New Pollution Fees Follow Lower Emissions 

Memphis City Council passes ordinance doubling pollution permit cost.

Polluting the Memphis air is about to get a little more expensive.

Companies will soon pay higher fees for a permit to pollute and for the amount of pollution they emit. The fees are thanks to an ordinance approved by the Memphis City Council on Tuesday.

The ordinance doubles the cost of a permit from $1,000 to $2,000. Certain polluters are considered "major sources" of pollution by the Environmental Protection Agency, and in Shelby County, they pay a fee for every ton of pollution they emit. That fee increased $5 per ton, from $43 to $48.

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  • Toby Sells

Increasing the fees was strictly a move to support the Shelby County Air Pollution Control Board, which monitors polluters here and grants pollution permits.

"As the air becomes cleaner and we have fewer pollutants in the air — smaller quantities — it becomes necessary to increase the per-ton fee to balance our budget," said Yvonne Madlock, director of the Memphis and Shelby County Health Department. "At the same time, we also realize that with fewer pollutants and fewer entities, we have less demand on our services."

Madlock said the new fees are supported by the Greater Memphis Chamber of Commerce, industry leaders, and the Shelby County Commission. Bob Rogers, the air board's technical manager of pollution control, said of the 28 "major source" polluters in Shelby County, 25 of them are in Memphis. All of them, including any other entity with an emission permit, have been notified of the new fees.

"What has been happening over [the] years, the industry is cleaner and cleaner all of the time, so the emissions have been steadily reducing," Rogers told city council members in March. "Emissions have gone down about 30 percent in the past eight to 10 years and they continue to go down."

The local air board collected $797,159 in emission and permit fees in 2014 and expects to collect about $778,000 this year.

The air pollution board monitors the release of many types of pollutants, but it does not monitor carbon monoxide emissions.

However, 2015 is set to be a break-out year in lower carbon emissions, according to a new white paper report from Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF).

"In 2015, the U.S. could set new national records for annual renewable build, for coal retirements, and for gas burn from the power sector," according to the report. "Meanwhile, electricity-related emissions could fall to their lowest levels since 1994."

Record numbers of coal plants are set to close this year. Solar-power projects are set to supply record amounts of solar energy, the report said. Most of this is thanks to U.S. utilities switching from coal to solar, wind, and natural gas.

"In 2015, we'll take a giant, permanent step toward de-carbonizing our entire fleet of power plants," William Nelson, head of North American analysis at BNEF, said in a statement earlier this month.

Overall, carbon emissions from the utilities are expected to drop to their lowest levels since 1994. Carbon emissions are set to be 15 percent lower this year than they were in 2005.

"On an emissions-rate basis, 2015 will be the cleanest year in over 60 years for which we have historical data," the Bloomberg report said.

The Tennessee Valley Authority has plans to retire its Memphis coal plant, the Allen Fossil Plant, by the end of 2018. It will be replaced with a natural gas plant.

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