Topeka It will be "impossible" for the state's largest electric company to comply with new federal pollution regulations scheduled to take effect in January, Westar Energy's top air-quality official said.
The new rules will require Westar to reduce emissions from two smog- and soot-producing pollutants by more than 10,000 tons a year.
"As far as we're concerned, there's no way we can comply with this rule on Jan. 1," said Bill Eastman, director of air programs for Westar. "It's too soon and it's too quick ... It literally appears right now impossible."
The regulations are designed to reduce pollution that drifts across state borders and makes it difficult for downwind cities to meet air quality standards, The Wichita Eagle reported Thursday. Power plants in 27 states are covered by the regulations.
Eastman and other Westar officials decided the utility can't meet the deadline after analyzing the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule announced July 7 by the Environmental Protection Agency. The utility said complying with the rules will cost Westar customers $1.5 billion — and that figure could increase if Westar has to buy pollution credits or pay fines.
The company already has a plan for emission reduction and believes it could meet the new requirements by 2015, Eastman said.
From 2012 until the plants are in compliance, Westar might have to buy pollution "credits" from other power plants or pay millions of dollars in fines to the EPA.
Ordinarily, the company can't pass fines on to customers but state regulators might allow it if Westar could prove that it was impossible to avoid the penalty, said David Springe, chief consumer counsel for the Citizens' Utility Ratepayer Board.
The regulations cover sulfur dioxide, known as SO2, and nitrogen oxide, or NOX.
According to company records, Westar currently produces 19,045 tons of SO2 and 30,802 tons of NOX a year. The new limit will be 18,932 tons of SO2 and 20,549 tons of NOX by 2012. By 2014, the company will have to further reduce its NOX emissions to 17,105 tons a year.
The EPA contends the new rules will prevent as many as 34,000 premature deaths, while also substantially reducing heart attacks, acute bronchitis, aggravated asthma and other breathing problems.
David Bryan, a spokesman for the EPA's Region 7 office in Kansas City, Kan., said the agency believes "that all the sources (of pollution) will be able to meet deadlines."
"The final rule does give each source the flexibility to choose how they will comply," he said. "They can run existing (emission) controls or those expected to come on line in the future. They can make changes in the way electricity is distributed across their facility. They can buy allowances, among other things."
Under the new rules, Kansas power plants are given a total pollution allowance of 40,697 tons of SO2. In 2010, they produced 45,251 tons.
The state produced 48,938 tons of NOX last year. The new rules will require that amount be reduced to 30,100 tons of NOX next year and to 25,049 tons by 2014, said Tom Gross, chief of monitoring and planning for the Bureau of Air at the Kansas Department of Health and Environment.
In the last five years, Kansas utilities have reduced SO2 emissions by more than 91,000 tons a year and NOX by nearly 40,000 tons, according to federal records.