A Great Way to End the Year

     In the closing days of 2011, a truly great thing happened.  The EPA issued the Mercury and Air Toxics Rule, an amendment to the Clean Air Act that will have a significant, positive impact on Americans’ health for many years to come.

     On December 21, EPA administrator Lisa Jackson announced the new rule, which will cut mercury emissions from power plants by 90%.  Coal-fired plants are one of the largest emitters of mercury, a potent neurotoxin known to damage the developing brains of fetuses and young children.  Power plants’ mercury emissions also contribute to cardiovascular disorders, cancer, and asthma.  

     “This is a great victory for public health, for the health of our children,” Jackson told reporters gathered at the Children’s Medical Center in Washington, DC.  Public health leaders agree.  The rule is ”a step in the right direction for protecting our families by limiting the amount of mercury that will enter our environment, contaminate our water supplies, and wind up in our food chain,” according to Lexington, Kentucky physician Dr. Vicki Holmberg.  The levels of mercury currently coming out of power plants, Holmberg explains, “can overwhelm the capacity of our bodies to metabolize and eliminate toxic metal pollutants.”

     Americans who live near the older, more polluting power plants will benefit the most from the new standard, with fewer illnesses and fewer asthma attacks.  The new rule is expected to result in as many as 11,000 fewer premature deaths a year, 4,700 fewer heart attacks a year, and other widespread health benefits.  In addition to mercury, the rule also targets coal plants’ emissions of arsenic, lead, chromium, and acid gases.

     While health experts and environmentalists hail the new standard, the coal industry and many utilities have been fighting for years to stop the issuance of such a ruling.  Kentucky’s Republican Senators Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul recently tried unsuccessfully to block the new rule through legislation, and are already calling for the rule’s repeal.  It’s too costly, they insist.

     Compliance with the ruling will cost the nation’s utilities $9.6 billion, according to EPA.    About half of the nation’s coal-fired plants are more than 40 years old and must be replaced or modernized.  And 44% of coal-powered plants have never bothered to install technology that could easily reduce emissions of mercury and other toxins.  While some coal industry jobs will be lost, Jackson notes, the ruling will actually mean a net job increase, with the creation of 46,000 short-term construction jobs and 8,000 longer term utility sector jobs.  Utilities will have up to four years to comply. 

     With this new ruling, coal-fired power plants are finally joining every other major industrial sector in dramatically reducing mercury and other air toxins.  Oil refineries, chemical plants, plastics companies, the iron and steel induustries, and heavy manufacturers have all been subject to air toxic standards for more than 10 years. 

     I applaud the EPA for issuing this very important new rule.  We can go into the new year breathing a little more easily.–April Moore

One Response to “A Great Way to End the Year”

  1. Diane Says:

    This is great news. Mercury is so toxic to humans, even in miniscule amounts. Congratulations and gratitude to the people who made it happen. Shame on the Republican party leaders who are opposing it.

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