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