December 16, 2011 in Nation/World

EPA to impose limits on mercury

Neela Banerjee Tribune Washington bureau
 

WASHINGTON – The Environmental Protection Agency is expected today to approve a tough new rule to limit emissions of mercury, arsenic and other toxins from the country’s power plants, according to people with knowledge of the new standard.

Though mercury is a known neurotoxin profoundly harmful to children and pregnant women, the air-toxins rule has been more than 20 years in the making, repeatedly stymied because of objections from coal-burning utilities about the cost of installing pollution-control equipment.

The new regulation is not expected to differ markedly in its rigorous emissions targets and timetable from a draft rule proposed by the EPA in March, said people briefed on the rule in broad terms.

Some analysts said the rule still could be delayed if it gets caught up in the political negotiations to pass spending legislation. Still, if it lands as expected, the long-awaited rule governing toxins is sure to rile powerful utilities and their congressional allies who have lobbied the administration over the past few weeks to weaken or delay the standards.

The fight to dilute the new rule has centered on the amount of mercury that can be emitted, and the timetable to install pollution control equipment. In its draft rule from March, the EPA determined that the industry standard be 1.2 pounds of mercury per million BTUs of energy produced. Industry wants 1.4 pounds.

The act would give companies three years to clean up their emissions of mercury and about 70 other toxins, and utilities could appeal for at least one more year as they installed the necessary equipment.

Much of industry has argued that the timetable is too tight and could lead to rolling blackouts, with one group, the American Public Power Association, telling the White House its members needed more than seven years to comply with the mercury rule.


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