EPA Announces Plan to Strengthen Protections from Coal Plant Mercury Pollution

EDF Calls for Strongest Feasible Pollution Limits on Toxic Mercury, Arsenic and Lead

April 5, 2023
Sharyn Stein, 202-905-5718, sstein@edf.org

(Washington, D.C. – April 5, 2023) The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency today proposed to modernize the landmark U.S. Mercury and Air Toxics Standards. The proposal would strengthen pollution limits and increase monitoring for toxic air pollution released by coal-fired power plants – some of the most hazardous and persistent air pollutants afflicting Americans.

“The Mercury and Air Toxics Standards have provided important reductions in the toxic coal plant pollution impacting all Americans, especially our children,” said Michael Panfil, Senior Director of Climate Risk and Clean Power for Environmental Defense Fund. “We applaud EPA for modernizing these safeguards and further reducing toxic mercury, arsenic, and lead. We also urge EPA to adopt the strongest feasible pollution limits for these air toxins. Protective pollution limits, together with 21st century monitoring of smokestack pollution, will help safeguard public health.”

The Mercury and Air Toxics Standards have slashed levels of mercury and other toxic pollution since EPA first adopted them in 2012 and did it for less than one-quarter of what EPA originally estimated it would cost. Recent scientific and economic studies show that the protections have even greater public health benefits than EPA originally estimated, and technological advances have allowed coal plants to achieve reductions in toxic pollution at lower costs.

Our nation’s clean air laws require EPA to modernize these vital safeguards based on rigorous health science and improvements in pollution control technologies. EPA recently reaffirmed the legal foundation for the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards after the previous administration tried to undermine it, but it has been a decade since EPA has reviewed the adequacy of these protections. EPA’s proposal to further strengthen the limits on mercury – a toxic that impairs the brain development of young children and has serious cardiovascular impacts on adults – will make important public health progress.

EDF’s analysis shows the nation’s 30 worst power plants for mercury pollution. In parts of the country, many of these coal plants burn low rank lignite coal and, for over a decade, have been allowed to emit mercury at several times the level of other coal plants.

EPA’s proposal would also strengthen protections against other toxic metals such as arsenic, lead, and chromium. That will help ensure coal plants operate with rigorous pollution controls that can filter or capture these toxic metals. In addition, EPA’s proposal for modern continuous emission monitors for these particulate toxic metals will help people know whether coal plant smokestacks are in fact cleaning up or are continuing to pollute our communities.

EPA will now hold a public comment period and public hearings on its proposal.

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