Power to the people

For the first time, the Environmental Protection Agency has proposed national safeguards to limit power plant releases of mercury emissions, as well as of arsenic, chromium, nickel and acid gas.

“America’s power plants are the source of half of the mercury emissions, half of the acid gases, and a quarter of all toxic metal pollution in the United States, and almost half of America’s coal plants lack advanced pollution controls,” wrote EPA administrator Lisa Jackson on The White House Blog. Under the proposal, power plants would be required to install pollution control technology to cut emissions.

Though predictably unpopular with various industries, available technology has been shown to reduce emissions by 90 percent. The EPA says this rule would also prevent about 17,000 premature deaths, 11,000 heart attacks, 120,000 cases of childhood asthma symptoms and reduce the cases of acute bronchitis by 11,000 per year.

To make its decision, the EPA used the Maximum Achievable Control Technology (MACT) program. It requires that standards be based on emissions reductions that the cleanest facilities in the industrial sector have been able to reach—the average of the top 12 percent of the lowest polluting plants.

“It will level the playing field, closing loopholes for big polluters and putting our cleanest power generators at a competitive advantage,” wrote Jackson.