The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency finalized new clean air rules on Thursday that have already forced utilities to close dozens of coal plants in lieu of installing billions of dollars of after-market pollution-control equipment.
The Cross-State Air Pollution Rule reduces the amount of allowable levels of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide in 27 states in the East, the Midwest and Texas. The rule targets SO2 and NOX because they can cross state lines, react with the atmosphere and can contribute to harmful levels of smog and soot.
“These clean air standards for power plant pollution will provide some of the greatest human health protections in our nation's history," said Fred Krupp, president of the Environmental Defense Fund in a statement. ”[These] clean air protections will help eastern states restore healthy air in communities hard hit by air pollution, and will help all of us live longer and healthier lives."
By 2014, the rule and other state and EPA actions will reduce SO2 emissions by 73 % from 2005 levels, according to EPA. NOx emissions will drop by 54 %. The Cross-State Air Pollution Rule replaces the 2005 Clean Air Interstate Rule the U.S. Court of Appeals ordered EPA to revise in 2008. The court allowed CAIR to remain in place temporarily while EPA worked to finalize the new rule.
“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. 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,” said EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson in a statement.
“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 EPA said in a press release.
EPA says that the rules will not impact the cost of electricity, but the coal industry and its supporters disagreed.
“The EPA is ignoring the cumulative economic damage new regulations will cause,” Steve Miller, president and CEO of the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, said in a statement. The combination of the new Cross State Air Act and a recent available technology rule will increase electricity rates by more than 23% in some areas of the U.S., according to the coalition.
Several utilities have announced that they would close their coal plants rather than install the equipment needed to reduce emissions under the two expected rules. Progress Energy announced late last year that it would shutter 11 coal plants, and last month American Electric Power said it would close down five coal plants.
Oklahoma Sen. James Inhofe said in a statement, “"True environmental progress will not come from these costly, heavy-handed regulations that harm the very people EPA claims to protect. Real progress on clean air is best achieved through common-sense multipollutant legislation that streamlines the Clean Air Act's many redundant and overlapping mandates."