Thursday, March 17, 2011

EPA imposes first limits on mercury, lead, arsenic, other pollutants from coal-fired power plants

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on Wednesday unveiled its first national standard for emissions of mercury and other previously unregulated pollutants from coal-burning power plants. The proposed rules could lead to the early closing of a number of older plants and are likely to be challenged by congressional Republicans, John M. Broder and John Collins Rudolf of The New York Times report.

EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson said compliance with the standard would cost the industry about $10 billion annually and would result in an increase of $3 or $4 for monthly household electric bills. It could also accelerate coal-burning utilities' use of natural gas. EPA "said the proposed rules, once fully implemented, will prevent 91 percent of mercury in coal from being released into the air," Timothy Garder of World Environment News reports. "Power plants would have four years to meet the standards."

The Times reports, "Roughly half of the nation’s more than 400 coal-burning plants have some form of control technology installed, and about a third of states have set their own standards for mercury emissions. But the proposed rule issued Wednesday is the first national standard and will require all plants to come up to the standard of the cleanest of current plants."

The rules had long been expected, but the Electric Reliability Coordinating Council, a group of utilities, called them "an extraordinary threat to the power sector" and questioned Jackson's claim that the technology needed to reduce emissions of mercury, lead, arsenic, chromium and other airborne pollutants was readily available and reasonably inexpensive. (Read more)

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