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Coal Mines, Landfills and Power Plants Targeted in New EPA Rules

Over the last week, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has unveiled a new reporting requirement and rule proposal targeting air emissions that contribute to climate change and air pollution.

Last week, the agency said it would require underground coal mines, industrial wastewater treatment systems, industrial waste landfills and magnesium production facilities to comply with its mandatory greenhouse gas reporting program.

These facilities mostly produce methane gas, although sulfur hexafluoride is the main fluorinated greenhouse gas produced during magnesium production. Both methane and sulfur hexafluoride are far more potent than carbon dioxide, the most prevalent greenhouse gas most scientists blame for climate change. Methane is more than 20 times more potent, while sulfur hexafluoride can stay in the atmosphere for thousands of years.

The EPA is also seeking comment on whether some industries may have their greenhouse gas data kept confidential for competitive reasons.

Today, the EPA proposed new regulations to curtail air pollution from power plants in 31 eastern states and the District of Columbia. The so-called "transport rule" under the Clean Air Act would lower emissions of sulfur dioxide (SO2) and nitrogen oxides (NOx) that flow downwind across state lines.

The agency estimates the new rules, along with other state and EPA actions, would trim SO2 emissions by 71 percent and NOx emissions by 52 percent by 2014, compared to 2014 levels. As a result, the move would generate more than $120 billion in annual health benefits, while the yearly compliance costs would run roughly $2.8 billion.

SO2 and NOx are linked to asthma and heart attacks, prompting public health organizations such as the American Lung Association to hail the move.

"Cleaning up power plants is critically important because particle pollution and ozone smog cause coughing and wheezing, trigger asthma attacks, send people to the emergency room and cause heart attacks and strokes, as well as premature death," Association President and CEO Charles D. Connor said in a statement. "Millions of people are at risk from this pollution, including children, seniors, those with chronic lung diseases like asthma and COPD, and those with cardiovascular diseases and diabetes."

Image CC licensed by Flickr user Rennett Stowe.

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