The new Environmental Protection Agency rule requiring coal-fired power plants to reduce their emissions of mercury and other toxic air pollutants is generating a lot of debate, with environmental and health groups hailing it while industry groups contend it will hurt the economy.
Here in Maryland, though, it seems tighter regulation is universally welcomed. That's because 70 percent of the mercury that's deposited in state lakes and rivers blows in from out of Maryland, according to the state Department of the Environment. The state has issued warnings against eating a number of fish from Maryland waters because they've absorbed mercury, which can harm the nervous system. It's a particular risk for pregnant women, as children exposed in the womb could suffer impaired thinking, learning and development, according to EPA.
Industry lobbyists and supporters contend the rule could force many coal plants to shut down and endanger electric reliablity, though others, including independent reviewers, have said industry claims are overblown. In Maryland, the EPA rule should have no real impact on the state's coal-fired power plants, state officials say, because they already have added the pollution scrubbers that will be required under the federal rule.
Under Maryland’s 2006 Healthy Air Act, power plants have been required to reduce mercury emissions 90 percent and other harmful emissions by 80 to 85 percent, according to George “Tad” Aburn, air management director for the state.
Maryland officials supported EPA’s rule, as did Constellation Energy and some other utilities that have already added pollution scrubbers on their coal plants. Aburn said Maryland’s plant owners installed some $3 billion worth of scrubbers in less time than the EPA rule would require. And he contended the state law increased employment, rather than cost jobs, as critics have argued the EPA rule will do. Aburn said state plant owners have added 93 permanent jobs to handle the pollution controls, and the installation of scrubbers supported 3,200 construction jobs.
"It's time for the rest of the country's electricity generation sector to catch up with Maryland and do what our power producers have been doing for years now to protect children from toxic mercury and air toxics pollution," said Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin, D-Md.