For a short time, Globe pages displayed a somewhat odd article on power-plant air pollution from an AP reporter based in northeast Oklahoma. The topic is a dust-up between American Electric Power (AEP) and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). [ Justin Juozapavicius, Associated Press, AEP disputes study linking plants to 3,200 deaths, Boston Globe, April 29, 2012, at http://www.boston.com/news/education/higher/articles/2012/04/28/aep_disputes_study_linking_plants_to_3200_deaths/ ]

NRDC recently estimated that air pollution from AEP power-plants causes up to 3,200 premature deaths per year in the U.S. Oklahoma is involved because one of the 26 coal-fired AEP power plants is located there. However, most of the AEP plants are in Ohio and West Virginia, and their most severe pollution impacts are felt across southern Pennsylvania. AEP managers are displeased over being singled out by NRDC. [ Peter Altman, Hidden costs of American Electric Power's pollution, Natural Resources Defense Council, 2012, at http://switchboard.nrdc.org/blogs/paltman/Plug%20into%20Death%20and%20Disease%20FINAL~.pdf ]

Should we in Massachusetts be concerned? Perhaps. In 2011, Massachusetts achieved its first statewide compliance with all EPA air-pollution standards. Parts of the state are marginal. Nantucket is impacted by pollution drifting from metropolitan New York City and the Brayton Point plant in Somerset. The Springfield area is impacted by pollution drifting from central Pennsylvania and upstate New York. The coal-fired power plants of most significance don't happen to be run by AEP.

The main concern behind the NDRC report was health effects of fine particle (PM-2.5) pollution. However, it had to rely on indirect estimates, because the U.S. EPA is still not monitoring PM-2.5 emissions routinely, even though dangers have been known since the 1970s. Most recently, PM-2.5 monitoring was caught up in a long legal struggle over corrupt regulations from the Walker Bush administration.

Scams by the Bush administration--setting up phony, ineffective or harmful regulations--were halted by state lawsuits, in a dramatic series of major court rulings. The former Clean Air Interstate Rule was vacated July 11, 2008, by a decision in North Carolina v. Environmental Protection Agency (3rd Circuit, 05-1244). The former Clean Air Mercury Rule and Delisting Rule were vacated February 8, 2008, by a decision in New Jersey, et al. v. Environmental Protection Agency (3rd Circuit, 05-1097). EPA was ordered to come up with new regulations, and that is what the Obama administration did in December, 2011. In the meantime, we have not been recording, on a routine and consistent basis, fine particulates that power-plants are releasing.