CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The Obama administration on Thursday finalized a rule that mandates more cuts in smog-causing pollution, adding to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's efforts to reduce the public health impacts from coal-fired power plants.EPA's new "Cross-State Air Pollution" rule will require cuts in sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions that can often travel long distances, creating smog far from their industrial sources."No community should have to bear the burden of another community's polluters, or be powerless to prevent air pollution that leads to asthma, heart attacks and other harmful illnesses," said EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson. "These Clean Air Act safeguards will help protect the health of millions of Americans and save lives by preventing smog and soot pollution from traveling hundreds of miles and contaminating the air they breathe."EPA said the rule, along with other agency actions, reduce sulfur dioxide emissions by 73 percent over 2005 levels by 2014. Nitrogen oxide emissions would be cut 54 percent over that same time period, EPA said.The rule will protect more than 240 Americans living in the eastern U.S., resulting in up to $280 billion in annual benefits, EPA said. Agency officials said the benefits far outweigh $800 million in projected annual compliance costs and the roughly $1.6 billion per year in capital investments already underway by the nation's utilities.
"The rule will level the playing field for power plants that are already controlling these emissions by requiring more facilities to do the same," the EPA said in a statement.The standards finalized Thursday replace the Clean Air Interstate Rule, originally proposed by the Bush administration in 2005. That rule was thrown out after a federal court concluded it didn't comply with the Clean Air Act.EPA is already under fire from coal industry groups, utilities and some members of Congress for various proposals -- from air pollution rules, greenhouse gas programs and a crackdown on mountaintop removal mining -- aimed at reducing negative impacts of the coal industry.Jeri Matheny, a Charleston-based spokeswoman for American Electric Power, said her company is still reviewing the final EPA rule issued Thursday."We don't know exactly how it will affect our company, but we had hoped the deadlines for this and other rules would be extended to allow us to act in a more deliberate way," Matheny said.Reach Ken Ward Jr. at email@example.com