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Long Delayed Air Pollution Rules Will Limit Mercury

Supporters say new limits on the mercury and other toxins coal (orange) and oil (white) power plants can emit will save thousands of lives. (Earthjustice)
Supporters say new limits on the mercury and other toxins coal (orange) and oil (white) power plants can emit will save thousands of lives. (Earthjustice)
December 21, 2015

CHARLESTON, W. Va. - After a 20-year court fight, the EPA is set to put power plant pollution rules in place that supporters say will save thousands of lives a year. Industry lawsuits had stopped the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards from going into effect at coal and oil-fired power stations around the country but a final decision by a federal appeals court cleared the way for the limits to go into effect next spring.

Jim Pew, staff attorney with Earthjustice, helped argue the case.

"These rules will save between 4,200 and 11,000 lives every year," says Pew. "The impacts of this pollution, and the impacts of EPA finally moving to control it, are enormous."

According to Pew, air pollution causes about one in 20 U.S. deaths. He says heavy metals in coal are a big part of that.

"Trace levels of mercury, trace levels of arsenic, chromium, lead and lots of other toxic metals," says Pew. "And when you burn the coal you just move the lead and the mercury and the arsenic out of the coal and into the smoke."

The mercury standards will be the first time some of these limits will apply to existing power plants. They have applied to newly built power stations for some time. Pew says as the legal fight ground on, many power companies put in scrubbers and bag houses that brought their emissions into compliance. Pew says over time, many of them stopped fighting the regulations.

"The more responsible power plants have put the scrubbers on, and one reason that much of the power industry simply isn't opposing these standards is they've already taken the steps they need to take to comply," Pew says.

Among other things, opponents of the rules argued the EPA followed the wrong process when determining how much the regulations would cost the industry. The National Mining Association and other coal industry allies asked that the rules be thrown out. Last week the D.C. Court of Appeals refused.

Dan Heyman, Public News Service - WV