EPA Reveals Plan to Clean Up Coal-Fired Power Plants

Washington, D.C. (March 21, 2011)


2010 Christmas Seal
EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson (center front) is joined by students from Amidon-Bowen Elementary School, in Washington, D.C. for the announcement of proposed rules to clean up toxic emissions from coal-fired power plants. Joining them are (back, left to right) Dr. Marion Burton, President of the American Academy of Pediatrics, American Lung Association CEO Charles Connor and Jonathan Truwit, MD of the American Thoracic Society.

On March 16, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced its plan to clean up the nation’s biggest industrial source of toxic air pollution: coal-fired electric power plants. When it becomes final, the proposed cleanup will save thousands of lives and protect the health of millions, every year.  The Lung Association urges everyone to send a message to EPA to urge them to adopt this long-overdue cleanup.

How serious is the threat from toxic emissions from coal-fired power plants?  Recently, the American Lung Association released a report entitled, Toxic Air: The Case for Cleaning Up Coal-fired Power PlantsOur report took a hard look at the 84 different toxic substances that these coal-fired power plants emit and their impact on the air we breathe.  And what it found wasn’t pretty.

Coal-fired power plants emit 386,000 tons of hazardous air pollutants each year. Those pollutants include known toxins like mercury, arsenic, chromium, lead, formaldehyde, hydrogen chloride, hydrogen fluoride and dioxins. Very few of us can avoid these dangerous pollutants, because over 440 coal-burning power plants operate in 46 states across the country.
Breathing these toxins is hazardous to your health. Some of them cause cancer or birth defects. Others harm children’s brain development, cause asthma attacks, heart attacks and strokes. Some of these toxins can even kill.

The good news is that after the plants install the needed equipment—no later than 2016—approximately 17,000 lives will be saved each year. According to the EPA, every year, compliance to this rule will also prevent approximately:

  • 10,000 heart attacks;
  • 110,000 asthma attacks;
  • 11,800 hospitalizations and emergency room visits

More good news is that the technology to clean up these emissions exists, and this lifesaving equipment is already in place in many plants. The American Lung Association recommends that the remaining plants put this cleanup equipment in place now to begin saving lives as soon as possible.  

Although cleanup of toxic air pollution from these plants was mandated by amendments made to the Clean Air Act in 1990, big polluters have delayed compliance for more than 20 years. This proposal is the first step in closing this 20-year loophole that has left dangerous pollution from these plants essentially unregulated.

We applaud EPA’s proposal, but it is still just a proposal. The real challenge is to get it approved and start saving lives. Final emission standards for coal-fired power plants will not be approved until November.  We are counting on EPA and the power industry to put these standards in place to protect all Americans from the health risks imposed by these dangerous pollutants once and for all.

Join us and send a message to EPA to urge them to adopt a strong final rule.   You can learn more about how the Clean Air Act saves lives here.  Want to do more?  Sign a letter to support clean and healthy air here.