitudes.

See also:

Volcanoes may have greater influence on climate than previously thought

So now burning coal causes cooling?

So now burning coal causes cooling?

Climate modelers are having a problem. The global temperature is not cooperating with the way the modelers say it should if their theories are correct. We learned of their consternation from the “Climategate” emails: Kevin Trenberth of the National Center for Atmospheric Research said, “The fact is that we can’t account for the lack of warming at the moment, and it is a travesty that we can’t.”

Now the modelers claim that China has saved the day by burning coal. A paper in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (written, by the way, by two geographers and two economists) claim that increased coal burning in China has put enough sulfur dioxide (SO2) in the air to block the alleged warming effect of carbon dioxide.

The logical, but perhaps absurd, conclusion of this claim is that we should abandon wind turbines and solar arrays, to burn much more coal.

If we stipulate that air quality near Chinese coal-burning power plants is foul, the question remains: is this a local effect or is it world-wide, enough to affect global temperature? Well, apparently the effect is not world-wide. The EPA measures air quality and the graph below shows that in the U.S., sulfur dioxide content of the air has been steadily decreasing. (Source )

SO2 air quality

 This “China syndrome” seems to be another attempt to explain away the failings of climate modeling and the divergence between model predictions and real-world observations. Perhaps the IPCC had it right when they said in their Third Assessment Report: “In climate research and modeling, we should recognize that we are dealing with a coupled non-linear chaotic system, and therefore that the prediction of a specific future climate state is not possible.”

UPDATE: New NASA paper says volcanoes primarily responsible for increased SO2:

Recently, the trend, based on ground-based lidar measurements, has been tentatively attributed to an increase of SO(2) entering the stratosphere associated with coal burning in Southeast Asia. However, we demonstrate with these satellite measurements that the observed trend is mainly driven by a series of moderate but increasingly intense volcanic eruptions primarily at tropical latitudes.

See also:

A Basic Error in Climate Models

Climate Model Projections vs Real World Observations

How Mother Nature Fools Climate Scientists

Your Carbon Footprint doesn’t Matter

A Modest Proposal: Triple Your Carbon Footprint

Some Effects of Volcanic Ash Eruptions

Yesterday I wrote about the geologic setting of the Iceland volcanic eruptions. Fellow blogger Carolyn Classen asked about “vog” the volcanic smog caused by Hawaiian volcanic eruptions.

There is a variety of opinion on the health effects of the volcanic ash. Close to the eruption site, there is a danger from volcanic gases (such as carbon dioxide, fluorine, and sulfur dioxide) to both humans and livestock. In some Hawaiian eruptions the sulfur dioxide produces smog and acid rain. Acid rain can cause crop damage. And from living in Douglas, AZ, when the copper smelter was active, I know that sulfur dioxide really cleans out your sinuses. But for ash dispersed farther away, Britain’s Health Protection Agency said the concentration of ash particles that may reach the ground “is likely to be low and should not cause serious harm.”

According to the U.S. Geological Survey vog (volcanic smog) is a mixture that includes gases but is predominately aerosols (tiny particles and droplets) formed when volcanic gas reacts with moisture, oxygen, and sunlight. It is this unique mixture of gas and aerosols that makes vog both difficult to study and potentially more harmful than either gases or particles alone. What we have learned from limited studies about the aerosols that comprise vog is that most of the aerosols are acidic and are of a size that is readily retained by the lung. Also, studies done in urban areas having similar pollutants show that these types of aerosols degrade lung function and can compromise our immune system. These effects are especially pronounced for children, individuals who have chronic asthma or other respiratory impairments, or those with circulatory problems. Remember, though, that these are studies of mainland urban areas that have similar pollutants, not studies of vog itself.

According to the International Volcanic Health Hazard Network, in most eruptions, volcanic ash causes very few health problems. In fact, officials there say, there is “almost no risk to people” from this particular ash eruption.

Any effects people do feel are likely to be minor. People may experience itchy or irritated eyes, a runny nose, sore throat or dry cough, or they may notice the smell of sulphur or see a dusty haze, the British Health Protection Agency said. Eyes can become painful, itchy, or bloodshot or produce a sticky discharge, and gritty pieces can scratch the cornea, causing abrasions or a non-contagious form of pinkeye. Skin irritation is less common, but if the ash is acidic, skin could redden and become irritated

But those with pre-existing respiratory problems could experience bronchitis or asthma-type symptoms like wheezing and shortness of breath because fine ash particles can irritate airways, causing them to compress, or they can cause the lining to make more secretions inducing coughing and heavy breathing. Livestock and pets may also be affected.

A study of the Soufrière Hills stratovolcano on the Caribbean island of Montserrat which has been erupting since 1995 says that long-term exposure to high levels of volcanic ash could lead to silicosis. (See: http://tinyurl.com/y262a28 )

The ash may be good for the oceans. According to several studies (noted by Scripps Institution of Oceanography) the initial dissolution of volcanic ash in seawater provides an external nutrient source for primary production in ocean surface waters that may stimulate biological drawdown of CO2. Volcanic ash releases large amounts of phosphate, iron, and other “macronutrients and ‘bioactive’ trace metals. These same nutrients produce fertile soils on land.

The ash poses danger to aircraft engines and some instruments such as pitot tubes (for gauging air speed). The danger could last for months. “The problem with the ash is that it’s difficult to detect except in large concentrations, but we don’t know how low a concentration is ‘safe,’ so flight traffic controllers have to err on the side of caution,” said Jonathan Fink, an ASU professor and volcanologist whose specialty is studying volcanoes and their aftermath. “The major danger occurs when ash gets sucked into the engines, melts into glass and then that glass fuses to the engine parts. The ash also damages windows and windscreens, making it hard for pilots to see. Ash has not caused any commercial airliner to crash yet, but it’s come very close.”

The haze of suspended ash will produce beautiful sunsets.