The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency laid plans in February to curtail smog pollution that would decrease premature deaths, reduce hospital visits and curb greenhouse gas emissions.
The so-called “Good Neighbor Plan” would cut emissions of ozone-forming pollution in 26 states, including Kentucky, and prevent it from traveling into downwind states.
On the final day of the proposal’s comment period last week, Ky. Attorney General Daniel Cameron, a Republican, wrote an open letter to the EPA on behalf of 14 states calling the plan “arbitrary, capricious” and in excess of the agency’s authority.
“America has some of the cleanest air in the industrialized world, yet the Biden Administration’s EPA is proposing environmental standards that target new industries and further drive up the cost of electricity and could lead to increasing blackouts,” Cameron said.
Ozone, and the EPA’s plan
Ground-level ozone is a harmful pollutant the EPA regulates under the Clean Air Act. It forms on hot, dry days when chemical by-products from fossil fuel combustion react in the presence of sunlight. While ozone in the upper atmosphere protects our planet, ozone at ground level shortens people’s lives, increases the chances of birth defects and increases risks for people with asthma and other respiratory diseases, according to the American Lung Association.
The EPA introduced more stringent rules in 2015. Cities including Louisville have had trouble meeting those standards. Most of the chemicals that form ozone in the area come from cars, local power plants, industrial processes and bourbon aging warehouses. But some of that pollution was also coming from a coal-fired power plant across the Ohio River in Indiana.
That plant retired in 2021, but demonstrates the kind of pollution the EPA is hoping to reduce with its Good Neighbor plan.
The EPA’s plan would create emissions “budgets” to limit pollution for fossil-fueled power plants in 25 states beginning in 2023.
In 2026, it calls for 23 states, including Kentucky, to limit emissions for certain polluting industries such as cement production, iron and steel mills, and glass, chemical and petroleum manufacturing.
The EPA projects the strategy would prevent approximately 1,000 premature deaths, 1.3 million cases of asthma and 470,000 school absence days, and lead to 2,000 fewer hospital and emergency room visits by 2026.
The agency estimates the costs to achieve these reductions would be around $1 billion, but says the plan would create a net benefit of $15 billion each year between 2023 and 2042.
The rules would also have the added benefit of curbing greenhouse gas emissions at a time when climate scientists say the world is running out of time to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.
Objections to the new rules
In a 17-page letter to the EPA, Cameron urged federal regulators to abandon the proposal on behalf of Kentucky and attorneys general in 13 other states: Alabama, Arkansas, Indiana, Louisiana, Mississippi, Montana, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas, Utah, West Virginia and Wyoming.
Cameron writes that the EPA’s plan will be the “death knell” for coal-fired power plants, stressing the nation’s power grid and increasing costs for customers. In a press release, Cameron’s office wrote the plan would result in the retirement of 18 gigawatts of coal and 4 gigawatts of gas and oil energy capacity by 2030.
On the manufacturing side, he says the affected industries will have to purchase expensive equipment to control the pollution, impacting their ability to compete and driving away jobs.
He further argues that the new requirements exceed the EPA’s authority and that only Congress has the authority to create the kind of policy the EPA wants to implement.
“The significant deference given to agencies when they engage in rulemaking is intended to give the people with expertise and technical knowledge flexibility to appropriately and practically carry out the policy decisions of Congress,” Cameron wrote. “It is not so agencies can make policy themselves. That power belongs to Congress alone.”
Following the closing of the comment period, the EPA will review the public’s input and is expected to make a final decision later this year or in early 2023.