US senators and officials from Delaware and Rhode Island on Monday defended the Cross-State Air Pollution rule, an EPA regulation that requires 27 states to make significant cuts in power-plant emissions that contribute to ozone and fine-particle pollution in other states.

Republican Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky is seeking to defeat the rule with a Congressional resolution that represents a vote of “no confidence” in an agency’s regulation.

Senator Tom Carper of Delaware and other Democrats are urging defeat of the resolution, saying that failing to implement the Cross-State rule would boost both air pollution and health-care costs in states that lie downwind of Midwest power plants.

The resolution is expected to be debated on the Senate floor on Tuesday, after getting enough signatures to bypass a Senate committee, according to Carper.

Blowing In The Wind

Passage of the resolution would prevent the Environmental Protection Agency from implementing the rule, blocking an expected improvement in air quality in eastern states whose air is polluted with sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide carried via prevailing winds from power plants in states to the west such as Ohio and Kentucky.

“We do have the misfortune to be living at the end of America’s tailpipe,” Carper said during a conference call with reporters. He argued that Delaware could eliminate all its internal sources of ozone and particulate pollution and still not be in compliance with the rule because its air is polluted by eastward-flowing emissions.

90% of Delaware’s air pollution originates out of state, Carper said. “We end up breathing the pollution that’s produced in the west of us,” he said.

Cost Benefit Analysis

The EPA says the health benefits of the rule would sharply outweigh the costs of installing technology to enable compliance. The industry faces a bill of $800 million a year by 2014, in addition to about $1.6 billion a year already being paid to comply with the 2005 Clean Air Interstate Rule, which was replaced by the new measure.

Subjecting emissions rules to cost-benefit analysis was a major part of Texas Governor Rick Perry’s proposed energy plan as part of his presidential campaign. Read more here.

By comparison, the lower incidence of illnesses such as asthma, bronchitis and non-fatal heart attacks would reduce health-care costs by $120 billion to $280 billion by 2014, the EPA says.

Critics believe the EPA has exaggerated the health benefits of the rule and has given the power industry not nearly enough time to comply. Opponents are seeking an injunction from a Washington appeals court which is expected to issue its decision before the rule is scheduled to go into effect on Jan. 1, 2012.

“EPA has significantly overstated the benefits, which could be achieved at a much lower cost,” said Jeff Holmstead, head of the environmental strategies group at the Washington law firm of Bracewell & Giuliani.

“The EPA is being more than just a little overzealous by having these regulations come into effect so quickly,” Holmstead said.

Rhode Island Democrat Senator Sheldon Whitehouse said Midwestern states enjoy lower energy costs because some of their power plants are not fitted with the scrubbers that lower damaging emissions, while having lower health-care costs because the plants’ pollution is carried downwind to states like Rhode Island and Delaware.

“They are burning low-cost fuel and dumping the pollution on us,” he said.

Partisanship On Pollution

Whitehouse declined to predict whether opponents have enough votes to defeat Senator Paul’s resolution.

“It depends on whether the downwind Republican Senators make their downwind status a greater priority than their Republican status,” he said.

If the resolution succeeds, Delaware faces “huge” costs to meet federal air-quality standards, said Collin O’Mara, the state’s environment secretary. Without the cross-state rule in place, Delaware would have to pay between $5,000 and $10,000 a ton of to remove enough nitrogen oxide to meet EPA requirements, O’Mara told reporters.

Spokespeople for Senator Paul could not be reached for comment.