WASHINGTON – Toxic air pollutants such as mercury, which can lower the IQ of children who get high doses early in life, would be reduced from coal-fired power plants under a major air pollution regulation that the Environmental Protection Agency unveiled Wednesday.
The proposed rule also would reduce other forms of air pollution that cause heart attacks, asthma attacks and other serious health conditions. The EPA estimates that 17,000 lives would be saved by the new rule every year, and thousands of people would avoid missing work and visiting an emergency room.
The nation has never had a national limit on the 386,000 tons of hazardous air pollutants that coal-fired plants put out each year. Vast parts of the country and millions of Americans are affected, because more than 400 coal-fired plants are scattered across 46 states, and their emissions spread over hundreds of miles.
The same equipment that cuts toxic pollutants such as mercury also captures fine particle pollution. That dirty air, or soot, causes premature death, heart attacks and lung diseases. The EPA estimates that the additional reduction of particle pollution would prevent 11,000 heart attacks and 120,000 childhood asthma attacks annually.
The Electric Reliability Coordinating Council, the leading electric-power industry trade group, issued a statement opposing the rule. It said the new regulation on toxic pollution is too expensive and that there are no health benefits from reducing hazardous pollutants other than mercury.
“Such controls are extraordinarily costly with profound impacts on electricity supply and price, and job creation,” the group said.
The EPA, however, said that other toxic metals emitted from the plants, including arsenic, chromium and nickel, can cause cancer.
“Today we’re taking an important step forward in EPA’s efforts to safeguard the health of millions of Americans,” EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson said in a packed auditorium at her agency’s headquarters, where the audience included a class of second-graders from a Washington school.
The EPA plans to issue a final rule at the end of this year or early next year, Jackson said. In the meantime, it will take public comments on this proposal.