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EPA proposes cuts in power plant emissions

Read the report hereCHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The Obama administration on Wednesday proposed new emissions rules to reduce toxic emissions from coal-fired power plants and save an estimated 17,000 lives a year.

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency officials estimated the proposal, if finalized, would create $59 billion in benefits a year by 2016, while costing industry $10.9 billion per year.

EPA said its proposal -- aimed at setting the first-ever national standard for toxic air pollution from electrical-generating plants -- would also help create 31,000 short-term construction jobs and 9,000 long-term utility jobs.

"Today's announcement is 20 years in the making, and is a significant milestone in the Clean Air Act's already unprecedented record of ensuring our children are protected from the damaging effects of air toxic pollution," said EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson. "With the help of existing technologies, we will be able to take reasonable steps that will provide dramatic protections to our children and loved ones, preventing premature deaths, heart attacks and asthma attacks."

Environmental and public health groups embraced the EPA proposal, which was the result of a lawsuit filed after the Bush administration scuttled plans to set the new standards for hazardous air pollutants.

"Power plants are unrivaled sources of toxic air pollution, releasing thousands of tons of dozens of dangerous hazardous air pollutants such as mercury, lead and dioxins into our air and our communities," said Earthjustice attorney James Pew, who argued the case for citizen groups. "This positive step is what America needs to improve our health and protect our environment, all while guaranteeing an overall savings in health costs."

Business groups said EPA is underestimating the proposal's costs and overstating its benefits in yet another rule focused on the coal industry.

"With this rule, coming on top of additional rules now pending at the agency, EPA could negate the positive contributions the coal-based utility sector has made to cleaner air and affordable and dependable electricity generation," said National Mining Association President Hal Quinn.

The National Association of Manufacturers issued a statement that called the EPA proposal "yet another example of overreaching regulation that will negatively influence the bottom line for manufacturers and the American people."

EPA said the proposal is "in keeping with President Obama's order on regulatory reform" in that it gives "industry significant flexibility in implementation through a phased-in approach and use of already existing technologies."

The EPA proposal, which is now subject to public review and comment, would require power plants to meet tough standards for emissions of mercury, arsenic, chromium, nickel and acid gases.

Currently, more than half of all coal-fired power plants already deploy widely available pollution control technologies that allow them to meet the proposed standards, EPA said.

"The updated standards will provide a first-ever level playing field for all power plants across the country, ensure that they play by the same rules, and provide more certainty to business," EPA said in announcing its proposal.

More than 20 year ago, when it passed the 1990 Clean Air Act, Congress mandated that EPA require set numeric emissions limits for major sources of hazardous air pollutants, and to determine if such limits were needed for power plants. The Clinton administration determined limits were needed for power plants, but the Bush administration reversed that action.

Power plants are responsible for 50 percent of mercury emissions, more than half of acid gas emissions, and about one-quarter of toxic metal emissions in the United States, EPA said.

"When it becomes final, the cleanup rule that the EPA is putting forward today will save lives, protect the health of millions of Americans and finally bring about an action that is 20 years overdue," said American Lung Association President Charles D. Connor, who joined Jackson at an event where the proposal was announced.

Reach Ken Ward Jr. at kward@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1702.


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