NRCM, others, brought lawsuit seeking these rules
Today EPA announced requirements to reduce toxic air emissions from coal- and oil-fired power plants, which emit 50% of the mercury, 50% of the acid gases, and 25% of the heavy metals released into the air by industry in the U.S. today. This industry also emits dioxins and furans, which are linked to increased cancer risks. If finalized as proposed, EPA estimates the benefits of this rule will be 10 times the costs. EPA estimates that its proposed standards would avoid up to 17,000 premature deaths and up to 120,000 cases of aggregated asthma annually, and will create 9,000 utility jobs, and 31,000 short term construction jobs.
These air toxics cause a variety of human health and environmental impacts. For example, mercury, a potent neurotoxin, bioaccumulates in and contaminates fish, and, when such fish are consumed by pregnant or nursing women can cause neurological damage in utero or to the developing brain of the young child. Small children eating freshwater fish, tuna, or swordfish contaminated with mercury also are at risk for such damage, which can include serious behavioral and learning issues, and lags in hitting developmental milestones.
“Because Maine is at the end of the tailpipe for the nation’s air pollution, we bear the brunt of the toxic mercury and other hazardous pollutants from power plants,” said NRCM executive director Lisa Pohlmann. “We’re pleased that the Environmental Protection Agency has crafted rules that will help protect the health of the public from toxic mercury and other hazardous air pollution from power plants. This industry has escaped regulation of its toxic air emissions for far too long. We urge EPA to maintain these protective standards through its final rules.”
NRCM and 11 other health and environmental groups sued EPA in 2008 seeking a deadline for the issuance of this proposed rule. Under the agreement reached with EPA, the Agency will finalize this rule in November 2011 after taking public comment on its details. The groups’ successful action followed another lawsuit invalidating a Bush-era attempt to delist the power plant industry and establish a weak cap and trade rule for mercury only, which would have exacerbated mercury hotspots and allowed overall dangerously high levels of mercury pollution from power plants to persist. The program would not have taken full effect until well beyond 2020. The courts invalidated EPA’s attempt to avoid its legal responsibility to issue standards representing deep reductions in the air toxics emitted from this industry. Ann Weeks, attorney for the Clean Air Task Force, represented the groups.
The majority of states in the U.S., including Maine, have in place advisories that women and children, and in some cases all persons, avoid eating or limit their intake of freshwater fish, because of the contamination problem.
“Today’s ruling is a big win for the health of Maine people, our wildlife and the environment,” said Pohlmann. “It brings us one step closer to making the fish caught in our lakes and rivers safe for people and wildlife of all ages. Wildlife also is harmed by exposure to these toxics, suffering reproductive problems and neurological disorders from chronic exposure to contaminated sources of food and environments. EPA’s benefits analysis, as good as it is, does not include the benefits of toxics reductions to fish and wildlife, which we in Maine value very highly.”
Approximately 1,100 coal-fired units at more than 450 existing power plants spew 48 tons of mercury into the air each year. Over 40 states have warned their citizens to avoid consuming various fish species due to mercury contamination, with over half of those mercury advisories applying to all waterbodies in the state. Power plants also emit tens of thousands of tons of other air toxics, including hydrogen chloride, arsenic and lead.