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The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has announced a new set of regulations that will limit the amount of mercury and other pollutants emitted from power plants across the United States. This move is seen as a significant step towards reducing the pollution levels that have been linked to a range of health issues, including respiratory problems, neurological disorders and cardiovascular disease.
The new rules, called the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards, will require power plants to use technology that reduces the amount of mercury, arsenic, lead and other hazardous air pollutants that are released into the air. The EPA estimates that the regulations will prevent up to 11,000 premature deaths, 4,700 heart attacks and 130,000 asthma attacks each year.
The mercury emissions from power plants have long been a concern for environmentalists and public health advocates because they can get into the air, water and soil and build up in the food chain, especially in fish. Mercury is a potent neurotoxin, which means that it can cause serious developmental and neurological problems in children, even at low levels of exposure.
While the EPA first proposed limiting mercury emissions from power plants in 2011, it has taken years of legal battles and wrangling with the power industry to get these regulations in place. The Obama administration had finalized the standards in 2012, but they were delayed and ultimately rescinded by the Trump administration in 2019, citing concerns about the cost to industry.
However, the EPA under the Biden administration has reissued these standards, arguing that the benefits to public health and the environment far outweigh the costs to industry. According to the agency, the industry has already invested about $20 billion in pollution control technology since the initial proposal of the rule, and the costs of compliance will be significantly lower than in the past.
The EPA believes that the new rule will reduce mercury emissions by 85 percent from current levels by the time it is fully implemented in 2025. Additionally, the rule will reduce emissions of lead, cadmium, and acid gases by over 70 percent each, and cut fine particulate matter, which can cause respiratory illness, by 3 percent.
The new rule will have a major impact on coal-fired power plants, which are the largest emitters of mercury in the US. While coal’s share of the electricity market has been declining in recent years, it still represents approximately 20 percent of the nation’s electricity supply and is a significant source of greenhouse gas emissions.
The coal industry and some lawmakers have criticized the new regulation, claiming that it will lead to job losses and higher electricity prices for consumers. However, environmental groups and public health advocates argue that the new rule will not only save lives but also create new jobs in clean energy and energy efficiency.
Ultimately, the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards are an important step towards reducing air pollution and its impact on public health. While the US still has a long way to go to address its air pollution problem, these regulations represent a significant milestone in the fight for cleaner and healthier air for all.