EPA to Issue Strict Rules for U.S. Power Plant Air Toxics

For Immediate Release

Contact: 

Raviya Ismail, Earthjustice, (202) 667-4500, ext. 221

EPA to Issue Strict Rules for U.S. Power Plant Air Toxics

Deadline of November 2011 for EPA rules to cut power plant toxic air pollution emissions

WASHINGTON - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has agreed to adopt
rules reducing toxic air pollution from the nation's coal- and
oil-burning power plants, by November 2011, according to a settlement agreement reached in a federal lawsuit brought against the agency by a coalition of public health and environmental groups.

The settlement has been lodged in the United States District Court
for the District of Columbia. Attorneys at Earthjustice, Chesapeake Bay
Foundation, Clean Air Task Force, Natural Resources Defense Council,
Southern Environmental Law Center, and Waterkeeper Alliance filed the
lawsuit last December on behalf of their organizations and the American
Nurses Association, Conservation Law Foundation, Environment America,
Environmental Defense Fund, Izaak Walton League of America, Natural
Resources Council of Maine, The Ohio Environmental Council, Physicians
for Social Responsibility, and the Sierra Club.

The lawsuit was based on EPA's failure to meet the Clean Air Act's
deadline for issuing regulations controlling toxic air pollution from
power plants.

"Power plants are the largest unregulated industrial source of air
toxics. It is unconscionable that 19 years after the Clean Air Act of
1990, we still do not have air toxics controls on these large existing
sources of pollution," said James Pew of Earthjustice. "After years of
litigating this issue, our groups look forward to a productive working
relationship with the agency as it finally develops these rules."

Children and women of childbearing age are at risk when power plants
emit the levels of mercury they are emitting today – all 50 states, and
one US territory, have declared fish advisories warning about mercury
contamination.

"We are very pleased with the outcome of this case, and look forward
to working with the EPA to develop emissions standards for this
industry that mandate the deep cuts in this pollution that the law
requires," said Ann Weeks, legal director at the Clean Air Task Force,
one of the lead attorneys for the groups.

"The coal-fired utility industry has been given a governmental pass
to poison our air and watersheds with toxic chemicals for many years
now," said Waterkeeper Director of Advocacy Scott Edwards. "We're
hopeful that, under the current EPA, the years of irresponsible
industry oversight are finally over."

"Cleaning up dirty coal-burning power plants is the best way to make
the air healthy for the American people," said John Walke, senior
attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council. "This rule will
drive deep cuts not just in mercury pollution, but dangerous soot
pollution that leads to asthma, bronchitis, heart attacks and strokes."

Jon Mueller of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation pointed out the
significant implications of this settlement for the Bay: "a significant
number of lakes and rivers within the Chesapeake Bay watershed are
listed as human health hazards because they contain fish unsafe to eat
due to mercury contamination. This is a travesty that can be reversed
only by strictly reducing emissions from power plants. The new rules
will go a long way toward achieving that goal."

Under the Clean Air Act, EPA was required to control power plants'
toxic air emissions by December 2002. Instead the Bush administration
asked Congress to eliminate that requirement. Unable to win
Congressional support for that request, the Bush EPA tried to declare
that the required pollution controls were simply not necessary or
appropriate. The federal appeals court in D.C. unanimously rejected
that attempt in February 2008, saying that the power industry remained
subject to the requirement to control the air toxics it emits, and EPA
remains responsible for issuing rules governing those emissions.
Following that court victory, the environmental and public health
groups above filed a lawsuit to compel EPA to issue its long overdue
toxic air regulations. That lawsuit was resolved with the consent
decree committing EPA to enforceable schedules for proposing and
adopting the required rules.

Coal-burning power plants are the nation's largest unregulated
source of mercury pollution, and also emit enormous quantities of lead,
arsenic and other hazardous chemicals. Some 1,300 coal-fired units at
existing power plants spew at least 48 tons of mercury, alone, into the
air each year.

Significant human health and adverse effects on wildlife are
associated with these emissions. For example, much of the mercury and
other metals in power plant plumes fall out within 100 miles of the
source, and mercury accumulates up the food chain in fish and in the
animals that consume it. Mercury exposure is linked to serious
neurological disorders in humans, and reproductive and neurological
effects in animals. According to the Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention, eight percent of American women of childbearing age have
mercury in their bodies at levels high enough to put their babies at
risk of birth defects, loss of IQ, learning disabilities and
developmental problems.

 

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Earthjustice is a non-profit public interest law firm dedicated to protecting the magnificent places, natural resources, and wildlife of this earth, and to defending the right of all people to a healthy environment. We bring about far-reaching change by enforcing and strengthening environmental laws on behalf of hundreds of organizations, coalitions and communities.

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