EPA proposes life-saving, innovation-driving Mercury and Air Toxics Standards

Today, the Environmental Protection Agency released rules to put strong new limits on toxic power plant emissions — critical in protecting the health of Americans and cleaning up the air we breathe.  CAP’s Susan Lyon has the story.

These long-awaited clean air guidelines are a huge victory for our Americans, our health, and our economy, and they are one of the largest steps forward toward protecting the health of our kids in a generation.  They will curb the dangerous coal- and oil-fired power plant toxic emissions that have gone entirely unchecked for too long.

We are currently being exposed annually to 386,000 tons of 84 dangerous pollutants that are uncontrolled, despite being classified as “air toxics.”  The new air quality standards will protect Americans against life-threatening air pollution from power plants that are spewing these air toxics with no limits.  The rules will work to stem some of these dangerous air pollutants, as noted previously:

  • Mercury;
  • Arsenic, lead, and other toxic metals;
  • Dioxins;
  • Formaldehyde and other chemicals known or thought to cause cancer;
  • Acid gases such as hydrogen chloride;
  • Radioactive materials, like radium and uranium.

Protecting Our Health and Our Economy

Cleaning up the air we breathe is proven to have huge health and economic benefits.  A recent study of the 1990 Clean Air Act standards showed that those public health safeguards contributed $2 trillion in economic activity to the economy – a 30:1 return on investment – while saving lives – with a projected 230,000 early death preventions in 2020. These new toxic power plant emissions rules will both protect the health of our people and increase the health of our economy.

Air toxics include some of the most hazardous air pollutants known to us. In addition to mercury and arsenic, power plants emit lead, other heavy metals, dioxin and acid gases that threaten public health and child development. Even in small amounts, these extremely harmful air pollutants are linked to health problems such as cancer, heart disease, neurological damage, birth defects, asthma attacks and even premature death.

As required by the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990, the EPA is setting air toxics emissions limits through the use of Maximum Achievable Control Technology (MACT): proven technology based on the pollution reductions already achieved by the cleanest and best-performing power plants and facilities, making the standards achievable and realistic.

Time for Action: Let the EPA Do Its Job

And these critical new rules are a long time coming.  Reuters notes,

Congress amended the Clean Air Act in 1990 to control industrial emissions of hazardous air pollutants, but coal-fired power plants were exempt until 2000. More than ten years later, the standards will finally be released”¦

For decades, the power sector has fought Clean Air Act requirements to reduce the toxic air emissions from their facilities, though coal plants are among the largest sources of toxic air pollution.  The new guidelines are updating current ones for power plants by adding certain toxic pollutions that are covered by the Clean Air Act but as of yet un-regulated.

Ann Weeks, Senior Counsel of the Clean Air Task Force, argues:

“[The coal] industry is the largest unregulated source of air toxics in the country.  I look at the depth of information that we have, and every new scientific study points to regulating this industry.”

The EPA must continue its tireless work on ensuring clean air and water for all Americans, and we urge further progress on setting standards to limit all dangerous emissions, including dangerous carbon and greenhouse gas pollution.  At a time when science is under attack, Congress must allow EPA to institute rules, based on the best science we have, on danger pollution – including on carbon pollution.  The EPA has more work to do to protect Americans, and conservatives in Congress need to let EPA do its job.

Today’s proposed rules will protect public health, clean the air we breathe, and save lives – but the job isn’t done yet.

The EPA is now accepting public comments concerning the new mercury and toxics rules.  If you would like to submit a public comment, you can email with the subject line “Attention Docket No. EPA-HQ-OAR- 2009-0234.”  Instructions on other ways to submit commenting can be found at or

— Susan Lyon, Special Assistant for Energy Policy at American Progress

John D. Podesta, CAP’s President and CEO, issued the following statement today:

Reducing mercury and other toxic air pollutants is a prescription for healthier babies, children, and seniors. It is an antidote for premature deaths and the soaring costs from medical treatment and missed work days caused by illnesses linked to these poisons. A mandate to slash these toxic airborne pollutants will drive utilities to develop and deploy innovative clean energy technologies.

Many dirty utilities and big coal companies will again falsely claim that protecting people from poison in the air will harm their balance sheets. Clean air safeguards prescribed over the past 40 years left few traces of job losses or economic hardship. In fact, past air pollution protections yielded $20 in benefits for every $1 in cost, a return on investment that would make Warren Buffett proud.

President Barack Obama and EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson deserve great credit for reviving this cure for cancer-causing pollutants from dirty utilities while simultaneously boosting clean tech innovation and American competitiveness.

3 Responses to EPA proposes life-saving, innovation-driving Mercury and Air Toxics Standards

  1. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    It is a mistake to think that the Right sees massive pollution as a bad thing. First the pollution is produced by processes that massively enrich the plutocracy. Second the polluting industries are concentrated in areas where the despised poor live, and the plutocrats keep well clear, illustrating their contempt for others and feeding their hypertrophied egomania and sense of personal exceptionalism. Third, chronic disease is a massive ‘profit opportunity’ for the medical-pharmaceutical-industrial complex, so large a portion of US GNP these days. You have to think amorally and opportunistically to understand why these seemingly sane, rational and humane measures will be opposed.

  2. sault says:

    Also, it’s all about keeping Obama a 1-term president and they have said repeatedly that’s their goal. This is why anything he does, no matter how centrist or rational, gets spun into a baby-eating monster that will probably cause a lot of puppies to get kicked to the curb. To the average Fox Noise viewer, EVERY issue has 2 sides and on EVERY issue, the Democrats are on the wrong side. To them, it’s impossible for government regulations to do anything but harm people and take money out of their wallets. To them, any deviation from the ideal “Free Market” is bad and anybody who enacts that change is evil. To top it all off, they have totally forgotten that greed has motivated the greatest atrocities in human history and continues to do so to this day.

    The Democrats need to quit waffling on things like Air Toxics Standards and find a way to control the narritive so they can beat the Redonklicans over the head with it.

  3. DaveE says:

    “huge victory for Americans” is exactly right. I once saw the Clean Air Act referred to as a victory for environmentalists–I always thought of it as a victory for everyone.