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Say No to Polluters' Call to Weaken Mercury and Toxics Standards

Frances Beinecke

Posted December 2, 2011 in Curbing Pollution, Health and the Environment

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The White House is expected to announce the first national standards for mercury, lead, arsenic, and other dangerous emissions from power plants in the next two weeks. Finally making dirty plants clean up these chemicals will save up to 17,000 American lives every year, prevent 11,000 heart attacks, and protect children from neurological damage.

The magnitude of these health benefits could make this rule one of the biggest environmental accomplishments of the Obama administration

But lobbyists for polluters have launched an eleventh-hour attempt to weaken the standards. They want President Obama to create loopholes and extensions so they don’t have to clean up their act.  Incredibly they even are pushing to allow more of the dangerous neurotoxin, mercury.

Americans want the president to stand strong and refuse these requests. The young children, pregnant women, and senior citizens most vulnerable to these toxins cannot stop power plants from fouling the air on their own. They look to the government to keep them safe.

The Obama administration has demonstrated its commitment to putting America on a safer, cleaner path. It recently sent the Keystone XL pipeline for dirty tar sands oil back to the drawing board, and it proposed clean car standards that will slash our oil addiction, save drivers more than $80 billion a year at the pump, and cut vehicle carbon pollution in half by 2025.

The administration has also finalized strong smog and soot standards for power plants that will save tens of thousands of lives and prevent hundreds of thousands of asthma attacks. The president has promised three times to veto irresponsible House Republican legislation that would severely weaken and delay clean air safeguards, including a reckless bill targeting these very mercury and air toxics standards.

Rigorous mercury and toxic standards would build on this progress and leadership and deliver real health benefits to American families.  

Dirty power plants must be cleaned up once and for all. Every other major industrial sector in America is already doing its fair share of reducing these toxins. Oil refineries, chemical plants, plastics companies, the iron and steel industries, heavy manufacturers—all of them have been subject to air toxic standards for more than 10 years.

Power plants are the last holdout. This industry has dodged air toxic rules for decades, and American families are paying the price. A study published in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine reported that between 316,000 and 647,000 American babies are born each year with mercury levels high enough to cause measurable brain damage. Nearly 70 percent of the mercury Americans are exposed to comes from burning coal.

Several utilities have taken responsibility for their emissions, because they knew rules were inevitable and they wanted to modernize their plants. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that more than half of all coal-fired power plants already use the pollution control technologies required to meet the new standards.

Now it is time for the bad actors to do the same, but some are still resisting. They claim if they are held accountable for their dirty emissions it will cause power shortages.

The Department of Energy has proven this threat false. It just issued a report on the mercury and air toxic standards: "Our review, combined with several other studies, demonstrate that new EPA rules ... should not create resource adequacy issues," said Assistant Secretary for International Affairs at the Energy Department David Sandalow.

This analysis confirms we can power our nation and keep our families safe at the same time.

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Comments

KDec 4 2011 10:33 AM

Let us move forward to protect our health and future generations from the GREEDY COAL INDUSTRY!

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Switchboard is the staff blog of the Natural Resources Defense Council, the nation’s most effective environmental group. For more about our work, including in-depth policy documents, action alerts and ways you can contribute, visit NRDC.org.

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