A federal pollution reduction program unveiled Thursday will force coal-fired generating plants in 22 states -- including a 43-year-old facility in Beech Island, S.C. -- to reduce toxic emissions.
The Environmental Protection Agency's edict is expected to cut emissions of smog-causing nitrogen oxide in the 22 states by 1.1 million tons, or 28 percent, annually by 2007.
Nitrogen oxide -- emitted by older electric plants and automobiles -- is a key ingredient of ozone-causing smog, which aggravates bronchitis and respiratory ailments, especially among the elderly and children.
There are 11 aging, coal-fired plants in Georgia and 12 in South Carolina, including the Urquhart Generating Plant in Beech Island, just four miles from downtown Augusta.
Brian Duncan, a spokesman for the plant's parent company, South Carolina Electric & Gas Co., was unsure Thursday what sort of pollution control measures would be required at the 250-megawatt facility.
The Urquhart plant burns about 418,600 tons of coal annually, emitting 3,780 tons per year of nitrogen oxide, according to a database maintained by the Natural Resources Defense Council.
Jen Giegerich, Energy Advocate for the U.S. Public Interest Research Group -- an environmental watchdog organization -- said Georgia's coal-fired power plants are widely scattered, but nonetheless affect Augusta.
The closest Georgia plants to Augusta are the McIntosh Plant in Rincon and the Kraft Power Station in Port Wentworth, both owned by The Southern Co. ; and Plant Branch in Milledgeville, owned by Georgia Power, she said.
"But even though you don't have a lot of these plants in Augusta, you're still being affected by air pollution," Ms. Giegerich said. "Georgia as a state is suffering from air pollution from states like Tennessee and Alabama."
Ron Methier, air quality chief for Georgia's Environmental Protection Division, said Augusta will definitely benefit from the EPA's edict.
"These plants are mainly in north Georgia," Mr. Methier said. "But the whole point of the EPA's new rules is that these pollutants travel long distances, especially with tall smokestacks."
Although smog and air pollution normally are associated with Atlanta, Augusta's air quality has fallen below new federal ozone standards nine times this year.
Ozone was traditionally measured on a standard in which levels at any given hour could not exceed 0.120 parts per million. Augusta's air quality rarely violated that standard.
Under EPA's new rules, ozone is now measured in eight-hour averages that cannot exceed 0.080 parts per million.
Augusta's size is its biggest air quality threat, he added.
"It's the second-largest city in Georgia, it's growing rapidly, adding people, fairly industrial," he said. "Put all those things together, and when the right conditions occur, you can have high levels of ozone."
EPD will ultimately develop policies to ensure EPA's pollution reduction mandates are met, he said.
"What this rule will do is require states like Georgia to develop a plan to show EPA, `this is how we'll insure we'll meet the standard,"' Mr. Methier said.
Georgia's 11 coal-fired plants account for 23 percent of nitrogen oxide emissions statewide, and 82 percent of Georgia's releases of sulfur dioxide, which causes acid rain, according to Campaign for a Prosperous Georgia, an environmental advocacy group.
Ruth Kilpatrick, the organization's executive director, said the EPA edict is welcome news. "But this is just a first step to cleaning up power plants and out air," she said.
Associated Press reports were used in this article.
Nitrogen Oxide Emissions from Augusta area Power PlantsUrquhart (Beech Island, S.C.) 3,780 tons per year
McIntosh (Rincon, Ga.) 2,831 tons per year
Kraft (Port Wentworth, Ga.) 1,761 tons per year
Plant Branch (Milledgeville, Ga.) 31,387 tons per year.