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A federal appeals court in Washington ruled Friday that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency must delay enforcement of a regulation aimed at reducing power plant pollution in 27 states. The rule was to go into effect Monday, January 1, 2012, but the court granted a delay sought by more than a dozen electric power companies, municipal power plant operators and states.

The EPA, in a statement, said it was confident that the rule would ultimately be upheld on its merits. But the agency said it was “disappointing” the regulation’s health benefits would be delayed, even if temporarily.

Republicans in Congress had unsuccessfully attempted to block the rule through legislation, saying it would shutter some older, coal-fired power plants and kill jobs. While the Republican-controlled House passed legislation to block the rules, the Senate — with the help of six Republicans — rejected an attempt to stay the regulation.

And theWhite House had threatened to veto it. The rule, finalized by the Environmental Protection Agency in July, replaces a 2005 Bush administration proposal that was rejected by a federal court.  In the first two years, the EPA estimates that the regulation and some other steps would have slashed sulfur dioxide emissions by 73 percent from 2005 levels and nitrogen oxides bymore than half.

Sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide pollution from power plant smokestacks can be carried long distances by the wind and weather. As they drift, the pollutants react with other substances in the atmosphere to form smog and soot, which have been linked to various illnesses.

Six states — Texas, Nebraska, Florida, Kansas, Louisiana and Ohio — had asked the court for the delay. All would have had to reduce pollution from their power plants under the regulation. They were joined by local power plant operators and power generating companies, including Entergy, Luminant Generation and GenOn Energy. (Wash Post, 12/31/2011)