Operators of coal- and oil-fired power plants in the United States, for the first time ever, are required to limit emissions of mercury and other hazardous air pollutants, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) said.
“I am glad to be here to mark the finalization of a clean-air rule that has been 20 years in the making, and is now ready to start improving our health, protecting our children, and cleaning up our air,” EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson said at the Children's National Medical Center in Washington, D.C. “Under the Clean Air Act, these standards will require American power plants to put in place proven and widely available pollution-control technologies to cut harmful emissions of mercury, arsenic, chromium, nickel, and acid gases. In and of itself, this is a great victory for public health, especially for the health of our children.”
The neurotoxin mercury causes damage to unborn children and young children, and the EPA points to coal-fired power plants as the largest sources of mercury emissions.
“These standards rank among the three or four most-significant environmental achievements in the EPA’s history,” said John Walke, of the National Resources Defense Council. “This rule-making represents a generational achievement.”
The regulations, the most far-reaching in two decades, control acid gases and other pollutants from metals, in addition to mercury.
“EPA estimates that for every dollar spent to reduce pollution from power plants, the American public will see up to $9 in health benefits,” according to a news release issued by the agency. “The total health and economic benefits of this standard are estimated to be as much as $90 billion annually.”
It’s been estimated the control of the emissions will prevent 11,000 premature deaths each year.
The regulations go into effect in 2015, and when they do, they will result in a significant power-grid strain because of the elimination of almost 15 gigawatts of energy.
Republicans disagree about the economic impact the new regulations will have.
Rep. Darrell Issa, chairman of the House Oversight Committee, and Rep Jim Jordan, chairman of the subcommittee on Regulatory Affairs, said in a letter that the EPA “has failed to perform a proper analysis of the rule’s impact on job creation.”
And the issue of power-grid strain caught the attention of Republican presidential candidates Jon Huntsman, who predicted summer brownouts, as well as Rick Perry, who said the EPA is killing jobs.