Settlement Commits EPA to Set Air Pollutant Rules for Coal, Oil Power Plants by 2011

A settlement reached between the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and health and environmental groups on Friday commits the agency to set pollution standards that limit air pollutants such as mercury and soot emissions from the nation’s coal- and oil-fired power plants by November 2011.

The settlement agreement (PDF) ends a long-standing legal dispute and allegations that the EPA failed to promulgate, as ordained by the Clean Air Act, final maximum achievable control technology (MACT) emissions standards for hazardous air pollutants from coal and oil power plants by a statutorily mandated deadline.

The EPA had been required under the Clean Air Act of 1990 to issue its rules by the end of 2002, but the Bush administration argued at the time that such rules were unnecessary. On Friday, the agency said that “addressing hazardous air pollutant emissions from utilities is a high priority,” adding that it began the rule-making process in July and plans to issue proposed standards by March 2011.

“The agency is committed to developing a strategy to reduce harmful emissions from these facilities, which threaten the air we all breathe,” said the EPA.
The settlement follows the U.S. Supreme Court’s denial of a petition this February from a nonprofit group of utilities and industry trade associations that had appealed a decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.

The appellate court on Feb. 8, 2008, had sided with 17 states and against the nonprofit group and the EPA and dismissed the Clean Air Mercury Rule (CAMR). The court had then said that the EPA’s delisting of mercury from the list of hazardous pollutants (HAPs) that require higher removal rates implemented over a shorter schedule (Section 112) was wrong. The court reinstated a more stringent regime under the Act’s Section 112, eliminating the mercury cap-and-trade program and remanding the duty of setting emission rules to the EPA.

Sources: EPA, EarthJustice, POWERnews