EPA Moves to Cut Power Plant Emissions to Fight Air Pollution

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Citing health benefits of reduced air pollution, the EPA on Monday proposed requiring power plants in the central and eastern US to dramatically curb emissions by 2014.

The Environmental Protection Agency moved Tuesday to dramatically curb power plant emissions across the central US and East Coast, a step the federal agency says will significantly reduce health and pollution impacts across that 31-state region.

Responding to a 2008 court ruling, the EPA proposed sharp cuts in emissions from some 900 coal-, natural gas-, and oil-burning power plants - a 52 percent reduction in nitrous oxide (NOX) and 71 percent cut in sulfur dioxide (SOX) by 2014.

The EPA move is intended to bring the federal government into compliance with a decision by the US Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C., that overturned the Bush administration's national Clean Air Interstate Rule (CAIR). The court found that rule failed to substantially maintain air-quality standards among states or meet statutory deadlines - and it ordered the EPA to come up with a new rule.

Tuesday's proposal - which is expected to be challenged in court - is aimed at enabling "downwind" states to develop air-pollution reduction plans based on knowing in advance how much pollution would be drifting across their borders from "upwind" states. The so- called "transport rule" would mean much tighter federal requirements for SOX and NOX emissions reductions for upwind states.

"This rule is designed to cut pollution that spreads hundreds of miles and has enormous negative impacts on millions of Americans," EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson said in a statement. "We're working to limit pollution at its source, rather than waiting for it to move across the country. The reductions we're proposing will save billions in health costs, help increase American educational and economic productivity, and - most importantly - save lives."

Curbing power plant emissions can have a large economic impact, with the cost to health and the environment from eastern power plants today exceeding $200 billion annually, according to the Environmental Defense Fund.

The EPA says its action will save an estimated $120 billion in health benefits annually by 2014, including avoiding up to 36,000 premature deaths and 1.9 million days of missed work or school due to ground-level ozone and particle pollution, the agency estimates. Such benefits would far outweigh the annual cost of compliance with the proposed rule, which the agency puts at $2.8 billion in 2014.

"This will be one of the most significant steps EPA can take to clean up the air and improve public health," Frank O'Donnell, president of Clean Air Watch, said in a statement. …