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Published: Friday, 12/31/2010

The EPA acts

The decision by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to limit greenhouse gas emissions from power plants and refineries is welcome, especially since Congress stubbornly refuses to protect the nation's air.

The EPA said last week that it will propose standards for new and refurbished power plants next July and for new oil refineries next December. Rules for existing power plants are to follow in 2015 or 2016.

These plants and refineries emit about 40 percent of all U.S. greenhouse gases. The rules aim to cut carbon dioxide and other substances that are fouling the air today and harming the planet in the long term.

The decision comes in response to lawsuits filed against the EPA over its failure to control the emissions. Some plant operators already are bristling at the notion of more regulation.

Some members of Congress seek to limit the authority of the agency whose role is as clear as its name: protecting our environment. Its efforts should be applauded, not undercut.

Claims that clean-air regulations are unnecessary and harmful to a region's economy are far from the truth. Companies that seek to start or expand operations increasingly look for sites with employees' health in mind. If the air or water is fouled, they go elsewhere.

The EPA's announcement is vague about how extensively the agency intends to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and how tough penalties will be for violators.

Both features will be key. Too often, when violations of the federal Clean Air Act or Clean Water Act are cited at coal-fired power plants, the companies that own them pay relatively small penalties, even when the facilities are repeat offenders.

Issuing tougher regulations, vigorously enforcing them, and imposing stiff penalties all are part of the comprehensive approach to air quality the nation sorely needs.

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