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New EPA Rule Threatens to Increase Local Pollution

Government studies indicate that energy from older plants is more pricey than it seems. In 2000, the Energy Information Administration (EIA), a branch of the Department of Energy, reported that fully implementing the original "new source review" program by 2020 would keep 7 million tons of sulfur dioxide and 2.4 million tons of nitrogen oxide out of the air. A report by Abt Associates estimated that the reduced pollution would result in 19,000 fewer premature deaths and would save about $150 billion each year. In contrast, the EIA estimated the cost of installing pollution control devices at $73 billion over 20 years and said the increase in energy prices would be small.

Wehrum maintains that existing regulations, for example the Clean Air Act acid rain program, are doing enough to reduce air pollution. But that program has failed so far to remedy some of the most dramatic damage caused by acid rain. A 2001 study by the Hubbard Brook Research Foundation, a non-profit that funds ecological research, found that more than a third of all lakes in the Adirondack Park region are acidic, some to the point that they cannot support fish. The study estimated that even if we cut sulfur dioxide emissions from power plants by as much as 80 percent, it will still take 20 to 25 years to resuscitate a majority of affected lakes and streams. The EIA study projected that the previous new source review program could have achieved such cuts by 2020.

Only a congressional amendment to the Clean Air Act or a successful lawsuit can overturn the new rule. In any case, it will likely take at least two years before a decision is handed down. Unless litigants win a stay, keeping the old rule in effect until the courts decide the new suit, power companies can capitalize on the delay to make repairs, squeeze more juice, and spew more smoke from dirty power plants.

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