Air Pollution Control Equipment Services, Emissions

Congress debates repairing CAIR

By Jeff Postelwait
Online Editor

With Congress set to adjourn for the elections soon, legislators are attempting to compromise on how best to regulate emissions from power plans following a federal appeals court’s decision to vacate the Clear Air Interstate Rule.

With the emissions rule thrown out, the question of how to reinstate it has been raised.

The White House, which considers the rule the signature air-quality accomplishment of the Bush administration, has asked Congress to restore the entire program.

Utilities are divided on whether this approach makes sense. Many favor restoring the first step of the program temporarily until a more long-term solution can be agreed upon.

The White House does have some allies in this fight, with Sens. George Voinovich R-Ohio and James Inhofe R-Okla. introducing a bill Sept. 11 that would restore the entire program.

U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tn.) said during a bipartisan roundtable he hosted with Senator Tom Carper (D-De.), that Congress should act to protect clean air standards following the court ruling. He said the ruling sends a signal to utilities that they aren’t required to meet clean air standards.

Alexander called on Congress to enact legislation in the next three weeks to set a temporary extension of the CAIR rule.

Sens. Alexander and Carper also discussed the feasibility of a four-pollutant legislative approach to reduce sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide, mercury and carbon dioxide emissions from power plants.

On July 11, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals struck down the federal CAIR, which covered emissions from 28 Eastern states. By vacating the rule, the court in some cases relieved utilities from any obligation to reduce sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions.

Still, some utilities are proceeding with improvements, even though there is no federal rule in place. The court decision has complicated efforts by utilities to clean up power plants, in some putting new investments on hold.

Under the EPA rule, emissions were to be cut in two steps: with an initial cap on nitrogen oxide emissions in place by 2009 and an initial cap on sulfur dioxide emissions in place by 2010. New caps would have been put in place on both types of emissions by 2015 in the rule’s second step.

CAIR was issued by the EPA March 10, 2005, and the agency said the rule would achieve the largest reduction in air pollution in more than a decade.