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By Norris McDonald

President George W. Bush issued the first mercury rules, but they were shot down in court.  Now the Obama administration has issued mercury regulations (including other contanimants) that will probably close the oldest, dirtiest coal-fired power plants.  Some utilities claim this will lead to job losses, but EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson counters that scrubber installations will create more jobs than will be lost via plant closure.  I guess we will just have to wait and see.  One thing is sure, scrubbers are now as large and complicated as the power plants they serve.  They can cost just about as much as the power plants too.  So signficant jobs should be created by their installation. 

According to EPA:
It will cost about $9.6 billion annually to implement but will provide substantially more in health benefits each year. The EPA estimates the new regulation’s safeguards — which are slated to fully take effect in three years will prevent as many as 11,000 premature deaths a year by 2016 .

The EPA said some 60% of the 1,400 affected coal- and oil-fired generating units already complied with the rule. Many power companies, including Exelon Corp. and Calpine Corp., support the rules because they rely less on coal-burning generation.

Jackson estimated that only 4.7 gigawatts of the nation’s 1,000 gigawattsof electricity capacity,or less than one-half of 1 percent of the nation’s plants, would have to shut down as a result of the new standards.
Of course, critics complain that some of the health stats have been aggregated with other air laws and claim the numbers are inflated.  Yet one thing is clear, mercury is a neurotoxin that can harm the nervous system.

As usual, the litigation has begun, but this rule should withstand lawsuits.  The entire air regulation area frustrates me because it includes, in my opinion, a merry-go-round of legislation, regulation, litigation and it all starts over again.  However, our standards for visible air pollution are stricter than EPA's standards: if you can see the air, it is not healthy to breathe.  So therer would be many more nonattainment days for criteria pollutants than are designated under the EPA system.

We applaud EPA's rule and believe the utility sector will comply to the maximum extent possible.