EPA Issues First National Mercury and Air Toxics Standards

In 1970, the first Earth Day was instrumental in mobilizing support across the country for the passage of the Clean Air Act and other key environmental laws. In the 1990s, under the leadership of President George H. Bush Congress passed Clean Air Act Amendments, which mandated that the EPA take control and regulate toxic air pollutants including mercury across the nation.

Today, December 21st, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has issued the first national standards for mercury and other pollutants emissions from power plants.

Power plants are accountable for half of the mercury pollution and more than 75% of the other acid greenhouse emission in the United States, yet a standard has never put in place to regulate these harmful chemicals

This national standard, called the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards, aims to protect families from these lethal pollutants by reducing power plants’ greenhouse gas (GHG) emission through pollution controls.

These pollution controls seek to control and reduce mercury pollution, but 70 other types of toxic substances such as arsenic, acid gas, nickel, selenium and cyanide.

These pollution controls are deemed to be a ‘safe bet’, as almost half of the country’s coal-fired power plants possess these control technologies, which will help them achieve the standards set by EPA.

The Mercury and Air Toxics Standards will prevent 11,000 premature deaths, 4,300 heart attacks, 130,000 cases of childhood asthma symptoms per year, estimates the Environmental Protection Agency.

The EPA also believes that these standards, in addition to improving global health, will also provide some much-needed employment opportunities: it is estimated that these standards will provide more than 40,000 short-term construction jobs and 8,000 long-term utility jobs.      

“With these standards that were two decades in the making, EPA is rounding out a year of incredible progress on clean air in America with another action that will benefit the American people for years to come," said Lisa P. Jackson, administrator at the Environmental Protection Agency.

Under this standard, power plants will have to reduce their mercury emissions to 1.2 pounds per million BTUs of energy produced. Power plants across the nation will be given a delay of three years to have their emissions fit these standards, with a possible one-year extension to install additional equipment.

Click on the video below to see President Barack Obama’s speech about the EPA’s Mercury and Air Toxics Standards.