EPA Power Plant Standards Issued December 21 for Mercury and other Toxins

On December 21, the U.S. EPA issued new regulations setting standards for power plants’ (particularly coal- and oil-fired power plants) air-emissions of mercury, arsenic, acid gas, nickel, selenium, cyanide, and other toxic substances.  The new standards, the first ever issued for these emissions from power plants, derive from amendments in 1990 to the federal Clean Air Act.  The EPA estimates that over half of existing power plants have already installed technology to meet the new standards, so that the standards will primarily affect about 40 percent of existing coal-fired plants.  Plants will have four years to meet the new standards. In its Regulatory Impact Analysis (Table ES-1, page ES-2; a link to the document is available online at http://www.epa.gov/mats/actions.html), the EPA estimated the regulation’s annual compliance costs at $9.6 billion (in 2007 dollars) and the annual net benefits (after costs) at between $24 billion and $80 billion (depending on the discount rate used) by preventing premature deaths and reducing illness and lost work time.  According to an Associated Press survey of power plants operators and EPA officials, the new standards—along with the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule, issued in July 2011 to address transport of ozone and fine particles from power plants to other states—are expected to result in closure of about 32 older power plants, with the potential to result in closure of over 30 others.

Sources:  EPA Issues First National Standards for Mercury Pollution from Power Plants/ Historic ‘mercury and air toxics standards’ meet 20-year old requirement to cut dangerous smokestack emissions, U.S. EPA News Release, 12/21/11; EPA forces dirtiest power plants to clean up toxic air pollution, but gives leeway on timing, Associated Press, as published in Washington Post, 12/22/11; EPA unveils rules limiting mercury, other power plant toxins, The Hill, 12/21/11; AP IMPACT: Survey shows more than 32 power plants to be retired because of new pollution rules, Associated Press, 12/19/11; EPA finalizes tough new rules on emissions by power plants, Washington Post, 12/16/11.

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