staff and news service reports
updated 10/5/2011 12:46:58 PM ET 2011-10-05T16:46:58

The Environmental Protection Agency is expected to ease a new air pollution rule that would require power plants in 27 states to slash emissions, The Wall Street Journal reported, citing people familiar with the matter.

The EPA plans to propose as early as this week allowing certain states and companies to emit more pollutants than it previously permitted, the report said.

An agency spokesman was not immediately available for comment.

The agency's Cross-State Air Pollution final rule issued in July calls, in part, for much stricter limits on emissions of nitrogen oxide and sulfur dioxide, or SO2, from coal and natural gas-fired power plants beginning in January.

The changes are expected to allow for emissions increases ranging from 1 percent to 4 percent above the July requirement, depending on the pollutant, the Journal reported, citing the sources.

EPA spokesman Brendan Gilfillan was quoted by the newspaper as saying, "While we don't have anything to announce at this time, EPA often makes technical adjustments ... because data, including data in some cases provided by industry, turns out to be incorrect, outdated or incomplete."

The rule ran into opposition from industry, states and many congressional Republicans who argued it would kill jobs and could make transmission of electricity unreliable.

Environmentalists said the changes were technical and did not seem to come from recent Republican pressure to roll back EPA decisions.

"This development reflects EPA making technical corrections in response to better facts and information, while still protecting clean air and public health," said John Walke, a pollution expert with the Natural Resources Defense Council. "We see no evidence that the changes EPA reportedly plans are a product of anything other than the desire to get the rule right.

"We do not shy from criticizing deplorable decisions to buckle to political pressure, like the president’s recent smog decision," he said, "but this development is quite different, a story of ordinary process and corrections, not political theater."

Frank O'Donnell, head of the group Clean Air Watch, agreed. "I would stress that air pollution does remain a very widespread problem," he added. "Power plant cleanup is perhaps the single most cost-effective approach to dealing with this problem."

The air quality rule resulted from a federal appeals court order instructing the EPA to strengthen a similar regulation issued in 2005 by the Bush administration.

The EPA said the rule would prevent up to 34,000 premature deaths and save $280 billion a year in health costs. The pollution is linked to heart attacks and lung problems including asthma.

Reuters contributed to this report.


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