The Environmental Protection Agency has proposed new limits on the pollutants that coal-fired power plants emit, long-awaited regulations that health advocates said would clear the air and save lives. Eventually, the Power Plant Mercury and Air Toxic Standards would prevent 91% of the mercury contained in coal from escaping into the air when it is burned, according to the EPA. EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson said in a news conference last month in Washington:
Today’s announcement is 20 years in the making and is a milestone in the Clean Air Act’s already unprecedented record of defending the health of American families. With the help of existing technologies we will be able to take reasonable steps to protect our children and loved ones and prevent premature deaths, heart attacks and asthma cases.
The rule Administrator Jackson signed has a 60-day comment period before it becomes final, and the industry would have up to four years after that to install the pollution control devices. Mercury and other toxic air pollutants from coal- and oil-fired power plants can cause neurological damage in children, and certain metals have been linked to cancer. Leaders of the American Lung Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics endorsed the new EPA rule and appeared in support of Administrator Jackson and the EPA during the announcement.
About 400 coal plants around the country release 386,000 tons of toxic pollutants each year. “The message to the nation’s electric power companies is, ‘Start now,'” said Charles Connor, president and CEO of the American Lung Association. He added: “I can assure you no one will complain if the air gets cleaner faster.” The EPA estimates that more than half of the nation’s coal plants already have installed some form of pollution control device. It should be noted that complying with the new rule is estimated to cost the power industry $10.9 billion.
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