The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed regulations on Tuesday to tackle power plant pollution that drifts across the borders of 31 eastern states and the District of Columbia. Replacing the Bush-era Clean Air Interstate Rule (CAIR), the proposed “transport” rule seeks to reduce power plant emissions of sulfur diOxide (SO2) and nitrogen Oxides (NOx) to meet state-by-state emission reductions.
Issued in 2005, CAIR’s purpose was to reduce SO2, NOx, and smog emitted by power plants in 28 midwestern and eastern states via an interstate cap-and-trade program to lessen their impact on downwind areas. The D.C. federal court had in December 2008 reversed its July 11, 2008, decision to vacate the regulation in its entirety until the EPA fixed “flaws” in that rule.

The new rule would require faster and larger cuts in SO2 and NOx that cross state lines than under CAIR. These pollutants react in the atmosphere to form fine particles and ground-level ozone and are transported long distances, making it difficult for other states to achieve national clean air standards, the EPA said.

The rule would set a pollution limit for each of the 31 covered states and the District of Columbia and allow limited interstate trading among power plants to address reliability issues if states can make assurances that they will meet pollution reduction requirements.

The agency estimated that annual direct costs to the power sector complying with the proposal—that is, the cost of installing and operating advanced pollution control equipment or switching fuels—is $2.8 billion (in 2006 dollars).

Among its key elements, the proposal will require 28 states to reduce both annual SO2 and NOx emissions. Twenty-six states would be required to reduce NOx emissions during the hot summer months of the ozone season because they contribute to downwind states’ ozone pollution, the EPA said.

The EPA is planning to issue a second air pollution transport rule in 2011 because even more cuts would be needed to meet the tougher federal ozone particulate standards that the Obama administration is moving to put in place. According to the agency, by 2014, the rule and other state and EPA actions could reduce SO2 emissions by 71% over 2005 levels while NOx emissions would drop by 52%.

The EPA said it was using the “good neighbor” provision of the Clean Air Act to reduce interstate transport, which is the upwind state emissions that contribute to air quality problems in downwind states. “The proposed rule sets in place a new approach that can and will be applied again as further pollution reductions are needed to help areas meet air quality health standards,” it said.

“This rule is designed to cut pollution that spreads hundreds of miles and has enormous negative impacts on millions of Americans,” said EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson. “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.”

The EPA will take public comment on the proposal for 60 days after the rule is published in the Federal Register. The agency also will hold public hearings. Dates and locations for the hearings are expected to be announced shortly.

Sources: EPA, POWERnews