Thursday, August 23, 2012

EPA Rule Targeting Coal Power Plants Voided by Court

On Tuesday the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled (2-1) that the Cross State Air Pollution Rule, CSAPR, exceeded the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s authority by requiring some state to clean up more than their fair share of pollution. CSAPR defined each State’s emissions reduction goals and the Federal Implementation Plans to obtain those goals at the State level. However, the EPA had used computer modeling to generate emissions “budgets” for each upwind State without regard for the amount of pollution each state was contributing to a downwind problem, but based instead on the cost of remediation. The EPA was requiring the level of cleanup to be based on cost and requiring more work to be done where the cost of capturing a ton of sulfur-dioxide and nitrogen-oxide was the lowest creating a pollution trading system.

CSAPR, requiring reductions of sulfur-dioxide and nitrogen-oxide emissions in coal fired plants, was intended to have gone into effect on January 1, 2012, but the U.S. Court of Appeals District of Columbia Circuit granted a stay to the implementation of the CSAPR pending resolution of the legal challenges. Now the Court of Appeals has found the rule exceeded EPA authority. CSAPR, if it had been implemented would have reduce SO2 emissions by 73% from 2005 levels and NOx emissions by 54% at the approximately 1,000 coal fired electrical generation plants in the eastern half of the country. This rule was intended to help downwind states attain the 24-Hour and/or Annual PM2.5 National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) and the 1997 8-Hour Ozone NAAQS. CSAPR would have replace EPA's 2005 Clean Air Interstate Rule (CAIR) which will now remain in effect. Both these rules are intended to allow states to better control their particulate pollution.

According to the Lung Association, the two biggest air pollution threats in the United States are ozone and particle pollution. Other pollutants include carbon monoxide, lead, nitrogen dioxide, sulfur dioxide and a variety of toxic substances including mercury that appear in smaller quantities. The EPA requires states to monitor air pollution under the NAAQS to assess the healthfulness of air quality and ensure that they meet minimum air quality standards. One standard of NAAQS is particulate pollution of 2.5 micrometers or less called PM2.5. Combustion engines and coal burning power plants are key contributors to PM2.5 particles, and according to the US EPA and World Health Organization, the smaller, finer pollutants measured by PM2.5 are especially dangerous for human health. Studies have shown that people are at increased risk of asthma, lung cancer, cardiovascular problems, birth defects and premature death from particles smaller than 2.5 microns in diameter that lodge deep in the lungs.

CASPR was intended to prevent pollution from one state from moving into other states and preventing them from meeting their air quality goals. Several states have been unable to meet the current particulate standard. PM2.5 particles can be either directly emitted or formed via atmospheric reactions. Primary particles are emitted from cars, trucks, and heavy equipment, as well as residential wood combustion, forest fires, and agricultural waste burning. The main components of secondary particulate matter are formed when pollutants like NOx and SO2 react in the atmosphere to form particles.

Currently, under the Clean Air Act the US EPA has established both annual and 24-hour PM2.5 air quality standards (as well as standards for other pollutants). The annual standard is 15 ug/m3 (an air quality index, AQI of 49). The 24-hr standard is 35 ug/m3 (an AQI of 99). In June of 2012 EPA announced that they are proposing stricter air quality particulate standards to go into effect in December 2012. The standard is anticipated to be 12-13 ug/m3. According to American Lung Association State of the Air Report, Pittsburgh, PA had the highest particle pollution in the nation on an annual basis. Seven cities averaged particulate levels higher than the 15 ug/m3 current standard allows: Bakersfield, CA; Hanford, CA; Los Angeles, CA; Visalia, CA; Fresno, CA; Pittsburgh, PA; and Phoenix, AZ. The American Lung Association in their latest report states that twenty cities actually have average year-round particle pollution below the current regulated level, but above the proposed EPA air quality standard of 12-13 ug/m3. The maximum 24 hour standard will remain unchanged at 35 ug/m3. While particulate pollution remains a problem the EPA has not been able to address the problem by regulation targeted at coal fired power plants.

The earth’s atmosphere is interconnected. That is accepted when it comes to carbon dioxide, but it also applies to industrial pollutants and soot. The EPA has estimated that just one-quarter of U.S. measured pollution emissions from coal-burning power plants are deposited within the contiguous U.S. The remainder enters the global cycle. Conversely, current estimates are that less than half of all measured coal pollution emissions deposited within the United States comes from American sources. According to the Mount Bachelor Observatory, Chinese exports include acid rain that falls in China, Korea, and Japan, and pollutants that enter the air stream including sulfates, NOx, black carbon, soot produced by cars, stoves, factories, and crop burning.

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