Natural gas should be a big winner as a result of theEnvironmental Protection Agency’s final plan for reducingsmog-causing emissions of nitrogen oxides (NOx) that was releasedyesterday. The plan calls for a reduction of 1.1 million tonsannually, or 28%, in 22 eastern states and District of Columbia by2007. States clean air plans come due in September 1999 and neededcontrols must be in place by 2003.

The EPA plan, which is based in part on recommendations from 37states, is the first attempt to protect public health in downwindstates from smog that crosses their borders from other states. Theplan includes a model “cap and trade” program that encouragesdevelopment of a market-based emissions trading program. Thetrading program would allow each state to establish a cap on NOxemissions. Within the cap, power plants and other sources thatreduce emissions in greater amounts than required can sell theexcess as credits. Other facilities-that cannot reduce emissions asquickly or as cost effectively-can use the credits to meet theirclean air requirements. It does not mandate which sources of NOxemissions should be reduced, but provides governors withflexibility to achieve the reductions from sources that make themost sense. But EPA estimates reductions from power plants are thecheapest way the achieve the desired results.

Electric utilities, such as American Electric Power andWisconsin Electric, were extremely displeased with the final rule.AEP noted 13 of the 22 states opposed the EPA plan and came up witha better one. Wisconsin Electric officials said EPA’s schedule forcurbing releases of nitrogen oxide emissions will primarily affectcoal-burning power plants and severely limit plant availabilitythroughout the Midwest during a critical time. WE estimates itstotal compliance cost is $250 to $500 million ($30-$50 million peryear).

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