EPA unveils plan to cut interstate smog pollution from power plants

WASHINGTON, March 11 (Reuters) - The Environmental Protection Agency on Friday proposed tougher rules to cut lung-damaging smog pollution from power plants and industrial sources as part of the agency’s broader effort to clean up the power sector.

The "Good Neighbor" proposal would target a roughly 29% cut in emissions of smog-forming nitrogen oxides from power plants by 2026, along with a 15% reduction from other industrial sources, by encouraging more consistent use of pollution control equipment, according to a fact sheet provided by the agency.

Industrial emitters occasionally turn off their pollution control equipment to save money, meeting their emissions limits instead by purchasing pollution reduction credits from other facilities. Their pollution can then blow across state lines, making it difficult for downwind states to comply with a 2015 ground-level ozone standard.

"Air pollution doesn’t stop at the state line. This step will help our state partners meet air quality health standards, saving lives and improving public health in smog-affected communities across the United States,” EPA Administrator Michael Regan said in a statement on Friday.

The announcement comes a day after Regan laid out the agency's plans to use a "full suite" of powers to clean up conventional pollutants at power plants.

"We don’t have to overly rely on any one policy or rulemaking to achieve our mission and ensure affordable and reliable energy," he said on Thursday at the CERAWeek energy conference in Houston.

The agency is awaiting a decision by the Supreme Court over whether it has the authority to regulate carbon emissions at power plants under the Clean Air Act. Power plants are the nation’s second largest source of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions behind transport.

The Biden administration last year set a goal to zero out greenhouse gas emissions from the power sector by 2035.

Running pollution controls to target one pollutant can often lead to cuts in greenhouse gases as a co-benefit.

"Requiring power plants to be responsible for their pollution and operate their pollution controls can make it clear that old, dirty, inefficient plants need to clean up or go away," said Paul Billings, senior vice president at the American Lung Association, noting that the rule has essential public health benefits.

Friday’s proposal will require power plants in 25 states to meet tougher nitrogen oxide emissions standards by "consistently operating" emissions controls already installed at power plants.

It will further tighten limits in 2026 to levels that would likely require installation of higher-grade pollution controls like “selective catalytic reduction” equipment.

The EPA estimated the cost of achieving these reductions would be around $1.1 billion, which it says is a fraction of the estimated health benefits.

Reporting by Valerie Volcovici; editing by Jonathan Oatis

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