EPA Delays Mercury Controls For New Coal-Fired Power Plants | July 25, 2012 Issue - Vol. 90 Issue 31 | Chemical & Engineering News
Volume 90 Issue 31 | Latest News
Web Date: July 25, 2012

EPA Delays Mercury Controls For New Coal-Fired Power Plants

Regulation: Industry complaints and litigation force EPA’s retreat
Department: Government & Policy
News Channels: Environmental SCENE
Keywords: EPA, Clean Air Act, Mercury, coal, powerplants

The Environmental Protection Agency has announced that it will postpone a portion of a controversial mercury and toxic air emissions regulation for coal-fired power plants. The delay will put off until March 2013 final requirements for new coal-fired power plants. The move specifically affects five units that are being planned and have challenged EPA’s regulation.

When EPA published the final regulation last December, public attention was focused on some 1,100 existing coal-fired power plants, about 40% of which lack pollution controls, including mercury controls. EPA gave them four years to make the installations (C&EN Online Latest News, Dec. 22, 2011). These plants are not affected by EPA’s latest announcement.

EPA will now “reconsider” and withdraw the regulation for new plants because of industry complaints and pending litigation, the agency says.

The reconsideration will examine emissions monitoring, the agency says, and will not affect the actual pollution controls required for new plants. The finalized, output-based mercury limit for new coal-fired power units is two orders of magnitude tougher than that for existing ones: 0.00020 lb per gigawatt-hour of electric output versus 0.0130 lb/GWh, according to EPA.

The mercury regulation is required by the 1990 Clean Air Act and has been in planning for 22 years. It has been consistently opposed by utilities and manufacturers, which warned that it would lead to higher electricity prices. On the other hand, the agency says 11,000 premature deaths will be avoided annually though the regulation.

The emission levels in the rule are based on those achievable by the top 12% of coal power plants using available technologies. The Clean Air Act’s so-called maximum achievable control technology (MACT) process was developed through a political compromise to address industry complaints that EPA regulatory levels are unattainable.

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Chad (July 25, 2012 10:02 PM)
If coal plants were required to internalize all the costs of their activity and operate under the basic "polluter pays" principle outlined in every Econ 101 textbook, many of them would shut down the day after the law went into effect and the rest would follow as soon as they could practically be replaced with anything else. The externalized costs of coal are now consistently estimated to be $0.20/kwh, implying that just about anything is cheaper than the real cost of burning this filthy, low-grade junk. Coal only appears cheap because coal users are only footing a small fraction of the bill and pushing most of the cost onto the public in the form of poor health, degraded environments, and higher taxes. Like any other market, the market for electricity cannot work if suppliers are allowed to externalize significant portions of their cost structure. Polluters must pay, or they will continue to pollute regardless of the cost to society. It really isn't that complicated.

Don F (July 26, 2012 2:30 PM)
Chad you are welcomed to sit and shiver in the dark.
Engineer (July 26, 2012 4:50 PM)
Chad, I'm guessing Econ 101 was as far as you made it in college.

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