EPA Proposes First U.S. Standard for Coal-Plant Mercury

The Obama administration proposed rules limiting toxins such as mercury and acid gases spewed into the air from coal-fired power plants, clearing the way for the first U.S. standards for such pollutants.

The regulations would require many power plants to install “widely available, proven pollution control technologies” to cut emissions such as mercury, arsenic, chromium and acid gases, the Environmental Protection Agency said today in an e-mailed statement.

The EPA, which was under court order to craft a rule after former President George W. Bush’s mercury standard was declared unlawful, said the rules will prevent as many as 17,000 premature deaths. The standards would also create construction and utility jobs, the agency said.

“Today’s announcement is 20 years in the making, and is a significant milestone in the Clean Air Act’s already unprecedented record of ensuring our children are protected from the damaging effects of toxic air pollution,” EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson said in a statement.

Utility owners such as New Orleans-based Entergy Corp. (ETR) have said they are concerned about the cost of controls they may have to install to cut acid gases.

“If you set a stringent level for acid gases, that might be what triggers the requirement that our facilities put in scrubbers,” Chuck Barlow, Entergy’s assistant general counsel for environmental law, said in an interview yesterday.

“There seems to be a pretty big debate among scientists about whether there is any health impact from these acid gases,” he said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Kim Chipman in Washington at kchipman@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Larry Liebert at lliebert@bloomberg.net

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