Kentucky is number one on a list of the states with the most toxic air pollution from power plants.
The Natural Resources Defense Council analyzed the data self-reported by industries in the Toxic Release Inventory, which is managed by the federal government. The most recent data is from 2010, and that year, Kentucky’s power plants emitted more than 40 million pounds of toxic air pollution. This gives the state the dubious honor of being ranked number one in the nation.
“The first thing Kentucky has failed to do, relative to the states that have seem the most dramatic improvement, is adopt any kind of state law or regulation that requires substantial reductions in mercury or toxic pollution from the power sector,” said John Walke, the air director of the NRDC.
The 20 states profiled in the NRDC’s report—dubbed the “Toxic Twenty”—account for 92 percent of the nation’s electric sector toxic air pollution. But they also just account for 62 percent of the United States’ electricity generation.
In Kentucky, nearly 80 percent of the state’s air pollution comes from power plants that burn coal and oil. The three most polluting plants are the Paradise Fossil Plant in western Kentucky, the Big Sandy plant in eastern Kentucky and the Mill Creek Generating Station in Louisville.
Walke says the fact that most of Kentucky’s pollution is caused by power plants is both a problem and a solution “Cleaning up toxic pollution from power plants will benefit Kentucky residents to a greater degree than almost any other state in the union,” he said.
There is hope that Kentucky’s air pollution will be greatly reduced in future years. In the face of new federal air pollution regulations, the state’s power plants will be forced to install new pollution controls by 2016. The operators of the Big Sandy plant also recently announced they were reconsidering an earlier decision to burn coal at the site.
The states on the "Toxic 20" list (from worst to best) are:
- West Virginia
- North Carolina
- South Carolina