DEEP: Governor Rell: EPA Power Plant Rule Change Would Threaten Quality Of State's Air, Public Health

November 21, 2008

Governor Rell: EPA Power Plant Rule Change
Would Threaten Quality of
State’s Air, Public Health

Governor Enlists New England Colleagues in Urging EPA to Keep Rule

Governor M. Jodi Rell today announced she has persuaded all of the other New England Governors – Democrat and Republican alike – to join her in urging the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency not to change a rule easing requirements for pollution control devices on electric power plants. The rule change, if approved, would seriously threaten air quality and the health of residents throughout New England.

Governor Rell and her colleagues have written EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson spelling out reasons why that agency should not change Clean Air Act requirements for upgraded power plants. Today is the last day rule changes can be submitted to the Federal Register by the Bush Administration and it is believed this rule change is under active consideration.

"The EPA is talking about tinkering with the fine print of regulations so that older power plants making upgrades will not be required to install pollution control devices," Governor Rell said. "Once again we face the spectacle of the very federal agency charged with protecting the environment engaging in behavior that would actually diminish the quality of our natural resources. This story is getting old. It is time for it to stop.

"If the EPA makes this rule change, I will direct the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection to pursue every available legal option to overturn it," the Governor said. "We need to stop this potentially dangerous move dead in its tracks. We have worked far too hard to improve the quality of the air we breathe. We cannot – and will not – allow our progress to be undermined by the actions of an EPA that has lost sight of its mission."

EPA’s Proposed Rule Change

Under current provisions of the federal Clean Air Act, existing electric generating units (EGUs) are subject to a New Source Review (NSR) when major renovations or upgrades are planned. If the NSR determines that improvements to a plant will result in an increase in annual emissions – which is typically the case, because such improvements increase operational reliability and allow the plant to operate for more hours each day – plant operators are required to install modern pollution control devices.

The rule change being considered by the EPA would exempt a plant from a NSR – and the likely requirement to install pollution control equipment at the time of modernization – if the project does not result in a change in a plant’s hourly emissions.

"What might appear to be a simple word change could have an enormous – and ominous – impact. Using hourly instead of annual emissions as the threshold for a New Source Review and the installation of pollution control devices stands the intent of the Clean Air Act on its head.

"This provision of the Clean Air Act was specifically designed to ensure that when older, dirtier power plants are upgraded they install the same modern air pollution control equipment required for new plants," the Governor said. "EPA’s proposed rule change takes us in the wrong direction. It will make it easier for many of the nation’s largest polluters to extend the life of old, dirty plants without installing modern pollution controls."

Currently, 71 percent of the nation’s coal-fired EGUs are between 27 and 57 years old. "If the EPA’s rule change is adopted," Governor Rell said, "there would be a dramatic increase in annual pollution from these units because they will be operating for more hours per day."

Impact of Rule Change

A wide range of air pollutants could be increased if the EPA rule is changed, such as mercury, fine particulate matter and ground-level ozone (smog). These pollutants have direct public health impacts including respiratory distress, asthma attacks and even premature death.

The environment is also harmed through impacts such as acid rain and ozone damage to economically important crops and forests. The proposed change would also cause a dramatic increase in emissions of carbon dioxide, which contributed to climate change. In addition, the proposed rule change would likely result in pollution increases having regional and local impacts, thus severely limiting states’ abilities to achieve and maintain health-based air quality standards.