Empowering Communities, Advocating Solutions


Source: Newsday

EPA's wise move to cut pollution


Posted: August 2, 2011
Originally Published: July 29, 2011

Adrienne Esposito is executive director of the Citizens Campaign for the Environment, an advocacy group based in Farmingdale.

After decades of spoiling our waterways and harming public health, unchecked mercury pollution from oil and coal power plants may finally be coming to an end. This year, the Environmental Protection Agency proposed the first national standards to slash mercury and other toxic emissions from fossil fuel-burning power plants. The public comment period for the proposal ends on Thursday.

The proposed toxics rule would require power plant operators to install equipment to reduce mercury, resulting in an overall national reduction of 91 percent in just four years. The reduction in mercury pollution and other toxic pollutants would undoubtedly provide tremendous benefits to public health, wildlife and our environment. According to the EPA, for every dollar spent on reducing toxic pollution, Americans would save between $5 and $13 in health costs.

Nationwide, hundreds of coal and oil power plants have not installed adequate pollution-control equipment, though this technology is widely available and proven effective. Fossil fuel-burning power plants are the largest contributors to mercury pollution in the United States.

Mercury is a toxic heavy metal that reacts with water to create a dangerous organic compound that is absorbed by live tissue and never fully leaves the body. It works its way up the food chain until it is ultimately consumed by humans, most commonly through the consumption of contaminated seafood.

EPA estimates show that more than 300,000 babies are born in the United States each year with unsafe levels of mercury in their systems. Mercury is a neurotoxin, adversely affecting our children's ability to walk, talk and learn. In addition, the EPA-proposed rule would significantly reduce emissions of arsenic, chromium and nickel -- all of which are suspected or known to cause cancer and other serious diseases.

There is no dispute in the international scientific community that toxic mercury and these other heavy metals harm our children, wildlife and the public. Still, the fossil fuel-burning industry continues to aggressively fight commonsense regulations to protect public health and our environment.

New York is hurt by Midwestern power plants that have yet to upgrade. Their emissions travel to the East and are deposited in our lakes, estuaries, rivers and lands. Some 63 bodies of water in our state are under a fish-consumption advisory because of mercury. Birds and mammals that eat fish are showing effects from mercury poisoning, such as behavioral and reproductive changes.

The fight against installing technology that protects public health and the environment is not new. The fossil-fuel industry has fought similar pollution controls since the federal government began regulating acid rain pollutants in 1990. Industry claims of exorbitant costs, disruptions in the flow of energy, and massive job losses are unfounded. Industry continues to use the same tired and false mantra of pitting jobs against the environment. In fact, federal efforts to fight acid rain are being implemented in a cost-effective manner while providing cleaner air to Americans -- bringing many lakes back to life, and benefiting wildlife and local economies.

The proposed toxics rule would substantially benefit our nation. The EPA estimates the rule would prevent up to 17,000 premature deaths, 11,000 heart attacks, 120,000 asthma attacks, and 12,200 hospital and emergency room visits each year. The Economic Policy Institute estimated the rule would create 150,000 construction and utility jobs related to the installation and maintenance of new facilities.

While the benefits of reducing toxic air pollution are numerous, the most compelling is the debilitating impact mercury pollution has on our young children and developing fetuses. The EPA should adopt strict limitations on toxic air pollutants from fossil fuel-burning power plants, because nothing is more essential than protecting the development and the safety of our future generations.