WASHINGTON — The Environmental Protection Agency announced today that it finalized rules that compel 28 states and the District of Columbia to curb air pollution that travels across states by wind and weather, the first in a series of federal restrictions aimed at improving the air Americans breathe.

The Cross State Air Pollution Rule, which replaces a Bush-era regulation thrown out by federal courts in 2008, targets coal-fired power plants mainly in the eastern United States. The measure, along with a proposal aimed at cutting summertime smog in the Midwest, will cost the utility industry roughly $2.4 billion in pollution control upgrades over several years.

EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson called the rule “another long overdue step to protect the air we breathe and that our children breathe” in her remarks today.

Jackson predicted that the rule will prevent up to 34,000 premature deaths annually and result in fewer hospital visits and work sick days, she said, generating $280 billion in benefits “that far outweigh the cost of complying with the rule.”

The rule “is about protecting our health,” Jackson said, and is projected to result in 1.8 million fewer sick days annually and allow people who suffer from respiratory ailments related to breathing pollution to spend more time outdoors in summer.

A federal judge vacated the Bush administration’s Clean Air Interstate Rule (CAIR) for several reasons, questioning in part whether the emissions trading system it established would do enough to bring all states into compliance with federal air quality standards.


Frank O’Donnell, who directs the advocacy group Clean Air Watch, said the measures are “a good first step in cleaning up the air” but are less significant than upcoming guidelines for acceptable smog and soot levels across the country.

Utilities in several states, including Virginia, have already begun to cut the nitrogen oxide and sulfur dioxide emissions linked to both soot and smog-forming ozone. The EPA estimates that the power sector has spent $1.6 billion so far to install pollution controls that helped bring emissions in line with the Bush measure.

Air pollution is carried downwind from one state to another, which lacks the regulatory power to stop it. Maryland, for example, is “kind of at the wrong end of the tailpipe” when it comes to transported pollutants such as sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide, said Kathy Kinsey, deputy secretary of Maryland’s Department of the Environment.

Some utility officials said the new rules and others that the Obama administration plans to enact in the coming months could force the retirement of several coal plants. That, in turn, will raise electricity costs for consumers, said American Electric Power spokesman Pat Hemlepp.

“Our most significant concern remains the unrealistic compliance timetables of this and a series of other EPA rules that target coal-fueled generation,” Hemlepp said.

The rule will likely have its biggest impact on states such as Texas, which has challenged the idea of stricter controls on coal-fired power plants.

Vicki Patton, a senior attorney for the Environmental Defense Fund, said that Texas power plants collectively “are the nation’s largest emitter” of nitrogen oxide and “the second largest emitter” of sulfur dioxide.

William Becker, executive director of the National Association of Clean Air Agencies, said the new regulations impose tighter restrictions than did the Bush rules on sulfur dioxide emissions that create fine particles known as soot. But they resemble the former rules, he said, in that they are using an outdated smog standard that the EPA is expected to tighten later this month.

Some lawmakers are already lobbying to weaken the new smog rules: Sens. Pete Sessions, R-Texas, and Mary Landrieu, D-La., are circulating a letter among their colleagues that urges Jackson to withdraw the rules because they have “significant concerns” about its economic impact.

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