CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Federal regulators on Friday defended proposed rules to cut power plant air pollution, in the wake of American Electric Power's announcement that the proposal could speed up the closure of three aging West Virginia power stations.
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency officials said their proposals provide utilities ample flexibility for complying and give states the ability to further delay deadlines if necessary.
EPA officials also noted the proposals are decades in the making, part of a congressionally mandated effort to reduce illnesses and premature deaths linked to power plant pollution.
"These long-overdue Clean Air Act standards will slash hazardous emissions of mercury and other acid gases, preventing thousands of asthma and heart attacks and premature deaths," the EPA said in a prepared statement.
On Thursday, AEP announced that the EPA proposal to reduce emissions of mercury and other hazardous air pollutants could force it to retire the Kanawha River Plant in Glasgow, the Phillip Sporn Plant in New Haven and the Kammer Plant near Moundsville by Dec. 31, 2014.
The three facilities -- each opened more than 50 years ago -- already were scheduled for closure between 2017 and 2020, in part because of expected EPA rules and in part to meet goals of limiting greenhouse gas emissions.
AEP officials complained, though, that the EPA proposals involved too strict a timeline, which would force them to move up the plant closures and the related elimination of 240 local jobs.
The West Virginia plant closures are part of what AEP said would be the retirement of 6,000 megawatts of coal-fired generation, the replacement of much of that with natural gas plants, as well as retrofits and new pollution controls on some coal facilities.
Roy Seneca, an EPA spokesman, said the agency hopes to finalize its rules by November, and then would give utilities three years to comply. State air regulators could give plants an additional year beyond that, if necessary, Seneca said.
"Utilities have known for decades that these standards -- which are still in the proposal stage and have a built-in three-year compliance timeline, have been coming for decades," the EPA said in its statement. "They also know that they are free to approach [the] EPA with serious, fact-based compliance plans, and that state governments also have the ability under the law to seek more time for plants in their jurisdictions.
"The standards leverage existing American-made pollution control technologies that are already deployed at over half of the nation's coal- and oil-fired power plants -- and will result in thousands of jobs across the country as workers install the technologies at plants," the EPA said in its statement.
Reach Ken Ward Jr. at kw...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1702.