First-Ever Mercury Standards for Coal Plants

Guest post by Nicholas Scott

The Environmental Protection Agency proposed the first-ever national standards for mercury and other air pollutants this past Wednesday. The proposed standards are targeted specifically at coal fired power plants. It is believed that the new regulations would dramatically improve public health; they can prevent 17,000 premature deaths from lung diseases, such as mesothelioma. Additionally, the standards will help to prevent a staggering 11,000 heart attacks and 120,000 cases of childhood asthma.

EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson affirmed this belief, issuing a statement claiming:

“With the help of existing technologies, we will be able to take reasonable steps that will provide dramatic protections to our children and loved ones, preventing premature deaths, heart attacks, and asthma attacks”

These new standards are possibly the result of recent pressure put on the EPA from the Republicans and select Democrats in Congress, who strongly believe the agency is severely hurting the economy with its rigid regulations. These lawmakers have mainly targeted the EPA’s climate rules, though the agency’s mercury standards have come under fire as well.

Opponents of the bill claim that the standards would impose major economic burdens to manufacturers. They believe that these expenses may be passed on to consumers, who will face higher electricity bills. Senator James Inhofe from Oklahoma, a critic of the EPA, has since introduced legislation that requires a formal review of the proposed regulations. He claims:

“EPA’s proposed utility [rule] today could, by itself, shut down up to 20 percent of America’s coal-fired power capacity,” he said. “When you add in all of the rules and regulations from EPA’s cap-and-trade agenda, the outlook for jobs and economic growth looks dire.”

The agencies mercury standards were also met with significant push-back from organizations that represent power plants. Scott Segal, the director of the Electric Reliability Coordinating Council, described the standards as “one of the most expensive rules in the history of the agency.”

The technology currently exists to make this environmental goal a reality. By just installing the regulating systems, power plants would effectively be able to lower a slew of harmful emissions.  President Obama issued an executive order this past January mandating that federal agencies make sure their regulations are cost effective and not overly burdensome. The EPA was said to have strictly followed the president’s guidelines when crafting the standards. In fact, they claim that their standards are so cost-effective that for every $1 spent, the public will see $13 in benefits.

If the proposed standards pass, the public will surely see the increased health benefits. Thousands will live longer, and even more will breathe easier. Toxic mercury will be reduced from bodies of water and as a result, fish will be safer to eat. Thousands upon thousands of people die annually from lung disease; and with the mesothelioma life expectancy lasting no longer than 14 months, the potential health benefits are enormous. With fewer illnesses, there will be fewer expenses due to hospital and doctor visits as well. The money saved from collateral costs will undoubtedly outweigh any additional electricity costs, plus the environment will hugely benefit from cleaner air.

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