EPA pro­poses new set of rules to cut power plant air pol­lu­tion

Austin American-Statesman - - WORLD & NATION - By John M. Broder

WASHINGTON — Act­ing un­der fed­eral court or­der, the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion pro­posed new air-qual­ity rules on Tues­day for coal-burn­ing power plants that of­fi­cials said would bring ma­jor re­duc­tions in soot and smog from Texas to the East­ern Seaboard.

Gina McCarthy, head of the EPA’s air and ra­di­a­tion of­fice, said the new rules would re­duce emis­sions of sul­fur diox­ide and ni­tro­gen ox­ides by hun­dreds of thou­sands of tons a year and bring $120 bil­lion in an­nual health ben­e­fits. Those ben­e­fits, McCarthy said, in­clude pre­vent­ing 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 missed school and work days.

The rules, to be fi­nal­ized next year, aim to cut sul­fur diox­ide emis­sions 71 per­cent from 2005 lev­els by 2014 and ni­tro­gen ox­ide emis­sions 52 per­cent.

The cost of com­pli­ance to util­i­ties and other op­er­a­tors of smog-belch­ing power plants in the 31 states cov­ered by the pro­posed reg­u­la­tions would be $2.8 bil­lion a year, ac­cord­ing to EPA es­ti­mates. Those costs are likely to be passed on to con­sumers, al­though the rule’s ef­fect on spe­cific com­pa­nies and on con­sumers was not clear.

“This is at­tempt­ing to give peo­ple cleaner air to breathe,” McCarthy said.

The En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency is is­su­ing the rules to re­place a plan from Pres­i­dent Ge­orge W. Bush’s ad­min­is­tra­tion that a fed­eral judge threw out in 2008, cit­ing nu­mer­ous flaws in the cal­cu­la­tion of air-qual­ity ef­fects.

The pro­posed reg­u­la­tions will re­quire util­i­ties op­er­at­ing coal-burn­ing plants to in­stall scrub­bers and other technology to re­duce emis­sions of the pol­lu­tants. Some com­pa­nies may de­cide to re­tire older plants rather than in­vest in new con­trol mea­sures be­cause other new rules un­der the Clean Air Act are ex­pected.

A spokesman for the util­ity in­dus­try said com­pa­nies had al­ready achieved large re­duc­tions in the pol­lu­tants since 1990.

“EPA’s new pro­posal would re­quire dra­matic re­duc­tions in power-sec­tor emis­sions, on top of ma­jor re­duc­tions to date, on a very short time­line,” said Dan Riedinger of the Edi­son Elec­tric In­sti­tute, the main lobby for the util­i­ties.

While en­vi­ron­men­tal groups and some Demo­cratic law­mak­ers hailed the plan, they con­ceded that the mea­sure is open to in­dus­try law­suits that could cause de­lays in meet­ing pub­lic health tar­gets.

Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., said the like­li­hood of lit­i­ga­tion un­der­scores the need for Congress to pass strong air pol­lu­tion leg­is­la­tion this year.

The new rules do not ad­dress power plant emis­sions of car­bon diox­ide and five other pol­lu­tants that con­trib­ute to global warm­ing. The Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion is mov­ing for­ward with a plan to phase in reg­u­la­tion of such heat-trap­ping gases, a move that is be­ing chal­lenged in Congress and in the courts.

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