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EPA to Ease Air Emissions Rule on Power Plants

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), under industry pressure, is expected to ease an air quality rule that would require power plants in 27 states to slash emissions, said the Wall Street Journal. It appears that changes are needed because the original rule from July 2011 required steep reductions too quickly. This summer the administration, pressed by industry, forced the EPA to abandon an air-quality rule to curb ozone-forming smog. The agency also has delayed a rule on greenhouse-gas emissions.

The power-plant rule affects about 1,000 plants, requiring them to cut sulfur dioxide by 73% and nitrogen oxide by 54% from 2005 levels. Reductions must begin in January 2012, with compliance by 2014. Companies are expected to install new pollution controls or switch from coal to cleaner-burning natural gas.

The EPA plans to allow certain states and companies to emit more pollutants than it previously permitted. EPA spokesman Brendan Gilfillan said, “While we don’t have anything to announce at this time, EPA often makes technical adjustments … because data, including data in some cases provided by industry, turns out to be incorrect, outdated or incomplete.” It is interesting that EPA is using the real world and real time data and information to fine tune the rule. This is welcome news for both industry and environmental groups as it shows that future rule making will rely more on actual data and less on politics.

The move comes amid a backlash over the rule enacted last July, which the EPA has said will protect public health and prevent up to 34,000 premature deaths. Critics contend it will cost jobs, increase power costs and threaten electric reliability.

The EPA changes are expected to allow for emissions increases ranging from 1% to 4% above the July requirement, depending on the pollutant, said the WSJ. The Cross-State Air Pollution Rule is intended to reduce smog-forming chemicals emitted from power plants that often drift into other states. The pollutants can cause heart attacks and respiratory illnesses.

When the rule is in place some utilities are planning to shut down a portion of their operation in order to comply. Some states have attacked the rule and sued the EPA, saying the regulations are unnecessary and dangerous.

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