Washington: A key US environmental agency has unveiled the country`s first-ever national standards for mercury and other toxic air pollutants from power plants.
The sweeping regulations mandated by Congress in 1990 and delayed by prolonged litigation, lobbying, and legislative battles will require utilities to cut at least 90 per cent of their emissions of mercury.
Environment Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that the new safeguards will prevent as many as 11,000 premature deaths and 4,700 heart attacks a year.
The standards will also help America`s children grow up healthier preventing 130,000 cases of childhood asthma symptoms and about 6,300 fewer cases of acute bronchitis among children each year.
"By cutting emissions that are linked to developmental disorders and respiratory illnesses like asthma, these standards represent a major victory for clean air and public
health and especially for the health of our children," said EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson.
"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," Jackson said.
"The Mercury and Air Toxics Standards will protect millions of families and children from harmful and costly air pollution and provide the American people with health benefits that far outweigh the costs of compliance," he said.
The US Commerce Secretary, John Bryson, said these new standards have benefits that far exceed costs, and the flexibility built into their adoption will help guarantee that
implementation will proceed in a thoughtful, common-sense way that limits negative impacts on businesses.
"Since toxic air pollution from power plants can make people sick and cut lives short, the new Mercury and Air Toxics Standards are a huge victory for public health," said
Albert A Rizzo, MD, national volunteer chair of the American Lung Association, and pulmonary and critical care physician in Newark, Delaware.
"The Lung Association expects all oil and coal-fired power plants to act now to protect all Americans, especially our children, from the health risks imposed by these dangerous
air pollutants," he said.
More than 20 years ago, a bipartisan Congress passed the 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments and mandated that EPA require control of toxic air pollutants including mercury.
EPA estimates that manufacturing, engineering, installing and maintaining the pollution controls to meet these standards will provide employment for thousands, potentially including 46,000 short-term construction jobs and 8,000 long-term utility jobs.
Power plants are the largest remaining source of several toxic air pollutants, including mercury, arsenic, cyanide, and a range of other dangerous pollutants, and are responsible for half of the mercury and over 75 per cent of the acid gas emissions in the United States. Today, more than half of all coal-fired power plants already deploy pollution control technologies that will help them meet these achievable standards, EPA said adding that once final, these standards will level the playing field by ensuring the remaining plants about 40 per cent of all coal fired power plants - take similar steps to decrease dangerous pollutants.
As part of the commitment to maximise flexibilities under the law, the standards are accompanied by a Presidential Memorandum that directs EPA to use tools provided in the Clean Air Act to implement the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards in a cost-effective manner that ensures electric reliability.
For example, under these standards, EPA is not only providing the standard three years for compliance, but also encouraging permitting authorities to make a fourth year
broadly available for technology installations, and if still more time is needed, providing a well-defined pathway to address any localised reliability problems should they arise.
Mercury has been shown to harm the nervous systems of children exposed in the womb, impairing thinking, learning and early development, and other pollutants that will be reduced by these standards can cause cancer, premature death, heart disease, and asthma.
The standards ensure that public health and economic benefits far outweigh costs of implementation.
EPA estimates that for every dollar spent to reduce pollution from power plants, the American public will see up to USD 9 in health benefits.
The total health and economic benefits of this standard are estimated to be as much as USD 90 billion annually.
The new regulation was immediately welcomed by US lawmakers.
"Power plants are not only the nation`s largest source of dangerous mercury emissions, but they also pollute the air we breathe with lead, arsenic, chromium, and cyanide," said
Senator Barbara Boxer.
"These hazardous air pollutants are known to cause cancer, harm children`s development, and damage the brain and nervous system of infants.
EPA estimates that this new clean air rule will annually prevent up to 11,000 premature deaths, 4,700 heart attacks, 130,000 asthma attacks and many other health benefits," she
Senator Tom Carper, Chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Clean Air, said with this decision EPA has provided a reasonable and achievable schedule for US dirtiest power
plants to reduce harmful air toxic emissions.
"These clean air investments will be a win-win-win as we save thousands of lives, save billions of dollars in health care costs and work productivity, and create good paying jobs
here at home by cleaning up these dirty power plants.
In fact, this new rule is expected to produce 46,000 jobs in the near term during the installation of the needed clean air technology, and thousands more for long-term utility jobs," he said.