EPA Approves Tougher Pollution Emission Limits

Federal environmental regulators set new limits on sulfur dioxide emissions for the first time in 40 years.  A move that could prevent thousands of asthma attacks and premature deaths while reducing health care costs..

The new rules, which take effect under court order, will prohibit short-term spikes of sulfur dioxide (SO2), which is primarily emitted from coal-fired power plants and other industrial facilities.  Texas has 17 coal plants, with another dozen under construction or in the permitting phase across the state.

The EPA estimates nationally the cost of retrofitting power plants to comply with the new rules will be $1.5 billion over the next 10 years.  The savings in health benefits could be as much as $13 billion to $33 billion a year.

The previous standard called for concentrations of no more than 140 parts per billion, averaged over 24 hours. Under the new rules, the allowable level of SO2 would drop to 75 parts per billion in one hour to guard against short-term spikes, and is seen by the EPA as the most efficient and effective way to protect against SO2 pollution in the air we breathe.

Although the final standard is a bit less strict than the American Lung Association had urged, it is well within the range recommended by EPA’s independent science advisers.

At this writing it is anticipated that Jefferson County is the only area in Texas that would fail the tougher standard, but EPA is requiring additional monitors in some areas of the state that are borderline.

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