EPA Issues Life-Saving Air Quality Rule, Shows Benefits Far Outweigh Costs

Despite industry pressure, EPA finalized a rule July 6 that will achieve billions of dollars in public health benefits. The Cross-State Air Pollution Rule (CSAPR) requires over 20 states to reduce power plant emissions of air pollutants that contribute to ozone and fine particle pollution in other states. The rule will prevent 13,000 to 34,000 premature deaths, 15,000 nonfatal heart attacks, and 400,000 aggravated asthma attacks per year by 2014.

The CSAPR replaces a 2005 rule promulgated under Bush’s administration, the Clean Air Interstate Rule (CAIR). In 2008, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit held that CAIR contained several "fatal flaws" and remanded the rule to EPA, ordering the agency to remedy the problems and develop a rule consistent with the court’s findings.

The CSAPR requires states to reduce annual emissions of sulfur dioxide (SO2) and nitrogen oxides (NOx) to help downwind states achieve national standards for ozone and particulate matter. It is expected to produce between $120 and $280 billion in annual benefits, which "far outweigh the $800 million projected to be spent annually on this rule in 2014 and the roughly $1.6 billion per year in capital investments already underway as a result of CAIR," EPA said in a press release.

EPA estimates that by 2014, power plants will achieve much lower annual emissions of SO2 and NOx under the CSAPR than would have been achieved under CAIR. Electric power plants are the largest source of SO2 and mercury and the largest stationary source of NOx in the U.S. Fine particulate matter has been linked to a number of respiratory and cardiovascular problems, and new research suggests that long-term exposure may also cause negative effects on the brain, including memory problems.

Republicans criticized the rule at a hearing on June 30 that reviewed both the regulations replacing CAIR and EPA’s Clean Air Mercury Rule (CAMR), which is expected in November 2011. Citing research paid for by the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity (ACCCE), a coal industry trade group, several senators asserted that EPA’s air quality rules would harm the economy and cost jobs. Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY) denounced EPA’s "costly job crushing regulations." In his statement, Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) said that businesses must be protected from "unachievable requirements."

On the other side, EPA’s Assistant Administrator for the Office of Air and Radiation, Gina McCarthy, testified that the rules will not only dramatically improve public health, but are affordable and technologically achievable. Countering opponents’ claims, McCarthy said that "the industry has known for years that additional requirements were coming," and can create jobs through investments in clean energy.

Similarly, Susan Tierney, managing principal of an economic consulting firm, testified to the industry’s ability to "respond effectively within the allowable time frames" to ensure electric system reliability. Tierney pointed to research showing that the impacts of EPA’s air rules are manageable, noting many companies have already taken steps to reduce emissions in anticipation of these standards.

While major industry players like American Electric Power (AEP) have reacted negatively to the rule, EPA assures that it will provide flexibility and "work with states to help develop the most appropriate path forward to deliver significant reductions in harmful emissions while minimizing costs for utilities and consumers."

Sen. Tom Carper (D-DE) and Dr. Georges C. Benjamin of the American Public Health Association, among others, applauded EPA’s announcement of the rule, which goes into effect on Jan. 1, 2012.

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