President Obama & EPA Protect Public Health, Announce Landmark Mercury Standard for Power Plants

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Michelle Hesterberg

Environment Minnesota

Today, President Obama and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced the first-ever nationwide standard for mercury and air toxics pollution from power plants. A record 907,000 Americans submitted comments on the standard, which is expected to cut toxic mercury pollution from power plants by 91 percent.

“Today President Obama stood up to the polluters and protected kids’ health,” said Michelle Hesterberg, Federal Field Associate with Environment Minnesota. “This landmark achievement reflects what every parent knows, which is that powering our homes should not poison Minnesota’s kids.”

Power plants are the largest single source of mercury pollution in the U.S., and exposure to mercury and other air toxics is linked to cancer, heart disease, neurological damage, birth defects, asthma attacks and premature death.  Power plants in Minnesota emitted 876 pounds of mercury pollution into our air in 2010, according to “America’s Biggest Mercury Polluters,” a report recently released by Environment Minnesota.

Right now, mercury pollution is so widespread that one in ten American women of childbearing age has enough mercury in her blood to put her baby at risk, should she become pregnant.  By limiting emissions of mercury and air toxics from power plants, the Obama administration’s new standard is expected to prevent 130,000 cases of childhood asthma symptoms and save 11,000 lives every year.

Environment Minnesota was joined by the Minnesota Waterfowl Association in praising today’s announcement.  When power plants burn coal, they spew mercury pollution into the air, which then falls into Minnesota’s waterways from rain or snow and builds up in fish, ducks and other wildlife  — and eventually ends up on our dinner plates.

“People who fish and hunt in Minnesota shouldn’t have to worry that we’re poisoning ourselves with mercury at the dinner table,” said Brad Nylin with the Minnesota Waterfowl Association.  “This new rule will reduce mercury pollution in our waterways, which is vitally important to protect our great outdoor traditions and quality of life in Minnesota.”

Momentum for the new federal standard began with state-level standards in Minnesota and other states.  Such state-level action helped prove that significant cuts in mercury pollution were indeed possible.

For decades, the coal industry, many utilities and their allies in Congress and past administrations have successfully delayed cutting mercury and other toxic air pollutants from power plants to protect public health, even though technology to control toxic air pollution is widely available, and already being used by some power plants.

The new life-saving standard announced today has widespread public support in Minnesota and nationwide. Last summer, roughly 907,000 Americans submitted comments on the new standards—the most comments ever received for an EPA rule—and the vast majority of them were in support of the standard.

“It’s abundantly clear that Minnesotans and people across the country want cleaner air, healthier kids, and less toxic pollution spewed into our air, and thankfully, President Obama and EPA are taking action,” said Hesterberg. “This landmark standard will improve Minnesotans’ quality of life and protect children today and for generations to come from known poisons.”