Web Date: October 27, 2009
Schedule Set For Mercury Reductions
By the end of 2011, EPA will regulate emissions of mercury and other hazardous air pollutants from coal- and oil-fired power plants, under a legal settlement reached last week.
EPA's regulation would require every coal- and oil-burning power plant in the U.S. to install equipment to scrub mercury and other unspecified toxic pollutants from its emissions. The agency is to propose the rule in March 2011 and finalize it in November of that year.
A federal trial court set these deadlines in an order that settles a suit that a coalition of environmental groups lodged against EPA last year. The organizations sued the agency for failing to meet a Clean Air Act deadline of 2002 to regulate hazardous air pollutants, including mercury, from power plants.
The settlement was expected, as the Obama Administration announced earlier this year EPA's plans to issue a rule specifying that power plants would have to install mercury controls (C&EN, Feb. 16, page 34).
The planned technology-based rule would differ significantly from an approach the Bush Administration adopted in 2005 to curb mercury releases from power plants. The Bush EPA set a nationwide limit on emissions of the neurotoxic metal and divvied up that amount among all power plants. The Bush regulation allowed facilities that slashed their mercury releases to below their allotted amount to sell their extra pollution allowances to plants that didn't clean up.
States and environmental groups decried the rule, saying it would lead to hotspots of mercury downwind of facilities that bought allowances instead of reducing their pollution. In 2008, a federal appeals court overturned the Bush rule, saying it violated the Clean Air Act (C&EN, Feb. 18, 2008, p. 6).
Technology currently in use can cut power plants' mercury emissions by about 90%, says a recent report by the Government Accountability Office (C&EN, Oct. 19, page 27). GAO is the investigative arm of Congress.
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