The Associated Press
A federal court late last week put on hold a controversial Obama administration regulation aimed at reducing power plant pollution in 27 states that contributes to unhealthy air downwind.
More than a dozen electric power companies, municipal power plant operators and states had sought to delay the rules until the litigation plays out. A federal appeals court in Washington approved their request Dec. 30.
The EPA, in a statement, said it was confident that the rule would ultimately be upheld on its merits. But the agency said it was “disappointing” the regulation’s health benefits would be delayed, even if temporarily.
Republicans in Congress have attempted to block the rule using legislation, saying it would shutter some older, coal-fired power plants and kill jobs. While those efforts succeeded in the Republican-controlled House, the Senate — with the help of six Republicans — in November rejected an attempt to stay the regulation. And the White House had threatened to veto it.
The rule, finalized by the Environmental Protection Agency in July, replaces a 2005 Bush administration proposal that was rejected by a federal court.
The Bush-era rule, which is expected to cost the industry $1.6 billion annually to comply, will remain in effect. The new rule would have added $800 million a year to that price tag. But those investments would be far outweighed by the hundreds of billions of dollars in health care savings from cleaner air, according to the EPA.
In the first two years, the EPA estimates that the regulation and some other steps would have slashed sulfur dioxide emissions by 73 percent from 2005 levels, and nitrogen oxides will be cut by more than half.
Sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide pollution from power plant smokestacks can be carried long distances by the wind and weather. As they drift, the pollutants react with other substances in the atmosphere to form smog and soot, which have been linked to various illnesses, including asthma, and have prevented many states and cities from complying with health-based standards set by law.
Six states— Texas, Nebraska, Florida, Kansas, Louisiana, and Ohio — had asked the court for the delay. All would have had to reduce pollution from their power plants under the regulation. They were joined by Ames, Iowa, local power plant operators and power generating companies, including Entergy Corp., Luminant Generation Co. and GenOn Energy.
The court is asking that oral arguments take place by April 2012.