Environmental Groups Hail EPA Mercury Rules


"EPA has until November to make the rules official. Companies would have three years to comply."

Environmental groups are praising new federal standards proposed to limit mercury and other coal-fired power plant air pollutants, saying the rules are a major step toward reversing damage to New York's lakes.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency proposed the emissions standards Wednesday.

That action was in response to a deadline set in a U.S. Court of Appeals decision in a lawsuit brought by a coalition of national health and environmental groups, including the Adirondack Mountain Club. The 2008 decision threw out EPA's Clean Air Mercury Rule, which allowed polluters to buy pollution credits and emit mercury. That resulted in regional mercury "hot spots," including in the Adirondack and Catskill mountains.

Neil Woodworth, executive director of the Adirondack Mountain Club, said technology required by the new standard will cut mercury emissions from power plant smokestacks by 91% and reduce fine particulate matter, low-level ozone and acid rain.

Studies have found that 96% of Adirondack lakes and 40% of lakes in New Hampshire and Vermont exceed the EPA's maximum recommended mercury level in fish.

Research has linked elevated mercury in fish to reproductive problems. Children born to women who eat mercury-contaminated fish are at risk for neurological problems.

Studies by the Hubbard Brook Research Foundation in Hanover, N.H., in 2007 estimated that 40%–65% of mercury deposition in the Northeast was caused by coal-fired power plants.

The Hubbard Brook studies also found that mercury levels in fish and wildlife can decline quickly in response to decreased airborne mercury emissions.

Medical groups have hailed the EPA mercury rules, saying they'll remove air pollutants that contribute to respiratory illness, birth defects and developmental problems for children.

The court order gave the EPA until November to make the rules official. Companies would have three years to comply.

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