HARRISBURG – Pennsylvania will move ahead with its plans to implement the federal Clean Air Interstate Rule on Jan. 1 after a federal court reversed an earlier decision that struck down the rule.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia on Tuesday ordered the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to fix flaws in the Clean Air Interstate Rule, or CAIR, but did not set a deadline. In the meantime, the rule will be implemented.
“The court’s decision is a positive outcome for Pennsylvania’s air quality, as it will allow residents of the commonwealth to benefit from the CAIR emission reductions while EPA addresses the flaws the court identified with the rule,” said Acting Environmental Protection Secretary John Hanger. “The decision will allow Pennsylvania to move forward with our state implementation plans to meet ozone and fine particulate standards and to improve visibility while reducing regional haze.”
CAIR is designed to reduce air pollution from power plants in the commonwealth and in states downwind of the plants where air quality is affected by the emissions. The EPA estimates that in 2010 CAIR would reduce nitrogen oxide emissions across the multistate CAIR region by 44.6 percent, or 1.2 million tons, and sulfur dioxide emissions by 71 percent, or 3.6 million tons.
One implication of the new court decision is that owners and operators of Pennsylvania power plants covered by the CAIR must be prepared to meet the requirements as of Jan. 1. A federal implementation plan will govern the power plants until the EPA approves the commonwealth’s CAIR state implementation plan.
On July 11, the same federal court had vacated the entire federal CAIR regulation, but widespread concerns about adverse implications for short-term air quality and other harms led the court to reconsider.
The court’s decision Tuesday came in response to a petition filed with the court by the EPA in September requesting a rehearing. Pennsylvania joined other states in court in recommending that the CAIR not be vacated. The states argued that though there are flaws in CAIR’s cap-and-trade process to reduce air pollution, the short-term benefits of reducing air pollution using the first phase of the program weigh in favor of leaving it in place while the EPA works to correct the flaws. The court did not set a deadline for EPA to remedy the flaws it previously identified in CAIR, but the court warned the federal agency that it did “not intend to grant an indefinite stay of the effectiveness of this court’s decision.”
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