On December 21, 2011, the Obama Administration made its third announcement this year aimed at establishing itself as the steward for cleaner air.  In July, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) finalized the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule (known as the Clean Air Transport Rule when it was proposed).  This rule seeks to limit interstate dispersion of sulfur dioxide by requiring power plants to cut their emissions of sulfur dioxide emissions by 73% and nitrogen oxides by 54% from 2005 levels.  Taft has written more on this rule here.  In November, USEPA and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), jointly proposed standards that will require passenger cars, light-duty trucks, and medium duty passenger vehicles (including SUVs) to emit less carbon dioxide (CO2), 163 grams per mile by 2025, which is equivalent to 54.5 miles per gallon.  These are commonly referred to as CAFE standards.  Taft has written more on these standards here.

Now, just in time for Christmas, USEPA promulgated “National Emissions Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants for Area Source: Industrial, Commercial, and Institutional Boilers.” Since that is a mouthful this rule is commonly referred as the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards.  These standards require a number of sources, but most significantly all coal-fired power plants, to reduce emissions of mercury and other toxic air pollutants (arsenic, acid gas, nickel, selenium, and cyanide) by 90% within the next five years.  EPA estimates that the new safeguards will prevent as many as 11,000 premature deaths and 4,700 heart attacks a year. EPA also believes that the standards will help America’s children grow up healthier by preventing 130,000 cases of childhood asthma symptoms and about 6,300 fewer cases of acute bronchitis among children each year.  The rule will be published in the Federal Register on December 23, 2011, and a prepublication version is available here.
EPA’s standards were accompanied by a Presidential Memorandum that directs EPA to use tools provided in the Clean Air Act to implement the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards in a cost-effective manner that ensures electric reliability. For example, under these standards, EPA is allowing three years for compliance, and is encouraging permitting authorities to make a fourth year broadly available for technology installations, and if still more time is needed, to provide a well-defined pathway to address any localized reliability problems should they arise.