On July 6, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) finalized the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule (CSAPR), which requires 27 states in the eastern U.S. to significantly improve air quality by reducing power plant emissions that contribute to ozone and/or fine particle pollution in other states. This rule replaces the EPA’s 2005 Clean Air Interstate Rule (CAIR).

The CSAPR replaces and strengthens CAIR, which the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit ordered the EPA to revise in 2008. The court allowed CAIR to remain in place temporarily while the agency worked to finalize this replacement rule.

In its July 7 press release announcing the final rule, the EPA said the CSAPR “leverages widely available, proven and cost-effective control technologies. Ensuring flexibility, EPA will work with states to help develop the most appropriate path forward to deliver significant reductions in harmful emissions while minimizing costs for utilities and consumers.”

Carried long distances across the country by wind and weather, power plant emissions of sulfur dioxide (SO2) and nitrogen oxide (NOx) continually travel across state lines. As the pollution is transported, it reacts in the atmosphere and contributes to harmful levels of smog (ground-level ozone) and soot (fine particles), which are scientifically linked to widespread illnesses and premature deaths and prevent many cities and communities from enjoying healthy air quality.

Emission reductions will take effect quickly, starting Jan. 1, 2012, for SO2 and annual NOX reductions, and May 1, 2012, for ozone season NOX reductions. By 2014, combined with other final state and EPA actions, the CSAPR will reduce power plant SO2 emissions by 73% and NOX emissions by 54% from 2005 levels in the CSAPR region.

The emission reductions expected from the EPA’s recently proposed Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS) are not included in the estimated emission reductions from the CSAPR; once those standards are implemented, SO2 emissions from the power sector are likely to be reduced even further, the agency said.

Following the Clean Air Act’s “Good Neighbor” mandate to limit interstate air pollution, the rule will help states that are struggling to protect air quality from pollution emitted outside their borders, and it uses an approach that can be applied in the future to help areas continue to meet and maintain air quality health standards, the EPA said.

The agency said the new rule “will not disrupt a reliable flow of affordable electricity for American consumers and businesses. Health benefits will be achieved at a very low cost, and while the effect on prices for specific regions or states may vary, they are well within the range of normal electricity price fluctuations. Any such costs will be greatly outweighed by the benefits.”

According to the press release, “The rule will protect over 240 million Americans living in the eastern half of the country, resulting in up to $280 billion in annual benefits. The benefits far outweigh the $800 million projected to be spent annually on this rule in 2014 and the roughly $1.6 billion per year in capital investments already underway as a result of CAIR. EPA expects pollution reductions to occur quickly without large expenditures by the power industry. Many power plants covered by the rule have already made substantial investments in clean air technologies to reduce SO2 and NOx emissions. The rule will level the playing field for power plants that are already controlling these emissions by requiring more facilities to do the same. In the states where investments in control technology are required, health and environmental benefits will be substantial.

“The rule will also help improve visibility in state and national parks while better protecting sensitive ecosystems, including Appalachian streams, Adirondack lakes, estuaries, coastal waters, and forests. In a supplemental rulemaking based on further review and analysis of air quality information, EPA is also proposing to require sources in Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Missouri, Oklahoma, and Wisconsin to reduce NOX emissions during the summertime ozone season. The proposal would increase the total number of states covered by the rule from 27 to 28. Five of these six states are covered for other pollutants under the rule. The proposal is open for public review and comment for 45 days after publication in the Federal Register.”

Environmentalists and public health advocates applauded the move. However, The New York Times reported that “The agency is under intense pressure from some industry groups and congressional Republicans, who label the environmental regulations as job-killers” and that “Critics hope to stop the rules by pressuring the administration, or by starving them of funding.”

Coal-fired power plants will not all be affected equally by the new rule. For example, the Evansville (Ind.) Courier & Press said that American Electric Power will be forced to add pollution controls to its Rockport, Ind., plant “and close three-fourths of another plant farther east along the Ohio River near Lawrenceburg, Ind.” In contrast, “Other power companies operating in the area, such as Vectren and Duke Energy, already have invested heavily in pollution controls in the last 10 years and appear to be better positioned for the new rule.”

Sources: EPA, New York Times, Evansville Courier & Press