A new EPA air pollution rule Thursday received high praise from environmental groups for reducing health problems in the long-term and could mean changes to power plant operations in the short-term.
The Cross-State Air Pollution Rule announced by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency mandates reductions in the release of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide from power plants.
In Louisiana, the rule only concerns the release of nitrogen dioxide and only during the ozone season which runs May 1 through Sept. 30.
The rule calls for a reduction of 16,415 tons of nitrogen dioxide releases from what the levels were at in 2005. This reduction needs to be met by 2014, said Sam Phillips, DEQ assistant secretary.
The new air pollution rule takes effect Jan. 1. The current Clean Air Interstate Rule that regulates nitrogen dioxide allowances for each facility will remain in effect until Jan. 1, Phillips said.
The intent of the rule is to reduce the amount of pollution that is carried across state lines. For example, according to the EPA, Louisiana’s air quality is affected by pollution produced in six other states - Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Mississippi, Tennessee and Texas.
Pollution produced in Louisiana only affects air quality in Texas.
While Louisiana power plants need to reduce 16,415 tons of nitrogen dioxide during the ozone season, six neighboring states will also have to reduce its releases. Alabama will need to reduce by 14,263 tons; Arkansas 1,116 tons; Georgia 17,359 tons; Mississippi 12,611 tons; Tennessee 13,983 tons; and Texas 21,194 tons.
“It makes them responsible for cleaning up someone else’s mess,” EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson said about cross-state pollution Thursday. “This effort is about protecting our health.”
The rule, she said, will help to prevent 34,000 premature deaths, 15,000 nonfatal heart attacks, 19,000 cases of acute bronchitis and 400,000 cases of aggravated asthma - totaling about $280 billion in annual health benefits.
Various environmental and health groups, from the Sierra Club to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, applauded the rule.
These benefits far outweigh the estimated $800 million it will cost to implement the new requirements, Jackson said.
“Many power plants have already made these investments,” she said.
Ultimately, the rule secures a fundamental right for people to breath clean air, she said.
In Louisiana, meeting the rule will mean some power plans will need to install additional pollution control devices, said Bryan Johnston, with the state Department of Environmental Quality air permits division.
Although there are 33 facilities listed as being regulated by the rule, he said, the majority of the reductions will come from six of those plants - including the four coal-fired plants in the state.
There are two main ways to limit nitrogen oxide releases. One is to keep it from forming by changing how fuel is burned for power, he said.
Many of the power plants have already made this modification, Johnston said.
The second way is to remove nitrogen oxide from air releases by injecting ammonia into the gas stream, which reacts with the nitrogen oxide and oxygen to create nitrogen and oxygen, he said.
Louisiana power plant operators are still looking through the lengthy rule to determine its impact.
“We’ve already invested in significantly decreasing our emissions from facilities in Louisiana,” said David Knox, spokesman for NRG Energy, which operates Big Cajun 2 power plant in Pointe Coupee Parish.
Although its staff is still reviewing the 1,300 page rule, Knox said that based on an initial read of the rule, “we do not anticipate any impact to be significant.”
Jill Smith, spokeswoman with Entergy, said their environmental group is still reviewing the rule, so it’s too early to say what, if any impact, the rule will have on their power plants.
Robbyn Cooper, a Cleco spokeswoman, said the rule is significantly different from the draft rules they’d been seeing, so its staff is still reviewing what it could mean.
Cleco is part owner of several power units in Louisiana including a coal-fired power plant - Dolet Hills in DeSoto Parish - and the Brame Energy Center in Rapides Parish.
“We’re going to evaluate our options,” she said.