With Clean Air and Justice for All

Guest Blog | May 24, 2011 | Climate Change, Coal, Energy Policy
picture-361This Thursday, May 26th, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will hold a public hearing in Atlanta, Georgia to solicit comments on the proposed and long-awaited rule to set national standards for mercury pollution from coal-fired power plants.

Mercury is a potent toxin and exposure can cause a variety of health problems from learning disorders to heart attacks. Fortunately, this rule—which was 20 years in the making—will require coal plants to significantly lower their mercury emissions, protecting public and environmental health.Due to the severe impacts of mercury pollution, this proposed rule will bring important health benefits as mercury, and other toxic air pollutants, are regulated for the first time. According to EPA, the rule will:

“Prevent 91 percent of the mercury from coal burned in power plants from being emitted to the air; Reduce acid gas emissions from power plans by 91 percent; and [reduce] sulfur dioxide (SO2) emissions from power plants by 55 percent.”

Research from EPA shows that mercury exposure can have even greater impacts on certain groups of recreational and subsistence anglers including: low-income Southeastern white populations; low-income Southeastern African-Americans; low-income women across the country and; Hispanics across the country. Low-income Southeastern African-Americans are particularly at risk, losing as many as 12 IQ points due to mercury exposure.

We are exposed to the most toxic form of mercury pollution when it accumulates in watersheds and enters our bodies through the fish we eat. African Americans are avid fishermen and low-income African Americans, in particular, are more likely to eat what they catch, eat more of it and be less aware of health advisories than their white counterparts. picture-5

Consequently, African Americans have higher exposure to mercury. In 1996, there were 1.8 million licensed African American anglers who spent over $813 million dollars on fishing trips and equipment, and this number doesn’t include the millions of African American fishermen who may not have registered for fishing licenses and reported their expenditures.

But exposure is not restricted only to those who fish and consume the catch. According to a recent report from the American Lung Association, coal-fired utility power plants produce more hazardous air pollution in the U.S. than any other industrial pollution  sources, accounting for 99 percent of all U.S. mercury emissions from the power sector.

People living near coal-fired power plants have an increased risk of exposure, and children, seniors, pregnant women and those with chronic disease face even higher risks.  Whats more, African Americans are more likely to live near coal-fired power plants and power plant waste sites:

“Sixty-eight percent of African Americans live within 30 miles of a coal plant, as opposed to 56 percent of whites, and though African Americans comprise 13 percent of the (US) population, they account for 17 percent of the population living within 5 miles of a power plant waste sites.”

picture-37For now, there are no limits on the amount of mercury air pollution these power plants can emit.

We commend EPA for proposing this strong rule to set limits on mercury pollution and for convening an open comment process to involve all stakeholders impacted by this rule. Now it is up to the public to voice our support for this rule and to keep up the pressure on decision-makers to ensure the best standards become law to protect all of us from life-threatening pollution that power plants currently spew into our air and water.

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