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Vermont environment chief hails new EPA rule

By Dave Gram
Associated Press / July 8, 2011

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MONTPELIER, Vt.—Vermont's top environmental official on Friday hailed a new rule issued by the Environmental Protection Agency that she says will cut emissions from coal-fired power plants and help Vermont and other northeastern states avoid violating air quality standards.

Deb Markowitz, secretary of the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources, said the rule finalized this week by the EPA calls on 27 states to cut emissions originating within their borders. She said the rule takes aim at sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides long tied to acid rain and ill health effects in people.

"We're all rejoicing right now," Markowitz said Friday. "This is going to make a difference for New England and a difference for Vermont." The rule "will significantly improve air quality by reducing power plant emissions that cross state lines. This rule will protect the health of millions of Americans by helping states reduce air pollution and meet the standards of the Clean Air Act."

Markowitz said the new rule is expected to help Vermont dodge a dubious distinction as a violator of federal air quality rules. "This is not the result of pollution generated in Vermont, but it is because air knows no geographical boundaries," she said.

The rule is expected to prompt power plants in 27 states, including several Appalachian and Midwest states upwind from Vermont, to install air pollution controls to reduce emissions that are transported on prevailing west winds to the Northeast.

"By reducing ozone and fine particle pollution, EPA's new rule will protect the health of Vermonters, saving lives and preventing illnesses," Markowitz said. "In addition to avoiding premature deaths and respiratory related illnesses, the pollution reductions from EPA's rule will also lead to improvements in visibility in Vermont, and increased protection for sensitive ecosystems, such as mountain lakes and forests."

The EPA said the final rule, issued Wednesday, will yield $120 billion to $280 billion in annual health and environmental benefits in 2014, including the value of avoiding 13,000 to 34,000 premature deaths.

The Cross-State Air Pollution Rule is expected by 2014 to cover 3,642 electric generating units at 1,081 coal-, gas-, and oil-fired facilities around the country. The EPA said it is expected to result in roughly 70 percent of the power generated from coal-fired power plants will come from units with state-of-the-art sulfur dioxide controls such as scrubbers; 50 percent will have up-do-date equipment to control nitrous oxides.