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EPA Says New England Air Quality Improving

Dan Tuohy / NHPR
North Country view south toward the White Mountains.

New England has met air quality standards for sulfur dioxide after improvements were seen in parts of New Hampshire, the Environmental Protection Agency announced Tuesday.

EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler said the reduced sulfur dioxide levels in central New Hampshire will result in healthier air for Granite state residents. The air quality improvements were credited to the installment of a sulfur dioxide emission control system at the Merrimack power station in 2012. The upgrades led to a 98% reduction in sulfur dioxide from the station.

"Today's announcement is tremendous news for the people of Central New Hampshire and means cleaner air, improved health outcomes, and greater economic opportunity," EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler said. "EPA is working closely with the states to help areas like Central New Hampshire reach air quality attainment, reduce regulatory burdens, and breathe new life into their local economies."

The main sources of sulfur dioxide or SO2 in the atmosphere come from power plants and other industrial facilities burning fossil fuels. Ships, locomotives and heavy equipment are also a source.

New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services Commissioner Robert Scott said in a statement that the improved air quality was a result of efforts by the state's courts, public utilities commission, state environmental regulators and the owners of the power plant. A decade ago, central New Hampshire had some of the highest levels of sulfur dioxide in the country.

Zachary Fabish, a senior attorney with the Sierra Club's Environmental Law Program, welcomed the news but said the plant in Bow still has other environmental challenges that have yet to be addressed. In March, the Sierra Club and the Conservation Law Foundation sued two utilities in federal court alleging the plant was violating the Clean Water Act. They want the plant to install cooling towers, which would address their concerns that heated water from the plant is harming the ecosystem of the Merrimack River and making it easier for invasive species to take hold.

"The coal plant continues to be a source of enormous environmental harm both through its carbon pollution and through its impacts on the Merrimack River," Fabish said, noting the equipment installed does not address the plant's carbon dioxide emissions.

Eversource, which sold the plant to Granite Shore Power, has denied the allegations in the lawsuit.

Granite Shore Power said in a statement that it was "very pleased" the plant's upgrades had been recognized by the EPA. It also said the plant operates much differently than it did in the past but did not directly address the allegations in the lawsuit.

— Michael Casey, Associated Press

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