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EPA issues landmark standard for mercury, air toxics pollution from coal-fired power plants

December 21, 2011

By Environment Illinois

CHICAGO — President Barack Obama and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced the first-ever nationwide standard for mercury and air toxics pollution from power plants Dec. 21.

A record 907,000 Americans submitted comments on the standard, which is expected to cut toxic mercury pollution from power plants by 91 percent.

Today, President Obama stood up to polluters and protected children’s health,” said Bruce Ratain, Clean Energy associate with Environment Illinois. “This landmark achievement reflects what every parent knows: powering our homes should not poison our kids.”

Power plants are the largest single source of mercury pollution in the U.S., and exposure to mercury and other air toxics is linked to cancer, heart disease, neurological damage, birth defects, asthma attacks and premature death. Right now, mercury pollution is so widespread that one in 10 American women of childbearing age has enough mercury in her blood to put her baby at risk, should she become pregnant.

By limiting emissions of mercury and air toxics from power plants, the Obama administration’s new standard is expected to prevent 130,000 cases of childhood asthma symptoms and save 11,000 lives every year.

Momentum for the new federal standard began with state-level standards in Illinois and other states. Such state-level action helped prove that significant cuts in mercury pollution were indeed possible.

Illinois power plants have already achieved significant cuts in mercury pollution under a state mercury rule adopted in 2006, which requires pollution reductions similar to today’s federal standard.

Illinois has shown the nation that mercury reduction can be done in a way that works for industry, and saves lives,” Ratain said. “After our work in the state, Illinois utilities have joined in the call for this federal standard — and we’re proud of that. Because mercury pollution from other states doesn’t respect state lines, today’s nation-wide standard is still critical for Illinoisans’ health.”

For decades, the coal industry, many utilities and their allies in Congress and past administrations have successfully delayed cutting mercury and other toxic air pollutants from power plants to protect public health, even though technology to control toxic air pollution is widely available, and already being used by some power plants.

The new life-saving standard announced Dec. 21 has widespread public support in Illinois and nationwide. Last summer, roughly 907,000 Americans submitted comments on the new standards — the most comments ever received for an EPA rule — and the vast majority of them were in support of the standard.

Ratain concluded: “It’s abundantly clear that Illinoisans and people across the country want cleaner air, healthier kids and less toxic pollution spewed into our air. Thankfully, President Obama and EPA are taking action. This landmark standard will improve Illinoisans’ quality of life and protect children today — and for generations to come — from known poisons.”

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