The Environmental Protection Agency made a splash this week when it announced new standards for power plants in 28 states. The new standards, known as the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule, tightens rules on soot, smog and acid rain from power plants that affect breathing conditions in the eastern part of the United States. Here is what the rule is all about:

The rule

The Cross-State Air Pollution Rule regulates sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide that come from fossil fuel-burning power plants. It does not directly deal with carbon dioxide and other emissions that are linked to global warming. The rule applies to all the states east of the Rocky Mountains except the Dakotas, Delaware and the six New England states. It goes into effect in 2012.

Health implications

The driving force behind the new rule appears to be addressing the negative impacts of chemicals in the air we breathe. According to the EPA, the new rule will prevent as many as 34,000 premature deaths, 15,000 nonfatal heart attacks and hundreds of thousands of cases of asthma every year. EPA administrator Lisa P. Jackson said 240 million Americans living downwind from where pollution is produced will have their lives improved. “No community should have to bear the burden of another community’s polluters, or be powerless to prevent air pollution that leads to asthma, heart attacks and other harmful illnesses,” Jackson said. “This is a long overdue step to protect the air we breathe.”


Stimulus to economy

Supporters of the new rule point the benefits of reducing this pollution, and a lot of it boils down to dollars and cents. Under some EPA projections, the new rule will create thousands of jobs in pollution-control businesses and significantly increase labor productivity by reducing workdays lost to respiratory and other illnesses. This, according to the agency, means that the economy could see an economic benefit of between $120 billion to $280 billion by 2014.

Cost debate

Not everyone, particularly those in the fossil fuel industry, are on board with the economic benefits of the new clean air rules. The New York Times reports that “an industry-financed study found that new air pollution rules would cost tens of thousands of jobs and cause electricity rates to rise by more than 20 percent in some parts of the country.” That same report quotes Michael J. Bradley, the executive director of the Clean Energy Group, saying that the fossil fuel industry report is bogus. Bradley says that most utilities have already installed the equipment needed to meet the standards, with the exception of a few power plants. “The bottom line is the industry is well positioned to comply with this [and] has been anticipating this for three to four years now.”

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