U.S. EPA is working to issue replacement rules for Bush-era regulations aimed at slashing power plant emissions of soot, smog and mercury as quickly as possible, the agency's top air official told a Senate panel today.

Gina McCarthy, EPA's assistant administrator for air and radiation, said the agency plans to propose a replacement for the Clean Air Interstate Rule (CAIR) in early 2010 and to issue a final rule by early 2011. The agency is also moving forward on a replacement rule for the Clean Air Mercury Rule (CAMR) "as quickly as our understanding of the issues allows," she said.

Both Bush administration programs were tossed out last year in a federal appeals court. In February 2008, the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia vacated CAMR, finding that the agency had unlawfully allowed trading of the toxic pollutant. Last July, the same court tossed out CAIR, which would have cut soot- and smog-forming pollution in the eastern United States. The court temporarily reinstated that rule in December, giving the agency time to craft a replacement.

McCarthy told the Senate Clean Air Subcommittee the agency was working to ensure that the CAIR replacement would withstand any possible litigation efforts. A replacement program could include trading programs, she added.

"We don't believe that trading is off the table by any means," McCarthy said, adding that the agency did not want to give up the cost-effectiveness and flexibility that CAIR allowed for soot- and smog-forming pollutants.

EPA is also moving forward on setting maximum achievable control technology (MACT) standards for mercury pollution for power plants, she said. Such a rule would require plant-specific pollution controls, as opposed to the trading program set up by the Bush-era mercury rule.

EPA last week issued a notice of its intent to collect information about toxic air emissions from power plants. Those data will allow the agency to move forward to set "smart and aggressive" MACT standards for mercury and other toxic pollutants from power plants, McCarthy said.

MACT standards would require EPA to set standards for existing sources at least as stringently as the top performing 12 percent of sources. John Stephenson, director of natural resources and the environment at the Government Accountability Office, told Congress today that at least 90 percent reductions of mercury emissions appears to be achievable and affordable at most plants.

Meanwhile, lawmakers are considering legislative approaches to curbing soot, smog and mercury emissions.

The chairman of the Clean Air panel, Democrat Tom Carper of Delaware, and Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) are hoping to introduce legislation in the next several weeks aimed at curbing the three pollutants. Carper said he was concerned that without congressional action, EPA's regulations could be mired in the courts for years.

Industry representatives urged Congress to take action quickly to implement a legislative solution. Randall LaBauve, vice president of environmental services for Florida Power and Light Co., said his company believes that "only Congress can effectively address the confusing and incomplete patchwork of onerous air emissions regulations that are stifling the decision processes for upgrading, maintaining, repowering and building new power plants."

Sen. George Voinovich (R-Ohio) said that he and Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) plan to reintroduce legislation from last year that would allow EPA to move forward with a CAIR replacement to ensure that trading will be an essential part of the plan.


Reprinted from Greenwire with permission from Environment & Energy Publishing, LLC. www.eenews.net, 202-628-6500