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EPA intends tougher downwind air-pollution rule

Matthew Daly
Associated Press

The Environmental Protection Agency proposed tougher new limits on Tuesday on smokestack emissions from nearly two dozen states that burden downwind areas with air pollution from power plants they can’t control.

At the same time, the EPA moved to remove two states — South Carolina and Florida — from the “good neighbor” rules, saying they don’t contribute significant amounts of smog to other states.

The EPA’s proposal follows a federal appeals court ruling this summer that upheld the agency’s right to impose the clean-air standards, which block states from adding to air pollution in other localities. Some states and industry groups had argued that the rule was overly burdensome.

The rule applies mostly to states in the South and Midwest — including Michigan — that contribute to soot and smog along the East Coast.

Under the EPA’s proposal, states would have to comply with air quality standards for ozone, or smog, set by the George W. Bush administration in 2008. Current rules are based on pollution standards developed in the late 1990s.

“This update will help protect the health and lives of millions of Americans by reducing exposure to ozone pollution, which is linked to serious public health effects including reduced lung function, asthma … and early death from respiratory and cardiovascular causes,” EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy said in a statement.

The proposal reinforces the obligations states have to address air pollution that is carried across state lines, McCarthy said.

The EPA proposal came as Republicans in Congress moved to block President Barack Obama’s plan to force steep cuts in greenhouse gas emissions from U.S. power plants.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said Obama was “trying to impose deeply regressive energy regulations that would eliminate good-paying jobs, punish the poor and make it even harder for Kentuckians to put food on the table.”

Republicans were expected to force a vote as soon as Wednesday on resolutions challenging the power-plant rules. The measures were being brought up under the little-used Congressional Review Act, which allows Congress to block executive actions it considers onerous with simple majority votes. The maneuver is subject to a presidential veto and has rarely been successful in overturning executive branch rules.

The GOP-controlled House is considering similar resolutions filed by Rep. Ed Whitfield, R-Ky.

The White House has threatened to veto the resolutions, saying they undermine public health protections of the Clean Air Act and “stop critical U.S. efforts to reduce dangerous carbon pollution from power plants.”

Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid of Nevada said Republicans were continuing to “waste time waging partisan campaigns on behalf of greedy special interest groups,” including billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch, who are major donors to Republican political candidates.

Reid called efforts to address climate change a global obligation and said, “Republicans should get in touch with reality, stop fighting the Koch Brothers’ losing battle to allow unlimited pollution, and do what’s right for our country.”

The EPA proposal on cross-state pollution would affect power plant emissions in the following states: Alabama, Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, West Virginia and Wisconsin

The agency said it will take public comments for at least two months before finalizing the rule next year.