In response to a court deadline, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed the first-ever national standards for mercury, arsenic and other toxic air pollution from power plants.
The new standards eliminate 20 years of uncertainty across industry and would require many power plants to install widely available, proven pollution control technologies. This is said to provide employment for thousands, by supporting 31,000 short-term construction jobs and 9,000 long-term utility jobs with public health and economic benefits far outweighing costs of implementation.
Currently, more than half of all coal-fired power plants already deploy the widely available pollution-control technologies that allow them to meet these important standards. The remaining approx. 41 % have four years to meet the standards.
Power plants are the largest remaining source of several toxic air pollutants — responsible for half of mercury and more than half of acid gas emissions in the United States. In the power sector alone, coal-fired power plants are responsible for 99 % of mercury emissions.
Toxic air pollutants like mercury from coal- and oil-fired power plants have been shown to cause neurological damage, including lower IQ, in children exposed in the womb and during early development. Emissions of toxic metals such as arsenic, chromium and nickel are linked with cancer. Mercury and many of the other toxic pollutants damage the environment and pollute lakes, streams, and fish. The fine particle pollution causes premature death, heart disease, workdays lost to illness and asthma.
EPA estimates that for every dollar spent to reduce pollution from power plants, the American public and American businesses will see up to $13 in health and economic benefits. The total health and economic benefits of the new standard are estimated to be as much as $140 billion annually, as the proposed standards will prevent as many as 17,000 premature deaths and 11,000 heart attacks a year, provide particular health benefits for children, preventing 120,000 cases of childhood asthma symptoms and about 11,000 fewer cases of acute bronchitis among children each year. They would also avert more than 12,000 emergency room visits and hospital admissions and 850,000 fewer days of work missed due to illness.
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- U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Washington, DC, USA