MAC/20: Mines and Communities

EPA Requires U.S. Power Plants Cut Toxic Emissions

Published by MAC on 2011-03-22
Source: Environmental News Service

Mercury, arsenic, chromium, nickel, to be curbed

Last week, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) finally introduced nation-wide standards for emissions of mercury, arsenic, chromium, nickel, sulphur dioxide and particulate matter, from the nations coal-fired and some oil-fired power plants.

The vital measures were eleven years in coming and still won't be imposed until November 2011.

Nonetheless, the move is highly significant.

Around 44% of all  US coal-fired power plants (1,350 in total) will be affected by the regulations which are calculated to prevent 120,000 cases of childhood asthma symptoms, and some 11,000 fewer cases of acute bronchitis among children, each year

According to the EPA, the costs to industry of meeting these standards will be approximately $11 billion annually.

But the benefits to American taxpayers will be many times higher - at between $60 and 140 billion per year.

Last month, a study published by the New York Academy of Sciences, estimated that burning coal costs the US up to US$500 billion (sic) a year in "hidden" health, economic and environmental costs". See The deadly costs of continuing to rely on coal

Editorial note: The EPA's report, summarised below, does not address attempts (so far severely restricted by "climate sceptics" in the US Congress) to limit greenhouse gas emissions specifically from coal-fired power plants.

The six Clean Air Act "criteria pollutants" examined in last week's report, were: output of particulate matter, ozone, carbon monoxide, sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and lead.

EPA Requires U.S. Power Plants to Cut Mercury Emissions

Environmental News Service (ENS)

16 March 2011

WASHINGTON, DC - In response to a court deadline, today the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency proposed the first-ever national standards for mercury, arsenic, chromium, nickel and acid gases from power plants. Today's proposal comes 11 years after the EPA announced it would set such limits for power plants.

The standards result from a February 2008 court decision that struck down the Bush administration's mercury rule. In the case brought by the Environmental Defense Fund, the National Wildlife Federation and the Sierra Club, a federal appeals court ruled that the EPA did not have the authority to exempt power plants from the Clean Air Act.

In October 2009, the EPA entered into a consent decree that required a proposal to be signed by March 16, 2011, and a final rule to be completed by November 2011.

"Today's proposal to regulate these toxic air pollutants illustrates a commitment by the EPA to follow the law and protect public health," said Earthjustice attorney James Pew, who argued the case in appeals court. "Every year, thousands of Americans die as a result of dirty air and unregulated pollution, and for years this tragedy has been ignored."

The proposed power plant mercury and air toxics standards are expected to prevent 91 percent of mercury in coal from being emitted. The standards reduce acid gases by 91 percent, sulfur dioxide by 55 percent and particulate matter by 30 percent.

They will require many power plants to install widely available, proven pollution control technologies and will prevent as many as 17,000 premature deaths and 11,000 heart attacks a year, according to figures today released by the EPA.

"Today's announcement is 20 years in the making, and is a significant milestone in the Clean Air Act's already unprecedented record of ensuring our children are protected from the damaging effects of toxic air pollution," said EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson. "With the help of existing technologies, we will be able to take reasonable steps that will provide dramatic protections to our children and loved ones, preventing premature deaths, heart attacks, and asthma attacks."

EPA estimates there are 1,350 coal-fired and oil-fired units at 525 power plants that will be affected by the proposal. Currently, more than half of all U.S. coal-fired power plants already deploy the pollution control technologies that allow them to meet these standards.

Cinergy's Zimmer coal-fired power plant in Moscow, Ohio is the largest single-unit fossil generating unit ever built (Photo by Power)

Once final, these standards will ensure the remaining coal-fired plants, roughly 44 percent, take similar steps to decrease these pollutants.

More than 20 years ago, the 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments mandated that EPA require control of toxic air pollutants including mercury. Since then, EPA has taken action to reduce mercury emissions from many high-emitting sources, but there is still no national standard for mercury emissions from power plants.

Today's announcement comes 11 years after EPA announced it would set such limits for power plants, and following a February 2008 court decision that struck down the Bush administration's mercury rule.

In October 2009, the EPA entered into a consent decree that required a proposal to be signed by March 16, 2011, and a final rule to be completed by November 2011.

Power plants are the largest remaining source of several toxic air pollutants, Jackson explains, responsible for half of mercury and more than half of acid gas emissions in the United States.

Toxic air pollutants like mercury from coal-fired and oil-fired power plants have been shown to cause neurological damage, including lower IQ, in children exposed in the womb and during early development.

The newly proposed standards would provide particular health benefits for children, preventing 120,000 cases of childhood asthma symptoms and about 11,000 fewer cases of acute bronchitis among children each year, according to the EPA.

The proposed standards would also avert more than 12,000 emergency room visits and hospital admissions and 850,000 fewer days of work missed due to illness, the agency said.

The standards also address emissions of other toxic metals linked with cancer such as arsenic, chromium and nickel. Mercury and many of the other toxic pollutants also damage the environment and pollute lakes, streams, and fish.

In addition, cutting these toxic pollutants also reduces fine particle pollution, which causes premature death, heart disease, workdays lost to illness and asthma.

"The American Lung Association applauds the release of this sensible public health measure," Charles Connor, president and CEO of the American Lung Association. "When it becomes final, the cleanup rule that the EPA is putting forward today will save lives, protect the health of millions of Americans and finally bring about an action that is 20 years overdue. This must happen."

John Walke of the Natural Resources Defense Council called the proposed standards, "The most important actions to clean up air pollution from dirty coal-burning power plants since the Clean Air Act was last updated in 1990."

But the National Association of Manufacturers called the proposed standards "another example of overregulation."

NAM Senior Vice President for Policy and Government Relations Aric Newhouse said, "We are disappointed to see the EPA roll out yet another proposed rule that has a significant impact on manufacturers."

Newhouse called it, "an excessive regulation that will cost billions of dollars, lead to higher electricity prices and cause significant job losses."

"In addition," he said, "electric system reliability could be compromised by coal retirements and new environmental construction projects caused by this proposed rule and other EPA regulations. Stringent, unrealistic regulations such as these will curb the recent economic growth we have seen."

EPA estimates that the cost to the industry will be approximately $11 billion annually, while the benefits to American taxpayers will be between $60 and 140 billion per year.

For every dollar spent to reduce pollution from power plants, the American public and American businesses will see up to $13 in health and economic benefits, the agency said today.

Jackson says the new standards will create jobs by increasing demand for pollution control technology that is already being produced by American companies.

"New workers will be needed to install, operate and maintain pollution control technology. We estimate these first-ever standards will support 31,000 construction jobs and 9,000 long-term utility jobs," Jackson wrote on the White House blog today.

The updated standards will provide a first-ever level playing field for all power plants across the country, ensure that they play by the same rules, and provide more certainty to business, the EPA maintains.

Jackson says the proposed mercury and air toxics standards are in keeping with President Barack Obama's executive order on regulatory reform because they are based on the latest data and provide industry flexibility in implementation through a phased-in approach and use of already existing technologies.

The proposed rule provides up to four years for facilities to meet the standards.

A 60-day public comment process will start when the rule is published in the Federal Register. EPA also will hold public hearings on this proposed rule.

U.S. EPA: Clean Air Act Saved 160,000 lives in 2010

Environmental News Service (ENS)

2 March 2011

WASHINGTON, DC - Last year, the reductions in fine particle and ozone pollution from the 1990 Clean Air Act amendments prevented more than 160,000 cases of premature death, according to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates released Tuesday.

The agency's report examined the effects of the Clean Air Act amendments on the economy, public health and the environment between 1990 and 2020.

By 2020, the benefits of reducing fine particle and ground level ozone pollution under the amendments will reach approximately $2 trillion while saving 230,000 people from early death in that year alone, the report concludes.

About 85 percent of the $2 trillion in economic benefits are attributable to reductions in premature mortality associated with reductions in ambient particulate matter, the report finds.

The EPA report received extensive review and input from the Council on Clean Air Compliance Analysis, an independent panel of economists, scientists and public health experts established by Congress in 1991.

"The Clean Air Act's decades-long track record of success has helped millions of Americans live healthier, safer and more productive lives," said EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson. "This report outlines the extraordinary health and economic benefits of one of our nation's most transformative environmental laws and demonstrates the power of bipartisan approaches to protecting the health of the American people from pollution in our environment."

The report states, "Our central benefits estimate exceeds costs by a factor of more than 30 to one, and the high benefits estimate exceeds costs by 90 times. Even the low benefits estimate exceeds costs by about three to one."

The Southern Environmental Law Center comments, "The findings of EPA's new report stand in stark contrast to the decades-old mantra of industry lobbyists and their political allies that regulations to protect public health and the environment will cost too much, have little benefit, and drive businesses overseas and workers to the bread lines."

Despite historic evidence to the contrary, detailed in a new fact sheet by the Southern Environmental Law Center, industry representatives and their allies are still predicting doom and criticizing the EPA for fulfilling its legal duties to protect public health and the environment.

Compelled by a 2007 U.S. Supreme Court ruling, EPA has concluded that carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases pose a clear danger to public health in America and began regulating greenhouse gas emissions from power plants and other major facilities on January 2, 2011.

Calling the EPA's greenhouse gas regulations a "power grab" in a letter published in the "Wall Street Journal" December 28, 2010, House Republican Congressman Fred Upton of Michigan and Tim Phillips, president of Americans for Prosperity, wrote, "Cuts in carbon emissions would mean significantly higher electricity prices. We think the American consumer would prefer not to be skinned by Obama's EPA."

"This EPA has a track record of regulating too much too fast while ignoring potentially devastating economic consequences," Upton said on January 24, in a statement about the maximum-achievable control technology, MACT, rules for industrial boilers and some incinerators issued by the EPA in February - also in response to a court order.

"The Boiler MACT rules are a perfect example of what happens when the EPA diverts its resources and attention away from its core responsibilities in order to pursue controversial regulatory schemes - such as its greenhouse gas regime - that lack support in Congress," said Upton.

Aric Newhouse, senior vice president for policy and government relations with the National Association of Manufacturers said, "The new Boiler MACT rule will have an immediate, negative impact on manufacturers' bottom lines at a time when they are trying to rebound economically and create jobs. This is a harsh, inflexible rule that will cost jobs, hurt global competiveness and may discourage projects that could otherwise lead to environmental improvements."

Some opponents of EPA's new emissions regulations are launching an attack on the entire Clean Air Act, portraying environmental regulation as a choice between health and jobs, says the Southern Environmental Law Center.

"This is a much broader issue than the health of the American people and lungs and emphysema; it's how can we balance that in the global marketplace for jobs," Congressman Ed Whitfield, a Kentucky Republican, told the "National Journal Daily" on January 18, 2011.

Yet the new EPA report, "The Benefits and Costs of the Clean Air Act from 1990 to 2020," shows that the benefits of avoiding early death, preventing heart attacks and asthma attacks, and reducing the number of sick days for employees far exceed costs of implementing clean air protections.

These benefits lead to a more productive workforce, and enable consumers and businesses to spend less on health care - all of which help strengthen the economy, the agency concludes.

In the year 2010, the reductions in fine particle and ozone pollution from the 1990 Clean Air Act amendments prevented more than:

In 2020, the study projects benefits are projected to prevent more than:

This report estimates only the benefits from the 1990 Clean Air Act amendments. The 1990 Clean Air Act amendments built on the progress made in improving the nation's air quality through the Clean Air Act of 1970 and its 1977 amendments. The overall benefits of the Clean Air Act exceed the benefits estimated in this report, with millions of lives saved since 1970.

The report is the third in a series of EPA studies required under the 1990 Clean Air Act amendments that estimate the benefits and costs of the act.

The reports are intended to provide Congress and the public with comprehensive, up-to-date, peer-reviewed information on the Clean Air Act's social benefits and costs, including improvements in human health, welfare, and ecological resources, as well as the impact of the act's provisions on the U.S. economy.

EPA's New Boiler Emissions Standards Halve Implementation Costs

Environmental News Service (ENS)

24 February 2011

WASHINGTON, DC - In response to federal court orders, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is issuing final Clean Air Act standards that reduce toxic air emissions, including mercury and soot, from boilers and two types of waste incinerators.

The new standards, made public Wednesday, cut the overall cost of implementation by about 50 percent, or $1.8 billion, from an earlier draft proposal issued last year, said Gina McCarthy, assistant administrator for EPA's Office of Air and Radiation.

"The Clean Air Act standards we are issuing today are based on the best available science and have benefitted from significant public input," said McCarthy. "As a result, they put in place important public health safeguards to cut harmful toxic air emissions that affect children's development, aggravate asthma and cause heart attacks at costs substantially lower than we had estimated under our original proposal."

Mercury, soot, lead and other pollutants released by boilers and incinerators can lead to developmental disabilities in children, as well as cancer, heart disease, aggravated asthma and premature death in Americans, McCarthy told reporters on a teleconference.

These standards will avoid between 2,600 to 6,600 premature deaths, prevent 4,100 heart attacks and avert 42,000 asthma attacks per year in 2014, McCarthy said.

Based on the final standards, EPA estimates that for every dollar spent to cut these pollutants, the public will see between $10 to $24 in health benefits, including fewer premature deaths.

About 200,000 boilers are located at small and large sources of air toxic emissions across the country.

Responding to a September 2009 court order, EPA proposed boiler rules in April 2010. These proposed rules followed a period that began in 2007, when a federal court vacated a set of industry specific standards proposed during the Bush administration.

Based on the more than 4,800 comments from businesses and communities on the April 2010 proposal, EPA made extensive revisions, and in December 2010 requested additional time for review to ensure the public's input was fully addressed. The court granted EPA 30 days, resulting in the agency's February 23 announcement.

McCarthy said this public input included a significant amount of information that industry had not provided prior to the proposal, resulting in revisions to allow additional flexibility and cost effective techniques.

Because the final standards significantly differ from the proposals, EPA believes further public review is required.

The new standards will be effective no sooner than 2014, said McCarthy. "Stakeholders can, and we are sure they will, petition EPA to reconsider these standards."

A Clean Air Act process allows the agency to seek additional public review and comment to ensure full transparency. EPA will release details on the reconsideration process in the near future to ensure the public, industry and stakeholders can participate.

Air pollution control agencies in 51 states and territories and more than 165 major metropolitan areas are pleased with the new standards, said Bill Becker executive director of the National Association of Clean Air Agencies.

"NACAA is pleased that EPA has issued its long-awaited rules that will reduce mercury, benzene, acid gases and other hazardous air pollutants from thousands of industrial facilities across the country," Becker said. "The benefits are huge and far outweigh the costs, avoiding each year up to 6,500 premature deaths, 41,000 cases of aggravated asthma and 78,000 cases of respiratory symptoms. At the same time, this rule is expected to generate over 2,000 new jobs."

"While EPA has made a number of concessions to address industrial stakeholders' concerns, the agency has rightly stopped short of including illegal and inappropriate 'health-based exemptions,'" Becker said.

W. Randall Rawson, president and chief executive of the American Boiler Manufacturers Association, has said his organization "wants the U.S. EPA to get it right. Those ultimately affected by these standards will be using our equipment, products and services to comply with whatever is finalized," he said, "so we want these EPA standards to be achievable and effective."

Rawson said his members want to see the standards finalized as quickly as possible. "Regulatory delay only heightens market uncertainty and increases ultimate costs," he said. "As a source of new manufacturing jobs in this and other industries, rules delayed are also jobs delayed."

The types of boilers and incinerators covered by the updated standards include:

McCarthy said the Department of Energy will work with large coal and oil-burning sources to help them identify clean energy strategies that will reduce harmful emissions and make boilers run more efficiently and cost-effectively.

In addition, she explained, the Department of Agriculture will help owners and operators of small sources to understand the standards and their cost and energy saving features.

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