EPA proposes limits on coal-fired plants' emissions

(March 17, 2011)

san-francisco-chronicle

March 17, 2011

The Environmental Protection Agency on Wednesday proposed the first national standard for emissions of mercury and other pollutants from coal-burning power plants, a rule that could lead to the early closing of a number of older coal plants and that is certain to be challenged by some utilities and Republicans in Congress.

Lisa Jackson, the agency's administrator, said control of dozens of poisonous substances emitted by power plants is long overdue and would prevent thousands of deaths and tens of thousands of cases of disease a year.

Jackson pointedly included the head of the American Lung Association and two prominent doctors in her announcement to make the point that the regulations were designed to protect public health and not to penalize the utility industry.

She estimated the total annual cost of compliance at about $10 billion, in line with some industry estimates, and the health and environmental benefits at more than $100 billion a year. She said that households could expect to see their electric bills rise by $3 to $4 a month when the regulation is fully in force after 2015.

Jackson was acting under a court-ordered deadline to produce a draft rule by Wednesday.

"Today's announcement is 20 years in the making and is a significant milestone in the Clean Air Act's already unprecedented record of ensuring our children are protected from the damaging effects of toxic air pollution," she said.

Jackson said mercury and other emissions covered by the rule damage the nervous systems of fetuses and children, exacerbate asthma and cause lifelong health damage for hundreds of thousands of Americans.

She said installing and maintaining smokestack scrubbers and other control technology would create 31,000 short-term construction jobs and 9,000 permanent utility-sector jobs.

Some utilities, business groups and congressional Republicans cast the rule as the latest salvo in a regulatory war on U.S. industry.