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Jeff Montgomery

Delaware has emerged as one of the winners in the long battle for a new federal crackdown on power plant emissions that drift across state lines.

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson released a new Cross-State Air Pollution Rule that officials said would eliminate hundreds of thousands of tons of soot and smog-forming pollution, saving an estimated 34,000 lives and averting hundreds of thousands of illnesses yearly as early as 2014.

The new rules targeted smokestack emissions long identified by Delaware and other "downwind" states as problems that made full, local compliance with federal Clean Air Act standards impossible, because no state could fully control emissions arriving from beyond its borders.

Under the new rules, 27 states must significantly reduce power plant emissions that affect their neighbors or more distant regions. Plans would be due as early as 2013.

"I call it the Good Neighbor, Clean Air Rule," Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., said. "I hope we can now stop battling it out in court and start cutting emissions dramatically."

Carper has sponsored a series of bills over the years to curb emissions of sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, mercury and other air pollutants tied to human health problems and global climate change. He chairs the Senate's Clean Air and Nuclear Safety subcommittee and is a member of its Environment and Public Works Committee.

Before the EPA's move last week, Carper said, big power plants in the Midwest were able to produce electricity cheaply, while sending air pollution out of their region and across Eastern states, where emissions drive up health care costs from asthma, heart and respiratory diseases and other ailments.

Delaware filed petitions for relief in the past and joined lawsuits to force the change.

Since Congress approved the Clean Air Act amendments of 1990, millions have been spent in Delaware on everything from paint formulations to highway planning, reductions in factory and power plant emissions and changes in fuels and fuel-handling requirements. Yet Delaware continues to have days when soot and ozone levels exceed federal standards, partly because of car and power plant emissions from other states.

"We're still far out of attainment," with federal Clean Air Act standards, DNREC Secretary Collin P. O'Mara said. "Having these new rules is going to give us a lot of relief."

In addition to Delaware, power plants in the District of Columbia, Connecticut, Florida, Louisiana and Massachusetts will get relief from requirements to control year-round emissions of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides.

Texas, which has a large number of coal-burning power plants, will have to step up year-round controls.

Some critics questioned the uneven impact on states and the likely increase in pressure to close at least some of the nation's dirtiest coal-fired plants. The American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity predicted that the EPA's rules would be the "most expensive ever imposed" on coal-fired generators.

"The EPA is ignoring the cumulative economic damage new regulations will cause," Steve Miller, the coalition's president, said in a written statement. "America's coal-fueled electric industry has been doing its part for the environment and the economy, but our industry needs adequate time to install clean coal technologies to comply with new regulations," he said. "Unfortunately, EPA doesn't seem to care."

An earlier, Bush administration proposal to deal with the issue was tossed out by a federal appeals court.

The new version is expected to cost the power plant industry $800 million yearly in 2014, according to the EPA estimates, atop existing costs of complying with past efforts to reduce smokestack releases.

The 27 states subject to the rule are Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, West Virginia and Wisconsin.