Today Environmental Defense announced its intent to sue the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for its failure to protect the nation against the health hazards of mercury pollution from coal-fired power plants. The announcement comes on the same day that EPA published its determination, originally announced on March 15, which will take immediate legal effect, reversing the Agency’s 2000 decision to regulate mercury pollution from coal-fired power plants under the Clean Air Act’s hazardous air pollution control program.
“We are compelled to take legal action because EPA’s rule reflects flawed science, a flawed reading of the law and a failure to protect the nation’s most vulnerable populations from the health hazards of mercury pollution,” said Environmental Defense senior attorney Vickie Patton.
“The EPA’s mercury rule needlessly exposes another generation of children to toxic mercury pollution when cost-effective solutions are at hand,” said Environmental Defense attorney Janea Scott.
The administrative action taken today by the EPA will have immediate consequences for some dozen or more new coal-fired power plants proposed across the interior western United States. These facilities, comprising some 8000 megawatts of new coal-fired generation capacity, will be categorically exempted from the Clean Air Act requirement to install the best pollution controls for mercury thereby allowing a new fleet of coal plants to advance without modern mercury control measures.
Opponents to a stronger mercury emission standard for power plants have argued that the mercury that is bad for human health is coming primarily from other countries, but two recent studies shed light on the potential human health benefits from lowering mercury pollution from U.S. power plants.
One study, by the Harvard Center for Risk Analysis, estimated that reducing power plant mercury emissions by about 60 percent could result in up to 5 billion dollars in annual health benefits due to heart attacks prevented, assuming the cardiovascular effects of mercury observed in males who consume non-fatty fish are experienced by the whole U.S. population. A second study, by doctors at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine’s Center for Children’s Health and the Environment, estimated the annual health costs of the neurotoxic effects of mercury on children from U.S. power plants to be 1.3 billion dollars.