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Cross-State Air Pollution Rule Finalized. Will Power Sector Legal Challenges Follow?

smogIn a move to reduce nitrogen (NOx) emissions from power plants that contribute to ozone pollution in the eastern US, the EPA has finalized updates to the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule.

The rule, which aims to protect downwind states from pollution emitted outside their borders, will help states comply with a 2008 smog standard that limits ozone pollution to 75 parts per billion, the agency says.

Beginning in May 2017, the new rule will affect 2,875 electric generating units at 886 coal, gas and oil power plants in 22 states. The agency says these power plants can achieve the required NOx emissions reductions using existing, cost-effective technology.

This rule and other power-sector regulations are expected to cut summertime NOx emissions by 80,000 tons — a 20 percent reduction from 2015 levels, the EPA says. It estimates the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule will provide annual benefits of up to $880 million in 2017 while costing the industry $68 million to comply with the rule.

“Today’s update builds on the decades of success under the Clean Air Act that has led to significant cuts in nitrogen oxide emissions from upwind states that affect their downwind neighbors,” said Janet McCabe, acting assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation, in a statement. “The common-sense actions that power plants can take to quickly and affordably reduce this harmful pollution will help protect the health and lives of millions of Americans.”

The Cross-State Air Pollution Rule was created under the “good neighbor” provision of the Clean Air Act, and finalized in 2011.

The good neighbor provision requires states — or, as a backstop, the EPA — to address air pollution that crosses states’ borders and affects the ability of downwind states to attain clean air standards. Under this provision, states develop state implementation plans while the EPA plays a backstop role by issuing federal implementation plans if a state fails to submit an approvable plan.

The US Supreme Court upheld the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule in 2014. At the time, the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity called the ruling “dangerous and costly.”

The American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity did not respond to a request for comment on the updates to the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule. The American Coal Council said it had no comment on the final rule.

While environmental groups had hoped the final rule would reflect a more stringent 70 ppb ozone benchmark set by a different EPA smog rule issued last October, the Environmental Defense Fund praised the final rule for its strong clean air protections. “Today’s new and improved Cross-State Air Pollution Rule will help reduce harmful smog pollution from power plants,” said EDF senior attorney Graham McCahan.

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