The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) today released long awaited national regulations that limit emissions of mercury, lead and other toxic pollutants from power plants.
The Mercury and Air Toxics Regulations limit hazardous pollutants that contaminate the air and water and cause severe health problems such as cancer, heart disease, neurological damage, birth defects, asthma attacks, and premature death.
It took EPA 20 years to produce the rules, which simply require the biggest polluters in the US – coal- and oil-fired power plants – to install pollution prevention technology.
It’s amazing they have escaped regulation until now, the only industry that’s done so. Power plants are responsible for half of the mercury and over 75% of acid gas emissions in the US.
Over half these plants have voluntarily upgraded their technology – the regulations will affect only the 40% who are laggards and they’ll have up to four years to comply. They are the oldiest, dirtiest and least efficient plants in the country.
EPA estimates the standards will save up to $140 billion in annual health costs and will prevent 11,000 premature deaths, 4,700 heart attacks and 130,000 cases of childhood asthma each year. Many states have issued advisories warning women and children – and in some cases, all citizens – to avoid or limit eating freshwater fish because of contamination.
EPA expects the rules to create 46,000 temporary construction jobs and 8,000 permanent utility jobs.
More than 900,000 Americans submitted comments to the EPA in support of these regulations – the most comments ever received on an EPA rule.
The regulations face vehement opposition from Republicans and major utilities who, as usual, say the rules will kill jobs and the economy, and even threaten the reliability of the US power grid.
The Dept of Energy issued a report earlier this month saying the regulations would not impact grid reliability.
"After decades of industry-induced delay, EPA did exactly what it was designed to do: look out for our health and our environment," says Frances Beinecke, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). "Dirty coal-fired power plants will have to clean up the toxic soup of emissions that is polluting our air and making people sick, especially children."
Believe it or not, these regulations were first mandated in 1990 as an amendment to the Clean Air Act to reduce toxic air pollutants like mercury, arsenic, acid gas, nickel, selenium and cyanide.
EPA has been under a court-ordered deadline to complete the rules.
Industry and the GOP argue that the rules could result in plant closures, and that’s true. The dirtiest, least efficient power plants have pushed these rules off for two decades – if they close, rather than update, that’s a good thing. Those plants were built before the Beatles announced their breakup in 1970.