EPA finalizes rules for cross-state air pollution

The Environmental Protection Agency issued final regulations Thursday aimed at slashing toxic air pollution from power plants that crosses state lines and potentially puts thousands of lives at risk.

The regulations put new limits on sulfur dioxide (SO2) and nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions from power plant smokestacks in 27 Eastern states. The power plant emissions, EPA says, travel across state lines, threatening the health of thousands of people.

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“No community should have to bear the burden of another community's polluters or be powerless to prevent air pollution that leads to asthma, heart attacks and other harmful illnesses,” EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson said Thursday. “These Clean Air Act safeguards will help protect the health of millions of Americans and save lives by preventing smog and soot pollution from traveling hundreds of miles and contaminating the air they breathe.”

It’s the latest effort by EPA to reduce air pollution. The agency is targeting pollution from industrial boilers as well as greenhouse gases, mercury and other air toxins from power plants. EPA says it will unveil long-delayed ozone standards in July.

But Republicans and some Democrats are working to block or delay EPA’s regulations, arguing they are overly burdensome.

The states covered by Thursday’s rule will work with power plants to install technology to reduce SO2 and NOx emissions, which contribute to ozone and fine-particle pollution. EPA says many power plants have already begun installing the necessary equipment.

By 2014, the regulations will cut SO2 emissions by 73 percent and NOx emissions by 54 percent below 2005 levels, EPA says. The agency said that will prevent 34,000 premature deaths, 15,000 heart attacks and 400,000 cases of asthma starting in 2014, which would amount to $280 billion a year in health benefits.

Fewer states are covered under the final regulations. A proposed rule unveiled by the agency last year covered 31 states.

The "clean air transport rule," which EPA has renamed the "cross-state air pollution rule," replaces a set of 2005 Bush administration regulations that were struck down by the courts.

Jackson said Thursday that the regulations will have the added benefit of increasing visibility in many state and national parks, and improving the health of steams and lakes.

Environmental and public health groups applauded the regulations Thursday.

“Today’s finalization of the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule is a vital component of the EPA’s effort to protect the health of millions of Americans who live downwind of power plants that belch out life-threatening pollution,” said Albert Rizzo, national volunteer chair at the American Lung Association, in a statement.

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Still, some clean air groups said the rule is not stringent enough.

“But as significant as today’s action is, it represents only a step toward a greater goal with respect to transported air pollution,” said National Association of Clean Air Agencies Executive Director Bill Becker. “The NOx emissions cap is simply not sufficient to control the magnitude of emissions that come from power plants.”

Republicans quickly blasted the new regulations Thursday.

“This Administration proves time and time again that they just don’t understand how its actions crush jobs across the country,” Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) said in a statement. “Today’s economically devastating rule is just the latest strike in the Administration’s ongoing war against traditional sources of American energy.”

Industry groups echoed Barrasso's concerns.

“The EPA is ignoring the cumulative economic damage new regulations will cause,” American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity President Steve Miller said in a statement. “America’s coal-fueled electric industry has been doing its part for the environment and the economy, but our industry needs adequate time to install clean coal technologies to comply with new regulations. Unfortunately, EPA doesn’t seem to care.”

This story was updated at 3:10 p.m.