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December 16, 2013
AG Ferguson urges prompt federal action to curb power plant pollution

SEATTLE — Attorney General Bob Ferguson, along with 12 other attorneys general, submitted comments to the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) urging reduction in dangerous pollution.

The attorneys general insist that in order to substantially reduce pollution from existing fossil-fuel power plants, the EPA must set strong emission limits while also giving states flexibility on how to meet those limits.

“The EPA itself says existing fossil-fuel power plants are the single largest source of climate change pollution,” said Ferguson. “As required by law, the EPA must take prompt action to limit pollution to protect the environment and keep our communities safe.”

Attorneys general comments to the EPA

The comments submitted by the attorneys general point out that it is the EPA’s legal obligation under the federal Clean Air Act to regulate pollution from existing power plants.

The Act mandates that the EPA regulate emission sources that cause or significantly contribute to air pollution that endangers public health or welfare.

According to the EPA, fossil-fuel power plants are the single largest source of climate change pollution in the U.S. — emitting roughly 40 percent of the nation's total emissions.

The attorneys general urge the EPA to establish emission guidelines for existing power plants, while giving states flexibility on how to meet the limits.

Many states have already responded to the threat of climate change by moving forward independently to implement programs that reduce pollution from their electricity sectors.

This includes planned retirements of coal-fired power plants such as TransAlta in Washington state, renewable portfolio standards and energy efficiency programs.

In addition to Washington, attorneys general from California, Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont and the District of Columbia all joined the comments submitted to the EPA.

Timeline of EPA events

In 2006, a group of 11 states including Washington, the District of Columbia and the City of New York sued the EPA. They argued that the federal Clean Air Act required the EPA to set performance standards for greenhouse gas emissions from power plants.

In 2007, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Massachusetts v. EPA that the EPA has legal authority to regulate greenhouse gases as ‘air pollutants’ under the Clean Air Act. The court also ruled that the EPA must determine whether these gases cause or contribute to air pollution that may endanger public health or welfare.

Following Massachusetts v. EPA, the EPA agreed in a settlement that it would  take action to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from power plants.

After years of delay, on Sept. 20, 2013, the EPA published a proposed rule to limit greenhouse gas emissions from new power plants by establishing performance standards for carbon dioxide emissions.

The EPA is slated to propose a rule for existing power plants by June 1, 2014. The attorneys general comments address this future rule.

Pollution must be reduced to curb detrimental effects of climate change

In its comments to the EPA, attorneys general said significant reductions in pollution must occur to prevent increase in the frequency and magnitude of adverse health, safety and economic impacts. These impacts include:

• Extreme weather, including rain and snow storms, floods and droughts;
• Higher smog levels, increasing the rate of asthma, pneumonia and bronchitis;
• More heat-related deaths and illnesses;
• Coastal land loss due to rising sea levels;
• Threats to ecosystems;
• Disappearance of plant and animal species, a rise of insect-borne illnesses, and destructive fungi and pests;
• Threats to food production, agriculture and forest productivity; and
• Threats to energy, transportation and water resource infrastructure.

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