New Mercury Standards Proposed by EPA

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) just announced proposed national guidelines for <"">mercury and other air toxins that are released from power plants. The announcement followed, said the CNN, a court-mandated deadline and mandates most power plants install so-called “pollution control technologies.”

“Today we’re taking an important step forward in EPA’s efforts to safeguard the health of millions of Americans. Under the Clean Air Act these standards will require American power plants to put in place proven and widely available pollution technologies to control and cut harmful emissions like mercury, arsenic, chromium, nickel, and acid gases,” said Lisa Jackson, EPA Administrator, speaking at a press. The standards will “prevent 91 percent of mercury in coal from being released in the air,” she added.

Mercury can accumulate in the body over time, making diseases and disorders potentially linked to one’s exposure, difficult to diagnose. The EPA has previously said that high mercury levels can damage major organs as well as the immune system, especially in the developing fetus. In addition, mercury can cause neurological damage and damage to the kidneys and brain and can cause skin rash and vision problems. Mercury poisoning can cause brain damage and developmental delays in children and the unborn developing fetus.

According to Environmental Leader, The Power Plant Mercury and Air Toxics Standards should prevent some 17,000 premature deaths, 11,000 heart attacks, 120,000 cases of childhood asthma symptoms, and 11,000 cases of acute bronchitis in children, citing the EPA. The proposed standards could also prevent over 12,000 emergency room visits and hospital admissions and could save over 850,000 missed days of work over illness, said the EPA, wrote Environmental Leader.

The EPA was ordered by the D.C. Court of Appeals to finalize the rules by November; power plants have three years in which to comply, as well as a potential one-year extension should the technology not be installed in time, said CNN.

Dr. Marian Burton, president of the American Academy of Pediatrics said, “Dirty air makes people sick. That’s the long and short of it … If you think it’s expensive to put a scrubber on a smokestack you should see how much it costs to treat a preventable birth defect,” quoted CNN.

Jackson pointed out that the Standards would provide new jobs. “These are good labor-intensive jobs that cannot be shipped overseas.” Utility companies would have to pay the new standards but, said Jackson, the change would equalize all utility companies placing them all under the same clean air standards. Consumers will also see rate increases as the new technology is installed, wrote CNN. “We estimate impact on utility bills that are pretty minor, three to four dollars a month,” quoted CNN. Jackson said the costs would be outweighed by the benefits.

“The EPA admits the pending proposal will cost at least $10 billion, making it one of the most expensive rules in the history of the agency,” said the Electric Reliability Coordinating Council, quoted the New York Times. “Adaptation to all the proposed rules constitutes an extraordinary threat to the power sector—particularly the half of U.S. electricity derived from coal-fired generation,” the group added, reported Environmental Leader.

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