[JURIST] The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) [official website] on Monday released the Clean Power Plan [materials] proposal at the direction of President Barack Obama [official website]. The plan will, for the first time, cut carbon pollution from existing power plants [EPA report] in an effort to protect public health and fight climate change without blocking access to affordable power. Although limits already exist for the levels of arsenic, mercury, sulfur dioxide and particle pollution that power plants emit, there are no national limits on carbon pollution levels at this time. The EPA projects that by 2030, steps taken by the agency will cut carbon emission from the power sector by 30 percent below 2005 levels throughout the country while shrinking electricity bills roughly 8 percent. The plan will be carried out through the development of a state-federal partnership, providing states with guidelines that allow them to develop plans that meet state-specific goals. The agency will accept comment on the Clean Power Plan proposal for 120 days following its publication in addition to holding multiple public hearings, and the plan’s standards are set to be finalized next June.
The EPA has been working to regulate air pollution and its negative effects for decades. Last week the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled [JURIST report] that the EPA was justified in its decision to defer adopting new air quality standards for pollutants that contribute to acid rain. In 1990 Congress created the Acid Rain Program [EPA backgrounder], a project aimed at reducing the sulfur and nitrogen oxide emissions of power plants—pollutants determined to be the principle cause of acid rain. The EPA hailed the cap-and-trade [EPA backgrounder] program as a success, its benefits having far outweighed the cost of the program according to a 2011 report by the Office of Science and Technology Policy [official website]. In March 2005 the EPA issued [JURIST report] the Clean Air Interstate Rule (CAIR) to deal with power-plant pollution that drifts between states. Also a cap-and-trade system, CAIR only applied to 27 eastern states and the District of Columbia and aimed to reduce target pollutants by 70 percent by 2015. Considered a regional version of president George W. Bush’s proposed Clear Skies Act [JURIST report] legislation, which was struggling to pass through Congress, CAIR was pushed forward by the EPA. In November 2006 a Canadian environmental protection advocacy group, on behalf of 13 Canadian cities, petitioned [JURIST report] for the EPA to mandate pollution control for 150 US coal-fired power plants arguing the plants’ emissions were causing acid rain and other environmental complications north of the border. In October 2007 the EPA, along with several environmental groups and eight northeastern states, settled [JURIST report] a lawsuit against American Electric Power requiring the utility company to reduce its nitrogen oxide emissions and spend $4.6 billion in pollution controls to reduce acid rain.