WASHINGTON, DC—Today, Greenpeace joined public health advocates and communities all around the country in welcoming the EPA’s first-ever limits on mercury emissions from coal and oil-fired power plants. The Mercury and Air Toxics standard also requires a reduction of toxic metals such as arsenic, chromium, nickel, and acid gases that compromise respiratory health.

”Some coal utilities made the gamble that they could dodge responsibility for pollution forever. Thankfully, for the millions of Americans who have suffered the effects of toxic mercury pollution, today they lost that bet,” said Gabe Wisniewski, Coal Campaign Director for Greenpeace.

The new standard has been the subject of expensive and misleading public relations campaigns by the utility industry, and numerous legislative attacks from members of Congress whose take significant campaign contributions from the fossil fuel industry. Seeking to delay or prevent the basic health protections altogether, utilities have used front groups like the Electric Reliability Coordinating Council and industry lobby firms like Bracewell and Giuliani to sow doubt about the need, the cost, and the impact of protecting public health. Staunch coal-industry allies like Lisa Murkowski have introduced numerous pieces of legislation to delay or weaken the standard.Fortunately, the well-funded campaign of distortion was not sufficient to overcome science, law, and the demands of the more than 500,000 Americans who submitted comments to EPA in support of the standard.

Mercury from power plants makes its way into humans' bodies largely through eating fish from contaminated waterways. Women of childbearing age and their children suffer the greatest impacts by far. Numerous studies indicate that elevated mercury levels can severely impair the developing nervous systems of unborn and young children, a factor leading to the broad base of support for EPA’s action—and making attacks on the new standard all the more outrageous. “Today’s decision should be about more than politics,” Wisniewski said, “The attempts that have been made to gut critical protections for mothers and children are simply disgusting.”
Despite industry talking points that suggest today's ruling is the result of an overzealous Obama administration, in reality the Mercury and Air Toxics Standard flows from EPA's finding in 2000 that limits on these harmful pollutants were “appropriate and necessary.” Pursuant to the Clean Air Act, EPA is legally required to implement the rule, with the standards themselves based on science. In July, President Obama flouted the Clean Air Act and the advice of senior science advisors when he delayed limits on ozone pollution, which many observers saw as a victory for the utility industry lobby. The next critical battle between industry lobbyists and public health advocates is likely to be the greenhouse gas performance standards that are due in 2012.

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Last week, Greenpeace pushed Duke Energy to clarify their position on the Mercury rule.  Check out Polluterwatch.com for more information on how polluters attempt to influence energy politics.