E.P.A. Tells Dozens of States to Clean Up Their Smokestacks

The Biden administration is strengthening the ‘Good Neighbor’ rule, to cut pollution from power plants and factories in the West and Midwest that wafts east.

The coal fueled DTE Monroe Power Plant in Monroe, Michigan. The EPA’s “Good Neighbor” rule holds that states should take measures to ensure that their pollution does not affect downwind states.
Credit...Todd Heisler/The New York Times

WASHINGTON — The Biden administration on Wednesday finalized a rule forcing factories and power plants in 23 Western and Midwestern states to sharply cut smog-causing pollution that is released from their smokestacks and fouls the air in Eastern states.

Known as the “good neighbor” rule, the new regulation strengthens and expands an earlier interstate air pollution standard that was enacted during the Obama administration. While that rule directed power plants to clean up their emissions, the revised rule enforces similar controls on mills, factories and other industrial facilities.

The Environmental Protection Agency is required by the Clean Air Act to periodically review and revise the rule. After failing do so during the Trump administration, it is now strengthening restrictions under a court-ordered deadline.

The good neighbor rule holds that states should take measures to ensure that their pollution doesn’t affect downwind states. It directs coal-burning power plants and industrial facilities such as iron, steel, cement and concrete manufacturers in the Western and Midwestern states to reduce their emissions of nitrogen dioxide, a pollutant that causes smog and is linked to asthma, lung disease and premature death.

Soot and exhaust belched from those industrial facilities is carried by prevailing winds toward Eastern states, causing high levels of pollution in states with fewer industries.

“Every community deserves fresh air to breathe,” E.P.A. Administrator Michael S. Regan said. “We know air pollution doesn’t stop at the state line.”

The tighter rules on power plants will come into force later this year, while the new controls on factories and other industrial polluters will take effect in 2026.

The revised rule is one of a stack of climate and clean air regulations expected this year from the Biden administration, including stricter controls on planet-warming emissions from cars, trucks, power plants and oil and gas wells and mercury pollution from power plants. Collectively, they are designed to strengthen the clean air and climate protections that had been rolled back by the Trump administration, and to accelerate the nation’s transition away from fossil fuels and toward renewable energy.

The E.P.A. estimates that the updated good neighbor rule will cut emissions of nitrogen oxide in the affected states by 50 percent from 2021 levels by 2027, preventing 1,300 premature deaths, avoiding more than 2,300 hospital and emergency room visits, preventing 1.3 million cases of asthma and avoiding 430,000 lost school days and 25,000 missed work days.


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Senator Tom Carper, Democrat of Delaware, said he expects to see those benefits realized in his own home state, which he described as located “at the end of what I call ‘America’s tailpipe.’”

“In Delaware, more than 90 percent of our air pollution comes from outside our state,” Mr. Carper said.

Harold Wimmer, president and chief executive of the American Lung Association, welcomed the revised rule. “Far too frequently, power plant operators have been legally allowed to turn off pollution controls that have already been installed,” he said. “This rule will require many power plants and other large industrial sources to run the controls they already have or install effective pollution controls.”

But Senator Joe Manchin, Democrat of West Virginia, has raised concerns about the costs to power plants and manufacturers to comply with the strengthened rule, saying it could force some plants to shut down or reduce operations, threatening the reliability of electric grids. Mr. Manchin wrote Mr. Regan last week to ask him to postpone action.

Scott Segal, a lobbyist for Bracewell LLC, which advocates for coal plants and industrial manufacturers, said the cement industry would also feel the brunt at a time when its products are in demand because of a recent influx of federal investment in road and bridge construction.

“The bipartisan infrastructure law anticipates substantially increased use of building materials manufactured here in the United States, a policy objective seemingly at cross purposes with the rule,” Mr. Segal said.

The E.P.A. estimates the cost of complying with the revised rule to be about $910 million annually from 2023 to 2042, while the net economic benefits of the associated public health gains would be up to $13 billion each year over the same time period.

Other manufacturers, which have in the past joined industrial states in legal action to block the rules, have been wary of the updated versions.

“While the intent of this proposal is right and one that we share, it could have significant effects on American families if not thoughtfully implemented,” said Aric Newhouse, senior vice president of policy and government relations at the National Association of Manufacturers, when the E.P.A. first proposed the updated regulation last year.

“We must be careful with regulations that could further raise prices on all Americans, slow economic growth and threaten jobs,” Mr. Newhouse said.