The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently announced that it will extend the comment period for its proposed mercury and air toxics rule by 30 days. The comment period opened in the spring when EPA proposed first-ever national standards for mercury and other air pollutants that result from burning coal. EPA originally intended to accept public comments for 60 days but, in what appears to be a trend of delay, EPA agreed with industry demands to extend this comment period. EPA has also recently delayed finalization of ozone, coal ash and other air toxic rules as well as a proposal to limit greenhouse gas emissions from power plants. In the case of the current mercury rule, however, EPA claims that the extended comment period will not delay the finalization of this rule, which is scheduled for November 2011.
EPA and others have already forced a 20-year delay in mercury standards for power plants. The historic and current delays are disconcerting because the impact of the proposed rule is so enormously beneficial. The new rule as proposed will prevent 91% of the mercury in coal burned at power plants from being emitted to the air, will save 17,000 lives each year, will create 31,000 temporary and 9,000 permanent jobs and, largely because of the health impacts, will result in net benefits of $42 to $130 billion in 2016 alone. These benefits are extremely important to the Southeast where there are nearly 300 coal-fired units that collectively emit around 20,000 pounds of mercury into the air each year. Mercury is deposited into water bodies and accounts for the mercury-based fish advisories posted for every state in our region.
Nevertheless, there are those in Congress and elsewhere who claim this rule is unnecessary or even harmful. EPA’s analysis clearly disproves this argument, but with your voice added to the chorus of supporters it will be easier for EPA to confidently move forward in protecting human and environmental health in the face criticism, so please send your comments to EPA by the end of the comment period, now scheduled for Thursday August, 4th.