Monday, October 10, 2011

Racing to beat the clock on EPA's cross-state air rules

The New York Times reports that the legal wrangling over new U.S. EPA rules meant to curb interstate air pollution from power plants "turned into a full-blown melee late last week, with at least two dozen power companies, cities, states and industry groups joining the fray before Friday's deadline for court challenges."

"There are now more than 30 lawsuits asking the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit to block the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule, which sets strict new limits on the nitrogen oxides (NOx) and sulfur dioxide (SO2) that cause soot and smog. EPA started crafting the program after the court found flaws with the George W. Bush-era Clean Air Interstate Rule, which was also meant to ensure that one state's pollution does not make it harder for another state to meet federal air quality standards."

Also among those filing lawsuits last week were Florida Electric Power Coordinating Group Inc.; the Kansas City Board of Public Utilities; Southwestern Public Service Co.; Northern States Power Co.; Wisconsin Paper Council Inc.; the city of Ames, Iowa; the Municipal Electric Authority of Georgia; the South Mississippi Electric Power Association; the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association; Consolidated Edison Co. of New York; Wisconsin Electric Power Co.; the Louisiana Chemical Association; Peabody Energy Corp.; the state of Georgia; the city of Springfield, Ill.; AEP Texas North Co.; the United Mine Workers of America; Entergy Corp.; the Lafayette Utilities System; the Midwest Ozone Group; Murray Energy Corp.; and the Utility Air Regulatory Group.

EPA, which predicts huge public health gains from cleaning up soot and smog, says that it has been attuned to the needs of power companies while writing the rules.

The agency's approach, not surprisingly, has won the backing of  public health and environmental groups.But it also is endorsed by some energy companies whose power plants emit lower amounts of pollution

Among them is New Jersey-based PSEG, natural gas-driven Calpine Corp. and Exelon Corp., the operator of the nation's largest fleet of nuclear plants. All three are urging the court to let the rules proceed.

New Jersey is a noted victim of cross-state air pollution 

The Garden State has been unable to meet national air quality standards for years and a big part of its problem is due to prevailing winds carrying pollution from facilities like the Portland Generating Station, a coal-fired power plant in neighboring Pennsylvania.

In May of 2010, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection petitioned the EPA to require the plant to install a scrubber that would catch 95 percent of sulfur dioxide before it leaves the plant's smokestacks.

"New Jersey has some of the worst air quality in the nation already and plants like this make the problem worse," NJDEP Commissioner Bob Martin said at the time. "Much of New Jersey's poor air quality is attributable to upwind, out-of-state pollution sources like the Portland plant."

Martin claimed that the 52-year-old coal-fired power plant is among the least efficient in the country, emitting more sulfur dioxide than seven of New Jersey's coal-fired plants combined.

Environmental groups have kept the pressure on the Portland plant

During the morning hours o f August 11, 2001, Greenpeace flew the hot-air aircraft, pictured at the top of this post, around the facility in Upper Mount Bethel Township to protest the plant's continued emissions.

Portland officials say they will be forced to close or to convert to burning natural gas if the EPA rules are adopted.

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