The Environmental Protection Agency, facing intense opposition from some states and industry, on Thursday softened a new rule that requires aging power plants to sharply cut emissions that cause smog and soot in neighboring states.
The agency’s proposed revisions mean 10 states, including Texas, will be able to emit more lung-damaging pollutants than initially allowed under the controversial Cross-State Air Pollution Rule.
The changes, however, did not satisfy some Texas officials, who said the rule still will cost jobs, threaten electric reliability and drive up energy costs.
Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott dismissed the revisions as minor and said the state will continue to challenge the rule in the courts. Gov. Rick Perry said the EPA’s changes “prove there are undeniable flaws” with the rule.
The EPA said the technical adjustments do not alter the regulation’s core elements – the states included in the program, the utilities covered by it or the compliance deadlines. The changes should, however, help ease the transition for some states and industry, officials said.
The revisions include additional allowances for emissions in a 27-state trading program scheduled to begin Jan. 1.
Texas, which has sued the EPA over the rule, will receive most of the new credits in the market for sulfur dioxide, which forms the tiny particles known as soot. To comply with the regulation, companies may purchase credits or install smokestack scrubbers and other control technology.
More time sought
The EPA also removed a cap on the number of credits that can be traded between states for the first two years of the program.
The agency proposed the changes on the day it was required to respond in federal court to requests by Dallas-based Luminant and another power company to delay the rule because of the potential effects on their businesses.
Luminant, the state’s largest power producer, has said the rule will force the loss of about 500 jobs with the closing of units at one of its coal-fired plants and three nearby mines. In a statement, the company said the changes represent “a step forward” by the EPA, but noted that the rule still takes effect Jan. 1.
Luminant and Texas separately sued the agency over the rule last month, saying the regulation does not give them enough time to comply. Texas officials claim the EPA wrongly, and without proper notice, added the state to the list of those that must do more to regulate sulfur dioxide.
Federal officials said the additional emissions allowances proposed Thursday should allow Luminant to operate power-generating units and lignite mines in northeast Texas into late 2012 without installing new pollution controls or buying more credits.
Al Armendariz, the EPA’s administrator for Texas and four adjacent states, said he believes the company can comply without closing facilities: “They have options.”
The EPA increased the emissions cap for Texas because it had wrongly assumed eight units had modern pollution controls. The error meant they were sending more pollutants into the air than the EPA’s initial analysis showed.
Activists still satisfied
Under the revision, Texas’ sulfur dioxide cap will jump by 70,067 tons, nearly the same amount Luminant’s Martin Lake power plant emitted last year.
Environmentalists said they were not opposed to the EPA’s revisions because they do not undercut a rule that the agency expects to prevent up to 34,000 premature deaths a year.
Jen Powis, a Houston-based representative of the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign, said the changes show “EPA is responsive to new information, and that these are reasonable, flexible protections that also ensure all polluters have to play by the rules.”