Our guest bloggers are Senior Fellow and the Director of Climate Strategy Daniel J. Weiss, Special Assistant Valeri Vasquez, and intern Stewart Boss, with the Energy team at the Center for American Progress.Coal-fired power plants shoot 772 million pounds of airborne toxic chemicals into the sky every year – more than 2.5 pounds for every American man, woman, and child. In March, the Environmental Protection Agency proposed to dramatically reduce the mercury, lead, acid gases, and other toxics from more than 400 plants in 46 states.
Some of the nation’s largest utilities — including Southern Company, DTE Energy, MidAmerican Energy, and American Electric Power — claim that cutting emissions of mercury, arsenic, lead, acid gases, and other cancer causing pollutants from coal-fired power plants will cause economic hardship.
In fact, a new Center for American Progress report finds:
– Utilities plan to shut down at least 80 of these aging units — closures announced before EPA proposed the air toxics reduction rules.
— Plants in 17 states are already required to address their mercury pollution, regardless of federal requirements.
— The total net economic benefit of the air toxics rule is $48 billion to $130 billion in 2016 alone.
Coal-fired power plants are the “largest human-caused source of mercury emissions in the United States,” according to Senate testimony by Dr. Jerome Paulson of the American Academy of Pediatrics. Power plants spew 40 percent of mercury emissions in the United States. Mercury causes severe developmental disabilities, deafness, and blindness in cases of prenatal and infant exposure. The chemical can lower fertility rates and raise chances of heart disease in adults.
The Clean Air Act of 1990 included measures to reduce emissions of airborne mercury and other toxic chemicals to protect public health. Twenty-one years later, we are on the cusp of final adoption of essential cleanup standards that protect children, seniors, and other Americans from cancer-causing and smog-forming pollution from coal-fired power plants. CAP’s analysis of electricity producers in states with their own mercury rules found that a majority of their coal-fired generation capacity already has the pollution-control equipment necessary to reduce mercury.
Congress must ignore the arm twisting and campaign contributions from the big utilities that want to continue to spew these poisons into the skies—and our lungs, waters, fields, and wildlife. Instead, senators and representatives should urge the Obama administration to promptly issue and enforce these long-delayed safeguards.
Read more in the CAP report, Mercury Falling: Many Power Plants Already Have Equipment to Slash Mercury, Toxic Contamination.