Tuesday, March 1, 2011

E.P.A. Scales Back Emission Rules

Responding to a changed political climate and a court-ordered deadline, the Obama administration issued significantly revised new air pollution rules on Wednesday that will make it easier for operators of thousands of industrial boilers and incinerators to meet federal air quality standards.

The new regulations represent a major step back from more demanding and costly rules proposed last spring that provoked an outcry from members of Congress from both parties and from thousands of affected businesses. One industry-financed study said the proposed standard would cost businesses $20 billion to comply and cause the loss of more than 300,000 jobs.

E.P.A. officials said on Wednesday that the altered rule would cost half as much as the previous proposal while achieving virtually the same health benefits. The agency pegged compliance costs for the new version of the rule at $2.1 billion a year and said it would generate more than 2,000 new jobs.

Gina McCarthy, director of the E.P.A.’s air and radiation office, said that the pollution reductions would save from 2,600 to 6,600 lives per year by 2014 and avert 4,100 heart attacks and 42,000 asthma attacks annually.

“These health protections will save between $23 billion and $56 billion in health-related costs,” Ms. McCarthy said in a conference call for reporters. “They are realistic, they are achievable, and they are reasonable, and they come at roughly half the cost to comply compared to that in the proposed rule in May 2010.”

The rule issued on Wednesday affects roughly 200,000 boilers, small power plants and incinerators operated by factories, chemical plants, municipalities, universities, churches and commercial buildings.

About 187,000 of these are relatively small sources of the target pollutants — lead, mercury, soot and toxic gases — and will have to do little more than perform routine “tune-ups” every year or two to meet the new standard. They will be allowed to achieve the cuts using readily available control technology at what the E.P.A. said was a reasonable cost. The agency said the earlier version, which would have required boiler operators to apply “maximum achievable control technology,” set too high a bar.

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