"As the mother of a son with asthma, I know that these numbers and the fights we wage for clean air are not just abstract concepts," Jackson said at a news conference. "Behind these numbers are people's lives and livelihoods."
The rule was praised by environmental advocates as long overdue and criticized by industry as too expensive.
Either way, it is expected to have a significant effect on the air quality in this region.
Pennsylvania hosts one of the nation's largest fleets of coal-fired power plants. And the state's southeast and New Jersey, along with regions both to the north and the south, bear much of the brunt of the pollution from them and other plants to the west, due to the prevailing winds. On some days, the region is unable to meet minimum federal air-quality standards for ozone, a.k.a. smog, and fine particles.
"For the Delaware Valley, it does mean good things," said David Arnold, deputy director of the air protection division for the Mid-Atlantic region. By 2014, he expects the greater Philadelphia area to meet air-quality standards.
Paying a price
But Pennsylvania also will pay a price because its many coal-fired power plants - about three dozen - contribute heavily to national emissions and will have to reduce them.
A recent analysis of federal data by the national nonprofit Environment America found that Pennsylvania was fourth in the nation in nitrogen oxide emissions.
A similar analysis shows Pennsylvania has the highest amount of sulfur dioxide emissions.
Some plants will have to invest in expensive upgrades. Opponents and supporters of the rule alike predict some plants will be unable to meet the new limits while remaining profitable, so they will close.
New Jersey's plants already have controls in place or in the pipeline that would exceed the new EPA standards, said Larry Ragonese, a spokesman for the state Department of Environmental Protection.
But the state will benefit in a reduction of the emissions that blow in.
The EPA "still doesn't go as far as New Jersey, but we're glad to see them take some positive steps," Ragonese said.
Among all the states affected by the new rule, Pennsylvania will reap the second-highest number of benefits, after Ohio, according to an EPA analysis.
Each year, the rule will result in 1,200 to 2,900 fewer premature deaths in Pennsylvania and $9.7 billion to $24 billion in "monetized benefits" - mostly avoided health-care costs.
New Jersey will see 450 to 1,200 fewer deaths and see $3.8 billion to $9.4 billion in benefits, the agency said.
The rule - with the unwieldy designation of Cross-State Air Pollution Rule, or C-SAP - replaces a weaker Bush administration rule that was ultimately struck down by a federal court.
Basically, both states and individual plants will have emissions ceilings, but the rule allows for some degree of trading.
It is projected to reduce overall emissions of sulfur dioxide by 73 percent and nitrogen oxide by 54 percent from 2005 levels. In addition to being harmful themselves, both substances react chemically in the air to produce smog, or ground-level ozone, and soot, or fine particulate matter.
This pollution can cause or exacerbate lung problems and respiratory illnesses, resulting in lost productivity, school absences, hospitalizations, and premature deaths.
The EPA has said that in addition to saving lives, the rule will prevent more than 400,000 asthma attacks, 19,000 admissions to the hospital or emergency department, and 15,000 nonfatal heart attacks.
The American Lung Association, the American Thoracic Society, and the American Public Health Association all praised the rule.
"For the first time in my memory, operators of coal-burning power plants are going to have to internalize the cost of their pollution and the impact that has, and that's really good news," said Joseph O. Minott, executive director of the Clean Air Council, based in Philadelphia.
"Put plainly, every dollar of benefit we will derive comes at a cost of less than one penny," said Bill Becker, executive director of the National Association of Clean Air Agencies, which represents state air-pollution control departments.
Although some energy companies such as PSEG in New Jersey that have already upgraded their plants have supported the rule, industry generally criticized it as too expensive and said that it could be a death knell for older plants that will not be able to meet the regulations.
Steve Miller, president and CEO of the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, said that the regulation, combined with another EPA rule, would increase electric rates by 23 percent in some areas that rely on coal and would cause "substantial" job losses.
Douglas L. Biden, president of the Electric Power Generation Association, a Pennsylvania industry group, said the new rule came amid three other costly power-plant proposals from the EPA - limits on mercury and other toxic air emissions, new rules governing water intakes, and a rule governing solid waste from plants.
Greenhouse-gas regulations and other measures are on the horizon.
It is all happening while demand for power has stalled, natural gas prices are low, and many states have enacted standards to encourage the construction of renewable-energy projects.
"You have all these forces coming together at once," Biden said, so it's a tough time for coal plants.
Another EPA action due by the end of the month is a stricter limit on ozone pollution.
This may put some communities in the odd position of having cleaner air but still unable to meet federal standards.
Kevin Greene, a Philadelphia mental-health therapist and avid cyclist, is simply glad to look forward to any improvement he can get.
Now 51, he's been racing since 1993. But a few years ago, he was diagnosed with asthma.
So when he rides, he brings an inhaler. Before he starts, he goes through a series of breathing exercises.
And if the air is bad, later in the day, "you cough and you hack."
"I know this state and this city could use cleaner air, that's for sure," he said.
Contact staff writer Sandy Bauers at 215-854-5147 or email@example.com.
Visit her blog at http://go.philly.com/greenspace.