Chicago, IL – Over 16,000 Illinoisans have urged the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to formally adopt its proposed Mercury & Air Toxics Rule to cut health-harming pollution from coal-fired power plants. With today marking the end of EPA’s comment period on the rule, over 90 concerned citizens and health experts gathered outside of EPA Region 5 headquarters to call on the agency to adopt the strongest possible rule to protect public health.
All-told, over 800,000 Americans have submitted public comment in support of the rule—more than any other rule in the agency’s history.
“The tremendous public response to this rule makes clear that Americans recognize the urgent need to reduce mercury, arsenic and other dangerous pollutants in the air we breathe,” said Susan Hedman, EPA Regional Administrator. “EPA’s new standards will prevent thousands of premature deaths and cases of asthma and other illnesses — and they will level the playing field for power plants already using widely available clean technologies.”
The rule will reduce mercury pollution from power plants nationwide by 91 percent, reduce arsenic and acid gases by 91 percent, prevent 12,200 trips to the hospital, and save up to 17,000 lives each year once it is implemented, according to EPA projections.
“This rule is crucial for protecting public health,” said Dr. Susan Buchanan, an Assistant Professor of Environmental and Occupational Health at the University of Illinois at Chicago. “It will save billions of dollars in health costs and mean healthier, longer lives for hundreds of thousands of Americans.”
“Destructive emissions from huge coal power plants have been poisoning the air we breathe for far too long,” said Brian Urbaszewski, environmental health director for Respiratory Health Association of Metropolitan Chicago. “With asthma rates still increasing across the country, this EPA rule and the huge cuts in acid gas pollution it requires will allow parents of children with asthma to breathe a little easier.”
Power plants are the source of more than half of the nation’s mercury and acid gases and release about 25 percent of air toxics pollution in the United States, according to U.S. EPA.
Municipal and medical waste incinerators used to emit nearly as much mercury as power plants. Under the Clean Air Amendments of 1990, those two sources installed pollution controls to cut their mercury pollution by 96 and 98 percent, respectively. Power plants remain the only major source of toxic air pollution that pollute without limit.
“Congress is trying to delay the mercury and air toxics rule for at least two years – and possibly more,” said Steve Frenkel, Midwest Director of the Union of Concerned Scientists. “Blocking this clean air standard by even one year means more death, disease, and increased healthcare costs for American families and taxpayers. It’s time to clean-up smog, soot, and toxic air pollution from power plants now,” Frenkel said.
“Powering our homes should not poison our kids,” said Catie Krasner, field organizer with Environment Illinois. “Power plants have successfully resisted modern pollution controls for two-decades; it’s well-past time they cleaned up their act.”
The agency will now consider the public comment it has received and is expected to finalize new mercury rules by mid-November.
Clean air rules adopted under the federal Clean Air Act have a positive economic benefit. For just this rule alone, U.S.EPA estimates the value of the air quality improvements for human health could reach up to $140 billion annually while only costing $10.9 billion, yielding a return on investment of more than 13-to-1.
Nationally, more than 200 public health, faith, and environmental organizations expressed support for this rule. Illinois organizations participating in today’s event included: the Union of Concerned Scientists, Respiratory Health Association of Metropolitan Chicago, the Sierra Club, Environmental Law and Policy Center, and Environment Illinois.