In 1999, the Environmental Protection Agency in the United States adopted haze rules which would require reducing haze causing emissions. This included both sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides. However, the U.S. government has failed to implement the rules which has led to a recent agreement between the U.S. and environmental groups to begin implementation.
The new agreement, which would go into effect beginning in 2012, needs to be approved by a federal judge. However, the plan would require eighteen coal plants along with some cement and soda ash plants to install pollution control equipment in their plants. The states to be impacted would be Colorado, Montana, Wyoming and North Dakota. The ruling would impact older power plants as new plants were required to have the pollution controls in place when built.
The goal of this recent agreement and the initial EPA ruling in 1999 was to reduce haze overall but especially in national park and wilderness areas. The 1999 agreement was to lead to the elimination of haze in national parks and wilderness areas by the year 2064. The current agreement for the above four states is expected to be expanded upon to include close to the entire U.S..
The eighteen coal plants implicated in the current agreement emit 150,000 tons of nitrogen oxides and over 200,000 tons of sulfur dioxide each year. Such emissions greatly decrease visibility, which has been reduced by dozens of miles in western states. In addition, the emissions have been shown to cause and impact a variety of diseases.
According to the EPA, the plan would cost approximately $1.5 billion each year to implement. However, it has been determined that the reduction in emissions could reduce health care costs due to the emissions by $8.4 billion.
Plants which would be impacted, along with the industry in general, are concerned that the ruling could be too costly for their companies as pollution control equipment is expensive. In addition, five years would be given to meet the EPA standard, however, many in the industry believe this is too short a period in which to comply.
Some point to other EPA rulings under the Clean Air Act which required a reduction in the same emissions. From 1998 to 2010, power plants in eleven western states were required to reduce emissions of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides. Sulfur dioxide was reduced by sixty percent and nitrogen oxides were reduced by forty percent. However, the new rules hope to see the emissions reduced by another forty percent.