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EPA Poised to Issue Industrial-emissions Rules

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Coal-plant mercury emissions will soon be regulated, good news for the tens of thousands of American Indians whose lives have been poisoned by mercury and other contaminants.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is set to announce the nation's first-ever national standards for mercury and other toxics emitted by coal-fired power plants, the EPA said in a press release on Tuesday. EPA administrator Lisa P. Jackson, American Lung Association President and CEO Charles D. Connor, and American Academy of Pediatrics President Marion Burton will be on hand, along with a member of the American Thoracic Society, to discuss the regulations and their impact, as well as health implications.

The EPA is poised to issue new standards to limit the emissions of 84 so-called air toxics, including mercury, benzene, hydrogen chloride and radioactive material, Reuters reported on March 14.

With U.S. coal plants spewing 386,000 tons of pollutants into the air annually, the health effects are sorely neglected, Reuters said.

The guidelines will be about 10 years overdue, given that coal-fired power plants were exempt until 2000 from Congress’s 1990 amendment to the Clean Air Act, which was put in place to control industrial emissions, Reuters said.

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“More than ten years later, the standards will finally be released for public comment and finalized in November,” the wire service reported.

As Congress wrestles with limiting the EPA’s power to regulate greenhouse gases, the fight over the toxic emissions is in danger of being lumped in with the gases, even though it’s a separate issue.

The coal industry in particular is a major source of air toxins, according to Ann Weeks, senior counsel at the Boston-based environmental group the Clean Air Task Force.

"I look at the depth of information that we have, and every new scientific study points to regulating this industry,” she told, according to Reuters.

Mercury is of particular concern, the wire service said, given that in 2009 U.S. coal plants poured more than 130,000 pounds of it into the atmosphere. The toxic metal evaporates, becomes airborne and travels for hundreds of miles before precipitation deposits it in water, where it is ingested by fish, then humans.

A recent report in California found that most of the mercury contamination in the San Francisco Bay Area comes from mining, especially coal.