EPA Clean Air Rule Changes Name Again, But Still Saves Lives

Guest Blog | July 11, 2011 | Coal, Energy Policy

It was one year ago when the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed a significant new rule to reduce air pollution from coal-fired power plants. That rule was known as the air pollution Transport Rule. On July 6, 2011 EPA announced the final version of that rule with only one major change: A new name. What was known as the Transport Rule for the last year of deliberation and calibration is now known as the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule (CSAPR).

The most important things about this rule, on the other hand, did not change. The rule will still save thousands of lives, reduce health care costs, protect our air and water, and result in immense monetized benefits.

Public health and environmental benefits from CSAPR. Map from epa.gov/crossstaterule/benefitsmap.html
Public health and environmental benefits from CSAPR. Map from www.epa.gov/crossstaterule/benefitsmap.html

Hopefully this rule is just the first in a series of important, life-saving, energy-related environmental quality rules that EPA will finalize in the near future.The Cross-State Air Pollution Rule has some complicated details, but the basic background and outline is simple. The Clean Air Act requires states to meet National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS). States use a number of tools to clean their air and comply with these standards. However, states only have authority to control air pollution within their borders. Many states, particularly in the Eastern United States, are unable to comply with NAAQS because of air pollution that travels across state lines. This interstate air pollution problem is the reason that the new rule is necessary and the very reason that Congress included a so-called “good neighbor” provision in the Clean Air Act.

EPA undertook very extensive simulation and modeling of how air pollution travels across state lines, and then set up individualized state-wide emission caps to address transported pollution. To allow businesses flexibility and economic opportunity while complying with new pollution limits, EPA will issue tradeable pollution allowances so that plants have added incentive to reduce their emissions.

EPA estimates that the new rule’s caps and trading provisions will significantly reduce sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides as well as the ground-level ozone, acid rain and fine particulate matter that all form when these two chemicals react in the air. When EPA combines the reductions from CSAPR with other state and federal actions they estimate that sulfur dioxide emissions will decline by 73% and nitrogen oxide emissions will decline by 54% based on 2005 levels. These reductions, along with other aspects of the rule, in 2014, will, among other benefits, lead to avoidance of:

  • as many as 34,000 premature deaths;
  • 15,000 heart attacks;
  • 19,000 hospital and emergency room visits;
  • 19,000 cases of acute bronchitis; and
  • 1.8 million days when people miss school or work because of air quality problems.

Given all of this it is no surprise that EPA expects between $120 and $280 billion in monetized benefits compared to only $1.6 billion required in capital investments (many of which are already underway or completed due to a similar rule from President Bush’s EPA) and $800 million in other costs associated with CSAPR.

All of these benefits will begin to accrue on January 1, 2012, when this rule takes effect and will ramp up in 2014 when even lower emission caps will come in to force.picture-1

To provide as much clarity and openness as possible with this rule, EPA introduced a comprehensive website dedicated to explaining the rule and presenting all the underlying data as directly as possible. The website provides links to all the raw numbers, as well as illustrating the nuances of the rule through charts and tables. On the EPA website itself, one can interact with a version of the map to the left and scroll over the state of Alabama, for example, to learn that pollution from Alabama travels to Georgia, Texas and Louisiana while pollution from Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, Illinois, West Virginia and Pennsylvania travels in to Alabama. The website further provides data through Google Earth to show every single source of air pollution subject to the new rule and allows users to click on the individual source to learn about its attributes and state emission caps. The website is a wealth of information and will prove useful to users of all types, from the interested public to professional policy wonks.

A number of new rules are in the works at EPA that are intended, like CSAPR, to clean our air and clean up pollution from coal-fired power plants. When CSAPR was proposed as the Transport Rule it was a very strong starting point and there were no major changes to the final product. EPA is currently in the process of considering several other important rules, including rules for ozone, mercury and hazardous air pollutants and coal ash, but these rules face tough pressure from Congress and industry. CSAPR is the first in this line of new pollution safeguards to become final and the fact that it remained as strong as proposed is hopefully the start of what will be a long trend of reducing pollution, promoting clean energy and protecting human health and the environment.

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