WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said on Friday it will postpone its final rule aimed at slashing air pollution from coal plants for a month, but made it clear it plans to move forward on the regulations.
The EPA said it needs the extra time to review 960,000 comments it received on its draft rule, but plans to finalize it by Dec 16.
A group of 25 states has launched a court case over the rule, seeking a delay of at least a year for what they argue is an expensive measure that will shut down old coal-fired power plants.
Analysts have said American Electric Power and Duke Energy could see shutdowns because of the rule, which would require many plants to install scrubbers and other anti-pollution technology.
But the EPA, which has also been sued by environmental groups to finalize the rule, said the regulation is needed to prevent illnesses and deaths caused by air pollution.
“In a court filing today, EPA made clear its opposition to efforts to delay this historic, court ordered standard by a full year,” the agency said in a statement.
Lisa Jackson, head of the EPA, has been a proponent of cracking down on pollution, but her plans have faced setbacks.
In September, the White House rolled back rules to restrict smog-forming chemicals from power plants, after businesses and some lawmakers complained complying with the rules would cost billions of dollars in a weak economy.
The ozone rule will be reconsidered in 2013.
In contrast, the one-month delay announced on Friday is “negligible,” said Frank O‘Donnell, president of Clean Air Watch, an environmental group.
“I do not believe it is comparable to the ozone delays,” O‘Donnell said.
The Environmental Defense Fund agreed to the 30-day extension of the deadline to ensure the agency “can finalize the most protective and durable limits on the toxic air pollution from coal plants,” its General Counsel Vickie Patton said in a statement.
The Republican-led House of Representatives is working to dismantle or delay several EPA rules, but is unlikely many of the initiatives would gain significant support in the Democratic-led Senate.
However, on Thursday, a bipartisan group of senators introduced a companion bill to legislation already passed by the House, seeking to overturn EPA regulations on coal ash.
Coal ash is a byproduct from coal plants used to make cement bricks and other building materials. The EPA says the ash can pollute water supplies with heavy metals and other contaminants if not properly contained.
Kent Conrad, a North Dakota Democrat, and John Hoeven, a Republican from the same state, said they want states to set up their own permit system for safe storage of coal ash.
“It ensures that Congress and the states hold the reins of environmental policy,” the senators said in a statement. Two other Senate Democrats and three Republicans have signed on.
House Republicans on the Energy and Commerce Committee said they hoped the Senate initiative would mean their coal ash bill can become law.
But the White House has been critical of the House coal ash bill, noting 49 storage sites for by byproduct in 12 states have a “high hazard potential” for environmental contamination, should the structures fail.
The EPA’s 2010 proposal for coal ash containment and disposal rules was prompted by a massive coal ash spill in Tennessee in 2008 which the White House said could cost $1.2 billion to clean up.
Editing by David Gregorio