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Region 1: EPA New England

Curt Spalding Commentary

January 26, 2012

Reducing Mercury Means Cleaner Air for New Hampshire


Curt Spalding
Regional Administrator
US EPA, Region 1 (New England)

Edward F. Miller
Senior Vice-President for Health Promotion and Public Policy
American Lung Association of New England

(Boston, Mass. – Jan. 26, 2012) - On December 16, the US Environmental Protection Agency finalized the first-ever Mercury and Air Toxics Standards for power plants, a change that will protect millions of families and children from unhealthy and costly air pollution, provide the American people with health benefits that far outweighs the costs of compliance, and support job creation and innovation that are good for our economy.

First and foremost, this is a powerful public health measure. Mercury is a neurotoxin that is particularly harmful to children, and emissions of mercury and other air toxics have been linked to damage to developing nervous systems, respiratory illnesses and other diseases. MATS will require power plants to install emissions controls that will also reduce particle pollution, which has been linked to premature death and cardiovascular and respiratory diseases. Until now, there have been no limits to the amount of mercury, arsenic, chromium, nickel and acid gases that power plants could release into the air we breathe. The Mercury and Air Toxics Standards require cuts in these dangerous emissions, which have been linked to neurological problems, developmental disorders in our children, respiratory illnesses and other debilitating, expensive and often fatal health challenges.  In communities across the country, these pollutants threaten all of us but especially the most vulnerable : infants, children, pregnant women, seniors, and people with asthma, heart disease or diabetes, and even healthy adults who work or exercise outdoors.

New Hampshire is no exception.  According to the American Lung Association there are more than 21,000 children and over 92,000 adults in the Granite State who suffer from asthma, which can be aggravated by unhealthy air.  Despite the significant progress that has been made to improve air quality in the last twenty years, thousands of New Hampshire people still live in areas with unhealthy levels of air pollution.

By ensuring healthier air, we can cut serious medical emergencies and hospital visits by the thousands.  Nationally, the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards will eliminate over 90% of toxic emissions from coal burning power plants by 2015, and it will prevent up to 11,000 premature deaths, 4,700 heart attacks, 3,100 Emergency room visits among children once the standards are fully implemented in 2016. They will also help avoid up to 540,000 sick days in the workforce, and 130,000 cases of aggravated asthma among children between six and 18 years old. 

In New England, the EPA estimates that the rule will prevent between 120 and 300 premature deaths and provide between 1 and 2.5 billion dollars in reduced health care costs. Importantly, these first-ever national standards represent a huge victory for America’s children, who will be exposed to less power plant mercury, lowering the risk of damage to their developing nervous systems and their ability to think and learn.

There are also benefits for our economy. To meet the Mercury Air Toxics Standards, many power plants will upgrade their operations with modern and widely available pollution control technology. Increased demand will help American businesses that lead the way in this very pollution control technology – but that’s just the beginning. There are about 1,100 coal-fired units across the country, and about 40 percent do not use modern pollution controls to limit emissions. Those facilities will need workers to build, install, operate and maintain the pollution controls needed to meet the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards.  To meet those needs, the EPA estimates the creation of 46,000 short-term construction jobs and 8,000 long-term jobs. As the CEO of one of the largest coal-burning utilities in the country recently said about cutting emissions by installing pollution control technology, “Jobs are created in the process – no question about that.”

The Mercury and Air Toxics Standards are the kinds of protections Americans have come to expect and rely on from the EPA – commonsense safeguards that ensure people don’t have to choose between their jobs and their health. That is why our effort to put them in place has seen support not just from the public health and environmental communities, but from parents and family groups concerned about their children’s health, workers eager to see new opportunities for American jobs, sportsmen and women interested in reducing the mercury in our environment that ends up in the fish they catch, as well as many others.

We all have a stake in clean air, and the standards we finalize today will have far reaching benefits for millions of Americans for generations to come.  

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