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EPA Delays Mercury Controls For New Coal-Fired Power Plants

Regulation: Industry complaints and litigation force EPA’s retreat

by Jeff Johnson
July 26, 2012 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 90, Issue 31

The Environmental Protection Agencyhas 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 those for mercury. EPA gave the plants four years to make the installations (C&EN, Jan. 2, page 10). 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, according to the agency, and will not affect the actual pollution controls required for new plants. The finalized, output-based mercury limit for new coal-fired power units will be 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 because of costs. But the agency says the regulation will prevent 11,000 premature deaths annually.


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