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RELEASE: Many Power Plants Already Have Pollution Controls to Meet EPA Rule

EPA Comment Period Extension Will Have No Health Impact

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Contact: Christina DiPasquale
Phone: 202.481.8181
Email: cdipasquale@americanprogress.org

By Daniel J. Weiss, Valeri Vasquez, Stewart Boss | June 21, 2011

Read the full column.

View the state-by-state data.

Watch today’s event with EPA Deputy Administrator Bob Perciasepe.

Washington, D.C.—Despite the recent statements of some utility companies in opposition to the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposal to limit toxic emissions from coal-fired power plants, the Center for American Progress has released the analysis “Mercury Falling: Many Power Plants Already Have Equipment to Slash Mercury, Toxic Contamination,” which uses state by state data to show that many plants already have, or are in the process of installing, pollution-control technology to reduce mercury and other airbone toxic pollution.

In spite of the two months between the announcement of the proposed rule and the beginning of the public comment period, the official 60 day comment period itself, three public hearings, and an unprecedented amount of public support, some utilities demanded an extension past the current July 5 deadline. The EPA granted this extension, for another 30 day period, though EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson said that it would not alter the final timeline for issuance.

"The extension is fine as long as the safeguards are finalized by November 2011. Utilities that lobbied for more time have had at least 10 years to install technologies that reduce mercury, lead, acid gases, and other toxic pollutants,” said CAP Senior Fellow Daniel J. Weiss. “Our analysis found that in the 17 states with mercury programs, more than half of their electricity capacity already has some pollution controls. It’s time for recalcitrant utilities to end delays, and instead become responsible companies by investing in public health and reducing their cancer causing emissions."

Some of the nation’s largest utilities—including the Southern Company and DTE (formerly Detroit Edison)—have publicly and privately lobbied to delay, weaken, or block these safeguards, claiming that cutting emissions of mercury, arsenic, lead, acid gases, and other cancer-causing pollutants from coal-fired power plants will cause economic hardship. However, a CAP review found that utilities plan to shut down at least 80 units lacking adequate pollution-control equipment due to their age and inefficiency—closures announced before the EPA proposed the air toxics reduction rules.

Coal-fired power plants shoot 772 million pounds of airborne toxic chemicals into the sky every year—more than 2.5 pounds for every American man, woman, and child—and are responsible for 40 percent of mercury emissions in the United States, a chemical that can cause severe developmental disabilities, deafness, and blindness in cases of prenatal and infant exposure. In March, the Environmental Protection Agency proposed to dramatically reduce the mercury, lead, acid gases, and other toxics from more than 400 plants in 46 states.

Congress must ignore the arm-twisting and campaign contributions from the big utilities that want to continue to spew these poisons into the skies—and our lungs, waters, fields, and wildlife. Delaying implementation of the air toxics reduction measures would actually disrupt compliance with the standards by injecting more uncertainty into the final requirements and deadlines. This would upset the efforts by many utilities to comply with existing standards already in place at the state level. Instead, senators and representatives should urge the Obama administration to promptly issue and enforce these long-delayed safeguards.

Read the full column.

View the state-by-state data.

Watch today’s event with EPA Deputy Administrator Bob Perciasepe.

To speak with Daniel J. Weiss, Senior Fellow and Director of Climate Strategy, please contact Christina DiPasquale at 202-481-8181 or cdipasquale@americanprogress.org.

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