EPA Proposes Regulating Mercury from Coal Plants

March 16, 2011 - 12:41 PM

Houston (AP) - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency proposed rules on Wednesday that would for the first time regulate emissions from coal-fired power plants, including limiting mercury, lead, arsenic and acid gas pollution.

Environmental and medical groups praised the move, which came in response to a court-ordered deadline, saying the new regulations will remove toxins from the air that contribute to respiratory illnesses, birth defects and developmental problems in children.

There are currently no limits on how much mercury or other pollutants can be released from a power plant's smoke stacks. The EPA said the new regulations - which would go into effect by 2014 - would reduce mercury emissions from these power plants by 91 percent.

This standard that "will save lives, prevent illnesses and promote vital economic opportunities across the country," said EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson, who invited second graders to attend the event in Washington, D.C. where she signed the proposal. She said the proposal could become law by late 2011 or early 2012.

Such rules would have the greatest impact on Texas, which is home to more coal-fired power plants than any other state. Texas has at least 17 coal-fired plants and about a dozen more in various stages of the permitting process.

The new rules require power plants to install technologies that would limit the emissions. Industry has argued that installing the technologies would be expensive and could significantly increase electricity rates paid by consumers.

Jackson said the EPA's models found installing the technologies would increase rates about $3 to $4 a month, though it could be less depending on fuel costs. For example, she said, a New Jersey provider that already installed pollution cutting technologies recently reduced its rates.