Waiting for a strong mercury rule



We’re in a state of heightened expectation. The final Mercury and Air Toxics (MATS) rule, regulating one of the largest sources of toxic pollutants in our country (coal-fired power plants), was supposed to be released on Friday, December 16 to comply with a court-ordered deadline. (A proposed rule was released in March 2011).

Advance news reports claimed that the rule had indeed been finalized by the Administration on Friday night. Which would mean it had been through the formal approval process, including sign-off by the Office of Management and Budget. (Which is relevant because that’s where Lisa Jackson’s proposed ozone standards were killed).

The latest buzz is that it will be publicly released tomorrow afternoon. Rumor has it that EPA and the administration are planning a star-studded roll-out. Perhaps it’s been hard to get the stars aligned in the midst of the latest round of payroll tax fights in Washington.

I hope the Obama administration will release a strong MATS rule that will finally close this major gap in our public health protections. The final rule should stay true to the ambition laid out in the draft rule, lowering mercury and acid gas emissions 91 percent, particulate matter emissions 30 percent, and sulfur dioxide emissions 53 percent by 2015 . That will help avoid an estimated 17,000 premature deaths, 120,000 cases of aggravated asthma and 12,200 hospital and emergency room visits annually. The compliance period for utilities should be restricted to three years, with the possibility of case-by-case extensions of up to four years. The Clean Air Act already allows for further flexibilities where needed to maintain reliability so there’s no need for the blanket up-front exemptions sought by polluters.

We’ve waited a long time for this rule. As EPA’s brief history of regulation of mercury and toxics from power plants points out, it’s taken over twenty years (since the Clean Air Act amendments of 1990) and a series of court proceedings to get here. A few extra days may not matter. But I have to say, I’ll be relieved to finally see it!