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New EPA air rules call for 28 states to reduce pollution

New England’s rules already meet standard

By Darryl Fears and Juliet Eilperin
Washington Post / July 8, 2011

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WASHINGTON - The Environmental Protection Agency said yesterday it finalized rules that compel 28 states and the District of Columbia to curb air pollution that travels across states by wind and weather, the first in a series of federal restrictions aimed at improving the air Americans breathe.

The Cross State Air Pollution Rule, which replaces a President George W. Bush-era regulation thrown out by federal courts in 2008, targets coal-fired power plants mainly in the eastern United States. The measure, along with a proposal aimed at cutting summertime smog in the Midwest, will cost the utility industry roughly $2.4 billion in pollution control upgrades over several years.

EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson called the rule “another long overdue step to protect the air we breathe and that our children breathe.’’ Jackson predicted that the rule will prevent up to 34,000 premature deaths annually and result in fewer hospital visits and work sick days, she said, generating $280 billion in benefits “that far outweigh the cost of complying with the rule.’’

A federal judge vacated the Bush administration’s Clean Air Interstate Rule for several reasons, questioning whether the emissions trading system it established would do enough to bring all states into compliance.

Frank O’Donnell, who directs the advocacy group Clean Air Watch, said the measures are “a good first step in cleaning up the air’’ but are less significant than upcoming guidelines for acceptable smog and soot levels.

The rules do not impose new requirements in Massachusetts or any other New England state, according to Conservation Law Foundation, because rules here are already robust. However, it levels “ the playing field so that obsolete and high polluting power plants in the Midwest and Southeast can no longer export their air pollution to states that have already reduced their emissions,’’ according to Jonathan Peress, director of Clean Energy and Climate Change at CLF, an advocacy group in Boston.

Peress and other environmental groups said yesterday’s announcement has roots in the late 1990s, when Massachusetts and other Northeast states petitioned the government under the Clean Air Act “good neighbor rule,’’ which is designed to prevent states from polluting downwind.

“We applaud the Environmental Protection Agency and the Obama administration for standing up for Massachusetts residents’ health and our environment by issuing this much-needed clean air standard,’’ said MacKenzie Clark, field associate with Environment Massachusetts, an advocacy group.

The EPA estimates that the power sector has spent $1.6 billion to install pollution controls that helped bring emissions in line with the Bush measure.

Some utility officials said new rules could force the retirement of several coal plants. That would raise electricity costs, said Pat Hemlepp of American Electric Power.

“Our most significant concern remains the unrealistic compliance timetables of this and a series of other EPA rules that target coal-fueled generation,’’ he said.

The rule might have its biggest impact on states such as Texas, which challenged stricter controls on coal-fired power plants.

Globe staff reporter Elizabeth Daley contributed to this report.