by Jay Field
MPBN radio news story
Coal-fired power plants will soon face restrictions on how much mercury, arsenic and other toxic chemicals they can emit into the air. The Environmental Protection Agency announced new regulations today in Washington. Maine environmental groups hope the rules will put an end to a cycle that’s polluted state waterways and made freshwater fish unsafe to eat.
Imagine a tail pipe, a really, really long one, stretching from the Midwest, across the Great Lakes, all the way to the East Coast.
“We’re at the end of the tailpipe,” says Lisa Pohlmann, executive director of the Natural Resources Council of Maine. “All of the pollution from the coal and oil-fired power plants, mostly in the Midwest, comes our way.”
And it settles in Maine’s lakes, rivers and forests. The high levels of mercury have forced Maine to join many other states in advising pregnant and nursing woman and young kids not to eat freshwater fish.
Environmental groups say it will likely be a long time before it’s safe to lift this warning. But they say new federal emissions restrictions will move Maine in that direction.
Lisa Jackson is Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency. “Today, EPA proposed the mercury and air toxic standards, the first ever national standards for reducing mercury and other toxic air pollutants from power plants.”
In 2008, the Natural Resources Council of Maine and 11 other groups sued the EPA. Under a settlement, the agency agreed to release the new rules by March 16th.
The regulations require some coal-fired power plants to add scrubbers and other pollution control technology to bring their emissions in line with the new rules. Energy analyst Susan Tierny is with the Analysis Group in Boston. Tierny, who recently finished up a tenure as co-chair of the National Commission on Energy Policy, says the industry knew this was coming.
“There are perhaps two-thirds of the coal plants today that have either already decided to add the kind of equipment that is needed to address these emissions and control them,” she says.
Tierny says some plants, especially older ones, may just decide to close their doors, in part, because the high price of gasoline is making it too expensive to keep running. Industry groups worry the rules could force some plants, operating in deregulated energy markets, to pass the emission-cutting costs onto consumers.
Tierny says that’s possible, but also points out that the rules will affect a small number of plants accounting for just .03 percent of the 1050 gigawatts of electricity being generated in the U.S.
After a public comment period, the new EPA rules will be finalized in November.