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United States

Clean air action holds promise

Renewable energy could get a boost if eight states in Northeast America succeed in getting emissions from conventional power plants and factories in the Midwest cut dramatically. The states are asking the US Environmental Protection Agency to force emitters of nitrogen oxides in the eastern half of the country to curb their dirty habits. These, say the eight states, result in unhealthy and dangerous smog blown into their region.

Renewable energy could get a super-boost if eight states in Northeast America succeed in getting emissions from conventional power plants and factories in the Midwest cut dramatically.

Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, New York, Pennsylvania and Vermont are asking the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to force emitters of nitrogen oxides in the eastern half of the country to curb their dirty habits. These, say the eight states, result in unhealthy and dangerous smog blown into their region.

Under an agreement made in June, 32 eastern states are recommending that power plants are told to cut their nitrogen oxide emissions by 50-85%. And using that agreement, the EPA plans to tell each of the states in September how much they will have to cut pollution to meet ozone limits in the Clean Air Act. The agency could ask specific plants to trim their pollution or even close them down, although it is more likely to allow them five years to meet new standards. The petitions, filed by the eight states last month, were to ensure that the EPA enforces those limits and to try and speed up action to slash pollution.

The filing is the latest chapter in a huge national battle over air standards. The EPA is formally proposing new clean air standards on smog and soot, which it says will prevent 15,000 premature deaths annually in America, 350,000 cases of aggravated asthma and breathing problems for millions of children. In July, the American Truckers Association and the Chamber of Commerce filed suit to try and block the standards, arguing that they are unnecessary and would particularly harm small businesses. The battle has a strong regional element, with northeastern states eager for the White House's new curbs -- as are environmental groups -- while industrial states are reluctant to spend the money.

Meanwhile, the Sustainable Energy Coalition is asking President Bill Clinton to be more aggressive on climate change. The coalition's 119 members, which include the American Wind Energy Association, want Clinton to lead negotiations in an international agreement to set legally binding targets for substantial curbs in greenhouse gases by early next century. A new book from the World Resources Institute (WRI) concludes that if the US and other nations follow such measures, climate protection will not adversely affect the economy.

"The Costs of Climate Protection: a Guide for the Perplexed," by Robert Repetto and Duncan Austin, examines the key assumptions in the economic models used to analyse climate policy options. The book shows how the assumptions affect predicted costs and then examines favourable policy options such as how the US can negotiate to stabilise carbon emissions through joint implementation projects, how government can lower income and payroll tax while making up the revenues with energy taxes, and how to make clean renewable sources of energy more available at lower prices.

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