The federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on Wednesday issued the first-ever U.S. regulations limiting mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants, a move that officials said would reduce 91 percent of the mercury in coal from being released into the air, improving public health.
"Today we're taking an important step forward in EPA's efforts to safeguard the health of millions of Americans," EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson said at a press conference to sign the new order, according to CNN. "Under the Clean Air Act these standards will require American power plants to put in place proven and widely available pollution technologies to control and cut harmful emissions like mercury, arsenic, chromium, nickel and acid gases.”
The new rules will apply to all 1,350 of the country’s coal and oil-fired units that are in 525 power plants. These emit harmful pollutants that include mercury, arsenic, other toxic metals, acid gases and organic air toxics such as dioxin, the EPA said in summarizing the plan.
Two of the three industry sectors that contribute the bulk of mercury pollution—medical waste incinerators and municipal waste combustors—have already reduced their emissions by more than 95 percent, the EPA said. But power plants, as the largest source of several harmful pollutants, are responsible for 50 percent of the emissions, more than 50 percent of acid gas emissions and about 25 percent of toxic metal emissions in the U.S.
As for mercury, coal-fired power plants emit 99 percent of it and most of the other power-sector pollutants, the federal agency said.
Although dozens already meet at least some part of the proposed standards, 44 percent of the coal plants lack the advanced pollution-control equipment that these limits require.
“The updated standards will provide certainty and level the playing field so that all power plants will have to limit their toxic emissions,” the EPA said. Facilities have up to four years to meet the standards.
Coal-fired power plants are scattered on Native lands all across the U.S. The Navajo Nation has three, including the Navajo Generating Station, which according to the Grand Canyon Trust produces about a fifth of Arizona’s greenhouse gases, as well as being a major source of mercury and nitrogen pollution.
Read more about the Clean Air Act and today’s regulations at Grist.