EPA Issues Landmark Mercury Pollution Standards for Power Plants

Photo by Flickr user Kansas Poetry (Patrick). Some rights reserved.

On March 16th, facing down a final court deadline, the Environmental Protection Agency unveiled the proposed rule for the first-ever national emission standards for hazardous air pollutants from coal-and-oil-fueled power plants, and the first significant legislation of its kind since the passage of the Clean Air Act in 1990. These standards were developed based on the practices and results from the best functioning national plants, and would primarily regulate toxic gases such as mercury, arsenic, chromium, and nickel, as well as requiring mandatory safety upgrades and employment of effective pollution control devices for most U.S. plants. These changes have been in the works since December 2000, when the EPA first re-examined the standards proposed in the original Clean Air Act.

In a fact sheet published alongside the rule itself, the EPA offers a number of encouraging statistics that will result from the new standards. The new technologies employed would prevent 91% of mercury and acid gases and 55% of sulfur dioxide burned in power plants from escaping into the air. By 2016, according to the EPA, the legislation will prevent as many as 17,000 premature deaths and 11,000 heart attacks annually, with 120,000 fewer cases of aggravated asthma and 12,000 fewer emergency room visits. And while the rule is estimated to cost $10.9 billion annually, it will theoretically also save workers and affected persons between $59 and $140 billion in health costs, and could create as many as 31,000 short-term construction jobs implementing the new technology and 9,000 long-term utility-based jobs.

As the EPA has recently come under scrutiny from Republican lawmakers for enforcing new climate rules that the GOP argues could cripple the already troublesome federal budget, these new emission standards may be looked upon with some skepticism. However, the EPA, in their press release for the rule, assures skeptics that the new standards align strictly with an executive order signed into action by President Obama in January that requires new regulation by federal agencies to be as cost effective as possible.

One response to this post.

  1. […] a more decent, just, and humane place to live.” Grist wasn’t the only one who thought so – we thought they were landmark, too. To read more about the standards, check out the EPA’s “MATS” […]


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