EPA Power Plant Standards to Improve Air Quality, Health

By Currie, Donya | The Nation's Health, February 2012 | Go to article overview

EPA Power Plant Standards to Improve Air Quality, Health


Currie, Donya, The Nation's Health


LANDMARK AIR STANDARDS issued by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in December are predicted to have a significant impact on illness and premature deaths.

EPA officials said the new Mercury and Air Toxics Standards will "slash emissions" of dangerous pollutants by relying on proven pollution controls already in use at more than half the nation's coal-fired power plants. EPA estimates the standards will prevent up to 11,000 premature deaths and 4,700 heart attacks each year by 2016, while also preventing 130,000 cases of childhood asthma symptoms. The standards are designed to protect Americans from mercury emissions and other pollutants from power plants.

"By cutting emissions that are linked to developmental disorders and respiratory illnesses like asthma, these standards represent a major victory for clean air and public health -- and especially for the health of our children," said EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson in a Dec. 14 statement. "With these standards that were two decades in the making, EPA is rounding out a year of incredible progress on clean air in America with another action that will benefit the American people for years to come."

The new standards went into effect immediately, and power plants have three years to meet the reduced emissions requirements. A Dec. 21 memorandum to Jackson from President Barack Obama called the new standards "a major step forward in my administration's efforts to protect public health and the environment." The rule falls under Section 112 of the Clean Air Act as a way to control pollutants from power plants, "which collectively are among the largest sources of such pollution in the United States," Obama said.

"These new standards will promote the transition to a cleaner and more efficient U.S. electric power system, " he said.

Analyses conducted by EPA and the Department of Energy found the new rule will not affect power plants' operating ability in any region of the country, according to Obama.

APHA was one of many groups to praise the new standards as an important step toward improved public health, citing EPA estimates that the standards will reduce mercury emissions by 90 percent. That reduction will not only prevent thousands of yearly deaths and heart attacks, according to EPA, but also up to 2,800 cases of chronic bronchitis and 2,600 hospital admissions yearly.

"The dangerous health risks associated with coal-burning power plants are no longer an elusive, distant threat," said Alan Baker, APHA's then-interim executive director, in December. …

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