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. 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.
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. They claim, as such polluters usually do, that cutting emissions of mercury, arsenic, lead, acid gases, and other cancer-causing pollutants from coal-fired power plants will cause economic hardship. History has taught us such claims about pending public health protection measures are nearly always wrong.
Analyses from CAP and others have found that many power plants have already installed or have under construction the pollution-control technologies that can significantly reduce mercury as well as other pollutants. Plants in 17 states are already required to address their mercury pollution, regardless of federal requirements. These measures vary in stringency, with some of them imposing more protective mercury-emissions limits on coal-fired power plants than the EPA has proposed.
Many of the power plants in these states have already installed the equipment necessary to reduce mercury pollution, although most state safeguards have yet to take effect. A CAP analysis of the coal-fired power plants in these 17 states found that more than half of their total electricity-generation capacity has pollution controls that can reduce mercury.
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