The Environmental Protection Agency will announce a rule that will, for the first time, limit hazardous emissions from our nation’s power plants. These pollutants threaten the health of every American with annual emissions of more than 386,000 tons of dangerous air pollution like mercury, acid gases, heavy metals and even radioactive materials.
Unlike criteria air pollutants – like ozone and particulate matter – there are no current national ambient air quality standards for air toxics. This means that there’s no regulation on the amount of harmful air toxics that can collect in our air, water, or wildlife. Once in the environment, many of these toxic compounds are there forever.
While we have yet to learn all of the implications from harmful exposures to air toxics, we do know that some of the most serious health effects are most severe in infants and young children and include brain damage, learning disabilities, behavioral disorders, and impaired vision and hearing. We also know that reducing exposures can reduce risk, and that reducing risk is the best and most immediate way to protect human health.
Increasingly, as we understand more about the relationship between our environment and disease, we grow more certain of the critical importance of a healthy environment. Many of today’s most devastating diseases, such as autism and some childhood cancers, are rising at alarming rates, underscoring this vital need for health protections offered through rules like the one proposed by EPA next week.
EXPECT TO HEAR FROM THE CRITICS
With the passage of every environmental law and every new public health standard limiting the pollution released into our air, land, and water, voices from the polluter lobby will claim that cutting pollution will undermine economic effectiveness.
But if the history of environmental progress has taught us anything, it’s that we can make progress. The Clean Air Act has produced more public health benefits for more people at a lower cost than even the most enthusiastic supporters ever dreamed possible when the law was passed in 1970 and reauthorized in 1990.
The EPA’s new Air Toxics Rule will be no different. Indeed, any industry objections to this rule are already undermined by the success already seen in cleaning up mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants, which have decreased 27% since 1999.
Eighteen states have mercury emission limits on power plants on the books right now and powerful technologies exist and have been deployed successfully to reduce mercury and other hazardous air pollution. One such technology, Activated Carbon Injection (ACI) is the primary technology being used to reduce mercury emissions from new and existing coal plants. Data from power plants demonstrate that the tested facilities achieved, on average, about 90% reductions in mercury emissions.
As of June 2010, nearly 40 coal plants had already installed ACI and more than 100 facilities had ordered the technology. And the price for this technology has declined by more than 80% since 1999.
So, when you hear from the critics, you can tell them that not only can they afford it, but they can’t afford NOT to cut their pollution.
In a related development, the American Lung Association released a report this week highlighting the range of hazardous air pollution emitted by coal plants and the urgent need to clean them up and protect public health. Some of the facts highlighted in the report provide further evidence of the need for an Air Toxics Rule:
- Coal-fired power plants produce more hazardous air pollution in the United States than any other industrial pollution sources;
- The Clean Air Act requires the control of hazardous air pollutants from coal-fired power plants, but absent these new rules, no national standards exist to limit these pollutants from these plants; and
- More than 400 coal-fired power plants located in 46 states across the country release in excess of 386,000 tons of hazardous air pollutants into the atmosphere each year.