MAC: Mines and Communities

Coal power plants and mercury: major threat to women and children EPA estimates that the Clean Air A

Published by MAC on 2003-02-28

Coal power plants and mercury: major threat to women and children EPA estimates that the Clean Air Act would reduce NOx emissions to two million tons by 2012.

Power plants emit roughly 48 tons of mercury each year, emissions that Clear Skies caps at 26 tons in 2010 and 15 tons in 2018. But provisions of the Clean Air Act could mandate a 90 percent reduction in mercury emissions by 2007. "Mercury is the poster child for what is wrong with the President's plan," said Frank O'Donnell, executive director of Clean Air Trust, a nonprofit environmental group.

Eight percent of U.S. women of childbearing age have unsafe levels of mercury in their bodies, according to government data. Coal fired power plants are the largest industrial source of mercury, emitting some 33 percent of the nation's total.

Critics further complain that Clear Skies repeals deadlines for state compliance with federal air standards, adds loopholes for power plants to ignore mandated technology upgrades, and prohibits downwind states from pursuing any pollution reductions from power plants in upwind states before 2012.

It will gut the Clean Air Act, said John Kirkwood, president and CEO of the American Lung Association, a public health advocacy group. "The administration is currently focused on attempts to avoid implementation of existing clean air regulations," Kirkwood said. "The administration bill threatens public health by delaying pollution cleanup required by simply enforcing the current law."

"The Clear Skies Act is wrongly named, because this legislation is full of dark clouds." Lieberman said. "Every time we see the administration's plan to clean our air, it gets weaker."

Lieberman said he will seek to compromise with supporters of the legislation, but said he would not budge on the need to include reductions of CO2 emissions or the principle that the final plan should move beyond the Clean Air Act requirements.

Power plants are responsible for 40 percent of U.S. C02 emissions. Lieberman and others have introduced legislation that would set limits on power plant emissions of this greenhouse gas, as well as tighter limits for the three pollutants addressed by Clear Skies.

Voluntary, not mandatory: playing into hands of the polluters The administration has rejected moves to mandate emissions reductions for C02, preferring to call for industries to voluntary reduce emissions.

Industry groups hailed the reintroduction of the plan, which they believe is a more sensible and efficient approach to emissions reductions than the system presently in place. The current regulatory approach is plagued with problems that threaten the reliability and affordability of the nation's electric supply, said Thomas Kuhn, president of the Edison Electric Institute, which represents companies that collectively produce some 70 percent of electricity generated in the United States.

"This is our chance to break the litigation logjam by adopting a more rational approach to regulation," Kuhn said, but he warned that Clear Skies is still a "very aggressive proposal."

"While our industry supports the overall scope and framework of the initiative," said Kuhn, "it must be pointed out that these requirements would be extremely difficult for some companies to meet."

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