EPA Announces New Standards To Reduce Mercury Contamination From Power Plant Emissions

This morning, the Environmental Protection Agency announced its new Mercury and Air Toxics Standards, a set of national regulations aimed at reducing power plant emissions of mercury and toxic air pollution like arsenic, acid gas, nickel, selenium, and cyanide.

According to the EPA, the new limits could save upwards of 11,000 premature deaths and 4,700 heart attacks each year, along with preventing 130,000 cases of childhood asthma symptoms and 6,300 cases of acute bronchitis among children each year.

The EPA also estimates that for every dollar spent to reduce pollution from power plants, the American public will see up to $9 in health benefits.

“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. 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,” said EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson. “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.”

The EPA states that power plants are responsible for half of the mercury and over 75% of the acid gas emissions in the U.S.

The good news is that a majority of coal-fired plants currently have pollution control technology that should allow them to meet the new standards. Though about 40% of coal-fired power plants will need further upgrades.

“The health risks that mercury exposure poses are serious, especially since those most at risk are children and other vulnerable populations,” said Shannon Baker-Branstetter, policy counsel for Consumers Union. “Mercury from large industrial sources contaminates the air we breathe and common foods that many Americans eat. Regulating mercury emissions is just a common sense way to protect consumers from these health hazards and today’s announcement is a critical step towards that goal… The health benefits of this rule are clear, and today’s announcement follows the example set by the Clean Air Act by protecting public health in a cost effective manner.”


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  1. pop top says:

    Oh man. Corporate regulation versus healthcare costs going down. What will conservatives have to say about this?!

    • Evil_Otto would rather pay taxes than make someone else rich says:

      “Regulation BAD! Lower healthcare costs BAD!”

    • Quirk Sugarplum says:

      I’m thinking something along the lines of: “Fizzzzzzpop…destroying America…skkkrreeeee…Fast&Furious!…whoopwhoop…unconstitutional….bloing-meeeb…treason….2012!!!..frrreeeeeeeeeeep”

      It’s kind of like whale song. Eerily mysterious and resonant, but nobody can really understand what they’re saying.

      • DariusC says:

        Totally made those sounds too, effing awesome post! Perhaps we have new robot-republican meme here? We can always force it! Like that one with the multi-colored background and random animal with times new roman text across the bottom trying to state something clever or witty.

    • pythonspam says:

      Why would these conservatives care if healthcare costs go down? To accept that premise, there would have to be some belief in something called Science and the causality of illnesses and their respective costs due to man-made causes.

    • partofme says:

      I hope they’ll repeat that they’re not against government intervention. They should just reaffirm what Adam Smith said about how government intervention is difficult to remove, so you better be very very sure that you want it in each and every case. So, to apply that principle to this example, one should make very very sure that the EPA’s estimates are good. A factor of ten can easily be hidden in what is surely a series of gross approximations. Error bars would be nice. But if we have error bars provided, and say we’re gaining $9 +- 50 cents at five or six sigma… then I would hope that a conservative would be just fine with this (though many of them may reasonably expect some of the tab to be covered by the group that benefits… this is fairly standard economic theory). The likely source of problems is in judging how worthwhile their estimate is.

  2. Marlin says:

    Thm liberalz tok r jerbs!!!

  3. El_Fez says:

    Still waiting on some action about the alarming amounts of dihydrogen monoxide in our atmosphere! Come on, Obama! Get on that!

  4. Herbz says:


    only plebeians can’t afford whole home air sanitation systems anyway. /s

    • shepd says:

      Duh! No regulations means more nuclear power means fewer coal plants means cleaner everything.

      Well, as long as the nuclear power plants don’t blow up. The China Syndrome was just a movie, after all.

  5. lovemypets00 - You'll need to forgive me, my social filter has cracked. says:

    Um, what about the mercury floating around in the millions of curly Q lightbulbs we’re supposed to use now??

    • SPOON - now with Forkin attitude says:

      if you need more, just break them and lick the insides. problem solved.

    • Herbz says:

      Well im guessing that recycling could take care of most of it, seeing as how its inside the light bulb.

      Anyway, I think there was a statistic somewhere that the mercury produced by those light-bulbs is like ~5% of the entire problem. I don’t have any actual studies for it though.

      • Firethorn says:

        It’d be 5% if you assume every single one is broken and the mercury released, not recycled. Or maybe the figure of ‘A incandescent releases 20X the mercury from the coal plant than is in a CFL’.

        They actually use the mercury recovered from the power plants to make CFLs – no need for seperate mining that way.

  6. 333 (only half evil) says:

    Job killers! When I’m elected president, the first thing I’m going to do is get rid of the EPA. Clean air? Bah! Who needs it? And by preventing illnesses, you are also eliminating jobs in the health care industry! /s

    • HalOfBorg says:

      I live in one of the areas that will be hit hard, we’ll probably lose 2 local power plants – and the coal industry will take another huge hit. Just what we need around here, more people out of work.

      Clean air is good, but jobs are also good. And I’ve never seen a government estimate that was right, and how often do savings arrive?

  7. LabanDenter says:

    Estimated savings vs known costs.

    Can the EPA say for sure that we will see these savings? Are they saying that are certain that these 11,000 lives will be saved? And the kids astma cured because of these new regulations?

    I once worked for one of these left wing groups. Any chance of correlation would be enough to justify their anti-business agenda.

    • Maltboy wanders aimlessly through the Uncanny Valley says:

      It’s been said that the EPA is composed of first-rate attorneys and third-rate scientists. Some of their cost/benefit calculations are nothing shory of kooky, and most of their deaths prevented calculations are downright insane.

      The Tragedy of the Commons, by Garrett Hardin is must reading for capitalists and environmentalists alike. It applies to natural commons (air, land, water) and to man-made commons as well (social infrastructure like roads, medical care, education systems, politics, finance, etc).


      • Maltboy wanders aimlessly through the Uncanny Valley says:

        Sorry, here is my post in its entirety.

        I am somewhat of an environmentalist, and I believe that uncontrolled capitalism would eventually destroy our common resources. But I also believe that industry does a lot more good than harm if wisely regulated and given enough free reign to develop unique control technologies needed to meet emission requirements. Unfortunately, it seems that the EPA is composed of first-rate attorneys and third-rate scientists. Many of their regulations do not encourage innovation, and in fact they often prevent it outright by mandating specific, and outdated, pollution controls. Some of the EPA’s cost/benefit calculations are nothing short of kooky, and most of their deaths prevented calculations are downright insane – They simply have no basis in reality.

  8. Hi_Hello says:

    are they adding things to the power plant to meet this standard or are the building new ones? It would be cool if they just get rid of old ones and build news ones…if not…

    it’s like installing a new cat in a 20 years old car that is dying…

    • ARP says:

      How do you get the cat to stay still in the car?

    • mandys08 says:

      probably adding scrubbers or baghouses to existing coal plants with significant life left. Most new power plants will be entirely different technology. Natural gas or combined cycle.

      • FrankReality says:

        Which the cost of upgrades to meet the new standards gets passed on to the consumers in the form of higher electric bills.

        Older plants will get shut down, decreasing electrical generation capacity, which could increase electricity prices even more and cause spot brownouts/rolling blackouts in some areas of the country.

        • FrankReality says:

          And I need to add that coal usage will go down when plants get shut down, costing jobs in the coal mining and rail transportation sectors.

  9. tz says:

    Maybe they can put that mercury into vaccines where it wont hurt children

  10. tz says:

    Maybe they can put that mercury into vaccines where it wont hurt children

  11. momtimestwo says:

    Is this what those annoying “the EPA needs to slow down” commercials by Big Coal are all about? Coal will never be “clean”. We had a coal ash spill 3 years ago. The clean up, which is still continuing to this day, has been called “one of the worst environmental disasters of its kind” by the EPA. All that crap they take out of the air has to go somewhere. We need to replace coal with something less toxic.

    • fischju says:

      People also never talk about fish when they talk about coal power plants – what used to be a staple in the human diet for thousands of years is now poisoned by mercury buildup due almost entirely to coal power plants

  12. Bort says:

    even spending $1 to reduce pollution is a travesty, it will destroy capitalism, impinge on human rights, bankrupt america, and eliminate untold numbers of jobs…

    • HomerSimpson says:


  13. AgostoBehemoth says:

    We all want everything. We just all want someone else to pay for it.

  14. azgirl says:

    You are all as mad as hatters if you think mercury is good to have spewing out of stacks..
    ( go ahead, look up mercury and hat makers..)

    The industry has known for many many years that this rule was coming. They had plenty of time to comply,and the technology exists to do the fix. I heard that the increase in bills is minor, if they companies try to pass it on.

    And coal is a nasty nasty way to make energy. I make mine at home..coal free.. I went solar;)