In a move the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is calling “historic,” new rules were approved today that mandate reduced emissions of mercury and other pollutants from U.S. coal power plants. In a statement released today, the agency says that these are the first national standards that “will slash emissions of these dangerous pollutants by relying on widely available, proven pollution controls that are already in use at more than half of the nation’s coal-fired power plants.”
The agency estimates that the new rules “will prevent as many as 11,000 premature deaths and 4,700 heart attacks a year.” It also says that the rules will reduce childhood asthma symptoms and result in less acute bronchitis in children.
“Power plants are the largest remaining source of several toxic air pollutants, including mercury, arsenic, cyanide, and a range of other dangerous pollutants,” the agency says. They “are responsible for half of the mercury and over 75 percent of the acid gas emissions in the United States.”
About forty percent of Texas’ power comes from coal, and several companies in the state will have to upgrade their plants in order to comply with the new rules. At the Fayette Power Project in La Grange, Texas, the Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA) and Austin Energy have spent $400 million on upgrades to scrubbers at the plant, but they’ll have to spend more to comply with the new rules.
“We’re evaluating it right now, there is definitely a cost to remove mercury,” Andrew Valencia, Manager of Power and Gas Operations for LCRA told StateImpact Texas today. “But the technologies that will be deployed will depend on what the final rules are.”
The EPA is giving three years for companies to comply with the new standards and is “also encouraging permitting authorities to make a fourth year broadly available for technology installations.” In short, the agency does not expect any power outages to result because of the new rules. A recent independent study by the Associated Press reached the same conclusion.