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After Long Battle, EPA to Unveil Rules for Cutting Smog from Coal Plants

Next week's transport rule is aimed at curbing smog and soot at power plants in 30-plus states. Next up: EPA's controversial mercury rule, expected in Nov.

By Elizabeth McGowan, SolveClimate News

Jul 1, 2011
Gina McCarthy during the hearing on June 30th

Update (July 7): EPA announced on July 7 the finalized Cross State Air Pollution Rule, which will cut hundreds of thousands of tons of smog- and soot-forming emissions from coal-fired power plants in 27 states in the eastern half of the U.S. According to EPA, the rule will result in $280 billion in annual health benefits beginning in 2014, and is projected to cost $800 million annually.

WASHINGTON—While much of the nation fixates on picnics, parades, patriotic music — and perhaps even the Declaration of Independence — on this approaching Fourth of July holiday weekend, Gina McCarthy will be contemplating smog and soot.

She will be dotting the i's and crossing the final t's in preparation for a midweek lifting of the curtain on the Environmental Protection Agency's long-awaited rule designed to protect downwind states from upwind pollution.

"It's time we took action and moved these rules," the assistant administrator at EPA's Office of Air and Radiation told a Senate Environment and Public Works Subcommittee Thursday. She added that after decades of delay, "we do not believe we are rushing to judgment."

Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), chairman of the Clean Air and Nuclear Safety subpanel, organized to discuss a pair of safeguards the Obama administration crafted after a federal appeals court rejected two previous iterations created under the Bush administration.

As reinvented by Administrator Lisa Jackson's EPA, the two regulations are now known as the Clean Air Transport Rule and the Utility Air Toxics Rule. Final standards for the latter, which the agency will unveil in November, are geared to drastically reduce mercury emissions from coal-fired electricity generators.

Carper, a former governor, often refers to Delaware as the nation's tailpipe because it's estimated that 90 percent of its air pollution drifts in from other states. Without a measure such as the Clean Air Transport Rule, he said, Delaware would never meet air standards even if it shut down every polluter within its borders.

"I quickly learned that my neighbor's dirty air meant higher health care costs for my state," he noted. "My neighbor's dirty air meant difficulty attracting businesses to my state. And, my neighbor’s dirty air meant we were paying the full price of their dirty energy. That's when I realized we had to have a national solution to address our air quality problems. States cannot do it alone."

A Little History

In December 2008, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Court ordered EPA to revisit two rules the Bush administration called the Clean Air Interstate Rule (CAIR) and the Clean Air Mercury Rule (CAMR) because neither met Clean Air Act requirements.

Under Jackson's tenure, CAIR morphed into the Clean Air Transport Rule and CAMR was reshaped as the Utility Air Toxics Rule, McCarthy explained.

The transport rule is aimed at trimming emissions of ozone and fine particle — commonly known as smog and soot — at power plants in the nation's capital and 31 states stretching from the East Coast to the country's midsection. EPA estimates the proposed rule will lead the way in slicing sulfur dioxide emissions 71 percent and nitrogen oxide emissions 52 percent below 2005 levels by 2014.

On an annual basis, it also will prevent up to 36,000 premature deaths annually and avoid hundreds of thousands of illnesses, according to the agency.

Jackson's tenure, CAIR

Jackson's tenure, CAIR morphed into the Clean Air Transport Rule and CAMR was reshaped as the Utility Air Toxics Rule, McCarthy explained.

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