The EPA said it is completing a rule requiring large polluters to reduce the amounts of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases that they release into the air. Those emissions can boost many allergens and worsen smog, which can trigger asthma attacks and other respiratory ailments.
The rule, which will take effect in January, would require companies to install better technology and improve energy efficiency whenever they build or significantly modify a plant.
EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson said the rule applies only to large polluters such as power plants, refineries and cement production plants that collectively are responsible for 70 percent of greenhouse gas emissions from stationary sources in the U.S.
Jackson said the rule sets common-sense standards that will clean the air and protect public health, while avoiding burdensome regulations that could harm farms and small and midsize businesses.
"There is no denying our responsibility to protect the planet for our children and grandchildren," she said in a public statement. "It's long past time we unleashed our American ingenuity and started building the efficient, prosperous clean energy economy of the future."
On Wednesday, an energy and climate bill was introduced in the Senate that seeks to accomplish many of the same goals. But EPA spokesman Brendan Gilfillan denied any connection, saying "rules are ready when they are ready."
Environmentalists hailed the pollution rule, but industry groups and some GOP lawmakers called it a job-killer.
"Just as pollution standards for cars have spurred the auto companies to make hybrids and other cleaner cars, these standards will start to move America away from dirty, inefficient and outdated coal plants toward more efficient, cleaner energy," said Emily Figdor, director of the global warming program at Environment America, an advocacy group.
A spokesman for Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, said the EPA was overreaching its authority. Murkowski has threatened to introduce legislation blocking the EPA from regulating greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act.
"Senator Murkowski remains convinced that the [EPA] tailoring rule won't stand up in court – that the agency can't change a law that was passed in Congress," said Robert Dillon, a spokesman for Murkowski. The senator remains committed to allowing all 100 senators a vote on whether they think EPA is the appropriate body to regulate greenhouse gas emissions, he said.