In the past few weeks, new information has become publicly available about two important pending rules from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). One rule would set the first-ever, national standards for greenhouse gas emissions from power plants. Know as the greenhouse gas New Source Performance Standard (GHG NSPS) rule, EPA announced on October 29 that it would undergo further delay before publication. This delay is the third such delay since the GHG NSPS rule was originally due last summer. But this time, the delay is not entirely bad news. Environmental groups and states have agreed to extend the deadline to November 30, 2011. The groups agreed to the delay in a letter sent to the Justice Department and said in the letter that this was reasonable, “In light of the progress made to date.”
EPA proposed another important rule in March of this year. This rule, known as the Mercury and Air Toxics rule or Mercury MACT rule, will set national emission standards for mercury and other hazardous air pollution from coal-fired power plants. EPA also recently announced a new date for finalization of the Mercury MACT rule. Previously, the deadline for the rule was November 16, but EPA now plans to release the final rule on December 16. Once again, this is seen as a generally positive development since it sets a date certain in the very near future. Moreover, utilities and some states were pushing to have the rule delayed by a full year, a proposition that the federal court explicitly rejected.
This minor delay is really a big win against those who are trying to push the rule indefinitely into the future. As currently proposed, the mercury rule will prevent 91 percent of mercury in coal burned at power plants from being released to the air, which will have a significant impact on human health and the environment. Given that the Southeast is home to almost 300 coal units that have collectively emitted over 20,000 pounds of mercury into the air in a single year, this rule would be a huge step forward in cleaning up the air and water in numerous states. Meanwhile the GHG NSPS rule would be a crucial first step in reducing our contribution to global climate change.
Together, these two policies represent significant steps forward in protecting human health and the environment. If these minor delays provide EPA with needed time or help to deflect unwarranted criticism, then it is a small price to pay.