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EPA Issues Power Plant Mercury Rules

The EPA has issued requirements to control mercury and other toxic air emissions from coal- and oil-fired power plants – what it calls the largest unregulated industrial sources of hazardous air pollution in the United States.

Under the new, much-delayed rules, power plants will be required to install pollution controls within three years. The regulations will result in preventing about 90 percent of the mercury in coal burned in power plants being emitted to the air; reducing 88 percent of acid gas emissions from power plants; and reducing 41 percent of sulfur dioxide emissions from power plants beyond the reductions expected from the Cross State Air Pollution Rule, the EPA says.

According to the Izaak Walton League of America – one of the partner groups involved in creating the new rules – existing power plants release 48 tons of mercury into the air each year. Seventeen states have already enacted mercury reduction requirements for power plants and many utilities are well on their way to complying with these standards, according to the conservation organization.

The economic benefits of this rule outweigh the costs by a ratio of up to 14 to 1, according to the agency. The EPA estimates that lowering emissions would save up to $140 billion in annual health costs and prevent 17,000 premature deaths annually by 2016.

Regulations on emissions from coal- and oil-fired plants were first proposed under the Clean Air Act of 1990. Under the act the EPA was required to set rules by 2002 – a date that came and went with no action from the agency.

Despite the delay, health and environmental groups including the Investor Network on Climate Risk, Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America and the American Lung Association – who called the new rules “life saving” – have welcomed the announcement.

But many utilities, including Southern Co. and American Electric Power, have been lobbying hard against the rule’s implementation. Steve Miller, president and CEO of the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity labeled the EPA “out of touch” with the economic times. This regulations, he said, would kill jobs and raise the cost of energy. A survey conducted by the Associated Press found that 32 mostly coal fired plants would likely close as a result of the new rule.

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