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March 11th, 2005, 08:33 AM
March 11, 2005

E.P.A. Sets Rules to Cut Power Plant Pollution

By MICHAEL JANOFSKY (http://query.nytimes.com/search/query?ppds=bylL&v1=MICHAEL JANOFSKY&fdq=19960101&td=sysdate&sort=newest&ac=MICHAEL JANOFSKY&inline=nyt-per)

http://graphics8.nytimes.com/images/dropcap/w.gifASHINGTON, March 10 - The Environmental Protection Agency announced new rules on Thursday to cut air pollution in the eastern half of the United States, in one of its most ambitious efforts to control soot and ground-level ozone.

The new regulations, the Clean Air Interstate Rule, aim at emissions from power plants, which account for much of the nation's air pollution. The goal, when the regulations go fully into effect in 2015, is to reduce emissions of nitrogen oxides, which create ground-level ozone, by more than 60 percent from 2003 levels and to reduce sulfur dioxide, which forms soot, by more than 70 percent.

Regulations for a third pollutant, mercury, are scheduled to be announced next week.

With about a fifth of the country struggling to comply with the Clean Air Act, the backbone of air quality policy, the Bush administration has been pursuing parallel efforts to drive down power-plant emissions.

One effort is the Clear Skies Act, an overhaul of the Clean Air Act. It had been lumbering along in Congress for three years but failed to win committee approval on Wednesday in the Senate. The other effort is the interstate rule, which the environmental agency has been developing for less than two years.

The two efforts are similar for their caps on emissions and their projected health benefits. In addition, they extend deadlines well beyond those in the Clean Air Act, which generally requires any region that does not meet federal air standards to reach those goals within five years.

The proposed legislative deadline of 2016 and the interstate rule deadline of 2015 were largely set to ease financial burdens on power plant operators who would be forced under either approach to spend billions of dollars to upgrade pollution controls.

Otherwise, the new rule changes nothing in the Clean Air Act.

If Congress had approved the Clear Skies bill, it would have muted several major provisions of the Clean Air Act, including regulations that require power plant operators to upgrade pollution controls as part of any expansion, known as new source review, and the right of one state to sue another over windblown pollution.

The bill failed in large part because of objections by Democrats who favored including caps on carbon dioxide, a heat-trapping gas linked to global warming.

Despite their similarities, the parallel efforts are quite different in several major respects. As a national program, the Clear Skies measure would have set emission standards for power plants in every state.

As a regional program that applies to 28 Eastern states and the District of Columbia, the interstate rule is directed at helping states develop their own solutions, subject to approval by the environmental agency.

In the East, dirty air in one state is often produced by a plant in another. That does not generally happen in the West.

The rule uses a cap-and-trade system in which the environmental agency allocates emission credits state by state that the states then allocate to utilities. A utility that has aggressively reduced its emissions can sell or trade credits to a utility in any state that has not acted so quickly.

The rule is also more vulnerable to legal challenge, from utilities that say it is too burdensome and from environmental groups that say it is too weak, because it does not apply even standards across the entire country.

Any lawsuit has the potential to cause significant delays in putting the rules into effect.

The new rules have won support from environmental groups, unlike the Clear Skies measure, which they widely condemned.

Jeffrey M. Holmstead, chief of the air and radiation office at the environmental agency, was joined at the news conference on Thursday by Fred Krupp, president of Environmental Defense, an organization that worked with the agency to develop the interstate rule.

"This is good for our country," Mr. Krupp said, "and it's good that President Bush and his administration decided to move forward on this, and I want to thank him for doing so."

Other environmental groups were more measured in expressing support.

John M. Stanton, a lawyer for Clear the Air, a coalition of environmental organizations, called the rules "a good step forward," but criticized the agency for not setting tighter emissions caps and earlier deadlines.

Mr. Stanton also pointed to E.P.A. projections that show that in 2015 the Northeast corridor between Boston and Washington, as well as areas around Atlanta, Buffalo , Chicago, Detroit, Houston and Milwaukee, would still not meet air standards.

"This is better than Clear Skies," he said, "but not as good as it could be. Tens of millions of people will still be breathing dirty air."

The senior Washington representative of the Sierra Club, Nat Mund, said, "It's fine to move forward with the interstate transport rule, as long as it does not eliminate the other important provisions of the Clean Air Act."

Senator James M. Inhofe, the Oklahoma Republican who is chairman of the committee that failed to advance the Clear Skies legislation, of which he was a co-sponsor, expressed modest approval for the interstate regulation, describing it as "one small step" for Eastern states.

Mr. Inhofe insisted that his proposal would have done much more to help state and local governments comply with national standards.

Dan Riedinger, a spokesman for Edison Electric Institute, an association of electric utilities, said the group preferred the legislative approach.

The new regulations, Mr. Riedinger said, "are consistent with our view that market mechanisms are the best way to leverage significant new emissions reductions, while keeping prices low for consumers."

"We support the overall approach of the regulation and the level of emissions reductions it requires," he added.

The new rules will require utilities to spend up to $50 billion to upgrade power plants in the next decade with scrubbers and other antipollution equipment. Some of those costs are widely expected to be passed to consumers in the form of higher fuel costs. Mr. Holmstead of the environmental agency said projections showed that household fuel costs were quite likely to fall for a short period because some companies had already begun installing the required upgrades. Later, he said, prices would rise.

The costs, Mr. Holmstead added, are well worth the benefits to public health. After new standards for mercury are announced, he said, the Eastern United States will be on track to have "air cleaner than at any time since we started measuring it three decades ago."

By E.P.A. estimates, the air over all Eastern states would improve by 2015, and five states - Louisiana, Massachusetts, North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia - would meet goals for ozone and soot.

Mr. Holmstead also said analyses by the agency had determined that by 2015 the rule would result in up to $100 billion in annual health benefits.

Copyright 2005 (http://www.nytimes.com/ref/membercenter/help/copyright.html) The New York Times Company (http://www.nytco.com/)

March 18th, 2006, 10:24 AM

Judges Overturn Bush Bid to Ease Pollution Rules

By MICHAEL JANOFSKY (http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/people/j/michael_janofsky/index.html?inline=nyt-per)
NY Times
March 18, 2006


WASHINGTON, March 17 A federal appeals court on Friday overturned a clean-air regulation issued by the Bush administration that would have let many power plants, refineries and factories avoid installing costly new pollution controls to help offset any increased emissions caused by repairs and replacements of equipment.

Ruling in favor of a coalition of states and environmental advocacy groups, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit said the "plain language" of the law required a stricter approach. The court has primary jurisdiction in challenges to federal regulations.

The ruling by a three-judge panel was the court's second decision in less than a year in a pair of closely related cases involving the administration's interpretations of a complex section of the Clean Air Act. Unlike its ruling last summer, when the court largely upheld the E.P.A.'s (http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/organizations/e/environmental_protection_agency/index.html?inline=nyt-org) approach against challenges from industry, state governments and environmental groups, the new ruling was a defeat for the agency and for industry, and a victory for the states and their environmentalist allies.

In the earlier case, a panel including two of the three judges who ruled on Friday decided that the agency had acted reasonably in 2002, when it issued a rule changing how pollution would be measured, effectively loosening the strictures on companies making changes to their equipment and operations.
But on Friday, the court said the agency went too far in 2003 when it issued a separate new rule that opponents said would exempt most equipment changes from environmental reviews even changes that would result in higher emissions.

With a wry footnote to Lewis Carroll's "Through the Looking Glass," the court said that "only in a Humpty-Dumpty world" could the law be read otherwise.

"We decline such a world view," said their unanimous decision, written by Judge Judith W. Rogers, an appointee of President Bill Clinton (http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/people/c/bill_clinton/index.html?inline=nyt-per). Judges David Tatel, another Clinton appointee, and Janice Rogers Brown, a recent Bush appointee, joined her.

The winners this time more than a dozen states, including New York and California and a large group of environmental organizations hailed the decision as one of their most important gains in years of litigation, regulation and legal challenges under the Clean Air Act.

The provision of the law at issue, the "new source review" section, governs the permits required at more than 1,300 coal-fueled power plants around the country and 17,000 factories, refineries and chemical plants that spew millions of tons of pollution into the air each year.

"This is an enormous victory over the concerted efforts by the Bush administration to dismantle the Clean Air Act," Eliot Spitzer (http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/people/s/eliot_l_spitzer/index.html?inline=nyt-per), the New York attorney general, whose office led the opposition from the states, said in an interview.

Mr. Spitzer, who is running for governor, said the ruling "shows that the administration's effort to misinterpret and undermine the statute is illegal."
Howard Fox, a lawyer for Earth Justice, which represented six environmental and health groups in the case, called the ruling "a victory for public health," adding, "It makes no sense to allow huge multimillion-dollar projects that drastically increase air pollution without installing up-to-date pollution controls."

The E.P.A. issued only a brief statement, saying: "We are disappointed that the court did not find in favor of the United States. We are reviewing and analyzing the opinion."

The decision is unlikely to be the last word; several circuit courts or appeals courts have considered or decided related cases, and the issue may eventually reach the Supreme Court. Some in Congress say the uncertainty demands an overhaul of the Clean Air Act itself, but there has been no real movement in that direction in recent years.

The new ruling addressed the administration's effort in 2003 to offer relief to energy companies that faced costly settlements of litigation brought by President Clinton's E.P.A. The agency proposed exemptions for companies whenever upgrades to their equipment amounted to less than 20 percent of the replacement cost of the equipment. In effect, that made perennial repairs of old equipment a more attractive alternative in many cases than its outright replacement.

Energy companies said the two rules the administration proposed in 2002 and 2003 would help them expand energy supplies at lower cost to consumers. But environmentalists said the change would result in just the kind of increased pollution that the law was intended to control.

The Clean Air Act calls for companies to build plants with up-to-date control technologies, and the new source provision was a way to ensure that as time goes by, pollution controls must be modernized along with the plants themselves.

Industry groups, which had challenged the first E.P.A. rule last year as not being flexible enough, were aligned with the agency this time. In general, they have been close partners with the Bush administration in environmental matters, pushing for greater economic considerations in the creation of any new policy.

The 20 percent threshold in the overturned rule would have enabled plant operators to make many repairs and upgrades without spending additional tens of millions of dollars for more advanced pollution controls. In settlements under the old rules, some companies faced costs of more than $100 million.

"This is a terrible decision," said Scott Segal, director of the Electric Reliability Coordinating Council, a trade organization, arguing that the "any physical change" definition created financial instability for plant operators who spent as much as $800 million for a new boiler.

He and other industry leaders expressed hope that the court ruling might induce Congress to pass new legislation that would include New Source Review, a step that he said would make it easier for plant operators to plan for their future upgrades and investments.

John Engler, president of the National Association of Manufacturers, called the ruling "a significant setback to business efficiency" and environmental quality.

The government has 45 days to decide whether to seek a review of the ruling by the entire appeals court.

Copyright 2006 (http://www.nytimes.com/ref/membercenter/help/copyright.html)The New York Times Company (http://www.nytco.com/)

March 22nd, 2006, 05:03 PM
Tangentially related...

From Reuters

Ozone hits sperm count as well as lungs: study
Wed Mar 22, 2006 2:01 PM ET

LONDON (Reuters) - Smog is not just bad for the lungs. It can hit a man's sperm count too, a Californian study revealed on Wednesday.

The University of Southern California looked at the sperm counts of 48 men who donated at least 10 times in two years to a Los Angeles sperm bank.

Using air pollution measurements from the area where each man lived, Rebecca Sokol's team estimated how much pollutant they were exposed to in the days leading up to each donation.

The team, from the University's Keck School of Medicine, found that ozone formed in smoggy air was the only pollutant that appeared to be linked to decreased sperm production. Carbon monoxide seemed to have no effect.

Ozone cannot reach the testicles directly but Sokol, whose findings were published in The New Scientist magazine, said it may cause an inflammatory response or produce toxic substances in the blood that damage sperm.