EPA Curbs Air Pollution From Power Plants in Eastern States

EPA Curbs Air Pollution From Power Plants in Eastern States

WASHINGTON, DC, July 6, 2010 (ENS) – With soaring temperatures across the eastern states sending air pollution readings into the Code Red zone, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency today proposed regulations to cut air pollution from power plants that drifts across state borders.

Called the Transport Rule, the new proposal sets limits on power plant emissions in 31 eastern states and the District of Columbia, helping eastern states meet existing national air quality health standards.

“This rule is designed to cut pollution that spreads hundreds of miles and has enormous negative impacts on millions of Americans,” said EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson. “We’re working to limit pollution at its source, rather than waiting for it to move across the country.”

Pennsylvania’s coal-fired Connemaugh power plant (Photo by Stefan Schlohmer)

“The reductions we’re proposing will save billions in health costs, help increase American educational and economic productivity,” and, Jackson said, “most importantly, save lives.”

Air pollution is linked to thousands of asthma cases and heart attacks, and almost two million lost school or work days each year.

The proposed Transport Rule would replace EPA’s 2005 Clean Air Interstate Rule, CAIR. A December 2008 decision of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit kept the requirements of CAIR in place temporarily but directed EPA to issue a new rule to implement the Clean Air Act requirements concerning the transport of air pollution across state boundaries. This action responds to the court’s concerns.

The proposed transport rule would reduce power plant emissions of sulfur dioxide, SO2, and nitrogen oxides, NOx, to meet state-by-state emission reductions. SO2 and NOx react in the atmosphere to form fine particle pollution and smog, which are linked to widespread illnesses and premature deaths.

Emissions reductions will begin to take effect in 2012, within one year after the rule is finalized.

By 2014, the rule and other state and EPA actions would reduce SO2 emissions by 71 percent below 2005 levels, the EPA calculates. NOx emissions would drop by 52 percent.

These pollutants are carried on the wind to other states, contributing to health problems for their residents and interfering with states’ ability to meet air quality standards.

Charles Connor, president and CEO of the American Lung Association, says the cleanup of power plants is long overdue. “The Code Red and Orange days we’ve experienced in the Eastern U.S. this week underscore the need for healthier air. Today’s action is an important step towards safe and healthy air across the region.”

Earthjustice managing attorney David Baron said, “Smog is a major health risk, especially on a day like today, when temperatures all along the East Coast are soaring toward the triple digits. Curbing interstate pollution from power plants will help reduce the number of Code Orange and Code Red days when children and the elderly are warned to stay inside.

EPA is using the “good neighbor” provision of the Clean Air Act to reduce interstate transport of the emissions in upwind states that contribute to air quality problems in downwind states.

EPA is proposing one approach for reducing SO2 and NOX emissions in states covered by this rule and taking comment on two alternatives:

  • In EPA’s preferred approach, the agency is proposing to set a pollution budget, for each of the 31 states and the District of Columbia. This approach allows limited interstate trading among power plants but assures that each state will meet its pollution control obligations.
  • In the first alternative, EPA is proposing to set a pollution budget for each state. This option allows trading only among power plants within a state.
  • In the second alternative, EPA is proposing to set a pollution budget for each state and to specify the allowable emission limit for each power plant and allow some averaging.

The proposal locks in the nitrogen oxide emissions reductions expected from the original CAIR rule.

It proposes to tighten the sulfur dioxide emissions caps beyond those set in CAIR, especially the cap beginning in 2014 and also proposes a later second-phase SO2 cap.

Colored states will be governed by the Transport Rule. Green states will be controlled for both fine particles and ground-level ozone; blue states for fine particles only; and yellow states for ozone only. (Map courtesy EPA)

EPA also has made a commitment to initiate a second transport rulemaking on the heels of this proposal, recognizing that additional nitrogen oxide reductions will be needed to meet the revised ozone National Ambient Air Quality Standards that take effect in August 2010.

Jackson said the EPA expects that the emission reductions will be accomplished by “proven and readily available pollution control technologies already in place at many power plants across the country.”

The EPA calculates that the proposed transport rule would yield more than $120 billion in annual health benefits in 2014, including avoiding an estimated 14,000 to 36,000 premature deaths, 23,000 nonfatal heart attacks, 21,000 cases of acute bronchitis, 240,000 cases of aggravated asthma, and 1.9 million days when people miss school or work due to ozone-related and particle pollution-related symptoms.

Jackson said today that these benefits would far outweigh the annual cost of compliance with the proposed rule, which EPA estimates at $2.8 billion in 2014.

The transport rule is also expected to help improve visibility in state and national parks and would increase protection for ecosystems that are sensitive to pollution, including streams in the Appalachians, lakes in the Adirondacks, estuaries and coastal waters, and sugar maple forests.

Still, Becker said the state and local agencies believe the rule needs to go farther in limiting emissions.

“NACAA is disappointed with the agency’s proposed 2014 NOx cap level, which we believe will be insufficient for resolving the pervasive ozone problems throughout the East. While we understand why EPA was forced to base the proposed cap on the 1997 ozone standard of 84 parts per billion – a standard that is woefully outdated and unprotective of public health – it is essential that EPA quickly rectify this when it publishes its second transport rule,” Becker said.

While NACAA is encouraged that EPA is finalizing the second transport rule in 2012, Becker says it is “critical” that this schedule be followed, since states’ mandates for transport State Implementation Plans depend upon the timeliness of the federal agency’s rulemaking.

“It is also vital in this second transport rule that EPA ultimately set far more stringent NOx reductions that help states protect public health and welfare,” said Becker.

“This proposal is part of the equation, so it is crucial that the EPA get the rule right – the stakes are human lives,” said Baron of Earthjustice. “It is also crucial that the EPA does not stop after this and follows up with strong limits on emissions of mercury and other toxics from all power plants, and a strong commitment to enforcing the local air quality requirements of the Clean Air Act.”

EPA will take public comment on the proposal for 60 days after the transport rule is published in the Federal Register. The agency also will hold public hearings. Dates and locations for the hearings will be announced shortly.

Click here to read the rule.

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2010. All rights reserved.

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