EPA Proposes Transport Rule to Aid Downwind States

A new EPA proposal is taking aim at reducing emissions from power plants that affect people living downwind. Air pollution from these sources has been shown to cause thousands of asthma cases and other cardio-respiratory impairments. The proposed regulations have been termed the “transport rule” because it is designed to address the eastern United States, across which the pollution is transported.

The transport rule uses a section of the Clean Air Act known as the “good neighbor” provision. This addresses the harm from upwind polluters in one state to downwind recipients in another state.

The rule targets power plants whose pollution is transported across the borders of 31 eastern states plus the District of Columbia. It would reduce emissions of sulfur dioxide (SO2) and nitrogen oxides (NOx) to meet state-by-state emission reductions. EPA estimates that by 2014, this rule plus other state and EPA actions will equate to a 71 percent reduction of SO2 and 52 percent reduction of NOx against 2005 levels.

SO2 and NOx are closely linked to ground-level ozone, commonly known as smog. Smog reduces visibility, makes everything look hazy, and is harmful to human health, especially individuals with a history of respiratory problems.

Smog formed from power plants is considered an externality. It is often suffered by those who have no part in producing it. Therefore, the health costs are borne by smog victims rather than smog producers. The cost is external of the power plant’s operations. This EPA rule, along with other air quality rules that have come before, seeks to internalize that health cost.

“This rule is designed to cut pollution that spreads hundreds of miles and has enormous negative impacts on millions of Americans,” said EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson. “We’re working to limit pollution at its source, rather than waiting for it to move across the country. The reductions we’re proposing will save billions in health costs, help increase American educational and economic productivity, and — most importantly — save lives.”

The transport rule would also provide further benefit to the natural environment. Ecosystems that are sensitive to pollution would include Appalachian streams, lakes in the Adirondacks, red maple forests, and estuaries and coastal waters. For nature lovers, it would improve visibility in state and national parks. Often, picturesque views at scenic overlooks are obscured due to smog. Just ask anyone who has hiked the High Mountain Park Preserve in New Jersey and looked east.

This proposal is EPA’s attempt to improve on the 2005 Clean Air Interstate Rule (CAIR) which the US Court of Appeals in D.C. ordered the EPA to do in 2008. The court had allowed CAIR to remain in place until the EPA could finalize a suitable replacement.

The public will have 60 days to comment on the rule after it is published in the Federal Register. The EPA also plans to hold public hearings. The dates and locations of these hearings are to be announced shortly.

For more information on the proposed rule, go to http://www.epa.gov/airtransport

Article by David A Gabel, appearing courtesy Environmental News Network.

photo: Señor Codo

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