Wednesday, December 21, 2011

After 20 years, EPA finally issues mercury rules

Um, no not that Mercury.

After 20 years of delays, the EPA has finally announced rules to curb mercury and other toxic materials from large (25 megawatt and larger) coal- and oil-powered electrical plants. The rules were mandated by the 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments. An initial, weaker set of mercury rules was issued in 2005 by the Bush administration, but those rules were vacated by a federal court because they specifically exempted electric utilities. The new rules fulfill the court's instructions.

When fully implemented, the EPA estimates that the long-delayed Mercury and Air Toxics Standards will prevent each year
  • 4,200 to 11,000 premature deaths,
  • 2,800 cases of chronic bronchitis,
  • 4,700 heart attacks,
  • 130,000 asthma attacks,
  • 5,700 hospital and emergency room visits, and
  • 540,000 missed work days.
To put the numbers in perspective, the numbers of deaths and illnesses that would be saved each year would likely exceed the deaths (4,484) and casualties (32,200) that the U.S. suffered over the eight and a half year course of the Iraq war.

The EPA estimates that the annual health benefits are worth $37 billion to $90 billion, while the cost to implement the changes is just under $10 billion. Much of that $10 billion will go toward construction and equipment operations jobs.

Hmm, a set of cost-effective, life-saving, and health-inducing rules. Cue the predictable screams from the Radical Right, including notable coal-apologist Rep. Ed Whitfield.