Thursday, July 07, 2011

Clean Air Watch reaction to and background on Cross-State pollution rule

Clean Air Watch applauds the EPA for taking this vitally important step towards cleaning up dangerous power plant pollution that drifts across state lines. EPA has posted the new rule and related material online at

This is a real milestone. This is a long-overdue and much-needed step towards protecting the health of people in states downwind of big coal burning power plants. It will prove to be a life saver.

It’s an especially significant accomplishment given the irrational attacks on EPA from some polluter-inspired quarters in Congress. In terms of the costs and benefits, it’s a staggering bang for the proverbial buck.

But this is only one step in a much bigger journey. EPA needs to do much more not only to clean up these dirty dinosaurs, but to make sure that public health is protected from dangerous smog and soot.

As the Clean Air Watch Smogwatch Survey demonstrated earlier this week , air pollution remains a very widespread problem.

And these new requirements will not solve all the problems.

Let’s put these standards in context before everyone gets all hyperbolic.

Coal-burning electric power plants have long been one of the biggest and worst sources of air pollution. Historically it has been a particularly big problem because much of the damage is caused downwind of the source. States (and breathers) on the downwind receiving end have limited recourse. That’s why a rule designed to crack down on drifting pollution is so critical.

The Bush administration tried to deal with this problem through what it called the “Clean Air Interstate Rule,” but a federal court ruled it illegal on technical grounds after Duke Energy and some other power companies sued. After appeals by environmental groups, the court left the rule in place but ordered the EPA to come up with an alternative. This EPA has produced the “Cross-State” rule as an alternative which it, and we, hope is on a sounder legal footing

You will note that in its own assessment of the rules (see below – comparison between EPA’s proposal from last year and today’s final), EPA compares the results to a baseline of emissions in the year 2005. However, you should be aware that despite the legal problems of the Bush rule, many power companies began installing pollution controls because they did expect a replacement would ultimately emerge. This new rule should lock in the already-achieved emission reductions and require more in some cases.

But please note these rules are aimed at essentially “old” targets – the 1997 national ozone standard and the 2006 national standard for fine-paticle soot. Both are outdated. (Even the industry-friendly Bush administration made the ozone standard somewhat tougher, and the current EPA has acknowledged the Bush standard is inadequate. EPA is also reviewing the soot standard with an eye towards making it tougher after a federal court ruled the Bush standard was “arbitrary and capricious” because the Bush crowd ignored EPA’s science advisers.)

In short, in order to make sure the public is truly breathing healthful air, EPA must do even more to crack down on drifting pollution.

And, as regards pollution from coal-fired power plants, EPA must follow through with its proposal to limit mercury and other toxic pollutants. That is really the big one when it comes to dealing with power plant emissions. (Note that EPA argues that coal use will actually INCREASE under the rules announced today. I doubt that will cool the anti-EPA fervor of coal-state members of Congress such as Rep. Ed Whitfield, R-Ky. EPA had said it’s proposal would slightly reduce coal use.)

There are a few quick notes below on how today’s final rule differs from last year’s proposal. (The final is scaled back slightly in some respects though the big-picture impact is basically similar. Several Northeastern states were exempted which some others – notably Texas – have to do more cleanup. If you need a reference point, a summary of the proposal is available at )


Transport /Cross-State Changes from Proposal


31 states and DC


28 states

Left out: Massachusetts, Connecticut, Delaware, DC


Proposal: SO2 down 71% over 2005. Nox down 52% from 2005

Final: This “AND OTHER FINAL EPA AND STATE ACTIONS”: SO2 down 73%, Nox down 54% from 2005

From the proposal:
Body Count stuff (you can see the impact has been scaled back slightly in some respects):
Health Effect Number of Cases Avoided

Premature mortality 14,000 to 36,000
Non-fatal heart attacks 23,000
Hospital and emergency department visits 26,000
Acute bronchitis 21,000
Upper and lower respiratory symptoms 440,000
Aggravated asthma 240,000
Days when people miss work or school 1.9 million
Days when people must restrict their activities 11 million
EPA estimates the annual benefits from the proposed
rule range between $120-$290 billion (2006 $) in 2014.
– Most of these benefits are public health-related.
– $3.6 billion are attributable to visibility improvements in areas such as
national parks and wilderness areas.
– Other nonmonetized benefits include reductions in mercury
contamination, acid rain, eutrophication of estuaries and coastal waters,
and acidification of forest soils.
• EPA estimates annual compliance costs at $2.8 billion in
• Modest costs mean small effects on electricity
generation. EPA estimates that in 2014:
– Electricity prices increase less than 2 percent.
– Natural gas prices increase less than 1 percent.
– Coal use is reduced by less than 1 percent.

The emission reductions from this final rule will have significant and immediate public health benefits. By 2014, this rule will annually prevent:
13,000 to 34,000 premature deaths,
19,000 cases of acute bronchitis,
15,000 nonfatal heart attacks,
19,000 hospital and emergency room visits,
1.8 million days when people miss work or school,
400,000 cases of aggravated asthma, and
420,000 cases of upper and lower respiratory symptoms.

These emission reductions will also improve visibility in national and state parks, and increase protection for sensitive ecosystems including Adirondack lakes and Appalachian streams, coastal waters and estuaries, and forests.
The $800 million spent annually on this rule in 2014, along with the roughly $1.6 billion per year in capital investments already under way as a result of CAIR, are improving air quality for over 240 million Americans and will result in $120 to $280 billion in annual benefits. These estimates include the costs and benefits of the supplemental proposal.
EPA modeling shows that coal use will continue to grow under the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule

Compared to 2005, EPA estimates that by 2014 this proposal and other federal
rules would lower emissions by:
• 6.3 million tons per year of SO2
• 1.4 million tons per year of NOX
o including 300,000 tons per year of NOX during the ozone season.

Compared to 2005, EPA estimates that by 2014 this rule and other federal rules will lower power plant annual emissions in the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule region by:
6.4 million tons per year of SO2 (2005 emissions were 8.8 million tons)
1.4 million tons per year of NOX (2005 emissions were 2.6 million tons)
Including 340,000 tons per year of NOX during the ozone season.


Frank O'Donnell, Clean Air Watch said...

We've updated this posting to note that DC is not included in the final rule. Our apologies.

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