EPA Proposes First Ever National Mercury Rule For Coal-Fired Power Plants

The first federal mercury pollution rule for coal-fired power plants, which would drastically limit emissions, is now open for public comment. Environmental groups and states have pushed for two decades to put national standards into place. The Allegheny Front's Ann Murray has more.

Read the transcript »Close the Transcript

Transcript

OPEN: The first federal mercury pollution rule for coal-fired power plants, which would drastically limit emissions, is now open for public comment. Environmental groups and states have pushed for two decades to put national standards into place. The Allegheny Front's Ann Murray has more.

MURRAY: Under the Environmental Protection Agency's proposed regulations, mercury, a known neurotoxin, and other pollutants such as arsenic, chromium and lead would be reduced by about 90 percent. Power plant operators would have four years to meet the standards.†Jan Jarrett, CEO of the environmental advocacy group Penn Future, believes federal regulations are particularly important for Pennsylvanians. That's because unlike some states, Pennsylvania doesn't have mercury controls. †Jarrett says a state mercury rule was briefly in place in 2009.

JARRETT: Unfortunately the rule was overturned by the courts. Nevertheless, we need a rule in place to protect the public health and the rivers and streams of the state.

MURRAY:Pennsylvania power plants are the second biggest mercury polluters in the United States. Only Texas utilities produce more emissions. A recent Environmental Defense Fund report places the Keystone power facility in Armstrong County and the Conemaugh †plant in Indiana County among the top US mercury emitters. Both are owned by Public Service Enterprise Group.

According to the EPA, about half of Pennsylvania's plants don't have the technology to meet the rule. The Electric Reliability Coordinating Council projects the regulations could cost the industry 100 billion dollars, ten times EPA's estimate. The power sector says it has cut emissions of mercury through efforts to reduce other pollutants.

Groups like the American Lung Association are pleased with the proposed federal standards. The Lung Association just released a report that says coal-fired power plants emit more toxic air pollutants than any other U.S. industrial pollution source. The EPA predicts †new standards will †annually save as many as 17,000 people from an early death and prevent 11,000 heart attacks.

These federal pollution controls have been underway since at least 1990. That's when President George H.W. Bush signed amendments to the Clean Air Act. The amendments required the E.P.A. to take steps to locate and reduce major sources of †air pollution, including emissions from power plants.

A final rule is expected to be in place in November.

For The Allegheny Front, I'm Ann Murray.