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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

And I'm Michele Norris.

Today, the Environmental Protection Agency sent a tough message to power plants that burn coal: It's time to clean up smog and soot that travel long distances.

NPR's Elizabeth Shogren explains.

ELIZABETH SHOGREN: The new EPA transport rule is designed to clean up pollution that blows from power plants into other states. EPA administrator Lisa Jackson says it's about fairness.

Ms. LISA JACKSON (Administrator, EPA): This is EPA, the federal government doing what the federal government should and has a responsibility to all Americans to do, and that's leveling the playing field, ensuring that one community doesn't put out smog and soot at the expense of the residents downwind.

SHOGREN: The new rule replaces a similar Bush administration regulation that was struck down by a court as not strict enough. The new rule will cut almost 2 million more tons of pollution per year than the Bush administration program.

Twenty-seven states from Texas to New York will have to slash 70 percent of sulfur dioxide emissions and 50 percent of nitrogen oxides from power plants, that's compared to 2005 levels.

Scientists say the fine particles and ozone from these plants contribute to deadly heart and lung failures. The agency estimates the rule will be so potent that within three years it will prevent as many as 34,000 premature deaths each year. It's also expected to reduce hundreds of thousands of asthma attacks per year.

That really resonates with Jackson, whose sons both had asthma when they were small.

Ms. JACKSON: You know, for every parent with a child with asthma, it's all about trying to give them as close to a normal experience in childhood as possible.

SHOGREN: Jackson says less power plant pollution will mean fewer days when parents have to tell their kids they can't play outside because the air is bad, and fewer sick days.

Ms. JACKSON: When you talk about asthma attacks, every single one can mean hours, if not days, spent caring for a sick child or family member. It can mean hospitalization.

SHOGREN: That adds up to lots of costs for families and society. Jackson says that's part of why the new rule will provide billions of dollars in public health benefits.

Some power companies complain the 2014 deadline is too quick. It doesn't allow them time to install pollution control equipment. So they'll have no choice but to shut down some older coal-fired power plants.

Mr. PAT HEMLEPP (Director of Corporate Media Relations, American Electric Power): Taking power plants out of service like this pulls tax dollars out of communities, pulls jobs out of communities, in addition to the increase of electricity costs.

SHOGREN: Pat Hemlepp represents American Electric Power. It's one of the country's biggest power companies and has plants in 11 states from Texas to Michigan.

Mr. HEMLEPP: This is a region of the country that's struggling to recover from the economic downturn, and doing this on such a short time line is an economic hit that could be avoided.

SHOGREN: But Harvard economist Robert Stavins says, overall, the new regulation is a real winner for the economy.

Mr. ROBERT STAVINS (Economist, Harvard University): It doesn't mean that there aren't costs, but the benefits of the transport rule in terms of human health protection tremendously outweigh the costs of this.

SHOGREN: Stavins says even in parts of the country where electricity costs will increase a little bit, health care savings in those same communities will more than compensate for that.

Elizabeth Shogren, NPR News, Washington.

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