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Release Date: 12/14/2000
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To protect public health and the environment, EPA Administrator Carol M. Browner today announced that the Clinton Administration will require reductions, for the first time ever, of harmful mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants -- the largest source of such emissions in America. After extensive study, EPA determined mercury emissions from power plants pose significant hazards to public health and must be reduced. The agency will propose regulations by 2003 and issue final rules by 2004.

“Mercury from power plants settles over waterways, polluting rivers and lakes, and contaminating fish. Exposure to mercury poses real risks to public health, especially to children and developing fetuses,” Browner said. “The greatest source of mercury emissions is power plants, and they have never been required to control these emissions before now. Today’s decision to address this problem marks a major step forward in the Clinton Administration’s ongoing efforts to protect public health and the environment.”

Exposure to mercury has been associated with both neurological and developmental damage in humans. The developing fetus is the most sensitive to mercury’s effects, which include damage to nervous system development. People are exposed to mercury primarily through eating fish that have been contaminated when mercury from power plants and other sources is deposited to water bodies. Once mercury enters water, biological processes can transform it into methylmercury, a highly toxic form of mercury that builds up in animal and human tissues. EPA recommends that subsistence fisherman, pregnant women, and others should always heed state fishing advisories.

Under the Clean Air Act, EPA is required to study toxic air pollution from power plants in order to determine if additional regulations are necessary in order to protect public health. EPA reported its study to Congress in February 1998. That study concluded that of all toxic pollution examined, mercury posed the greatest concern to public health. An earlier study concluded that the largest source of human-made mercury pollution in America was coal-fired power plants.

After completion of the study, the Clean Air Act required EPA to determine whether to proceed with the development of regulations. Today, EPA is announcing that it has affirmatively decided that mercury air emissions from power plants should be regulated, because mercury poses the greatest hazards to public health.

EPA will propose regulations by December 2003 and will begin developing those regulations shortly. Industry, the public, and state, local and tribal governments will have an opportunity to participate in the process. Then, EPA will issue final regulations by December 2004.

The Clinton Administration already has taken a number of aggressive actions to reduce mercury air pollution, including significantly reducing allowable emissions from municipal waste combustors, medical waste incinerators and hazardous waste combustors. When fully implemented in 2005, the existing rules will reduce total human-caused mercury emissions by nearly 50 percent from 1990 levels nationwide.

On November 11, 2000 President Clinton called for a dramatic new approach to reduce air pollution from America’s power plants. The President highlighted the benefits of adopting a combined strategy to address all of the major pollutants emitted by power plants, including mercury, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and carbon dioxide. A comprehensive strategy that addresses all of these pollutants together will provide more certainty and flexibility to industry, making it the most cost-effective way to control the emissions that threaten public health and the environment. As the Clean Air Act requires, the regulatory process to control mercury will proceed under current law. However, at the same time, the Administration encourages the Executive Branch and the Congress to work toward legislating a comprehensive four pollutant approach, which will benefit the public health, the environment, and the economy.

Today’s decision will appear soon in the Federal Register, but is accessible immediately on EPA’s mercury web site at: Also, today EPA is posting, on its website, mercury emissions from every coal-fired power plant in the country. This is consistent with EPA’s strong commitment to provide citizens with information about pollution in their communities.

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