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EPA unveils 'historic' air pollution rules. Can power industry cope?

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Environmentalists and health advocates were giddy.

"This is truly historic," says Frank O’Donnell, president of Clean Air Watch, in an e-mail interview. "After two decades of evading the law, the coal-burning power industry is finally going to clean up. The health benefits will be tremendous. There is no question in my mind that this will prove to be the signature clean-air accomplishment of the Obama administration."

The new rules apply to about 1,200 coal-fired units at 450 facilities that generate about 48 percent of electricity nationwide, the EPA says. Because new emissions controls are costly, utilities that own older coal-fired power plants may face some financial pressure.

To offset these pressures, the EPA gave utilities until 2016 to upgrade – with an added year if a company can show it deserves more time. Still, some business groups were upset.

“The EPA is out of touch with the hard reality facing American families and businesses," said Steve Miller, president of the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity (ACCCE), an industry lobbying group, in a statement. "This latest rule will destroy jobs, raise the cost of energy, and could even make electricity less reliable."

An economic analysis for ACCCE by the National Economic Research Associates found that the new mercury rule – combined with other pending EPA regulations –would chop 183,000 jobs annually from 2012 to 2020 and raise electricity and other energy prices by $170 billion.

ACCCE also contends that proposed EPA air- and water-quality regulations would shutter scores of power plants, making the reliability of the electricity grid a concern.

Other studies, including the EPA's own peer-reviewed analyses, have contradicted these findings.

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