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EPA moves to cut power plant emissions to fight air pollution

Citing health benefits of reduced air pollution, the EPA on Monday proposed requiring power plants in the central and eastern US to dramatically curb emissions by 2014.

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The proposal will go through a typical regulatory process with a 60-day public comment period and hearings. Agency officials expressed confidence it could sustain a legal challenge. Even after the court overturned CAIR in 2008, it reinstated it later that year to await EPA steps to correct the regulatory measure – simply because the rule had "become so intertwined with the regulatory scheme that its vacatur would sacrifice clear benefits to public health and the environment while EPA fixes the rule,” the court found.

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Later this year, as the new rule kicks in, the result could include some older, dirtier power plants being closed or at least not used as much. Meanwhile, downwind states will be more confident that the air pollution reduction plans they develop will actually work, agency officials said.

"They can be confident the upwind states are equally challenged to meet air-quality requirements," Gina McCarthy, assistant EPA administrator, told reporters. "Real people will notice most of the East Coast has seen some pretty lousy ozone days. This is attempt to give people cleaner air to breathe."

The electric power sector is the nation’s single biggest source of greenhouse gases and other atmospheric contaminants like sulfur dioxide and mercury. The result is acid rain, mercury deposition, and other effects on lakes and forests.

For regional and local air pollution authorities who were anticipating a struggle to meet stringent new federal ozone pollution standards expected to be handed down next month, this new "transport rule" is a huge help.

Ohio is both downwind of Indiana, Kentucky, and Illinois – and even Texas – and upwind of Northeastern states. It is home to many power plants on the Ohio River that will have to meet tougher emissions requirements under the new rule. Its own Dayton Power and Light, for instance, will be under greater scrutiny for emissions from its smokestacks – but other emitters in other states will get tougher scrutiny, too.

"This new rule will be a big boost for us," in a bid to meet the new ozone standards that arrive next month, says John Paul, administrator of the Regional Air Pollution Control Agency of Dayton, Ohio. "This is progress."