Stuart Johnson, Deseret News
The Huntington Power Plant in Huntington, Utah. In the foreground are the cooling towers that disperse harmless steam.

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Utah has joined with two dozen other states and one U.S. territory in urging a federal court to require the EPA to delay implementing a new, tougher air emissions standard for power plants.

In a friend of the court brief filed with the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, the states argue the EPA is rushing ahead with a rule that will have "far-reaching impacts without adequately considering the serious concerns and questions raised," in the rulemaking process.

States critical of the rule say it will drive up electrical costs "significantly" for the consumer, lead to the loss of hundreds of thousands of jobs and force the closure of coal-fired or oil-fired power plants. In Ohio, a major power company said it will shut down all six of its coal-fired generating units by 2015, the year the rule's changes would have to be in place, because of the prohibitive cost.

Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff is so adamant about the potential negative fallout of such a rule that he testified before an energy subcommittee hearing in mid-September, stressing that given the lack of analysis, "neither EPA nor the public can understand the effect of all these regulations on the reliability of the electric grid."

On Monday, he said he remains convinced that such a far-sweeping regulation will have dire impacts.

"It will have major consequences to the economy, on jobs, on the ability of these companies to produce," affordable electricity, he said.

But Dr. Brian Moench, with Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment, said critics of the rule are overlooking the indisputable benefit of cleaner air and long-term positives.

"Historically pollution controls have brought not only significant health benefits to the public at large, but economic benefits as well," he said. "On average the economic benefits of improved pollution control have been about 30 times greater than the costs to industry to imply with stricter standards."

He added that mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants have potentially disastrous effects on child-bearing women by causing intellectual impairment to children they might conceive.

"That is just one example of how improved pollution control from coal power plants is not just a public health and economic imperative, but a moral and ethical one as well."

Called the MACT rule (maximum achievable control technology), the new regulations would force a technological overhaul of electricity generating power plants to reduce hazardous air pollutants.

The rule is scheduled to go into effect on Nov. 16, but the states are asking for a one-year delay so the full array of consequences and impacts can be better understood.

They assert that the 104 days between the close of the public comment period in August and the deadline next month to publish the rule is "simply too short for EPA to conduct any meaningful analysis of comments it received from regulated industry, states and the public, and determine whether or what sort of revisions," might be warranted.

The rule is the result of a consent decree the EPA signed after a lawsuit was brought against the federal agency.

Shurtleff and others say the November 2011 deadline for the new rule is one that is self-imposed by the EPA and in violation of a presidential executive order,  which requires consideration of cumulative EPA regulations on electricity generation.

"The concern is that they are violating an executive order that mandates that before they roll out these rules that have a major impact, they have to study those cumulative effects and they have not done that," Shurtleff said. "They need to fulfill their responsibility under the law."

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