A bipartisan group of senators today introduced a long-awaited bill aimed at slashing harmful air pollutants from coal-fired power plants.
The bill from Sens. Tom Carper (D-Del.) and Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) would mandate steep cuts in electric utilities' emissions of mercury and soot- and smog-forming pollution. It aims to cut soot-forming sulfur dioxide (SO2) by 80 percent by 2018, smog-forming nitrogen dioxide (NOx) by 53 percent by 2015 and mercury by 90 percent by 2015.
In July 2008, the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia tossed out the Clean Air Interstate Rule (CAIR), a cap-and-trade program designed to cut SOx and NOx in the eastern United States. The court temporarily reinstated the rule in December, giving the agency time to craft a replacement.
The appeals court also tossed out the George W. Bush administration's cap-and-trade Clean Air Mercury Rule in 2008, and EPA is under a court deadline to issue strict mercury rules by November 2011.
The new bill would codify the CAIR program through 2011 and then impose even stricter limits than the Bush-era program.
From 2012 through 2014, the bill would limit total nationwide SO2 emission allowances to 3.5 million tons per year. The limit would drop to 2 million tons annually from 2015 through 2017. From 2018 to 2020, the limit would be set at 1.5 million tons and would remain there beyond 2020 unless the EPA administrator determines that further reductions are required.
CAIR would have limited SO2 emission allowances in the eastern United States to 3.6 million tons by 2010 and 2.5 million tons by 2015 and beyond.
It would also strengthen limits on annual NOx emission allowances. National NOx caps would be set at 1.8 million tons from 2012 until 2014 and would drop to 1.6 million tons beginning in 2015. The bill would establish two "zones" for the NOx trading program. Zone 1 includes 32 Eastern states and the District of Columbia; Zone 2 includes the remaining 16 contiguous states.
EPA, meanwhile, is working to issue a CAIR replacement by April, EPA air chief Gina McCarthy said yesterday.
"What the rule needs to do is to be actually legally, solidly grounded," McCarthy said. "I am not going to make the mistakes of the past."
"EPA is going to go forward on the regulatory approach, but we're going to go forward on the legislative approach. I think they're not exactly linked together, but there's a fair amount of commonality," Carper said today.
The problem with the regulatory approach, Carper added, is that the rules can get tied up in court. "The prospect of 10 more years of litigation coming off the regulation, I'm not interested in."
Carper said he hopes to add a three-pollutant measure to climate and energy legislation pending in the Senate, but he and Alexander stressed the importance of moving forward independently on a multi-pollutant bill.
Carper said he supports the administration's efforts to pass an economywide climate change bill, "But at the end of the day, while we're trying to pass climate change legislation dealing with carbon, people are dying, kids are going to the hospital ... so we're going to opt for certainty," he said.
"We have a number of different things to work out on carbon," said Alexander, including finding commercially viable alternatives to capture and store carbon dioxide from power plants. "But there's no excuse for waiting a minute on SOx, NOx and mercury because we have the technology, we know what to do, and we shouldn't be operating coal plants without pollution control equipment."
Carper, chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee's Clean Air Subcommittee, said he hopes to hold a hearing on the bill before the end of February and move forward with a markup. Committee Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) said today she told Carper, "Absolutely, we're going to get to this."
Co-sponsors for the bill include two of the lead architects of Senate climate and energy legislation: Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.).
Environmental groups and utilities applauded the bipartisan bill, calling it a much-needed step forward to ensure emission reductions and regulatory certainty for the power sector.
Groups including the American Lung Association, the Environmental Defense Fund, the National Wildlife Federation and others offered their support for the bill. Ralph Izzo, president and CEO of the Public Service Enterprise Group; Entergy Corp.; National Grid PLC; and Exelon Corp. also sent Carper letters of support.
The measure could face opposition from Republicans, however. Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), ranking member of the EPW Committee, and Sen. George Voinovich (R-Ohio) said that while they applaud the goal of achieving regulatory certainty and advances in public health, they have concerns with the bill.
"We emphasize that we find significant problems with key provisions in the Carper-Alexander legislation; therefore much work is needed to reach common ground," the senators said in a statement. "Yet we are hopeful that an open process drawing on input from multiple perspectives can result in bipartisan agreement on legislation to reduce power plant emissions."
Click here to view the bill.
Senior reporter Darren Samuelsohn contributed.