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EPA mercury regs end 2011 on a high note

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It took a while—20 years!—but the EPA’s historic decision to regulate mercury emissions are cause for a major celebration and at least a dollop of optimism that the U.S. is on the right environmental path heading into the new year. That is if the Republicans don’t mess it all up by winning the White House in November. (Writing that just sent a major chill up my spine.)

Not long ago I wrote about how a few miniscule drops of mercury can contaminate a 20-acre lake and the fish that happen to reside there, thanks to coal-fired plant emissions. That’s a major reason why the EPA’s decision to regulate the emissions of mercury, lead and other toxic pollutants from coal- and oil-fired plants is a major victory for the health and environmental welfare of the nation. And for jobs.

Please ignore the scare tactics from Big Coal and right-wing wackos about blackouts, job losses and energy security risks as a result of the rules. That’s their big lie and they are sticking to it no matter what.

“Congress ordered the EPA to regulate toxic air pollution more than 20 years ago when it passed the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990,” said Rachel Cleetus, senior climate economist at the Union of Concerned Scientists. “The EPA has been regulating most industries up until now, except for the biggest polluters—coal and oil-fired power plants. The public health benefits far outweigh the costs. And contrary to the doomsday predictions of industry and their allies in Congress, the lights will stay on.”

The EPA’s Mercury and Air Toxics Standards are the first national standards to protect American families from power plant emissions of mercury and toxic air pollution such as arsenic, acid gas, nickel, selenium, and cyanide. Power plants are the largest remaining source of those pollutants; they are responsible for one-half of the mercury and more than 75 percent of acid gas emissions in the U.S. “The standards will slash emissions of these dangerous pollutants by relying on widely available, proven pollution controls that are already in use at more than half of the nation’s coal-fired power plants,” EPA says.

The agency 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.

EPA also estimates that manufacturing, engineering, installing and maintaining the pollution controls to meet the standards will provide employment for thousands, potentially including 46,000 short-term construction jobs and 8,000 long-term utility jobs. The Economic Policy Institute put the number of net jobs likely created from this ruling at between 28,000 and 158,000 from retrofitting old plants.

The standards are tied to a Presidential memorandum directing the EPA to implement them in a cost-effective manner that ensures electric reliability. 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, if needed.

Lives saved, the environment aided and jobs created: That’s what is called a win-win-win.

The 2012 election stakes just got higher. While the president’s record on the environment has been at times unsettling—see his rejection of stricter health standards for smog for example—consider this: Would a President McCain have issued mercury emission standards? Would a President Gingrich or a President Romney do something even remotely similar?

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Written by William DiBenedetto

29 December, 2011 at 2:02 am

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