Citing health and clean air benefits, EPA Administrator Mike Leavitt, in St. Louis, Missouri, today, signed a proposal that would result in the deepest cuts in sulfur dioxide (SO2) and nitrogen oxides (NOx) emissions from power plants in more than a decade.
SO2 and NOx contribute to both ozone and particulate pollution. The City of St. Louis and nine surrounding counties were recently identified by EPA as having unhealthy air because of elevated levels of ozone. Next February, Missouri and Illinois will recommend to EPA whether those same localities meet health standards for particulate pollution
"This proposal will speed the day when the people of St. Louis can be confident they are breathing clean, safe air," Leavitt said. "The pollution cuts we propose today will help states and cities across the nation achieve national health-based air quality standards."
In a separate but closely related action, EPA earlier this week proposed options for controlling mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants. Together, the Interstate Air Quality proposal announced today and the Utility Mercury Reductions proposal call for the largest single investment in any clean air program in history. Today's proposal calls for utilities to utilize a cap and trade program based on EPA's highly successful Acid Rain Program to achieve emissions reductions in the most cost effective way.
The Interstate Air Quality proposal would reduce power plant emissions in a total of 29 eastern states and the District of Columbia in two phases. Sulfur dioxide emissions would drop by 3.6 million tons in 2010 (a cut of approximately 40 percent from current levels) and by another 2 million tons per year when the rules are fully implemented (a total cut of approximately 70 percent from today's levels). NOx emissions would be cut by 1.5 million tons in 2010 and 1.8 million tons annually in 2015 (a reduction of approximately 65 percent from today's levels). Emissions will be permanently capped and cannot increase.
Leavitt noted that Washington University in St. Louis has for the past three years been a lead institution in a detailed collaborative study of fine particulate air pollution. Researchers, using a $3.5 million EPA grant, are studying air pollutant levels, personal exposure and health ramifications.
SO2 and NOx can be transported on the wind, causing environmental and health problems hundreds of miles away. Fine particles can pose serious health risks, especially for people with heart or lung disease (including asthma) and older adults and children. Ground-level ozone can irritate the respiratory system, aggravate asthma, reduce lung capacity and increase people's susceptibility to respiratory illnesses like pneumonia and bronchitis.
EPA will now take public comment on the Interstate Air Quality proposal. A final rule is planned for 2005.