Clean Air Debate

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An environmental group says the Parkersburg-Marietta area ranks among the nation's worst in terms of the effects of pollution, but the operator of one of the power plants targeted as a culprit, says things are improving.

The Ohio Environmental Council unveiled a report saying the Mid-Ohio Valley ranks tenth in the nation in deaths due to smokestack emissions. Its prime target: emissions from area power plants.

"The older plants are all coal-fired plants," says Jack Shaner, spokesman for the Ohio Environmental Council. "They're grandfathered under the Clean Air Act, and they did not have to meet modern pollution standards."

People often wonder, in a relatively sparsely populated area like the Mid-Ohio Valley, why pollution is such a problem. Environmentalists say it's because of residents' proximity to industrial plants.

Ranking in the group's top 40 for polluters is the American Electric Power plant in Beverly. AEP put out a statement coinciding with the environmental council's announcement, stating it has installed emission control devices at the Muskingum River plant, as well as other company plants in Ohio and West Virginia.

"It's no coincidence they're installing these controls," says Dr. Eric Fitch, Director of Marietta College's Environmental Science Program. "They're facing new regulations coming in."

The group's biggest target, however, is the Bush administration. The environmental council says the white house needs to enforce clean air laws already on the books.

"Power companies are trying to minimize their costs.," Shaner says "They're running plants well beyond what Congress expected them to."

The same study says West Virginia leads the nation in per capita deaths related to power plant pollution, while Ohio ranks fourth.