In a move that may work in the favor of natural gas interests, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has finalized Clean Air Act protections “that will slash hundreds of thousands of tons of smokestack emissions,” EPA said Thursday.

The Cross-State Air Pollution Rule (CSAPR) will improve air quality by cutting sulfur dioxide (SO2) and nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions that contribute to pollution problems when they drift into other states, EPA said. By 2014, the rule and other state and EPA actions will reduce SO2 emissions by 73% and NOx emissions by 54% compared with 2005 levels.

Following the Clean Air Act’s “Good Neighbor” mandate to limit interstate air pollution, the rule will help states that are struggling to protect air quality from pollution emitted outside their borders, EPA said. The rule, which replaces EPA’s 2005 Clean Air Interstate Act, requires 27 eastern states to significantly improve air quality by reducing power plant emissions that contribute to pollution in other states.

Sen. Tom Carper (D-DE), who has sponsored legislation that would tighten limits on SO2 and NOx emissions and cut mercury emissions from coal-fired plants by 90% (S 2995), said he supports EPA’s CSAPR proposal.

“As those of us who live in Delaware and other so-called ‘tail pipe’ states on the East Coast know all too well, our neighboring states’ dirty air has adversely affected the health and well-being of Delawareans, just by virtue of our location. We need to change that and this cross-state air pollution rule is an important tool to help us in that effort,” Carper said.

The EPA announcement was also cheered by environmental groups including the Sierra Club and Natural Resources Defense Council, but representatives of the coal industry weren’t as happy. CSAPR would be among the most expensive rules ever imposed on coal-fired power plants, according to the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity (ACCCE).

“The EPA is ignoring the cumulative economic damage new regulations will cause,” said ACCCE CEO Steve Miller. “America’s coal-fueled electric industry has been doing its part for the environment and the economy, but our industry needs adequate time to install clean coal technologies to comply with new regulations.”

Older, smaller coal-fired plants will likely fade away as the EPA implements rules to carry out the Clean Air Transport Rule, the Air Toxics Rule, coal combustion residuals, and cooling water intake structure standards, according to a recent report from ICF International (see Daily GPI, May 12). Natural gas could take as much as two-thirds of the market for new power generation over the next 20 years, including load gains from the retirement of more than 50 GW of coal-fired power generation capacity, according to the consulting firm.

The announcement came one year after EPA released a draft of the rule, at that time called the Clean Air Transport Rule (see Daily GPI, July 9, 2010). The EPA proposal is open for public review and comment for 45 days after publication in the Federal Register.

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