Friday, January 6, 2012

EPA Finalizes Standards to Reduce Mercury!

On December 16, 2011, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) finalized the first ever national standards to reduce mercury and other toxic air pollution from coal and oil-fired power plants. These standards, known as the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards, or MATS, are long overdue as more than 20 years after the 1990 Clean Air Act (CAA) Amendments some power plants still do not control emissions of toxic pollutants, even though pollution control technology is widely available. These standards, which fall under Sections 111 (new source performance standards) and 112 (toxics program) of the 1990 Clean Air Act amendments, are not only overdue, they are also behind the curve as since 1990, two of the three industry sectors which make up approximately two-thirds of total U.S. mercury emissions: medical waste incinerators, municipal waste combustors, have been subject to emissions standards for years and as a result have reduced their mercury emissions by more than 95%. The third sector which hasn’t been subject to emissions standards is power plants, but not anymore. Thus the MATS, which set standards for all Hazardous Air Pollutants (HAPs) emitted by coal- and oil-fired EGUs with a capacity of 25 megawatts or greater, finally place standards on the dominant emitters of mercury (50%) acid gases (over 75%) and many toxic metals (20-60%) in the United States.

The MATS requires plants to use maximum achievable control technology (MACT) standards which for new sources must be at least as stringent as the emission reduction achieved by the best performing similar source. The MACT standards for existing sources must be at least as stringent as the emission reductions achieved by the average of the top 12 percent best controlled sources. In setting the MACT standard for each source costs may not be considered, and the EPA may regulate beyond this standard where justified, in which case costs and other issues must be considered. Existing sources generally will have up to 4 years to retrofit their facilities if they need it to comply with MATS.

The regulations issued on December 16th, 2011 were done so under a Consent Decree of the D.C. Court of Appeals requiring EPA to issue a proposal by March 16, 2011, and a final rule by December 16, 2011.

It has been projected by the EPA that the new standards will avert up to 11,000 premature deaths, 4,700 heart attacks and 130,000 asthma attacks every year. If one were to put a monetary value on these improvements for people's health alone it would total $37 billion to $90 billion each year. That means that for every dollar spent to reduce this pollution, Americans will receive $3-9 in health benefits.

The Public Trust will remain on the lookout for local violators of these new rules, as The Northside Generating Station on Hecksher and the St. Johns River Power Park on New Burlin are two of the local plants affected by the rules.

-Andrew Miller, Executive Director