WASHINGTON - The Environmental Protection Agency on Tuesday proposed a new federal plan to reduce the pollution from electric power plants that wafts hundreds of miles across state lines.
The new rule would require pollution reductions in 31 states and the District of Columbia - most of the eastern half of the United States, from Texas and Minnesota to the coast.
To make the cuts, power plants would be required to install new equipment or use lower-sulfur fuels.
The plan is one of the most significant steps the EPA has taken toward cleaning the air for millions of Americans who live in areas where the quality of the air doesn't meet national standards.
It comes after many months of planning since a federal court ordered the EPA to revise its 2005 Clean Air Interstate Rule. Coincidentally, it was announced in the middle of a heat wave along the East Coast, when smoggy air was at unhealthy levels from North Carolina to New York state.
Smog aggravates asthma and acute bronchitis and is linked to heart attacks. The EPA estimates that when the new plan is in effect in 2014 it will save as many as 36,000 lives a year. The agency says the rule also would improve visibility in parks and help protect natural environments that pollution has harmed, including Appalachian streams, lakes in the Adirondack Mountains and coastal waters.
"What this is attempting to do is give people cleaner air to breathe," said Gina McCarthy, EPA's assistant administrator for air and radiation.
The EPA estimated that electricity prices would increase less than 2 percent as a result of the pollution reduction requirements. It estimated that the benefits, mostly from better public health, would be $120 billion to $290 billion annually by 2014, and the compliance cost would be $2.8 billion per year.
The new rule won't become final until after a 60-day public comment period, expected to begin later this month. The final rule is expected by mid 2011.