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Clean-air rule aims to limit coal emissions

By Associated Press
Wednesday, July 7, 2010; A03

The Obama administration proposed Tuesday a new rule to tighten restrictions on pollution from coal-burning power plants in the eastern half of the country, a key step to cut emissions that cause smog.

The Environmental Protection Agency said the new rule represented its most consequential effort yet to tackle pollution that contributes to smog and soot that hangs over more than half the country. The rule would cost nearly $3 billion a year, costs that are likely to be passed along to consumers.

"We believe that today is marking a large and important step in EPA's effort to protect public health," said the agency's top air pollution official, Gina McCarthy.

The rule, to be finalized next year, aims to cut sulfur dioxide emissions by 71 percent from 2005 levels by 2014 and nitrogen oxide emissions by 52 percent in the same time frame.

Known as the Clean Air Interstate Rule, the measure requires 31 states from Massachusetts to Texas to reduce smog and soot-producing emissions that can travel long distances in the wind. The agency predicted the rule would prevent about 14,000 to 36,000 premature deaths a year.

"We're working to limit pollution at its source, rather than waiting for it to move across the country," EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson said in a statement.

The new standard would overturn and toughen rules issued during the administration of former president George W. Bush. A federal judge threw out the Bush clean-air rule in 2008, but an appeals court later reinstated it, while ordering the EPA to make changes that better explain how the rule protects public health.

More than a dozen states, along with environmental groups, sued the EPA several years ago, contending that the Bush administration ignored science and its own experts when it decided in 2006 not to lower the nearly decade-old soot standard.

Environmental groups hailed the new rule as a step toward taming pollution from coal-fired power plants and solving the problem of one state's emissions harming residents in other states.

But industry groups said it will boost power prices and force many older coal-fired power plants to be closed. Jeff Holmstead, a former EPA official who authored the original interstate rule, said it was not clear whether utilities will be able to meet the new standards while still providing affordable and reliable electric power.

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