Divisive Pollution Rule Remains on Schedule

Source: The New York Times, September 4, 2011
Posted on: http://envfpn.advisen.com

As the Obama administration pulls back on a broad rule to combat ozone pollution, a different rule that would also reduce smog-forming chemicals in Texas remains on track.

The White House announced on Friday that ground-level ozone levels would be reviewed in 2013 rather than tightened immediately, a move welcomed by conservatives in Texas and elsewhere. But the controversial ”cross-state air pollution” rule, which aims at reducing emissions from power plants in Texas and 26 other states, remains scheduled to go into effect in January.

The cross-state rule targets nitrogen oxide, an ozone precursor, as well as sulfur dioxide, which is not an ozone precursor but can also cause lung damage.

”The cross-state air pollution rule is final,” Betsaida Alcantara, press secretary for the Environmental Protection Agency, which devised the rule, said in an e-mail.

The ozone rule, which the administration will not review now until 2013, is a broad regulation that would have encompassed emissions from various sources, including motor vehicles, according to Neil Carman, the clean air program director for the Texas chapter of the Sierra Club. The cross-state rule, in contrast, applies more narrowly to power plants.

Environmentalists are unhappy about the fate of the broader ozone rule, but ”we’re going to get a lot of clean-up through the cross-state air pollution rule,” Mr. Carman said.

The cross-state rule requires Texas power plants to lower sulfur dioxide emissions by 46 percent and nitrogen oxide emissions by 7 percent compared with 2009 levels, according to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (T.C.E.Q.), the state’s environmental agency.

But the cross-state rule has stirred huge opposition from Texas officials, who say it is onerous and takes effect too quickly.

In a statement Friday, the T.C.E.Q. said that it hoped the ozone rule pullback ”signals that the E.P.A. is beginning to consider science and common sense in their decisions, and we would hope that they would apply this to other regulations such as the proposed cross-state air pollution rule.”

Last week the Electric Reliability Council of Texas reported that the cross-state rule could curtail the operations of some coal plants so severely that it could lead to rolling blackouts — an issue that carries heightened visibility as Texas comes off a scorching summer that badly stretched power supplies.

”At least two” rotating outages would have occurred this summer had the pollution rule been in place, said Warren Lasher, an official with the council, which operates the Texas electric grid.

In a statement last week, the E.P.A. said it would ”look forward” to meeting with Texas grid officials for further discussion but that Texas had an ”ample range” of options for complying with the rule without threatening the electric system’s reliability. The rule will bring billions of dollars in health benefits and prevent up to 1,700 premature deaths yearly, starting in 2014, the agency says.

About 18 plants will be particularly affected, the state says. The hardest-hit plants burn lignite, a relatively dirty type of coal mined in Texas, or a combination of lignite and Powder River Basin coal, a more expensive but cleaner coal that comes from Wyoming.

The lignite-burning plants, which are built around the mines, include five owned by Luminant, the largest generator of electricity in Texas and also the top producer of lignite. Together they provide about 8,000 megawatts of energy, enough for several million homes, Luminant says.

The company says it may have to curb power output at these plants because it cannot install scrubbers to reduce sulfur dioxide or make other adjustments, like importing more of the Wyoming coal, in time.

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