EPA has finally gotten around to seriously regulating toxic mercury emissions (as well as other toxins) from coal-fired power plants. The announcement is here. A fact sheet on the proposed rule is here. The full proposed rule is here.
Mercury is of special concern because exposure (mainly through consumption of contaminated fish) can cause damage to nervous system development in fetuses, infants, and young children. Other toxins to be regulated under the rule include arsenic, nickel and chromium, all of which are known carcinogens. The rule will impose emissions standards (under section 112 of the Clean Air Act), which will effect 1,350 power plants nationwide. It aims to reduce their mercury emissions by 91%.
The rule, which will take effect (unless withdrawn or amended) after a 60-day public-comment period, is expected to avoid (by 2016) between 6,800 and 17,000 premature deaths, 4,500 cases of chronic bronchitis, 11,000 nonfatal heart attacks, 12,200 hospital visits, 11,000 cases of acute bronchitis, 850,000 missed work days, and 120,000 cases of aggravated asthma.
Industry is already complaining about the gross costs of the rule, which could amount to $10 billion per year (see here). But, according to the proposed rule's Regulatory Impact Analysis (RIA) (here), it will yield annualized net benefits (in 2007 dollars) ranging from $42 billion to $120 billion (using a 7% discount rate), or $48 billion to $130 billion (using a 3% discount rate), not including several difficult-to-quantify benefits. The benefits of the rule outweigh the costs, according to EPA's estimates, by a factor of 13-to-1 (using a 3% discount rate) or 5-to-1 (using the 7% discount rate).
If the RIA is anywhere close to accurate, this rule is a no-brainer. Of course, that won't stop the anti-brainers in Congress from trying to stop it.