What is the EPA Doing About Cross-State Air Pollution?

BY ON July 8, 2011

Today’s guest post is written by Vickie Patton, General Counsel of the Environmental Defense Fund.

EPA announced yesterday historic pollution limitations on the sulfur dioxide (SO2) and oxides of nitrogen (NOx) from the eastern power plants spanning across 28 states, taking corrective action to strengthen human health protections in response to a July 11, 2008 federal court of appeals ruling.  These pollutants contribute to the formation of deadly particulate pollution and smog, afflicting millions of Americans with lung and heart disease.   The 2009 SO2 and NOx pollution volumes discharged from eastern power plants are associated with as many as 60,000 deaths and 3.1 million lost work days annually due to particulate pollution alone.

Millions of Americans live downwind from this deadly pollution—from the neighborhoods and communities that live in the shadows of these smokestacks to those impacted by the pollution that drifts hundreds of miles downwind.  The clean air protections at stake were initiated under the administration of President Bush and are now poised to be completed under the administration of President Obama – requiring these smokestacks to clean up dangerous air pollution and become better neighbors.   Environmental Defense Fund has worked across both administrations, in the courts, and in the public square to help secure these vital human health protections.

New Analysis of Additional Health Protections under EPA’s Pending Clean Air Standards
New technical analysis prepared for EDF indicates EPA’s proposed pollution limits for SO2 and NOx will annually save more than 10,000 lives and prevent more than 70,000 asthma attacks by 2014, when compared with the pollution limits finalized by the Bush administration.   The monetary value of the additional, extensive health protections for our nation will exceed $85 billion annually.

Power Sector a Major Polluter
The pollution discharged from over 900 coal, gas and oil-fired in the eastern U.S. has a cascade of serious health and environmental impacts including heart and lung disease, climatic disruption, acidic deposition in forests and lakes, and death.    The power sector is the nation’s single largest source of climate-destabilizing pollution and other airborne contaminants such as toxic mercury and the SO2 which forms deadline particulates.

Texas:  Giant-Sized Pollution, Big Health Protections
Over the past few days, much attention has been devoted to the clean air protections under consideration for power plant pollution in Texas.   The air pollution from Texas’ coal plants is, like many things in Texas, giant-sized and with devastating health impacts.  Texas power plants collectively are the nation’s largest emitter of NOx and the second largest emitter of SO2.  Cleaning up the lethal air pollution from Texas’ coal plants will save over a thousand lives each year and help the children who suffer from this pollution breathe easier.

EPA’s Mandate to Take Corrective Legal Action
On July 11, 2008, the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington D.C. overturned and vacated the Bush administration’s Clean Air Interstate Rule finding serious deficiencies including EPA’s failure to calibrate the emissions mitigation in the upwind state with its downwind impacts and the failure to align the rule’s emissions reduction compliance deadlines with the statute’s deadlines for restoring healthy air in communities across the eastern United States.   On December 23, 2008, the court reinstated the Clean Air Interstate Rule while EPA undertook corrective action consistent with the court’s July 2008 opinion.  Judge Judith Rogers’ opinion reasoned that a remand rather than a vacatur was the proper remedy because “the rule has 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.”

EPA’s new action is intended to address the legal deficiencies identified in the court’s July 2008 opinion.

TOPICS: Coal, Politics, Pollution