The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency proposed rules on Wednesday that would for the first time regulate toxic air 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.
Some industry groups slammed the measure, however, accusing the EPA of inflating the benefits and arguing it would cost billions of dollars annually to comply.
Currently, there are no limits on how much mercury or other toxic pollutants can be released from a power plant's smokestacks — which emit some 386,000 tons of toxic air pollution annually, by far the largest industrial source of such pollution in the United States. The new rules would require power plants to install technologies that would limit the emissions.
The EPA said the regulations would reduce mercury emissions from these power plants by 91 percent. The rules would also further limit other pollutants, including particulate matter, such as dust, dirt and other fragments associated with a variety of respiratory ailments. The EPA estimates the additional reduction of particle pollution would prevent 11,000 heart attacks and 120,000 childhood asthma attacks annually.
This standard "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, where she signed the proposal.