New Report: America’s Biggest Mercury Polluters

In 2011, environmental health advocates are poised to win a major victory -- requiring coal- and oil-fired power plants to clean up their toxic pollution. Our newest report looks at how the new standards will protect public health from dangerous mercury emissions.

Every once in a while, we win.

When I began my advocacy career at the beginning of 2001, the environmental community had already been working to clean up dirty coal-fired power plants for decades.

The owners of many coal-fired power plants had slipped through loopholes in the Clean Air Act that enabled them to avoid installing effective emission controls – increasing their profits at the expense of public health. 

The costs imposed on us by pollution from coal-fired power plants remain immense. Dr. Paul Epstein, a public health champion who unfortunately passed away this week, calculated that coal imposes more than $300 billion in damages on the American public annually. The damages are much higher than the worth of the electricity those plants generate.

To force these power plants to clean up, my colleagues at Environment America and the broader clean air coalition took the fight into the halls of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Congress and the court system. This year, the courts ruled in our favor.

As a result, in December 2011, the EPA will announce new standardslimiting the emission of mercury and other toxic pollution from coal- and oil-fired power plants in the United States. This will be the first time that all power plants in the nation will have to deploy modern emission controls and compete on equal footing. EPA estimates that when the standards go into full effect (no later than 2015), the action will annually prevent:

  • 17,000 premature deaths,
  • 12,000 emergency room visits and hospital admissions,
  • 120,000 cases of childhood asthma symptoms, and
  • 850,000 fewer days of work missed due to illness.

Additionally — as our new report, America’s Biggest Mercury Polluters, shows — these standards will cut power plant emissions of toxic mercury pollution by more than 90 percent. Over time, this action will reduce the burden that mercury pollution imposes upon the health of our children, protecting them from irreversible brain damage that can occur through mercury exposure.

Three cheers to the EPA for taking this common-sense action. And to all of the advocates who made this victory possible through decades of hard work: thank you.