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EPA tells coal-fired plants to reduce pollution. Some may just shut down.

The details of new EPA regulations, released Thursday, mandate reductions in power-plant emissions. 'Old, decrepit plants' without pollution controls may be just too costly to retrofit and be shut down by their owners, say analysts.

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Annual benefits of $280 billion from the new regulations – much of it due to reduced health impacts – will easily outweigh the estimated $800 million annual cost of implementation and $1.6 billion per year in utility industry capital investments already under way, the agency reported.

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The new rule will reduce sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides by about 8 million tons annually. This will vastly reduce acid rain, smog, and small particulates that harm public health, say EPA officials.

“These Clean Air Act safeguards will help protect the health of millions of Americans and save lives by preventing smog and soot pollution from traveling hundreds of miles and contaminating the air they breathe,” said EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson. It will "help ensure that American families aren’t suffering the consequences of pollution generated far from home, while allowing states to decide how best to decrease dangerous air pollution in the most cost-effective way.”

The EPA's move responds to a mandate from a 2008 US Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia decision, which overturned the Bush administration's national air pollution plan. The court found that the Bush plan failed to substantially maintain air-quality standards among states – and ordered the EPA to develop a new rule.

Since the rule’s outlines were unveiled a year ago, industry groups have responded with studies indicating the costs would be substantial. One recent study conducted for the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity claims 1.4 million jobs lost by 2020 from a combination of today's cross-state rule and another pending rule that would limit mercury emissions.

Other studies, however, like "New Jobs-Cleaner Air," published by University of Massachusetts economists in February, found that EPA air pollution regulations would actually create up to 300,000 new US jobs in each of the next five years, as companies upgrade plants and equipment.

American Electric Power, one the nation’s largest utilities and one of the biggest complainants about the new rule, announced last month that these new air regulations would cause "premature" shutdown of a quarter of its coal-generating capacity, causing electric rate increases and the loss of hundreds of jobs.

“The cumulative impacts of the EPA’s current regulatory path have been vastly underestimated, particularly in Midwest states dependent on coal to fuel their economies," said Michael G. Morris, chairman and chief executive officer of American Electric Power, in a statement last month. "The sudden increase in electricity rates and impacts on state economies will be significant at a time when people and states are still struggling."

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