By Joan Lowy
Scripps Howard News Service
March 05, 2005
As early as Tuesday, the Environmental Protection Agency is expected to finish up regulations to reduce soot and smog pollution. The EPA is also required under legal settlements with environmentalists to complete regulations to curb mercury pollution by March 15 and to finalize new rules for reducing haze and improving visibility in national parks by April 15.
The soot and smog rule is aimed in part at a long-standing battle between downwind states that are on the receiving end of pollution and upwind states that rely on aging, coal-fired plants.
The rule would cut emissions that contribute to soot by 71 percent and emissions of a key smog-forming pollutant by 65 percent in 29 Eastern states by 2015.
The EPA estimates the soot and smog rule would annually prevent 13,000 deaths and 240,000 asthma attacks. States expected to see the greatest reduction in emissions include Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia.
Similar soot and smog reductions were the centerpiece of Bush's air pollution plan, known as "Clear Skies." Both the regulations and the Bush plan would allow plants that cut pollution more speedily to sell "pollution credits" to plants that have a harder time meeting the reductions.
"We're still optimistic that Clear Skies can get through Congress and onto the president's desk, but we are on track to finalize the clean air interstate (soot and smog) rule by March 15," EPA spokeswoman Cynthia Bergman said. "We don't think implementing the clean air interstate rules precludes further progress on Clear Skies."
However, the smog and soot rule "can be subject to litigation and delay," Bergman said. "That's why we need ... national legislation."
A vote on the bill has been delayed three times by the Senate Environment and Works Committee for lack of support.
Opponents of Clear Skies said the soot and smog reductions were being used to divert attention from other provisions favorable to industry.
"Clear Skies is really a smokescreen to slide in rollbacks to the Clean Air Act," said Michael Shore, an air pollution expert with Environmental Defense.
The mercury rule is expected to closely resemble the mercury provisions in the initial version of Clear Skies, which called for a 70 percent reduction in emissions by 2018. However, those reductions wouldn't be achieved until 2025 because of the trading of emissions credits permitted under the bill, according to EPA estimates.
The bill's chief sponsor, Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., offered to shorten the mercury deadline to 2016, but has been unable to pick up additional support for the bill.
Power companies say the equipment to reduce mercury emissions isn't commercially available and an early deadline would lead to rate increases for consumers. However, EPA officials privately told the power industry that plants could reduce emissions by as much as 90 percent in three years if ordered to do so.
Six states have already moved to curb mercury emissions: Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, North Carolina and Wisconsin.
The EPA is also required under a court-ordered consent decree with environmentalists to finalize clean-up standards by April 15 for power plants that contribute to air pollution in national parks. The new standards are expected to increase pressure on Western power plants to cut pollution.
Clear Skies contained a section addressing national parks but made exceptions for certain new power plants and other facilities.
One of the key issues holding up the bill is climate change. Power plants are responsible for 40 percent of U.S. emissions of carbon dioxide, the chief greenhouse gas. The EPA has taken the position that carbon dioxide is not a pollutant and it has no authority to regulate it. Opponents of Clear Skies want Inhofe and the administration to add limits on carbon dioxide emissions to the bill.
Attorneys general of eight states - California, Connecticut, Iowa, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont and Wisconsin, along with New York City - recently sued five electric utility companies operating 174 fossil fuel power plants in 20 states, demanding reductions in carbon dioxide emissions.
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