Wednesday, March 16, 2011

National Standards for Mercury, Arsenic and Other Toxic Air Pollution

EPA Proposes New Emission Standards for Power Plants
John M. Broder and John Collins Rudolf, NY Times, March 16, 2011

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has proposed the first national standard for emissions of mercury and other pollutants from coal-burning power plants.

The rule, which would likely lead to the early closing of a number of older plants, is certain to be challenged by the some utilities and Republicans in Congress.

EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson pointedly included the head of the American Lung Association and two prominent doctors in her announcement of the rule to highlight that the regulations were designed to protect public health and not to penalize the utility industry.

The EPA estimates the total annual cost of compliance at about $10 billion, in line with some industry estimates (although some are much higher), and the health and environmental benefits at more than $100 billion a year. Ms. Jackson said that households could expect to see their electric bills rise by $3 to $4 a month when the regulation was fully in force after 2015.

The Electric Reliability Coordinating Council, a group of utilities, questioned Ms. Jackson's assertion that the technology needed to reduce emissions of mercury, lead, arsenic, chromium and other airborne pollutants was readily available and reasonably inexpensive. The need to retrofit scores of plants in the same short period of time will tax resources and lead to delays, it said.

One utility executive said compliance would not be unduly burdensome. "We know from experience that constructing this technology can be done in a reasonable time frame, especially with good advance planning," said Paul Allen, senior vice president and chief environmental officer of Constellation Energy. "And there is meaningful job creation associated with the projects."

The new rules bring to a close a bitter legal and regulatory battle dating back to the passage of the 1970 Clean Air Act, which first directed the EPA to identify and control major industrial sources of hazardous emissions. The long delay has meant that emissions of some major pollutants have grown in recent years. The EPA's most recent data shows that from 1999 to 2005, mercury emissions from power plants increased more than 8 percent, to 53 tons from 49 tons. Arsenic emissions grew even more, rising 31 percent, to 210 tons from 160 tons.

Read the complete NY Times article here.

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