A federal court Friday put on hold a controversial Obama administration regulation aimed at reducing power plant pollution in 27 states that contributes to unhealthy air downwind.
More than a dozen electric power companies, municipal power plant operators and states had sought to delay the rules until the litigation plays out. A federal appeals court in Washington approved their request Friday.
The EPA, in a statement, said it was confident that the rule would ultimately be upheld on its merits. But the agency said it was "disappointing" the regulation's health benefits would be delayed, even if temporarily.
Republicans in Congress have attempted to block the rule using legislation, saying it would shutter some older, coal-fired power plants and kill jobs. While those efforts succeeded in the Republican-controlled House, the Senate _ with the help of six Republicans _ in November rejected an attempt to stay the regulation. And the White House had threatened to veto it.
The rule, finalized by the Environmental Protection Agency in July, replaces a 2005 Bush administration proposal that was rejected by a federal court.
The Bush-era rule, which is expected to cost the industry $1.6 billion annually to comply, will remain in effect. The new rule would have added $800 million a year to that price tag. But those investments would be far outweighed by the hundreds of billions of dollars in health care savings from cleaner air, according to the EPA.
In the first two years, the EPA estimates that the regulation and some other steps would have slashed sulfur dioxide emissions by 73 percent from 2005 levels, and nitrogen oxides will be cut by more than half.
Sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide pollution from power plant smokestacks can be carried long distances by the wind and weather. As they drift, the pollutants react with other substances in the atmosphere to form smog and soot, which have been linked to various illnesses, including asthma, and have prevented many states and cities from complying with health-based standards set by law.
Environmentalists on Friday said they would continue to defend the regulations, which are essential for some states to be able to meet air quality standards for soot and smog and are far more protective than the ones proposed under the Bush administration.
"The pollution reductions at stake are some of the single most important clean air protections for children, families and communities, across the eastern half of the United States," said Vickie Patton, the general counsel for the Environmental Defense Fund.
But Scott Segal, director of the Electric Reliability Coordinating Council, a coalition of power companies, said in a statement Friday that the ruling was the "first step to setting it right."
"The underlying rule was the subject of hasty process, poor technical support, unequal application and substantial threat to jobs, power bills and reliability," he said.
Six states_ Texas, Nebraska, Florida, Kansas, Louisiana, and Ohio _ had asked the court for the delay. All would have had to reduce pollution from their power plants under the regulation. They were joined by Ames, Iowa, local power plant operators and power generating companies, including Entergy Corp., Luminant Generation Co. and GenOn Energy.
"For the time being, this stay means Nebraskans will not have to foot the bill for unnecessary modifications mandated by the EPA," said Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning. "We will continue to fight these job-killing regulations by an overreaching federal government run amok."
The court is asking that oral arguments take place by April 2012.
EPA fact sheet _ http://www.epa.gov/crossstaterule/pdfs/CSAPRFactsheet.pdf