EPA Finalizes Long Awaited Smog Limits on Coal Plants

Today, the Environmental Protection Agency finalized regulations that will help protect Americans from air pollution emitted by coal-fired power plants.

The Cross-State Air Pollution Rule tightens limits on the amount of smog-forming sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide pollution that power plants in 27 eastern states are allowed to emit.

That pollution drifts across the borders of those states and the District of Columbia, contributing to dangerous – and sometimes lethal – levels of particulate and smog pollution in downwind states.

The Cross-State Air Pollution Rule, which has been in the works for six years, will reduce sulfur dioxide levels from eastern power plants by 73%, and nitrogen oxide levels by 54% from 2005 levels when it goes into effect.

The rule will phase in beginning January 1, 2012.

EPA issued the rule under the “Good Neighbor” provision of the Clean Air Act, which ensures the emissions from one state’s power plants don’t cause harmful pollution levels in neighboring states.

The health and economic benefits of the rule are enormous and will deliver extensive health protections. Starting in 2014, the rule is estimated to:

  • Save up to 34,000 lives per year
  • Prevent 400,000 asthma attacks per year
  • Avoid 1.8 million sick days per year
  • Provide benefits of $120 to $280 billion per year

Today’s Cross-State Air Pollution Rule replaces the earlier Clean Air Interstate Rule (CAIR), which was rejected by the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington D.C. in 2008 for deficiencies in protecting human health.

Environmental groups across the country are applauding the rule change. “These clean air standards for power plant pollution will provide some of the greatest human health protections in our nation’s history,” says Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) President Fred Krupp. “Millions of Americans live downwind from this deadly pollution — from the communities that live in the shadows of these smokestacks to those afflicted by the pollution that drifts hundreds of miles downwind. Today’s clean air protections will help eastern states restore healthy air in communities hard hit by air pollution, and will help all of us live longer and healthier lives."

Not surprisingly, the coal industry group says the new rule will dramatically increase electricity rates and cause "substantial" job losses.

Can’t they think of anything new to say?

The so-called American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity (ACCCE) says the regulations are the most expensive ever imposed by the agency on coal-fueled power plants, and that “The EPA is ignoring the cumulative economic damage new regulations will cause."

However, the Clean Energy Group says electricity markets have been anticipating this regulation since the D.C. Circuit’s decision in 2008, in addition to the Utility Toxics Rule scheduled to be finalized this November.

The Clean Energy Group Clean Air Policy Initiative is a coalition of electric power companies dedicated to responsible energy and environmental stewardship. Member companies are some of the nation’s largest generators of electricity, with over 170,000 megawatts (MW) of capacity (including 110,000 MW of fossil fuel generating capacity) throughout the U.S., and serve nearly a fifth of all U.S. electric customers.

"Regulatory certainty is critical for the electric power industry to be able to make long-term capital investments, and this rule provides the incentives needed to transition to cleaner generation," the group says in a release. "In addition to addressing the current NAAQS (nonattainment of national ambient air quality standards), the rule also provides a predictable methodology to reflect any revised NAAQS."

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