USA . Emissions

The US EPA is proposing a suite of integrated air Rules that would significantly reduce emissions of SO2, NOx and mercury from utilities. The Interstate Air Quality proposal, signed by EPA administrator Mike Leavitt in December, would result in the deepest cuts in emissions from power plants in more than a decade. It is designed to reduce power plant emissions in a total of 29 eastern states and the District of Columbia in two phases. It is predicted that SO2 emissions would drop by 3.6 million tons in 2010 (a cut of approximately 40 % from current levels) and by another 2 million tons per year when the rules are fully implemented (70 % from today’s levels). NOx emissions would be reduced by 1.5 million tons in 2010 and 1.8 million tons annually in 2015 (a 65 % reduction). Emissions would be permanently capped and cannot increase.

Leavitt noted that EPA last month sent letters to the governors of 31 states confirming that more than 530 counties were unable to meet new health-based ozone standards. “Many of those counties have unhealthy air [only because] they are downwind from … coal burning power plants” he said. And he has told power company officials at a meeting of the Edison Electric Institute “It’s time to start cleaning up. The industry must begin investing now to reduce emissions … from power plants”.

In a separate but closely related action, EPA has proposed options for controlling mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants. Together, the Interstate Air Quality proposal and the Utility Mercury Reductions proposal call for the largest single investment in any clean air programme to date. The Agency’s first ever proposed rule to regulate mercury emissions would cut by 70 % the estimated 48 tons of mercury emitted each year by coal-burning power plants and would set a mandatory, reducing cap on the total mercury emissions allowed from power plants nationwide.

The IAQ proposal calls for utilities to employ a cap and trade programme based on EPA’s acid rain programme to achieve emissions reductions in the most cost effective way.

EPA will now take public comment on the Interstate Air Quality proposal. A final rule is planned for 2005.

“I intend to be very aggressive in keeping these proposals on a tight, fast track. In return, I ask you to be equally aggressive in committing to cleaning up the air America breathes,” said administrator Leavitt. “These rules constitute a move away from a command-and-control style regulation, adopting a market-oriented cap and trade system where the operators of the power plants find the best ways, the fastest ways, and the most efficient ways to make the reductions,” Leavitt added. “It provides incentives to do more than required and serious market-imposed sanctions for those who do less.”

Interstate Air Quality proposed rule

The proposed rule would cut emissions of SO2 and NOx in the eastern US and is an important component of EPA’s efforts to implement the new national air quality standards for fine particle pollution and 8-hour ozone.

Utility Mercury Reductions rule

This related rule provides options that would reduce mercury emissions and would set a mandatory, declining cap on the total mercury emissions allowed from power plants nationwide.